Browsing Tag

black hat

Uncategorized October 10, 2011

Points Along the Ortho-Spectrum

One of the biggest mistakes people make about the “Orthodox” is that we’re all the same.  Or all Hasidic.  Or all Joseph Liebermans.  Well, just like lots of other things in life, it’s all about a continuum.  Points along the spectrum.

I will not attempt to speak for any of these groups, since I do not reside in all of them, but will instead offer very superficial distinctions between them.  What I would love is to have members of these various groups speak for themselves, so if you identify as one of them, give me a holler and perhaps you would guest-blog for me. It may be anonymous, if you’d like.

For example:

1. The most intense form of Orthodoxy is Hasidism.  Also called Chassidism.  Chasidim wear special clothing that makes them immediately visible as such, and believe in a tremendous warmth and passion in Judaism as well as insularity – sheltering themselves from external influences and secular culture as much as possible.  Many speak Yiddish as a first language.  Here’s where you’ll find the fur hats, called “shtreimlach” and the curly sidelocks, called “peyos.”

2. Together with and separate from Hasidism is Chabad-Lubavitch.  Chabad is a form of Hasidism, but their primary focus is outreach to fellow Jews to inspire them in Judaism, as opposed to insularity.  Chabad is famous for stopping people on the street to perform a mitzvah such as laying tefilling or shaking a lulav and is incredibly idealistic, self-effacing, and devoted in their mission, even moving to far-flung areas such as (famously) Mumbai, Shanghai, or Chile to be there for fellow Jews searching for meaning, inspiration, or just a warm hello and some home-cooked kosher food.

3. We now arrive at the “yeshivish” community.  They are easily spotted by the black hats, suits and white shirts at all occasions.  More on the yeshivish community here.

4. The next group would be “regular” Orthodox. They don’t wear the black hats.  They don’t only dress in “black-and-white” either.  The guys might wear khakis, colored shirts, and jeans while in casual mode.  The women are harder to distinguish from category #3. Good luck with that.  Some people find themselves fluctuating between various groups, too, or living somewhere between.  They may have a TV or allow moderate forms of secular culture in their homes and lives.

5. Modern Orthodoxy is a group that believes passionately in Religious Zionism, in embracing secular culture and being a part of the larger world for the purpose of creating a “kiddush Hashem” – showing the world that you can do both.  Senator Lieberman, I believe, identifies as Modern Orthodox.

What do you say, readers?  Would you agree with my breakdown?  Offer your own?  Have something to add or subtract?  Would love to hear about it!  Per the nature of my blog, if there is disparaging or rude comment made about another group, it will not be published.

Uncategorized August 3, 2011

Black Hattitude

If you think long skirts are all the rage, check out what’s goin’ on with the black fedora.

Why DO some Orthodox men favor these antiquated black fedoras, en masse?  Is it a closet Michael Jackson thing? (Answer: no.)

There are a couple of ideas behind the black hat.

1. Historically, it has been considered a sign of respect and gentlemanliness to wear one’s hat.  JFK supposedly was the first prez to appear at his inauguration sans hat, which was either way cool or rather blasphemous, depending on how old you were at the time.

2. There is a mystical notion in Jewish tradition that while a man should keep his head covered (with a yarmulke/kippah) at all times, to demonstrate visually that God is above him, he should actually wear a DOUBLE covering while praying/saying blessings.  The hat worked nicely, since everyone wore them for formal appearances, so having a formal appearance with God fit right in.

3. The fedora emerged in recent years as a “uniform” of sorts with the “yeshiva” community – and thus became viewed by adherents as a badge of pride, similar to tzitzit (the fringes some men wear hanging from under their shirts).  Ie, you can wear it, or you can wear it with pride.

I’ll focus for now on the last point.

The “yeshiva” community is a culture and lifestyle based on the notion that the center of a man’s/boy’s academic attention should be the yeshiva – an institution of almost full-time Talmudic study.  (Why this is for men and not women will be the subject of a separate post.)

The largest yeshiva in the US is Beth Medrash Govoha (translation: Upper House of Study) in the city of Lakewood, NJ.  Remember: NOT  Lakewood, Ohio.  You’ll be searching the 480 for awhile in vain for the black fedoras.  An entire yeshiva community has arisen around the yeshiva, and the “uniform” for a guy would be white shirt, black pants/jacket, and… the ubiquitous black hat.

Other aspects of the lifestyle include a resistance to pop culture (ie, not getting People magazine or going to movies), an emphasis on modesty between men and women, a passion for prayer, Torah study, and acts of kindness within the community, and the importance of large families when possible.
Believe it or not, all this is expressed with the donning of the black fedora.

Any questions?