Surely we have heard and used the expression "tear our clothes off" on countless occasions to express the indignation, pain or anger that someone feels in a situation. It is an exaggerated and symbolic reaction to what others do or say, sometimes when there is also hypocrisy involved.
Used in a negative way (don't tear your clothes), it becomes an appeal not to dramatize an issue.
This is one of the many phrases of biblical origin that have reached our days, like "washing your hands", "scapegoat", "throwing daisies to pigs", "throwing the first stone", "the kiss of Judas " or the "prodigal son", among many others. But, of all the phraseological units, "tearing one's clothes" is one of the oldest.
If we look at the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), the expression "tearing one's clothes" has two meanings that help us find its origin. The first appears as a verbal locution with the meaning of "be shocked (show indignation)". The second, among the Hebrews, means "to manifest mourning."
And it is that among the funeral rites in Judaism is the kria, a practice carried out by the direct relatives of a deceased during the burial and which consists of tearing a garment as a way of expressing their pain. Such clothing continues to be worn for weeks.
The women of Ancient Greece already did something similar: between screams and laments, they carried out bodily gestures such as beating their chests or tearing their veils. However, the first references to people dragging their clothes during mourning come from Sumer, considered the oldest civilization (around 3,500 BC). Thus, the expression "to tear one's clothes" refers to a custom that originated about 5,000 years ago.
Actually, the phrase has reached our days through the Bible, where there are almost twenty allusions to this custom. If we go to chapter 14 of the Gospel of Saint Mark (61-14), we find the following passage:
"The high priest asked him again, and said to him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said unto him, I am; and ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest, tearing his garment, said, "What further need have we of witnesses?"
The expression also appears in Genesis ("When Reuben returned to the well, behold, Joseph was not in the well; so he tore his clothes", Gen 37:29); in the book of Samuel II ("Then David seized his clothes and tore them, and so did all the men who were with him"); in Leviticus 10:6 ("Do not uncover your heads or tear your clothes in mourning, lest you die") or in Book II of Kings, 6:30, ("When the king heard the words of that woman, tore her clothes, and thus passed through the wall; and the people saw the cilice that she wore inside her body"),
With the passage of time, the phrase "tearing one's clothes" lost its mourning context to be used when pointing out someone who is unworthy with their actions or words. In fact, politicians often use it frequently as part of an attack on the opponent, a disparagement of what they say or do.
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