Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Biggest Mitzva

Sometime in the late '70's, there was a riot in Williamsburg (NYC). Satmar Hassidim, ran riot in the local Police Station on Shabbat (I don't remember why). I do recall that when one of the rampaging Satmarer was asked why he and his cohorts were rioting (and on Shabbos, yet), he replied: 'If the Blacks can do it, so can we!' (Of course, he used the Yiddish word...). Anyway, the next day, after Kollel Seder at YU, I happened to discuss this episode with one of the Roshe Yeshiva. I will never forget his comment (as he's one of the smartest, most perceptive people I know). He noted that here are Satmar Hassidim, who pride themselves on their absolute detachment from anything Western or American, self-consciously modelling themselves on Black militants. They are, he concluded, more assimilated than they wish to admit.

I thought about this episode, when I received this article from Thursday's Haaretz (courtesy of Aviad Stollman). It describes the new fashion in Haredi circles, wearing a chador-like covering for reasons of modesty. It appears that even Haredi rabbis are most disturbed by it. Personally, I don't know why they're surprised. Tzni'us for women (not, G-d forbid for men) has long been a, no the, central concern of rabbis, educators and parents. Every social evil in the Orthodox community (and beyond) has been attributed to the failure of religious women to cover up 'properly'. For example, about ten years ago, there was a serious drug problem in a Haredi neighborhood. What was the rabbinic response? They started a campaign to get married women to cover more hair. Their moral lassitude, it was declared, was responsible for the drug problem.

Now, I firmly believe in modest attire ('according to Orthodox tradition' as the wedding invitations say) for both men and women. I am also very much aware of the fact that the more secular society tramples sexual and social boundaries, there is a natural (and totally understandable) reaction to compensate and dig in.

There is, however, a limit. My wife's great-grandfather, a Lubavitcher Hassid, was wont to say: דער גרעסטער מצווה איז ניט צו זיין קיין נער. Roughly translated: 'The biggest mitzva is not to be an idiot,' and this is insane. It also, as the Haredi Bes Din in the article noted, comes perilously close to active imitation of non-Jewish RELIGIOUS behavior (חוקות הגוי), about which I happen to know something. In fact, when I was reading my friend Judy Miller's book, God Has Ninety Nine Names, I was struck by the fact that the the first thing the Taliban (and all other jihadis) do when they take power is to throw a shmatte on the women. Evidently, as with the Satmar Hassidim, Haredi society is becoming more assimilated than it realizes (or is willing to admit).


Anonymous said...

unfortunately this is not unique to hareidim. there are dati leumi who can be mistaken for arab women.

but this really speaks to a larger issue: at what point is it religion/halakha, or humra, and at point is it crazy? a woman covering her hair [lets just take this as halakha] is looked upon as loony is general enlightened culture.

Ben Bayit said...

This has nothing to do with Satmar - or any chassidim for that matter. It is about an unfettered, out of control baal teshuva movement and perhaps a dose of rebellion against the materialism of the $5,000 human hair wigs in the lithuanian world and the rabbonim who won't do anything about them. 50 more noa dayan's and her breslov book and soon the whole of Israel will look like Afghanistan

Yehu said...

Jeff, you mixing up needle and tuchis (try it in Hebrew). These arab fashionists are the Beitar fans from 3 articles ago who become breslevers. Satmar & Toldos Aharon have their own ver distinctive fashions. Their rebels wear things totally different than those burkas, believe me.

BB don't worry, the heilige medina will not ever look like Taliban - it's either your heilige Tsiyoinim win and than you get gulags - it'll be Animal Farm X 20000 or the arabs win and than you get Saddam's torture chambers.
But it all of course the haredim's fault. Cos they won't have phoney giyurs and chasunahs, Goren-Uziel style.

In the meantime I can go see Frank Gambale or Gary Moore in NYC. Heck, gotta use life for something.


Yehu said...

I should add that hassidim are the most materialistic people in the world (tho a closet-MO hassid friend of mine swers MO are even more materialists). They are full of pop culture, they get "bratz" dolls for their kids, and look at magazines at WalMart (w/o buying them.

Of course, if the haredim would come out against this crap everyone'd say they shun BTs.

Jeffrey said...

If you continue to pot in garbled English, and in coarse terms, I will have no choice but to bar you from commenting.

ADDeRabbi said...

there might be more in common between satmar and black nationalism than meets the eye, even without conscious imitation: