Saturday, December 18, 2010

For Deep Thinkers and People Who Should Wear Hats

Long time readers will know of my contempt for the Jewish Press. For a paper that bills itself as America's largest independent Jewish weekly, it does a lot to represent the opinions of only the most right-wing, pro-settler, Republican Jews, and the Pesach hotels they frequent. The most left-wing article/opinion piece/political cartoon (in the JP, the distinction is fleeting) that I can recall reading is one that argued that we shouldn't hate Barack Obama because he is an anti-semite, but because he is a delusional peacenik who is just very stupid. Very brave.

All this is news to no one, least of all me, but sometimes the contempt some of the writers in the JP have for their fellow Jews is just overwhelming. I am a frequent reader of the weekly column "Chronicles in Crises" by the mononymous "Rachel", purely for the cultural voyeurism. My all-time favorite was the series on cheating in the frum community, which was allegedly started by an individual who wrote in to justify the practice. (I'm 90% sure that letter-writer was pulling our collective chain, but I digress.) Lately, however, the crises in our community have been getting more and more mundane, and less and less entertaining. This has culminated in this week's installment, which featured The Terrifying and Anguish-Inducing Crisis of The Boy Who Did Not Want to Wear a Black Hat to Shul on Shabbos, Even Though His Father Really Wanted Him To. Pretty lame, granted. However, Rachel's advice is everything I hate about the Jewish Press.

The mother who wrote in had asked Rachel if she could help convince her son to wear the hat, if possible with a cutting combination of logic and Halachic citation. After affectionately pooh-poohing the logical faculties of the modern teenager (and therefore arguing that really all such attempts at reasoning with a teen are somewhat quixotic), Rachel agreed to help and furnished some citations for The Case for Wearing a Black Hat.

First, two disclaimers. I am by no means a rabbinic source, a font of halachic knowledge, or particularly knowledgeable about this issue, and I do not wear a hat on Shabbos. Second, while I firmly believe women should be taught everything that men are taught, I don't think this was in fact the education that either the Tearful Mother, or the Mononymous Rachel actually received, and I'm curious as to what education Angry Dad was gifted, because the procedural posture of this cry for help is definitely weird. What kind of father can insist that his son wear a hat on Shabbos, without actually having a clue of any of the ma'are mekomos or relevant source-texts? Are they really relying on the mother asking a female Charedi psychologist in the Jewish Press? And from the article, the boy is in a hat-wearing yeshiva. Doesn't he have rebbeim? Can't they brainwash the boy? What kind of yeshiva is this? When I was in yeshiva, I didn't want to wear a hat, and my rebbeim were on me like white on rice. I was left with the strong impression that people who don't wear hats are oysvarfs, and that it is a clear matter of halacha that Thou Shalt Wear on Thine Head a Rabbit's Keester, Meester. So, I have to say, the job that Rachel did here did not leave me very impressed.

First, she cites the Mishnah Berurah that "a man davening Shemonei Esrei should be garbed in a manner that befits the occasion of meeting with an important official," and Berochos that "one should bow before Hashem dressed as befits one who stands before the King."

Okay, I think we can clearly learn from here that when you're davening you should be dressed respectfully, as if you were standing before a King, or at least some important official. But where does a black hat, in particular, come from? The kid doesn't want to go to shul dressed in skater chic, I'm assuming he wants to wear a suit and tie, respectable clothes, right? Why isn't that enough?

"While many orthodox segments of Jews will not allow themselves to succumb to outside trends and influences, members of the modern orthodox may argue that times are not what they used to be and thus justify their no-jacket no-hat attire (when davening) as acceptable."

This sentence right here is everything that is wrong with how the Chareidim view the Modern Orthodox. Notice the dualism here. One the one hand, you have "succumb[ing] to outside trends and influences" which is obviously wrong and bad, and on the other, you have mealymouthed MO's arguing that "times are not what they used to be", which is exactly the same way that Chareidim characterize the outlook of Reform and Conservative Jewry. Times have changed! G-d doesn't care whether we drive to shul on Shabbos, or whether we eat pork, or whether we have premarital sex. He just wants us to have a good time! La-la-la.

And this is the entirety of the no-hat argument. Times have changed. You can just hear the subtext. Silly modernishe Jews, such shotim! Don't they know that times don't change? The Torah is timeless!

And then -

"Then there is the rationalization that proper etiquette in the world at large calls for removal of one's hat in deference to an important figure, such as when standing before a dignitary or monarch. But if that indeed holds true in the gentile world (as we know it does), it should give us all the more reason not to follow such trend in our service to G-d."

I don't even get the logic in this argument. Even assuming every point is true;

1. In order to daven, a Jew must be dressed like he is standing before an important figure.
2. Proper etiquette on planet Earth apparently calls before the doffing of one's hat when standing in front of an important figure.
3. Therefore, we must not take off our hats in front of important figures!

What? How do you get from postulate 2 to conclusion 3? Is Rachel saying we should not take off our hats because goyim (and MO's) take off their hats? Why, just to shtuch them? Or is the argument, that, by definition, goyim don't know how to comport themselves in front of malchus? Are we drawing a distinction between government and Hashem? Are we saying that when one goes before an important official, then he shouldn't wear a hat, but when one goes before G-d, he must? But then what's the meaning of the moshul employed by both the MB and the Gemara? And if her point is that both when going before important officials and G-d, we must not wear hats, then, memah nafshach, what's the point of the moshul? "Dress respectfully before an important official, unless goyim do it too, in which case, dress like mobsters from the 30s." And this is the powerful logic for wearing a hat?

What does she think, that for the last 2000 years, Jews have been wearing fedoras everywhere? Or beaver pelts, I guess? Obviously, Jews in the first half of the 20th century wore fedoras because that was the style of the time in which they lived. When you went outside, you wore a fedora. When you went to work, you wore a fedora. When you went to shul, you wore a fedora. But they didn't wear fedoras in the 1830s. Nobody did. You would have looked like a cowboy.

The fact is, the marriage of Torah-true Orthodox Judaism and wearing a hat is of relatively recent vintage. As I understand the MO argument, the idea behind equating one's manner of dress between an important official and G-d is supposed to be timeless and instructive advice. If the MB or the Gemarah wanted us to always wear fedoras, they could have easily done that - instead, they recognized that fashions change with the times, and that which is respectful attire to one era (say the long-flowing robes favored by Rabbi Akiva and his circle in the JP's weekly comics), will look comical to another. Therefore, by it's very nature, what is considered respectful attire in any one generation will depend on the times, and indeed, whether they have changed. To arbitrarily and permanently peg one's conception of respectable dress to the 1940s is ridiculous. And I'm not even going to begin on the Chassidim who wear satin stockings, fabric belts, long-flowing caftans and giant beaver pelts on their heads. Really, RW-Jews, it's you guys who should have to explain yourselves to us!

And then, the kicker:

"A fascinating bit of kabbalah that deep-thinkers may appreciate explains why Chassidim and other orthodox sects wear hats over their yarmulkes (a double covering). Each Jewish soul is made up of five levels: the nefesh (soul), ruach (spirit), neshama (soul - Hashem's breath), chaya (living essence) and yechida (unique essence). The first three, the nefesh, ruach and neshama, are the ascending levels that reside within the physical body, while chaya and yechida - the highest levels (not internalized) - are acknowledged with the jacket and hat respectively. These items of clothing are linked to the makif (encircling light) and thus have the ability to attract the divine light that protects us from the surrounding negative forces. Quite compelling an argument (in favor of wearing a jacket and hat) in and by itself!"

What is she, insane? Yeah, kabbala mandates the wearing of a Borselino and a Perry Ellis jacket everywhere you go. That explains why noted kabbalists such as the Arizal and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wore hats and jackets.

And "deep-thinkers may appreciate"? The smugness, it burns! There is nothing more revolting than to ask why something should be done, and told "v'hamayvin yavin". How is this deep thought? Is this the result of her long meditations into the spiritual spheres of heavenly majesty and cosmic balance? Is there some secret meaning to her words that only she and people like her can understand? More likely, this is just a bit of "kabbalite" that has been told to her, and which she is dutifully repeating. But since it's "Kabbalah" it must be for "deep-thinkers." Right. Ve'hamayvin yavin.


Izgad said...

O the joys of the Jewish De-Pressed. :p

conservative apikoris said...

The purpose of a hat is to keep the rain and sun off your head or to keep your head warm when it's cold outside. Wearing one indoors is foolishness. Do Jews need to protect their brains from harmful emanations coming from Hashem? The radical Reform who don't even use kippot when davening might be on to something.