Sunday, September 17, 2006

You are what you wear, or are you?

Now, I'm not one for online blogwars. In fact, I'm not a big fan of machlokes or any type of debates. However, I do really enjoy a gentle exchange of words and ideas.

When I saw this article written by a guy who calls himself Rare Find, I could not resist exploring the points he raised a little more. I originally wasn't planning on turning this into a post, but after getting a little bit of a feel for his true feelings on the matter in the comments, I decided to adress the article. The most troubling paragraph:
"External appearance has become the most prominent indicator of the value system in ultra-orthodox society. It boggles my mind when I see yeshiva boys and hassidim, decked out in full-blown black-and-white-with-a-hat-on-top attire, hanging out with girls and watching movies. While I have no problem with either of these two activities, I know for a fact that the yeshivot these people attend disapprove of such behavior vehemently. Yet, when these boys choose to go against the values of the yeshivot they represent, they don't break the dress code, Heaven forbid. They break the other rules - the ones with a bit of logic behind them, the ones intended to prevent immoral thoughts and behaviors. At least from my vantage point, it appears that what is being drilled into their heads in yeshiva is not how to act, but how to dress."
Anyone who knows me from back when I was in High School knows that I cared a lot about how I dressed. Yes, I cared about every detail of how I dressed down to the last spike in my Doc Martin boots. And because I cared so much about how I dressed (metal, NOT goth), Rabbis were always interested in letting me know the hashkafic importance of how one dresses. Finally, when I got to OJ I realized how much of a difference dress really can make, and I realized that it's a lot deeper than most people think. However, to someone who's never explored the extremes of attire (or been inside a Hot Topic), they probably haven't thought or learned about the effects of how people dress as much as I have. Thus, I think it's easy for a dude to write an article in a YU newspaper bashing black hats just because he didn't like what his Rabbi used to annoy him with back in high school. In fact, it's just too easy for a YU student to write an article about how yeshivish people care more about dress codes than Middos or Torah, or other things that Chareidi people obviously do care about, even with his disclaimer:
"(I know, this is a sweeping generalization, and not everyone in the ultra-orthodox community is obsessed with the external. But there is a large portion of the ultra-orthodox community to which this claim does apply. So allow me to offer this disclaimer that when I speak of the community as a whole: I am only referring to those who display such feelings.)"
Therefore, I took it upon myself to let him know that this stuff is a little deeper than he thinks, and Rare Find answered. But even after I pointed out how deep his opinions run, he just had to make it clear that he sticks by his contention. Like I said, as I much as I don't enjoy fighting, and I hope Rare Find doesn't view this as any sort of attack, I just couldn't let a discussion about appearences go unmentioned.

But think about this Rare Find: What do people in Teaneck say when a guy walks into a shul wearing a black hat? What do people in Efrat say when someone walks into shul not wearing a kippah sruga, but a black velvet kippa instead?
"But unfortunately, what appears to be missing in the ultra-orthodox mindset is the understanding that traditional garb is just that: Garb. Clothes. Nothing more. And what really troubles me is when people try to make it seem like it is more than that."
You're going to honestly tell me that such a superficial mindset doesn't exist in a Modern Orthodox setting as well?

We're all Jews, and we all suffer from the same communal problems.