The Temptation of the Bekeshe

How do American black-hat “Lithuanian”-style haredim — such as myself, and especially the BTs among us — answer the implied philosophical challenge from the hasidim?

One of the main topics on Jewish blogs concerned at all with religion is the question of “haredism” — a term with very different meanings in Flatbush and in Bnei Brak, but it will do for now — versus “modern orthodox” — also tremendously plastic but, again, let us use what we have. In any event, in the context of baalei teshuva, (talk about troubling terminology!) the question often arises: Why is “haredi” kiruv so dominant? Why can’t there be more kiruv oriented to bringing people to Torah and mitzvos, yes, but without the subcultural accoutrement of the black-hat way of life?

Now because many of those asking the questions are not themselves committed to Torah and mitzvos, I find it a rather disingenuous inquiry, at least from them. But it is not, per se, an unreasonable question. Yet it has been hashed and rehashed in the Jewish blogosphere, and I have no intention of opening yet another thread on it here, but rather to suggest it as a context for the following question: Why aren’t we all hasidim? I think that question is a legitimate one.

I have several answers to the question of why BTs such as myself end up (some faster, some slower) on the “right” of the orthodox spectrum. One of them is that having grown up on a steady and tasteless diet of compromise, we are suspicious of half measures once we decide to make, and understanding the meaning of making, a commitment to being an observant Jew. We also believe that to the extent that modern orthodoxy stands for more engagement with the non-Jewish world, we acknowledge the high likelihood of slippage in our own commitments, considering our previous modes of life. I am asking commenters here not to reopen these issues in the thread that may develop here — my point is a different one, namely: If we claim to eschew compromise, where do we draw the line? Or is the “line’ itself illusory, and are we indeed engaged in perhaps exactly what critics accuse us of — a thoughtless thrust to the right, to the rejection of the old self, to the comfort of the chumra (strict practice) without regard to the merits?

Considering this question, I reflected on what the “Lithuanian” style does for American haredi BTs: It provides us with something of an out. One reason, as petty as it seems, is that the American version of “litvish” or “yeshivish” orthodoxy” tolerates clean-shaven faces. True, this toleration is marginal at best. We beardless ones may not be depicted as Abbas or Tattys in Artscroll or other haredi publications (zeydies are allowed to be clean shaven; still, a R’Moshe-Sherer-style moustache is preferred to complete whiskerlessness). But you will see us getting awards at yeshiva dinners and acting as mohels and presidents of haredi shuls. Combine this assimilation-friendly outcome, now, with the Lithuanian mode of dress — a dark suit and a white shirt — and guess what: Except in those offices where adult dress has been outlawed, an orthodox yeshiva man looks pretty much like a lawyer or an accountant (abstracting from the yarmulke issue, which we will not even touch here), which he is, after all, fairly likely to be. The acceptability of sheitels among haredim in the US extends this flexibility to women as well.

I don’t mean to rewrite my earlier post or the ensuing discussion, on “dress codes” for Jews. Rather, my point is this: Non-hasidic, clean-shaven haredi men and custom-sheitel wearing women can move through the world without that harsh separation from it that hasidim (most of them — and the issue of how Lubavitchers dice and slice these issues is also too complex for this post), with their beards, peyos and usually long coats, effect. Given that the haredi BT has gone from complete assimilation to a philosophical commitment to a distinctly Jewish manner of appearance and a level of separation from the gentile culture, how exactly does he rationalize this rollback of separation, given that to some extent it appears (appears — I am open to suggestion that it is not) to be an accident of history?

This is not merely a matter of clothes, of course, though as I did argue before, the way we present ourselves to the world is always a choice fraught with meaning. I believe that many non-hasidic haredim feel, in their hearts of hearts, that — notwithstanding the difference between what we call hasidim today and the idealized hasidus of the time of the Baal Shem Tov — today’s hasidim demonstrate an undeniably high level of commitment to Yiddishkeit that not all of us can claim we would be prepared to make. Some hasidim say, indeed, they measure the mantel (cover) to the sefer Torah, while others seek to cut down the scroll to their own size Well, we can debate whether their way of life and appearance are more or less relevant today as a matter of service to Hashem than they were in Eastern Europe 250 years ago. But the relative lack of compromise with the host culture and the level of faith in Hashem over one’s life that the hasidic way of life implies cannot be denied. I cannot myself deny that I often feel an implicit rebuke when I am in the presence of hasidim: Why aren’t I at least trying to be “that frum”?

