Sunday, April 11, 2010

Holiday Insights

Over the recent holiday I spent some time with my relatives. Like most ex-chareidi people, amongst my decent sized family, I have some relatives which are the kind of frum that I find incredibly annoying, but others are really not so bad. This particular family is really quite easygoing, and so I tend to enjoy my visits with them. That being said, they are still pretty strictly frum, probably placed somewhere in the moderate-chareidi camp, and consequently there arises all sorts of situations with them that remind me just how different my worldview is to theirs. (As an aside, when I spend time with any of my family, I maintain an outwardly respectfully frum demeanor, even though most of them are aware that I'm not at all frum.)

One such incident occurred pretty soon into my visit. I arrived wearing dress pants and a blue dress shirt, which I planned on wearing when yom tov started. While I was well aware that a blue shirt is not the accepted style in their community, I was pretty sure that they'd find it to still be respectful enough that it wouldn't pose a problem. And it didn't, at least for the adults. But the kids... they just didn't know how to handle it! Here's how the conversation went as yom tov was approaching, and they were hanging out with me:
Kids (aged 8 - 10): When are you going to get dressed for yuntif?
Me: I am dressed.
Kids: Very funny!
Me (laughing at their incredulity): Seriously, this is what I'm going to wear.
Kid: Stop it. I know you're not serious. You're not going to wear a blue shirt to shul.
Me: Ok, you don't have to believe me if you don't want to. It doesn't really matter.
Kids: But, but... how could you...? It's a blue shirt…!

What could I possibly say to help them understand? To their minds, it was just totally inconceivable that someone would do something so outrageous as wearing a blue shirt on shabbos. Impossible! It reminded me of the incident when I was still frum where my Israeli 8-year-old nephew saw me for the first time wearing a kipa sruga (a knitted yarmulke, of the style that are typically worn by those affiliated with the Religious-Zionist community). His reaction? "Why would you wear that? Rak chilonim lovshim kipot k'eilu!" ("Only non-religious people wear those kinds of yarmulkes!")

(By the way, the next day, my cousin told me that her 7-year-old wanted to wear a blue shirt too. It's amazing what a corrupting influence I am!)

Another incident: I was sitting in the kitchen, and my uncle was about to have a bite of some pesach cake. He turned to his wife and asked her if he should make a mezonos or shahakol before eating it. (On pesach, some baked goods are made with ingredients that require a shehakol bracha, so the baker (my aunt) would know what bracha it required). She thought for a moment, and then replied, "I'm not sure. I can't remember how I made that one." My uncle immediately declared, "You don't know? Then how can it be eaten?! We have to throw it out!"

As soon as he said that, my aunt seemed to have a very sudden recollection of what ingredients went into the cake, so the crisis was averted, but I was just struck how incredibly absurd his reaction was. To be honest, I'm not really sure how serious he was when suggesting that it be trashed, since it really doesn't take much halachic imagination to figure out ways to eat an item even when you aren't sure what bracha to make on it (e.g. have it after motzi, have it 'in mind' when making a mezonos and shehakol on something else, or he even could have simply asked her to check her recipe!), but just hearing his first instinctive response to some tiny halachic quandary to be such an extreme black-and-white overreaction really highlighted for me the craziness of how halacha makes some people see the world.

Another moment of contrast: At dinner, during some point in the conversation I was telling them about some of my experiences at school, and some of the friends I've made there. I mentioned how I got to know some Iranian students, and how interesting it was to hear their perspectives on current events, and their interaction with American society. When I remarked how I was surprised to learn that they, as loyal Iranians, still find Ahmadinejad to be an absolute nutjob, I was quite amazed when my relatives nodded in agreement. "Of course!" they responded. Wow, I thought to myself. That's not the reaction I was expecting. Have my chareidi relatives really developed the subtlety to not paint all Muslims with the same brush? "Of course," my uncle explained. "He's made life terrible for the Jews there. They can't stand him!"

I was unsure how to respond to his remark, momentarily confused by what he meant, but then it dawned on me what had just transpired: When I spoke about befriending Iranian students, they had automatically assumed that I was talking about Iranian Jews! Realizing this, I just sat there in utter disbelief at what I was hearing. My family were all frum professionals, some of them even having attended college (one even a doctorate), and most having worked in the secular world for decades. How in the world does someone who has all those years of interaction, however tangential it may be to their primary frum life, maintain such a narrow ethnocentric worldview?! Honestly, I was just flabbergasted.

At another point, the inevitable political topic arose, and like every other situation where I've heard chareidim comment on current events, the right-wing tirade against how Obama is such a terrible person, a socialist who is destroying the country, how he's overtaxing them and giving away their money to the poor shvartzes on welfare, etc., blah, blah, was expressed. This wasn't surprising to me at all, but what was amazing was the total lack of awareness of how hypocritical they were in their position. In other conversations, these same relatives had absolutely no qualms expressing exactly the opposite opinion when it came to how the Israeli government is so terrible for always trying to cut back on the welfare allowances that they give chareidi families. I know, it's totally not the same thing at all.

I'm very appreciative of my family. They're all very kind and wonderful, and I'm most grateful that, for the most part, they've never at any time given me a hard time about my decision to stop being frum. But I never cease to be reminded that no matter how 'normal' and accepting a chareidi person is, there will always be a vast and seemingly insurmountable gulf between the worldview of the committed chareidi and my own personal outlook on the world.

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Photo Credit: Flickr user barb

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17 comments:

Ichabod Chrain said...

There are plenty of us non-Haredim who believe that Obama is a Socialist who is trying to destroy the country by backing down to Iran, creating trillion dollar deficits, taking away our health care, putting far leftists in high executive posts, disrepecting Netanyahu while bowing to the King of Saudi Arabia, etc. etc. So maybe the Haredim have a point about that.

Ichabod Chrain

The Hedyot said...

I wasn't arguing whether or not their political views are right. I was pointing out the inconsistency of their position.

Holy Hyrax said...

If I amy butt in, regarding the Iranian conversation, this is not found only in frum families. Even chilonim, (especially Israelis) would be surprised to befried a non Jewish Iranian. And its a simple reason. If you were to tell them you met a Swede, someone would ask whether they are Jew or non-Jew. But as things currently are, Jews and muslims are not the greatest of play buddies, so often enough, for many people not just frum, it IS surprising to see a Jew befriending a muslim and therefore, someone would assume the Iranian in question was Jewish

The Hedyot said...

> Even chilonim, (especially Israelis) would be surprised to befried a non Jewish Iranian.

Of course I expected them to be surprised. That's why I brought it up - because it was such a unique experience! I'm just amazed that to them it is so far-fetched to imagine such a thing that it's simply more likely to assume the person is Jewish. As far-fetched as wearing a blue shirt on shabbos.

> But as things currently are, Jews and muslims are not the greatest of play buddies, so often enough, for many people not just frum, it IS surprising to see a Jew befriending a muslim...

Clearly, I'm well aware of this, but everyone in the world knows that Muslims and Jews don't usually get along very well, and I've never had such a reaction from any other person I've mentioned it to. Everyone find it surprising, but normally the response is, "interesting... a Jew and a Muslim... what's that like?", and not, "Oh, so they're Jewish, right?"

Anonymous said...

DH 11:54,
But it's not hypocritical of them to say that, if you believe as they do that the Haredim are working for their money by staying in kollels and are perfoming mitzvahs, while Obama is creating a massive expansion of federal power that among other things is harming Haredim.

It might be wrong for them to expect the Israeli government to support them, when they aren't doing productive work and are following a belief system that has all the problems you've mentioned over the years, but you can be wrong without being inconsistent.

Ichabod Chrain

Joshua said...

The thing about throwing out the cake is interesting. I'm pretty sure pretty much everyone paskins that that's highly suboptimal. This makes me wonder how much of these relatives issues is caused by general ignorance (If a frum person doesn't know much halacha then they almost certainly don't know much about anything else either).

I'd be very curious how they'd react if you actively pointed out the contradiction in their attitudes regarding Obama and welfare.

Dave said...

But as things currently are, Jews and muslims are not the greatest of play buddies, so often enough, for many people not just frum, it IS surprising to see a Jew befriending a muslim and therefore, someone would assume the Iranian in question was Jewish


Seriously?

I've had friends and colleagues of pretty much every religious persuasion under the sun over the coure of my career.

If you are seriously limiting your friendships based on the religion of the other person, well, I feel sorry for you.

Phantom said...

Is the fact that you were surprised that non-Jewish Iranians think Ahmadinejad is an absolute nutjob indicitive that you tend to paint all non-Jewish Iranians with the same brush?
For the most part, Iranians in the U.S. fled Iran because of the revolution so it would be more surprising if you met an Iranian (or Persian as they usually prefer to be called) who likes Ahmadinejad.

The Hedyot said...

> Is the fact that you were surprised that non-Jewish Iranians think Ahmadinejad is an absolute nutjob indicitive that you tend to paint all non-Jewish Iranians with the same brush?

Absolutely. That topic is only one of many on which I admit to an embarrassing ignorance and an understanding (if it can be called that) which has been (mis)informed by shallow and skewed contemporary media impressions. Which is exactly why I'm eager to speak to people who can help me gain a better understanding of the issue.

Betzalel said...

I'm convinced that the reason why Haredi males dress in black and white is because they see the world in black and white.

Abe Silberstein said...

Ichabod,


Yeah that is why he ignored the entire leftwing of the party when deciding what to put in the health care bill. No public option, no Medicare expansion, no Medicare-buy in. This bill was Bob Dole's alternative bill in 1993. Stop drinking the AHIP kool-aid!

Anonymous said...

Betzalel, I had heard directly from a nephew of R. Noach Weinberg that he was, literally, black/white colorblind.
Pierre

Ichabod Chrain said...

Abe,
If the bill that Chaffee introduced in 1993 was similar to Obamacare, then that too was a bad bill.

But yes I agree with you that he sold out the left wing of the party. And not only with health care, but also when he didn't appoint Bernardine Dohrn to the Supreme Court and Bill Ayers as Secretary of Defense.

Tova said...

Ichabod Chrain -

I've read you all over the Jewish blogosphere. Get in touch with me, please!

I'm not surprised that frummies use welfare, Section 8, and EBT cards. They are, whether they admit it or not, socialists. Halacha itself is socialistic; this is one of the reasons I don't usually abide by it.

Ichabod Chrain said...

Tova, sorry but no can do because I don't have an anonymous e-mail account. (Sorry for writing this on your blog DH, but I don't have any other way to respond to Tova.)

I'll be surfing your blog and I usually stop by here whenever I see DH has a new post up. I saw your post about the questions you had that the rabbi cut you off on, and was wondering what questions you had.

Since this is DH"s blog, let me give him a plug. When DH is on a roll he's one of the top writers in the J skeptic blogosphere. If you haven't gone through DH's archives, it might be worthwhile to do so. I can't say for sure, but there might be something in them that might give you some perspective on the questions you were asking of the rabbi.

On Her Own said...

The story about the outfit made me laugh. My nephew did the same thing a little while ago:

"Why are you wearing pants? Pants
are for boys!"

And then, the inevitable follow-up question:

"Are you Jewish?"

Still haven't had any of my nieces ask to wear pants though...

Tova said...

"When DH is on a roll he's one of the top writers in the J skeptic blogosphere. If you haven't gone through DH's archives, it might be worthwhile to do so."

Yes, DH is a brilliant writer.

"Why are you wearing pants? Pants
are for boys!"

I've been asked this by my neighbors' kids. I told them that clearly, it was possible for girls to wear pants - cargo shorts, in this case.