Mishnaic sage Hillel is inspiring the world of fashion yet again.
Retail giant Forever 21 is selling a graphic muscle tee that reads “If Not Now, Then When?”, the rhetorical question posed by Hillel in Chapters of Our Fathers [Pirkei Avot]. The shirt is selling for $14.50.
Just months ago, the international retail store H&M sold out of a t-shirt featuring the same famous aphorism.
A large billboard in Times Square featured Hillel’s urgent question, the third in a series after “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I?” written in oversized black letters on a slinky tank top selling for $9.95.
“That’s been one of our most popular items this summer,” said Kiera Elliott, H&M saleswoman in Times Square, who explained the shirt’s conspicuous absence from sale-racks. “We sold that item out weeks ago, but people keep asking me about it. It obviously made a lasting impression.”
The use of religious references has long been a pop culture trend – remember Madonna’s crucifixes and rosary beads – beloved in particular by retailers.
“It’s pretty cool that certain Jewish aphorisms now hold such an esteemed place in the American lexicon,” said Rabbi Kahn-Troster, director of programming for T’ruah, an organization that unites rabbis for human rights.
She added that she would definitely consider wearing the “If Not Now” tank. “Jewish value-statements seem to have become mainstream.”