There are two possible answers, each supplied by a different though related haredi philosophy, and neither one entirely satisfactory. One is from the classic Lithuanian — and here I will use the term “misnagdic” — perspective: There’s nothing more orthodox, young man, about hasidim. Truly frum Litvaks, facial hair aside, are virtually indistinguishable from hasidim in religious practice (look at Lakewood), and frankly the outside world can’t tell the difference between us, notwithstanding our short suit coats. A black hat is a black hat, and the hasidim, far from being a “purer” or “truer” form of orthodox Judaism, are merely focused on, some would insist they are even obsessed with, a peculiar mode of lifestyle. It is one that obtained in a certain time and place and which by and large is, for its focus on a central leader in the person of the rebbe or admor, would in the view of a true Misnagid a cop-out, not an improvement, in terms of an individual’s personal obligation to labor on his own in finding the path to service of Hashem.

Another answer comes from Rav Hirsch, whom we discussed here last week. It starts with the Lithuanian answer but takes it a step further: The cultural disengagement by hasidim, which is so extreme that most of them have a great deal of difficulty according what we believe is proper respect to our gentile neighbors as men made in God’s image, is worse than the mere stunting of growth or misguidedness emphasized by the Litvak. It is not at all what Hashem wants from us — as much as we admire the d’veykus, the commitment, the pride, it is nonetheless represents a positive failure to engage the world that God has put us into. It is a guarantee of a permanent level of unsophistication about worldly affairs as well as useful wisdom, and a lifestyle that has many elements that far from raising our status in the eyes of the world, does the opposite.

Two good answers. There are more; it is a mistake to idealize the hasidic way of life. A clean, ebony bekeshe (frock), curly peyos and a shtreimel make a stunning fashion statement, but you still have to wash neigel vasser in the morning.

And yet I am not a Lithuanian, save by intellectual bent; I am a scion, two generations removed, of Gerrer hasidim. And I cannot escape that silent, silken black rebuke.

42 comments on “The Temptation of the Bekeshe

  1. Mr. Coleman, I would be interested in reading your take on the approach of BTs in a place like BTU, what the differences are, the problems with “charedi lite”, and what have you. What things you think most BTs are missing or not picking up on when it comes to the general approach, etc.

  2. You know you’re a BT if…

    …you feel you have to identify with a European country you never even visited.

  3. “And yet I am not a Lithuanian, save by intellectual bent”

    Well, we accept you anyway. Having said that, all calls in regards to dress code are now suspect.

  4. Trust me, whether you wear a black hat or a bekeshe, or just conservative suites and shirts, even if you just behave in dsomewhat different manner, you stand out and are recognized. It is like accents, light ones, heavy ones, they all identify you.

    Reminds me of a story, shared with me years ago by a proprietor of a religious hotel. This facility was run by a group that was ideologically distinct from Satmar, so it surprised him to see a full regalia Satmarer signing in one erev shaboos. Noting the inquisitive look, he said, “I need to get away for one shabbos and here no one would look for me.”

    The Satmerer did not wera a shtreimel that Shabbos, just his distinctive long white stockings, round weekday hat, freely flowing peyos and a long bekesshe.

    After Shabbos the owner asked hih: “So why didn’t you wear a shtreimel?”.

    “I didn’t want to stand out”, came the reply.

    Analysis: What we are used to doesn’t bother us. Having grown up in that clothing, the Chosid did not recognize that he stood out. It was only the shtreimel, which he did not wear during the week, that represented to him a separation from others.

  5. Rabbi Riskin wears a bekeshe on Shabbat because he’s the chief rabbi of Efrat. It fits into the “rabbinical garb” category. I don’t think he’s advocating it as Shabbat gear for all the residents of his community. Although that would be something to see…

  6. that silent, silken black rebuke.

    recalling roads that others took

    black Borselinos and sleek sartuks

    (I could go on like this all night but its murder on my stitches!)

