Masechet Shabbat, Daf 114
In modern terms, clothes make the man, or so we’re told.
And what did the prophet Yishayahu, or Isaiah, wear while walking the streets of Jerusalem, in the seventh century BCE — Why would he, as we are told in chapter 20 verse 3, walk ‘naked and barefoot’ for three years, risking mockery and worse? Why this emphasis on outer appearance, here in Masechet Shabbat?
A person, especially a prophet, was considered ‘out of their mind’ if they walked around barefoot. And normally, robes were a status symbol, kept clean and pressed, if not new. Rabbi Yochanan and others try to reconcile this seeming conflicting report by saying that he wore dirty, old clothing. But the literal reading remains (Abarbanel, Rambam), and it’s possible that this brave prophet had received a vision of himself and knew he must present the image and its repercussions with the people of the time – to teach them a lesson. Perhaps the challenge of that time included chastising for lack of modesty, or to teach the need to look beyond appearances, to strengthen or recognize a person’s internal values.
This reading gains strength in the next segment on the daf, seemingly unrelated at first but immediately following. Our sages are asked to rule on whether a piece of cloth is ‘chotzetz’, or acts as interference with mikvah immersion, specifically the small rug usually placed under the saddle of a donkey.
Rashbag says this piece of clothing isn’t large enough to interfere until it’s the size of an ‘Italian Issar‘ coin. According to Prof Yaacov Meshorer, the ancient coin looks like this: