Was wondering what your thoughts were on this.
The woman that I work for, who is an unaffiliated Jew, went into the local kosher takeout place yesterday to pick up an order. I go out socially with her and some other friends once a month. They are so respectful and accommodating and want me to be able to eat. They either order from a kosher restaurant or check with me before they buy something from the grocery, and serve on all paper/plastic.
So she asks me in front of the other women last night to explain to her why observant Jews seem to be so unfriendly. She goes on to say that she was waiting at the restaurant to get her order and there was a man with his wife and kids also waiting at the counter. She said in non-Jewish restaurants (elevators, bank lines, etc.) people say hello or might make small talk. She said the people at this kosher place were so unfriendly.
She typically dresses VERY conservatively. She happened to have a sleeveless dress on yesterday with a somewhat plunging neckline, which was out of character for her. So I explained to her that religious men try to be careful about having too much conversation with other women.
I have another friend who is the receptionist at my other office who asked the same thing about a religious man who comes in and barely (if at all) looks at her. If you are not observant, you don’t get this at all. It just seems flat out rude and then these women associate that behavior with Orthodox Jews across the board and probably mention it in conversation to their other friends.
So I understand and value men not making too much conversation with another woman (especially if she is not dressed very modestly) but it affects us religious Jewish people as a whole in such a negative way sometimes. I don’t have an answer. Do you?
I am observant Jew and sometimes I feel the same way. I try and say to myself that they don't know any better. I always am nice to people because its the right thing to do and it makes people happy. But their parents didn't teach them how to be a mench. You can't expect all Jewish people to say and hi and be nice having conversations with you wherever you go. We just stick up as Jews and yes people expect us to be a certain way. Also people always look at people they aren't doing this and that. Maybe the person who's insulted that people aren't saying hello that person should start the conversation if that's what the person what's. It's not like people can read her mind. I think also it has to do with self esteem. I think if your comfortable with yourself you don't care what people think or how they look at you. If you want the world to change start with yourself. Were always looking for things and people to complain about but what are we doing?
I have never met American O Jews, but my interactions in Europe have always been very positive, be it with men or women. I will say, however, that very many O Jews in Israel struck me as being rude, and I've heard similar observations from other foreigners visiting Israel. I've always wondered if it's maybe that O Jews in the diaspora assume that people they meet are gentiles, and they have no beef with them, whereas in Israel they assume other people are fellow Jews, but "bad" Jews, so undeserving of respect or even politeness.
I think that it's a Middle East cultural thing, much like New Yorkers here. Rude, abrupt, direct – call it what you want. It's not exclusively Jewish in the Middle East – I don't think.
There's definitely the Middle Eastern factor – from my European perspective I find Israelis quite abrupt in general. But the O community in Israel often just seemed rude even in that context. I know enough about different O customs to not get offended by men avoiding looking me in the eye etc. I mean run-of-the-mill, religiously unaffiliated lack of politeness – trying to cut the line, pushing past me and not saying sorry, yelling at clerks…
Since these were not rare occurrences, and since other people who've been to Israel have made the same observations, I was wondering if it was a way of showing fellow (but non-O) Jews that their presumed lack of observance makes them unworthy of respect.
I read the article about the woman in the restaurant. I am not surprised. Many men don't even reply to a good shabbos when they are walking to and from shul. It is rude to not respond to a greeting. If you are in a public place, and you choose not to interact with people waiting, as long as you wait patiently and don't cut in line I have no problem with that. The not "acknowledging a secretary etc… that is just plain AWFUL and RUDE. It is not your business to decide how the person is dressed, you are there to ask questions, let someone know you are there for an appointment etc… For G-D's sake look at the person in the eye and don't worry about what is below her chin. Why is that so hard?
It is not intimate conversation in any of the cases. It is just being polite to others. Remember the person deserves respect and politeness at all times–yes even if they are rude etc….
Ignoring someone who is speaking directly to you certainly can come across as being rude. But how do you react to someone who does respond to you but won't look you directly in the eye? I am considered outgoing and dynamic, but if I notice in the periphery that you're too exposed, then I'm probably not likely to face you and converse. But if you're tzniut, that's a different scenario.
It can be oppressive to be pulled into engaging in chitchat or lots of smiling and friendliness with strangers in line, and it feels almost rude on their part when strangers put me in the position of having to talk and be friendly when I'm happy to zone out or whatever. Mostly I hate that sort of thing. Sometimes I'm ok with it though. But I don't think chitchat is the measure of rude/polite at all.
A "hello" or acknowledgment of some small kind, like a nod or just a quick acknowledging look, is a different matter. I don't know any O men, but the one time I was in Israel I felt like they looked away in a somehow unpleasant fashion. Or they seemed to glare at me. In the rare encounter I have here with an O man I usually feel like they don't look at all nor look away, it's not rude but disconcerting.
At the risk of causing offense, could some of the O-American style of interaction be more a NYC thing than an O thing? Many New Yorkers don't make small talk with strangers and are very direct (to the point of seeming rude, but I'm fine with it personally). In the midwest and west (generalizing) this doesn't fly as well.
If a man dressed as a white bread American (business suit or polo+shorts, for example) wasn't friendly in the checkout line, you might not notice or put it down to his being preoccupied or having a bad day. If someone in full Hell's Angels regalia wasn't friendly, though, you might jump to the conclusion that bikers are unfriendly or nasty. It's the distinctive dress that makes us notice, and remember, something about one person but not another – and then generalize it to the whole group. Maybe?
I agree 100% with Tesyaa's comment. When we can identify someone with a particular group, we tend to draw assumptions about that group as a whole. I'm sure observant Jews make similar assumptions about other groups of people.
It's true that it's unfair to be singled out because you dress in a distinctive way, but the whole point of dressing in a distinctive way is to announce that you are different. It is to remind you (and everyone else) that you belong to a specific group. Having made that decision when you got dressed that morning, you are now (IMHO) obligated to reflect well on the Jewish people. Yes, someone in a polo shirt can be rude and it means nothing to anyone, but someone in peyes / tsitstit / sheitl / tichel / kippah / jewish star necklace can't. You no longer have the joy of being anonymous, you have chosen to be a public representative of a small and misunderstood group. Yes, that means you should be extra careful about your behavior, pay extra attention to your interactions with others, go out of your way to be friendly and kind. Sure, it's hard. Sure, it's unfair. But really, that's how we should all act all the time anyway, so try to welcome it as an opportunity to work on your middot (personal qualities). And you are in good company. The way you feel is the same way that black people, Muslims, Indians, Latinos and everyone else who is not a white people wearing a polo shirt feels every day. Judged. Given extra (negative) attention. Held to a higher standard. Forced to represent their group.
A lot of ultra-Orthodox men are inexcusably rude. Okay, you can't shake hands, you don't know how to make small talk, it's uncomfortable for you to look at a woman and you don't have a lot of experience interacting with secular people. I get it. But avoidance behavior is seen as rude, in particular by non-Orthodox women and by other Jews. It's your job to find a way to navigate this cultural difference gracefully. I wish they taught a class like "American norms for social interaction" at Yeshiva. It would be a kiddush haShem.
In Israel, I can't count the number of times I've had men get up and change their seat on a bus without a word or a glance at me nor the number of times I've been knocked off the sidewalk by a Hasid who walked into me because he only looks down. No apology. It's hard to feel that tsnuit is a way of respecting women when someone treats you like you are dangerous, disgusting, or invisible.
Once, years ago, a man walked into me because he wasn't looking where he was going. My immediate reaction was to assume it was because those haredim don't look at women. But it never happened again, no matter how many times I walked past haredi men, so eventually I realized that that particular man had been absent-minded and it almost certainly had nothing to do with religion.
As for changing seats, I know they don't want to sit next to women, so I'm not going to take it personally. As far as he's concerned, he's recognizing that you have the right to sit there and he's not objecting.
I would just be careful not to paint all orthodox men with one brush stroke…… but as other commenters have been saying, we humans tend to do that a lot. we someone who is an "other" to us and whatever behavior he/she exhibits, we attribute to everyone in that "other" category. It would be nice if we would all stop doing that……
I think the fact that the woman asked the question indicates she knows there are areas she is not educated in and simply wanted to learn. She felt "ignored" and does not feel this is typical of what happens when she goes to secular carry-out locations to pick up food. So…if the true answer is "most traditional/Orthodox men will specifically try not to look at women as it is dis-respectful to their wives", that should end the conversation. I would put a positive spin on her query and thank her for wanting to learn more about your way of life.
I think the fact that the woman was asking the question should be positively handled: "Great question. Men in my community do not interact with women as they feel it could be disrespectful to their wives" or whatever the answer may be. I would make her feel good that she is wanting to know the answer rather than focusing on the bigger question, because I don't think you should have to defend an entire community. She may be right, more people will reach out with a smile or chit chat in the secular community…but you should not feel burdened to defend…just to educate with what you DO know.
oops, first thought post disappeared so had to re-create…
It seems like most generalizations are negative.
I am frequently getting positive feedback from my employer and clients and told I have a great work ethic.
I wonder if my employer and clients make a generalization and think "Observant Jews have a great work ethic".
I have found in the 20+ years of being an observant Jewish woman that sometimes it depends on where the gentleman is from. In certain circles men don't look at women other than there wives at all and in others it is more common to nod and be more surfacy polite. I have given up trying to figure out where men are holding and as long as i catch a glimpse of openness I nod/say good shabbos/ or whatever the circumstance calls for. Too many people live where they are not originally from so making blanket statements about any place won't hold because of the constant "wandering Jew" phenomena.
I would tell your friend not to associate it necessarily with her dress. I am an Orthodox woman and men I walk past on Shabbos won't respond to a "Good Shabbos." I learned that we learn from Boaz in Megillas Rus that one is obligated to greet people, but not everyone holds that way. But, like most things, it's nothing to take personally.
I go to shul almost every shabbos and I very rarely meet men who don't smile and say hello – the vast vast majority smile and say good shabbos, etc. And they initiate it usually.
But we live on the same street 🙂
This post has brought me out of lurkerdom. I could spent the rest of my morning writing this comment, so I will try to be brief.
First of all, men not wanting to look at or talk to women is a sign of respect. They are essentially saying "I know that you are a person, not an object for my sexual pleasure. I don't want to risk viewing you in that way, but it can be hard for me. I can't trust myself. So in order to avoid the risk of dehumanizing you and turning you into an object for my viewing pleasure, I'm not going to let myself look at you or talk to you unless it's necessary for some immediate practical purpose. Because I respect you, and I don't trust myself."
Does this mean that Orthodox men are perverted sex crazed animals? No. Most men are "sex crazed" compared to women. That is how Hashem made them. The ones who devote their lives to pursuing their lusts are animal-like. The ones who don't let their lusts direct their lives are holy.
Secondly, a distinction must be made between things which are objective moral wrongs (as defined by the Torah, the only objective definition of morality), and things which are culturally considered rude while not being an objective wrong. Cutting in line, screaming at people, and being nasty are objective moral wrongs. To that I say – not all Orthodox Jews are perfect. Not all of us behave the way that we should. Orthodox Jewry is a collection of individuals, not one nameless faceless bloc. Wishing to avoid unnecessary interaction with women is a cultural thing. You can't accuse somebody of being "bad" when really you're just not used to their culture.
Imagine that you encountered an African tribesman straight from the pages of National Geographic. Let's say that he didn't want to talk to anyone not wearing a red hat, because he believed that his spirit-animal would attack anybody that he spoke to unless they were wearing a red hat. Would you say that the person was rude? If you judge him relative to his culture and beliefs, you will not think that he is rude. If anything, he is considerate, albeit in a way that makes sense only to him. You'll respect his beliefs enough to either get a red hat or not try to talk to him. Anyone who would not view the tribesman as being rude for acting according to his culture should not view Orthodox Jews as being rude for living according to their culture, either.
These are valid points except that they live and work among the world at large. There is no time to explain to less religious Jews and non-Jews the Halacha behind their actions. It would make the entire community look better and probably help garner more respect with a quick greeting. Most people are looking to make small talk in every situation. We can't have it both ways. One where you are taught you represent all Jews and then one that says we are all individuals. Both are true, but in short dealing the former takes precedence.
Also, think about the non-Jew that feels an O Jew is rude then sees those same folks on the news when Israel is discussed. Even though it isn't the entirety of Israeli society. Does this gain sympathy for the State of Israel? I would guess not. We need the support of everyone to view the State of Israel in good light.
I think many of these comments is missing the point. Yes, there are Ultra Orthodox men that are not friendly or don't look at women but there are also plenty of men and women in Ultra Orthodox circles who have given the Ultra Orthodox community for being rude. The fact is that many in these communities live very insular lives and are never taught basic manners by their parents or communities. This is not true for ALL Ultra Orthodox Jews but there are enough of them that the ill-mannered ones have a negative impact on the way society views Ultra Orthodox Jews, in general. They have created a negative stereotype. The bottom line is that it is a problem in the Ultra Orthodox community that needs to be addressed at the leadership level. It needs to be spoken about by clergy and taught in schools.
Also, many Ultra Orthodox Jews do not know how to interact with those that are not in their community because they do it so rarely. There is a disconnect. They want to be insular and you remain insular by not becoming friendly with those outside your community.
I loved SDK's comment.
I have a feeling that non-Jews might find O men who do the things described above less rude because they might see them as "foreign" and have that kind of cultural respect for a foreign way of doing things, where you don't judge because it's a foreigner thing.
I can think of my own feelings toward general behaviors I observe among "foreigners" (I mean people I don't identify with in any way, not talking about nationality) when they are doing things I might find rude, like gesturing and talking at a louder level than I think is appropriate in a restaurant. I feel a bit of irritation but I also sort of have an inward distance from my own irritation, because I simultaneously have a sense that this is a cultural/foreigner thing.
I can imagine that if I had more experience with rude behavior by Os I would NOT have the inner sense of distance that would mollify my irritation with a "foreigner". I wouldn't give it the pass that I would give to others whom I perceive as "foreign" or other, because it's JEWS and I'm one too.
Which means that the value of a sense of Jewish unity (which I never had, I think that's an O thing) comes into conflict with the value of respecting the "other" in his otherness. If I'm feeling like O "rudeness" doesn't bother me, that's because I'm treating them in my mind like some alien "other", which isn't very unified. If I feel like we are all Jews, then I am going to be more bothered by the rudeness, because if you're not a "foreigner" you are subject to the same rules of manners as I am (ok with not touching or eye-looking, but no knocking people off sidewalks without apology).
Do these behaviors happen AMONG Os or just toward non-Os or non-Jews?
I also loved the part about navigating with grace! What a great motto!
I once met an O rabbi at a synagogue, he greeted me politely but sort of briskly and without full attention, while also fussing around with his tallis, which in retrospect actually was a fairly graceful negotiation of the situation–his hands were busy, he's shaking out the fringes, he's preoccupied, it didn't feel rude, if anything he just seemed a little absent-minded. Only because of this blog do I now understand that he wouldn't want to shake hands with me or maybe look me in the eye, but he did a pretty good job of avoiding it without being insulting.
I don't know much about this. Question about this part: "So I understand and value men not making too much conversation with another woman (especially if she is not dressed very modestly)…" Is it worse to make conversation with another woman who is not dressed modestly than one who is dressed modestly? One who is prettier than one who is less pretty? I thought the criteria was not to touch a woman who is not your wife, no?
On a similar topic, I actually had male cousins stop hugging me after they got married (I wish I'd gotten the memo, as it would have saved us both some awkward moments. They were considerably younger, used to sit on my lap as kids, I even changed their diapers. They hugged me when I arrived at their wedding, but when I left, no hug.
I just came across your blog and really find it interesting and informative. I was however puzzeled by the following comment "Ruchi Koval June 23, 2014 at 9:25 PM I think that it's a Middle East cultural thing, much like New Yorkers here. Rude, abrupt, direct – call it what you want. It's not exclusively Jewish in the Middle East – I don't think." I will now quote your bio "One of my passions is Jewish unity. It pains me that Jews misunderstand each other so badly. This blog is a way to talk to each other and to unite us with education, respect, and understanding." It would seem to me that calling people from one of the biggest Jewish cities rude does not fit in with your passion hundreds of thousands of times over. In addition, as a previous out of towner now living in New York, I have encountered very rude people from out of town even if they were not abrupt and direct. From the rest of your posts I have no doubt that you misspoke and that this does not really reflect your true views.
On another note, looking at-acknowledging the opposite gender is discussed in Halacha and Halachic responsa. To see people publicly criticizing those who are following Halacha (such as R Moshe Feinstein in his Shu"t) while unabashedly displaying their ignorance with no response is puzzling. I am sure that you have a very competent Rav and if you have followed his guidance I defer.
Anonymous, thanks for responding. I meant my comment in the most good-natured way possible ("some of my best friends are New Yorkers") but in retrospect, and considering the ease in which things in writing are misunderstood without body language, your point stands.
To your second point, I have full confidence that every person can find that sweet spot in halacha where maintaining modesty and honoring others are both fulfilled.