    yeshar kochacha! great piece

  7. I can not restrain myself from temptation to throw my drei Groshes (a penny).
    First of all it is hard not to agree with Aaron saying that only hareidim fallow old style of Jewish look which as such remote communities as Taymon prove to be maybe not most authentic (not like Avraham Uvini) but at list significant. Here I mean facial and side facial hair. Regarding long jacket I learn that it is issue of tznius for man, why? Everybody have different sensitivity. Now, which lavish is the proper one? Any one covering the lower part of the back, and that’s what yekes use to wear. If they where known as kortze (short) yekke that’s what means short. Rabbi Duvid Lelover was called “Doytche”(If I’m correct) by other poylishe Hasidim, for the reason that he wear rekel long only to his knees.
    Don’t take me wrong I’m not trying to say that any thing other than this is not properly Jewish. I’m aware that there are different traditions and Yiden from India may look quiet different and they 100% yiden. So is with other communities for example here in America. I respect more a yid who does not wear yarmulke but put tfilin every day than let’s say opposite. What I trying to express is the filing that some people, descendents of early American Jewish immigrants who for many reasons lost their connection not only to the tradition but to Jewish ness it self. This people calling other group who never experienced such brake of tradition: extremists and back warders.
    Regarding malvish (cloths) it self. As you see it already by now, it is understandable where my hart is leaning.
    I see great importance of specific Jewish appearance. Let it be white hood of the Moroccans or black shoelace (that’s from Kitzur and Rambam) somewhere else. It not only helps for the people to recognize representatives of G-d on this planet, (tell me it’s insignificant) but also help us not to forget Who we are representing. I hope you understand my point.
    I live in Hasidic community enough long to understand that it does not give guarantee of high level of spirituality but it gives much higher chance to keep decent standard of yiddishkait. Any given individual (unless he is Tzadik gemur) can not be sure of his spiritual level for the next day, even next hour. Here comes to help (most of the times) awareness of the malvish. “It does not fit for the man dress like me to do so, or to be here, or to say something like this”… For this single reason it is worthy to dress like a Jew.
    Regarding Yiddish. I posted my comment to the post of rabbi Horowitz where I disagree with him about this issue for simple reason, that my personal experience teach me something opposite so do my observation. And still my Yiddish speaking children are very good from English in their classes although it is not first language spoken at our home.
    Regards to all.

  8. I remember R S Riskin’s kapote.It was a gold and black Yerusahlmi style kapote. Nonetheless, AFAIK, neither RYBS nor Yivadleinu Lchaim RAL nor RHS wear such a garment.

    Jacob Haller- As I recall that incident, my wife and I looked at each other with a quizzical look and dismissed it as the rantings and ravings of an unhappy person without any comment at all. It was a minor blip,but one which was punctuated by some classic urbam myths and stereotypes that I deemed unworthy of a response.

  9. I found your post so interesting. I am a work in progress. Part of my ongoing issue stems from the fact that I live NO where near any kind of Orthodox area. I live so far away from anyone. I drive an hour or more to go to mikvah. So it is hard to integrate into ANY of the above mentioned societies. And without living amongst others it is hard to find your right path. I also am drawn to Chabad and Lubavitch for what I see is a beautiful, happy , Torah filled life. But some of the customs, which seem more custom, than Torah law are hard for me. Such as the wig. I always wear my wig when I am “in town” with my friends there. At home, never. I don’t like wearing it and my “old friends” don’t understand and I fear worry I really have cancer when they see me in it. I am finding it a bit easier than my husband to meet new religious friends when we live so far away. I go into town for some ladies studies, and meet nice ladies there. But that is as far as it goes. I am not living amongst them.
    So cheradi or not, there are those of us that don’t have a label yet, that want to have a label. You can call me MO, BT, I am more a Chabad wannabe ,anything…I don’t care…I just want to feel a part of a community, yet I can’t as I don’t live near any.

  10. This post was well written and poses a lot of questions. I can relate as well to what Jeff said in his post. As growing up in the Conservative Movement and going to JTS I connected with the Carlebach chevra and started on my way to becoming more observant. As this was a gradual ascent to frumkite, I have associated myself with many different groups. From where I stand right now and from all of my experiences I have questions regarding some of the points in this post. Regarding the long coats I learned the following. In Shulchan Aruch, I am not sure where it discusses that it was always the custom for Jews to wear long coats. The bekeshes, kapatas and whatever else there is are all different styles coming from the area wherever the paticular group is from. There are different weekday and shabbos coats to distinguish from the week and from shabbos. In Germany before WW2 the Jews started wearing the shorter jakets to blend into the German culture which is how Germans got the nick name “Yekkes” which means jacket. They were known as the ones who wore the short jackets. The same thing is true with the beards. If you look at pictures from Europe almost all the Yidden had beards except if they were from certain areas. In Germany first and now in America the Jewish community has lost its dress. The Chassidim are the only ones that have kept it. A Jew used to be identified by long jackets and a beard and payos depending upon whether you were a chassid or litvak. What I don’t understand is why the Chassidim are the only ones who have kept these traditions. From a BTS perspective it appears as if the Chassidim are continuing the tradition we have had for thousands of years while living normal American lives where the Yeshivish/Litvish world is letting go of some traditions to blend in with American society. The regular business suit worn by a clean shaven guy makes him no different than a Wall Street worker minus the yalmulka. Chassidus teaches that we should concentrate on the ruchnius (inner self) rather than the gashmius (outer material world). All groups of Jews need to work on this but the one thing that is important is that we have to remember the traditional gashmistic things that have been around for thousands of years. I heard that the Bava Sali had mesora that he had the same Levush as Avraham Avinu. Ask a Litvish guy and he will say he has the same Levush as a business man on Wall Street. If you are a BT like me which derech would you follow?

  11. Chaya, I am sure there is a variety of reasons; there is in my case. But one feature of the yeshivish world is, yes, the insular nature of the community, absolutely.

    Charnie, there are indeed differences between rabbinical frocks, kapotehs, bekeshes, rekels, khalatehs, “Prince Alberts” — some of these are different names for the same long coats — there differences, yes, and a trained eye knows them intimately.

  12. Gershon,
    I agree %1000 that baalei t’shuvah should not send their children to Yiddish speaking schools if the parents are not fluent. And even if the parents are fluent, they should not send to a school which is signifacntly “frummer” than they are (assuming they have a decent alernative). There is a maaseh that Rabbi Krohn said on one of his taped shiurim. He asked Reb Yakov which school in his neighborhood to send his son to. One school had a rule that rebbeim had to have beards and one had no such school. Since Rabbi Krohn didn’t (and doesn’t) have a beard, Reb Yakov told him that he has to send to the school that doesn’t demand beards for their rebbeim. Of course they were proabably other mitiagting circumstances and just as we can’t learn from a maaseh to be machmir without asking a shailah, we shouldn’t learn from it to be maikel without asking a shailah. But the story is illuminating.

  13. Doesn’t anyone here remember that Rabbi Shlomo Riskin wears a Kapote (sic) on Shabbos, as do many Litvish Roshei Yeshivah. Pardon my ignorance, but what’s the difference between a kapote and a bekeshe? JT, these guys can rant through thread after thread about their dress, but at least tznius is tznius for we women.

    Gershon, glad you brought up R. Horowitz’s article. Someone I know well went through a very negative experience due to those factors in Mir Yeshiva, Bklyn. They kept telling him “you’ll pick it up”, but after awhile, he gave up.

  14. Do I understand that you think the litvish lifestyle is more appealing to BTs than MO because there is less engagement with the secular world, and that feels more safe?

    I’m an MO BT, but I find that hard to believe. I would imagine that the sincerity of the haredi world, the commitment to ideals and the tremendous Torah learning are bigger draws. And chasidim have no advantage there, IMO.

  15. Oh my gosh, so many thoughtful comments — thank you for them. You’ve all opened up my thinking on this issue. I’d like to respond to a few points. One is to agree with everyone who urged not to judge a book by its cover: This is for sure true, and I did address that in my first ever BBT post, to some extent. But here the levush stands in for group identification and a level of commitment regarding which to some extent I do believe we can generalize. Steg is right, of course: We can end up second-guessing ourselves on this stuff because of how we do or don’t blend in, but this is and always has been part of social life in all cultural settings, as Bob suggests.

    David: A book? Oy, just what the Judaica stores need — nokh a navel-gazing book! I don’t think so, but thanks for the suggestion!

    Jon, the question of whether Torah im Derech Eretz is Torah Umaddah is some idealized form of Modern Orthodoxy… beyond my ken.

    Charnie, you’re right about the degree of commercial integration of Hasidim, but they remain even in the middle of a business meeting absolutely separate by virtue of who they say they are by what they wear. That is my view of it.

    Michoel, you are right, but the Hasidim would respond that first you put on the levush of a Yid, come into our tent and leave the tent of the other, and then we can work on the spiritual development, which includes — in classic chassidus, d’veykus chaverim which it cannot be denied is made easier by the adoption of a uniform. Jeff N. alludes to this in his very well done comment.

    Jaded, as usual you cut right through to the sodden truth. I may indeed have insulation deficiency syndrome!

    Jacob, I believe you are misunderstanding Rav Orloweck and Rav Chazan. They are not talking about hasidic levush but something quite different: A rabbinical frock, which is a signal of an assertion of rank and stature. It has two buttons in the back, which say “Talmid Chochom,” which most hasidic levush does not (as usual, count on Chabad to complicate things). In the Litvish setting, their comments are quite underestandable, and many Roshey Yeshiva such as Rav Pam and others never wore “langeh” probably because of their irrepressible and sincere modesty.

    I think the comments about Yiddish raise related issues. As one of the few baalei teshuva who speaks (awful but nearly coherent) Yiddish (coming from a secular Yiddishist background) I am intrigued by the whole topic.

  16. Hey, it was posted here not so long ago.

    Here’s the quote

    “Generally speaking, I think that ba’alei teshuvah parents should not enroll their children in Yiddish-teaching yeshivos. I am aware of the cultural reasons that people are inclined to do so, but in the case of ba’a’lei teshuvah, I think that this is simply bad practice – unless you are fluent in Yiddish yourself. It will be difficult enough to do Judaic studies homework with your children as they grow older without compounding matters by adding language barriers that will virtually guarantee that you will not understand what your child is learning, let alone be in a position to help him or her.

    To sum up, when raising your FFB children, as with all other areas of life, follow the timeless advice of Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) and stay of ‘the golden path’ of moderation. “

  17. Michoel wrote: I was saying that I think speaking Yiddish in the home is (I think you meant to add the word “not”) feasable for most of us but I do think it is an ideal.
    Perhaps you are right, after all having our own language was one of the merits that got us out of Egypt. But on a blog which is geared for baalei teshuvah, this idea may be misconstrued and applied incorrectly by overzealous baalei teshuva who try too hard to purge their home of the “evil foreign language”.

    I recently read an article by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz where he writes that baalei teshuva should not send their kids to schools where the children are taught in yiddish. His reasoning is that assuming the parents don’t speak yiddish, they will have a very hard time taking an active part in their children’s education.

  18. Steve Brizel

    “As I reflect back on this incident, I believe that it reinforced the derech that I follow-take the best of the RZ/MO and the Charedi worlds while ignoring their extremes. ”

    Glad you possesed the maturity to ignore that ranting extremist.

  19. “As someone who came to Torah observance via a combination of different organizations (in chronoligical order… Isralight, Manhattan Jewish Experience, Jewish Heritage Center, Gateways & Chabad”

    as we say “ma’alin bakodesh. .. .”

    yeyasher kochacha and hatzlacha raba on an inspired (and obviously “gebentched” journey

  20. Ron’s post is excellent. Yet, as Steg pointed out, this is another post on the issue of whether and to what degree a BT or a FFB winds up on the MO-Charedi divide or whether clothing that certainly might be rooted in Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim as necessities for Tefilah, Shabbos and Yom Tov have evolved into hashkafic give a ways in some almost pathetic ways.

    Here is a story in point. During our recent trip to EY, we stayed in Ramot Bet, a mixed neighborhood. I davened primarily in a DL shul. I left my weekday cap home and instead brought and wore an old black Shabbos hat during the week that I save for a rainy Shabbos. During the week, I wore either a navy blazer and khakis and solid blue dress button down shirts during the week and a suit with a white shirt and tie along with the hat on Shabbos. I also used the eruv, but left my talis in shul over Shabbos.

    One weekday, one of the residents and membbers of that shul approached us as we waited for a bus. He asked me if I planned to move in inasmuch I had been davening in that shul for at least a week. I replied in the negative and this gentleman then launched into an anti Charedi rant, which I will not print here in detail, but which I am sure many have read and heard in other venues. I let him rant and rave, and did not even deem it worth discussing with him that I personally admire and try to extract the best of the Charedi and MO worlds and reject the extremes of both based upon my Mesorah. Looking back, this incident was clearly one where ny own dress, which my Mesorah views as dictated by halacha and hashkafa as to the proper attire for a Ben Torah and for someone who respects Talmidie Chachamim and nothing more, created an image to this individual that I was in his mind, Chas Ve Shalom (!) a potential Charedi seeking to inflitrate and buy in his neighborhood. In this case, my clean shaven appearance and wearing of a colored shirt had no impact on this person. This person asked me what my profession was, but not where I learned, who was my rebbe or anything else of a religiously signiicant manner.Likewise,the fact that I davened consistently in a DL shul had no impact on this gentleman. He judged me as representing the equivalent of a spy for a potential charedi take-over by a stereotype that I rejected-that in order to be a RZ, one must dress casually on Shabbos and during the week and Chas Ve Shalom, never do anything or act in a manner that might suggest that Charedim have something positive to offer anyone.As I reflect back on this incident, I believe that it reinforced the derech that I follow-take the best of the RZ/MO and the Charedi worlds while ignoring their extremes.

  21. Ruby,
    I was refering to keeping Yiddish as the primary spoken language in the home. One’s language impacts one’s thoughts and vice versa. Maybe later I can write more. I was saying that I think speaking Yiddish in the home is feasable for most of us but I do think it is an ideal.

  22. A couple of comments:

    Rav Noach Orloweck the inspiring Mashgiach of Torah Ohr i Y’lem and noted lecturer once mentioned that he asked his Rav a shaileh (Halakhic question) if he was required to say a Shehechiyanu bracha on his new long black coat which we was required to start wearing when he became a Mashgiach. What was the basis of the shaileh? It was because having to wear this new required garment did not make him happy.

    Rav Chazan zt”l the Mashgiach of Chaim Berlin (correct me if that’s mistaken) was also asked to wear a “langer rekel” (long coat) when he assumed that position. One Shabbos when he was seen wearing a regular suit jacket someone asked him what happened to the long coat? He responded

    “Dos iz mein arbeite kleider” – That’s my WORK clothes”

    Although I never had any desire to don such a garment, these anecdotes provided me with an insight on what it means to wear one when it’s not optional.

  23. Michoel,

    Does lingual distinction mean “Burich atu…” vs. “Baruch atah…”? If so, what makes you say that the Chassidim are correct?

  24. Enthralling and enchanting series óf profound thought processes.
    Although,I’ve personally never succumbed to or been beckoned by the “ebony bekeshe”, as a firm believer in Abercrombie and Fitch I understand your temptation to adopt the dress of those you think identify most closely to your personal mission statement and corresponding spiritual aspirations in life.

    When building stuff,insulation can be quite the necessary medium to separate and protect.If you look closely though or get too involved intimately with said insulation you may find yourself depending on fluffy material that may or may not include crushed glass that can cut you in the long run if they deem you not insulation worthy.

    Insulation is usually needed to protect certain parts and or to maintain the warmth , but its definitely not what houses are made of or are standing çuz of.
    Though the houses wouldn’t be warm or easy to warm up if said insulation was not in place.

    If your aspirations include getting all cozy with the shiny silken onyx bekeshe some heavy insulation and a warm attic for learning 24/7 well then I applaud your lofty inspirations. But what exactly are you goin to do when the “ebony bekeshe” acquires the tattered outlook and the stuffy fluffy insulation starts scratching the material with its naïve cut glass outlooks.Will you just wander on down to Boro Park and purchase a brand new shiny onyx addition complete with rhinestones for the added wanna be bling effect.
    I’m not so sure I fully understand the depths of your reasonings on this clearly puzzling yearning.Seems almost silky surfacey with subtle signs of insulation deficiency syndrome.

  25. Wow. Yasher Koach on such a well written, thoughtful post.

    As someone who came to Torah observance via a combination of different organizations (in chronoligical order… Isralight, Manhattan Jewish Experience, Jewish Heritage Center, Gateways & Chabad), I’d like to add my two cents.

    The warmth and acceptance of guitar playing Rabbis in addition to davening with transliterated-Siddur Rabbis (in the beginning) opened up my heart, mind & soul to the truth that Judaism can be warm & embracing, unlike the dead version (albeit not Torah-based) I experienced as a child & teen in Brooklyn, NY.

    Then, learning that Torah & science do not contradict one another, allowed me to start taking on mitzvot upon mitzvot, as G-d was no longer some Santa-Claus (lehavdil) type of deity sitting in the heavens watching our every move, waiting with glee to punish us when we were bad. Learning Gemorah showed me that Toarh Judaism is quite intellectual and that Chazal were of the highest level of intellect possible, that not even the wisest attorneys, doctors & politicians can even hold a candle to.

    Finally, discovering Chassidus & the Chabad outlook, that we are to utilize our G-d given talents to spread knowledge of Torah throughout the world, let me see that I do not have to dress in a black suit & white shirt every day, that I can & should be myself, within halachic parameters, amongst many other deep concepts.

    So on Shabbos, I wear adark suit, a white shirt and a tie, along with my Borselino black hat. During the week, one can usually find me in jeans & sneakers, sporting my neatly trimmed goatee.

    However, my black velvet kippah hasn’t left my head, outside my house, since 2003. I eat strictly glatt inside & outside my home, have been shomer Shabbos since 7/05, and spend almost every free minute every day trying to draw stray Yidden and those influenced by missionaries back to Torah.

    So, in regards to the post, it’s nice to want to identify with a certain stream of Orthodoxy, and to dress and behave accordingly. But speaking for myself, I prefer an eclectic mix of many streams. As long as one adheres to Torah halacha, doesn’t try to cheat by trying to live a Torah life by only doing the minimum requirements, and is constantly striving to grow & learn in their Yiddishkeit, our not-yet-frum brothers & sisters will see that this is a lifestyle for them as well, with joy, with individualism, with intellectual pursuit, and most importantly, fulfillment as a Jew according to how Hashem intended.


  26. FWIW, I think the lingual distinction between Chasidim and Litvaks is far more significant then distinctions of dress and facial hair. And I hold that they (the chassidim) are correct.

  27. Ron,
    You allude to the belief among many Litvaks that the Chassidim are overly concerned with dress-codes and that this doesn’t make them more authentic. But the main point amongst the “real Litvaks” (meaning those that even now, are not embarressed to be called Misnagdim) is that Litvaks stress limud haTorah over everything else. The problem of overstressing levush is that one may think they are a tzaddik before becoming a talmid chacham which, according to said “real Litvaks” is the entire goal of life. Also, when “real Litvaks” speak of limud Hatorah, it is self-understood that what the chasidim call Limud Hatorah is a close approximation.

  28. Someone reading this post from OOT might think that the Chassidim are isolated from the secular world. But those of us here in NYC see them everyday in many facets of business. They choose to stay in their own, closeknit communities, but so do those of us who are not intimately part of their world. But many Chassidim have become highly successful businessmen. It ain’t just diamonds anymore. 47th St. Photo begot B&H, etc. Just drive through Boro Park and see all the construction going on, the fruits of their labor.

  29. Ron, Doesn’t R’ Hirsch’s answer sound awfully like Modern Orthodox (as it is ‘meant’ to be practiced)?

  30. Somehow, we have no problem with the many other uniforms people around us wear every day.

    Ah, but these uniforms are distinctly Jewish…OK, distinctly one type of Jewish. Big deal! Those of us who dress in business suits or casual wear must be pretty insecure in ourselves if we let other Jews’ uniforms bother us.

    These uniformed chassidim manage quite well in running and working for businesses in the heart of the modern metropolis.

  31. It’s the same issue as the the Modern Orthodoxy vs. Yeshivish Orthodoxy divide… The question is, how do you see values being balanced that makes more sense to you, religiously? As well as, are you secure in your own derekh? The emphasis on ‘externals’ as a barometer of ‘frumkeit’, in all communities, makes people second-guess themselves.

  32. Ron,
    A fascinating post! When are you going to write a book?
    There is an innate danger in identifying religiosity with externals, such as dress, beards, and peyos. Often the frumkeit of externals can remain just that–only external, reflecting no inner growth or content. While it’s true that the external will arouse the internal (as per the Sefer Chinuch on the many mitzvot of zecher Yetzias Mitzrayim), that is said in regards to actions and conduct, not simply dress!

  33. Ron, Great post. I can relate to your last sentence. My grandfather was a Bostoner chassid, I learned in a litivshe kollel and I have a deep connection to Rav Hirsch’s writings. So what does that make me (other than confused :-))?

    I think that how a BT perceives what is frum, frummer, and frummest will vary from person to person depending on why they became frum and also how many years are into it. Someone who is new, might not be able to notice that a clean shaven baal mussar is working on himself internally. Might not appreciate the dedication of a simple baal habos to make it to learning and minyan evry day, which is quite holy if you ask me.

    But I agree, nothing like a nice shiny blue bekeshe with a nice black diamond shaped pattern.

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