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Nissan 5764 – Judging Frumkeit by Appearance

1 Nissan 5764
Judging Frumkeit by Appearances

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky,
Why is it that frumkeit with women have been based on covering hair or not and if a women wears pants. Does this have Rabbinic source and origin, or are we as the Jewish communities being judgmental? Why are these two Isurim from the Torah chosen? Yes, they are isurim from the Torah but what about Lashon Hara or any other things that are forbidden or required by the Torah? Lashon Hara may be widespread unfortunately, but why should that make a difference? It is still forbidden from the Torah. What about other Mitzvos Bein Adom L’chavairo? Doesn’t the penimius of a person matter as well? Is it not just as important to be a Mensch?

Name & Seminary withheld

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Dear Friend,

Let’s start at the beginning. There are basically two types of people; those that categorize people and those that don’t. If you don’t categorize people then you have no problem, all people are people. (Animal rights activists might be unhappy even with that distinction however).

Yet we know that the Torah breaks up that grouping into Jews and Non-Jews. Not all Jews are happy with that distinction, they consider it racist. They think intermarriage is a wonderful thing. We however believe that the Torah’s classification is a good thing. “Hamavdil bain Yisroel Liamim” is a beracha we make in appreciation of that distinction.

In halacha the distinctions continue. There is a talmid chacham, am haaratz, a kofer, a mumar, an apikores. This is not name calling; they are levels of halachic distinctions that preclude a simplistic “why can’t we all just be Jews”. We can, but some of us can’t eat the shechita of others of us.

Beyond those distinctions, we come to the Torah observant community, and there are even more distinctions. Some represent customs, others philosophy; but to pretend they don’t exist is foolish. Sefardim and Askkenazim have separate traditions and they must be observed. The ashkesfard attitude is not halachic and frankly pretty pathetic.

A young lady was dating a chassidishe boy and was in tears over the idea of not being able to eat gebrochts. Personally, the shaving the head thing would have bothered me more, but then again I grew up in the sixties. Should these things bother us? That’s irrelevant, they will make a difference to people and to ignore differences is a mistake that may come back to haunt you.

Now let’s finally get to your question. Today there are two groups that for better or for worse are known as Modern Orthodox and Yeshivish. Some prefer the terms Centrist Orthodox and Charedi, but the names are irrelevant, we know that they exist. The differences are not merely cosmetic; a black velvet yalmulka or a knitted or leather one, for example. Those aren’t the differences; but they are the means of identification that each group uses.

Does a boy who wears a black hat automatically have more yiras shamayim than one who doesn’t? Of course not, but he is making a statement; “this is the group I wish to associate with”.

Now is it possible that a girl who covers her hair speaks more lashon hora then a girl who doesn’t? Yes, but then she might speak more lashen hara than a Reform Jew or a Christian or anyone else. That is an area that she is failing in. But that’s not the same thing as wearing a t-shirt that reads “I SPEAK LASHON HORA – HOW ABOUT YOU?” or putting a bumper sticker on her car with the message “HONK IF YOU LOVE SPEAKING LASHON HORA”. Then she is making a statement – I belong to the category of baalei Lashon Hora.

When a woman goes out in a button down shirt and pleated skirt, it is as if she is wearing a t-shirt that reads “BAIS YAAKOV AND LOVING IT”. If she wears a miniskirt and a tank top she is saying, “BOYS – I’M AVAILABLE”. “If she goes in pants and doesn’t cover her hair she is saying “MODERN ORTHODOX JEWS UNITE”.

Is it possible someone doesn’t understand the distinctions? They just grabbed the first thing in their closet and it happened to be a pair of Jeans? Anything is possible, but just as I feel it is legitimate to categorize a person as a charedi by their dress (though there is always the possibility that he is one of the Blues Brothers) I think it is fair to categorize people by how they choose to present themselves to the outside world.

Now if you think that someone who has chosen to flaunt the halacha of covering one’s hair is just as frum as someone who doesn’t, then I understand your problem. But I believe that though we don’t always control what comes out of our mouth, or how we react in our interpersonal relationships, we can always control how we choose to present ourselves to the outside world. And that is an easy distinction.

A friend of mine was a Rav of a congregation that defined itself as Modern Orthodox. When certain issues came up, going to a hotel with only mixed swimming was one, they said, “it’s okay Rabbi, we’re Modern Orthodox”. He would look perplexed and say “I have never found that term in shulchan aruch. Let’s look up the halacha, either it is permitted or forbidden. But simply saying ‘I’m Modern Orthodox’ is not an acceptable halachic position”.

I hope this provides you with some clarity and may we one day all, as the tefilla say, form an aguda achas (small a) and serve Hashem as one.

Sincerely,
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky