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why Orthodox Jews do what they do

Uncategorized December 8, 2014

Hair Covering: The Women Speak

For part two of the hair covering discussion (can you say “controversial”?), I’ve polled women of all kinds on their feelings on hair covering – why they cover, or not; with what and when; and how it makes them feel.  I still have not heard from a woman who does not cover her hair as to why she doesn’t, so open invitation for that, but here’s a sampling of the responses I’ve received, including a woman who isn’t Jewish (see Kajsa’s response at the end).

Note: the word “tichel,” not to be confused with “kichel,” is a Yiddish word for kerchief.

The Questions:

1. Do you cover your hair?
2. If so, why?
3. If not, why?
4. Did you always know, growing up, that you would?
5. What is your preferred method of covering your hair – wig, scarf, hat, baseball cap, or any old thing will do?
6. What influences your answer to #5?
7. How has covering your hair, or lack thereof, impacted on your identity as a Jewish woman?
The Answers:

Anonymous covers her hair partially, but also owns a wig:

1. Yes and no. I technically cover my head
2. As a sign/symbol of being married
3. NA
4. No, I really thought I would not until I was about 18. I had really only been exposed to one type of covering and it did not appeal to me.
5. I prefer hats or scarfs as they are more in line with what I believe in philosophically and serve the purpose of #2. I do own wig that I wear for work or for occasions that it seems more appropriate.
6. The community I live in, the community I work in and the community I socialize in.
7. Covering my head has really been a huge part of my Jewish identity and I am very proud of the commitment I have made to do it.  I certainly have also been misjudged based on it both favorably and unfavorably depending on the circle I am in and the type of covering I happen to be wearing. I hope I can use those opportunities to grow.  In either case, covering my head helps make me feel connected to G-d, my husband and my family on a daily basis.
Ariella never planned on covering her hair:

1. Do you cover your hair?  yes
2. If so, why?  For reasons of modesty
3. If not, why?
4. Did you always know, growing up, that you would?  Heck, no
5. What is your preferred method of covering your hair – wig, scarf, hat, baseball cap, or any old thing will do?  Scarves and wig
6. What influences your answer to #5?  When I wear beautiful scarves, several of them at once, I feel regal and connected to the earth and to GD more so than when I cover my hair with a wig.  I often think that this is what our foremothers wore, back in the day, which makes me feel a connection to them, too.  In order to carry the scarves, I find that I need to wear earrings and makeup which forces me to ‘dress’ in the mornings,  I feel like when I’m put together with scarves (or a wig) all day, my house is holier, calmer, more positive, and everyone behaves better actually, as opposed to when kids and husband come home and I’m in a snood etc.  My kids and husband are happier when I’m dressed. I see their pride that their mommy/wife looks beautiful.   I totally believe that it affects the energy in my home, for the good when my hair is covered.  Also, I am more aware of myself as a Jewish woman, publicly, when I wear scarves or my sheitel which impacts my actions – from the way I speak to others to the way I carry myself around town. When I’m in a kiruv setting, I tend to wear the wig as I’m not as confident with the scarves in that setting.  I ‘blend’ in better with the wig.  Everyday and on shabbos, for the most part, I’m in lots of scarves with bling.  I love the looks (is that crazy?) that I get when I wear multiple scarves because here in Denver, it is unusual and I get tons of compliments – boosts my ego, I guess.
7. How has covering your hair, or lack thereof, impacted on your identity as a Jewish woman?  See above.

Rivki feels inspired by women of other faiths who cover:

Looking forward to seeing
what everyone else says about hair covering.  This is my two cents:

I prefer to cover with whatever is easiest and
still looks nice.  In the summer, this means tichels (because it’s hot and
they are cool), in the winter this means knit hats, like berets.  I also
like to wear sheitels because I feel polished and pretty when I wear them.

Sometimes when I’m wearing a sheitel and I see
another woman of faith, like a Muslim, wearing a scarf, I wish that I were
wearing a tichel or something that more visibly identifies me as Jewish. 
As much as I love the incognito factor of a sheitel, and how they look, when
faced with a more obvious hair covering, I feel embarrassed that my hair
covering is so subtle.  But I love how the sheitel really stays in place,
and how I don’t have to worry so much about it slipping back, and I feel that
all of my hair is really covered.

And sometimes when I’m wearing a tichel I do feel
self-conscious when I’m in an obviously non-Jewish place, though sometimes that
self-consciousness is more like “Yeah!  What’s up!  I’m
Jewish!”  And sometimes it’s more like, “ummm, I hope everyone here is
friendlyish.”  It just depends on the vibe of the place.

In general, though, I really like the
mitzvah.  There’s something about having such a recognizable sign of being
a religious person (more with the tichels and hats, obviously) that makes me
proud to observe this mitzvah, as well as being a reminder to me that when I’m
in public, I’m an ambassador of G-d and Torah.  When I’m driving and
wearing a hat or tichel I will think twice before honking or being aggressive (boy,
has living on the East Coast changed my driving!), because I know my actions
reflect on all Jews, and, in turn, on the Torah.  Same thing with shopping
at Target or anywhere, really.  Covering my hair is a very real reminder
that I’m representing something bigger than myself.

Also I love never having to do my hair.  Haha

Rivky says comfort is really important:

I cover my hair with scarves/tichels, etc… Only.
When I got married I had wigs (Betty and Veronica, of course) which I wore an
average of 10 times in the 6 months and then said forget it! Growing up, once I
got old enough to think about myself religiously, I didn’t really think about
head covering. Honestly, for a long time I was too busy figuring out if I
wanted to be religious at all. Once I decided I would be, I knew I was
committing to the whole deal. I do like the idea of saving something special
for my husband and the sexual nature of hair does resonate with me,
though, so it all made sense. I decided to do scarves and tichels only for a
few reasons. Comfort being the most important to me. I also didn’t really
recognize myself with a wig on so I wasn’t motivated to get used to it. Also,
and I cannot stress this strongly enough, comfort. Dan and I both went to
yeshivas in Israel that subscribed more to a headscarf for the women instead of
a wig. Wigs were accepted but scarves preferred and I find that I can express my
personality so much more with the variety of scarves and accessories. And
comfort. I find now, living out of Israel, I love wearing a headscarf. And this
is more of a hindsight thing. I didn’t really think about it before hand but
wearing a big scarf makes me different. I stand out. It makes me more aware and
mindful of my Judaism and the immediacy of God in my life. There ain’t no
getting away from being the only turban-clad chic in a room! But I am loving
this tichel revolution now. I used to get lots of confused looks from
wig-wearing women. Now I am seeing more tichels around. It’s nice. We are
Jewish women. We need to rock it out. 
Chany wears her wig 24/7:

1. Yes
I’ve learned since I was a young girl that married women must keep their hair covered.
3. N/A
4. Yes,
it was an easy decision for me as I grew up in a community where most people
covered their hair. Also, all the close
women in my life, my mother, grandmothers, aunts and neighbors, all covered
their as well.
&6. I wear a wig, 24/7!! Growing up, I rarely saw my mother without a wig.
We knew something was wrong when she would come out of her room wearing a
snood. She still wears her wig while cooking, working out and any other
activity. I wear a snood more frequently than my mother, for comfort. However,
I find myself cooking and baking in my wig too and I take my shabbos nap on the
couch wearing it! 
From the first moment I put my wig on as a married woman, I felt different and
special. As much as I try to have my wig look “natural,” I take pride
in knowing that I am wearing something physical that lets other people know I
am a Jewish wife.
Ranya doesn’t do the head wrap thing:
Do you cover your hair?
2. If so, why?
Because the Torah/our Sages told us to.
3. If not, why?
4. Did you always know, growing up, that you would?
Yes, though there was a point during my rebellious teenage years that I
questioned whether I would be orthodox at all. But envisioning myself orthodox
always included covering my hair.
5. What is your preferred method of covering your hair – wig, scarf,
hat, baseball cap, or any old thing will do?
I am most comfortable in a hat/beret, snood or pre-tied tichel, but don’t love
how I look in them. In the summer I like Israeli tichels, but not the fancy
head-wraps. When I want to feel and look good, however, I wear a band fall or
6. What influences your answer to #5?
I am a creature of comfort.  My husband likes me to be comfortable and not
all done up all the time, but I know he likes how I look in a sheitel better
and would choose a tichel over a snood any day. He doesn’t like the head-wrap
look at all so I haven’t even attempted it, though it doesn’t look easy or
comfortable anyway. I have become more and more comfortable in a sheitel or
fall over the years, especially with the wig grips as opposed to the clips that
were so uncomfortable. I also like that I don’t have to be adjusting it all
day. And now being at work instead of home with kids, it’s easier to have a
sheitel on anyway.
I do struggle with how natural the sheitels look, and it’s hard to make the
right choices in terms of modesty in sheitels, but it’s really no different
than making the same choices in clothing and it is still serving the purpose of
head covering.
7. How has covering your hair, or lack thereof, impacted on your identity
as a Jewish woman?
I feel like covering my hair, no matter which form, helps me remember to
act in the proper way, especially as a married woman, it creates instant
boundaries. It makes me feel separate and different, in a good way. Even in a
sheitel…you don’t forget that it’s there!!  
Judy prefers a wig:
 prefer to wear a sheitel. In the back of
my mind, I am always worried that I will be somewhere where I will be required
to remove a hat for security purposes i.e. airport, border crossing etc. Then
whoever would require me to remove it, would realize that I was Jewish which
might result in my safety being compromised etc. (childhood throwback days
growing up in anti-semitic neighborhood in Canada).

Kajsa, a Christian woman, finds covering has helped her see her inner beauty:

Hi Ruchi – here’s
my answer on your questions.

I cover for several reasons: first, it’s a spiritual choice – I feel connected to
G-d.  Many Christian women would refer to Paul’s letter to Corinth but that is
not one of the main reason I cover. My cover reminds me that I am a beloved
child of G-d.

I think it’s a bit romantic to save something to my husband: my hair is for him
alone (and close family).

Thirdly, I wanted to take back the right to my body, As a woman I am tired of being
objectified by men and society.

I primarily cover with tichels, and sometimes with a knitted hat or a bandana at the
gym (swim cap when swimming).

3) The most important feeling is that I feel good about myself and how I look. I
struggle with extremely low self-esteem and covering has helped me to start
seeing my inner beauty. I now hold my head high, feeling that I am the queen of
my marriage. I feel more connected to G-d and my husband, but also to the
sisterhood of the Wrapunzel community. I now have sisters all over the world
that will encourage me, pray for me and laugh with me whenever I need it.

Miri started covering when she had breast cancer and has found a surprising result:

Why? It took me a long time to get to my covering place. I was married
11 years before I started covering full time (I used to wear a doily when I lit
the candles or went to shul). I had breast cancer and was on my way to Israel
in the TSA line when I decided to cover what I called “full time” (at
work, out of the house, etc.). I didn’t want any of the TSA people poking or
prodding me when I was sick, so I told the TSA people I needed a private room
to take off my hat. After that, it was like a commitment. Then I had cancer
surgery and decided that I needed some spiritual protection and it happened
naturally. When I first got married my husband told me to cover my hair with
dye, so that’s what I did then. 2. I cover with tichels now exclusively. Before
I used biker doo rags and bandanas, berets, etc. When I moved to NYC I figured
I would wear what ever the hell I wanted on my head and embraced the Wrapunzel
way. 3. Covering has a spiritual protection for me. However, something WEIRD
has been happening since I’ve been wrapping…men treat me like I’m BEAUTIFUL!
I’ve never had this before EVER in my life–I’ve been told I’m ‘cute’ or ‘the
smart one,’ but I’ve noticed people treat me differently with the tichel on. I
got a cat call from a construction worker yesterday! All of a sudden! I have to
admit, I am also wearing more makeup than I was because I’m not sick anymore
and don’t want to look sick. I want everything to look put together, but I
always have known what someone wears is critical to how people treat you, but
this is just insane! A young religious man (well, in his 
30s) chatted me up at
the Sprint store! And I’m obviously married! Sorry for going on and on…:)
And how would you answer the questions?
Uncategorized December 3, 2014

Hair Covering: My Midlife Crisis part 1

It seems I’m hitting my midlife crisis early, and it’s called “wrapping.”

In my community, covering one’s hair is de rigeur for married women, and mostly that’s done with a wig.  Lots of us cover our hair more casually, like with a chenille snood or pre-tied bandanna, but that would be akin to changing into your sweats.  Like, if you’re “dressed,” you’re also wearing a wig.

But in my recent trips to Israel, I’ve become more and more gaga over these beautiful scarves that women wrap their heads with.  They are just magnificent.  No yoga-pants-look here.  These women are dressed.  There is just something about the sheer authenticity of covering one’s hair with a scarf that grabs me.  And so, with the help of Wrapunzel and their cool YouTube tutorials, I’m wrapping more and more.

I’m not ditching the wig anytime soon.  There are plenty of community occasions where I’ll feel more at home in a wig – but my heart is with the scarf, no question about it.  I’ve polled some women on the matter, including some of the lovely women on the Wrapunzel Facebook fan group (a sizable minority of whom are not Jewish) and got some great responses, which I’ll share with you in my next post.

But first, here’s this chart.  It shows my personal, and I repeat, my personal, opinions comparing wigs and scarves in various categories.  Commentary is below.  I’ve rated each category on the basis of a 5-star system, with 5 stars being awesome and no stars being abysmal.  You know, like hotels, except no one gives hotels zero stars, though they sometimes should.

Ease of use

Comfort:  Some might find wigs more comfortable.  Not me.  If they have bangs, they look more natural, but then they’re always hanging in your eyes.  Grr.  Scarves, done right, stay put, out of your face and off your neck all day long.  I can see and be seen!

Price:  Yes, I know you can buy really cheap wigs.  Cheap wigs look like cheap wigs.  Scarves are so cheap it’s funny.  Especially at the Israeli shuk.

Aesthetics:  Again, this is personal preference.  To my view, what makes a wig beautiful also makes it inauthentic.  A beautiful wig that’s also modest?  Ummm.  Scarves are beautiful and modest at the same time – that elusive blend I’m always seeking.

Anonymity:  This is a biggie, especially for those in mainstream professions.  If you need to blend in professionally, a wig is going to be a necessity.  On the other hand, there is something about outing myself as a religious Jew in public that I am finding incredibly liberating (no faking) and also giving me a much greater sense of responsibility in terms of being an ambassador of my faith.  Overall, it’s a little scary and very exhilarating.  I like it.

Ease of use:  I gave these matching ratings, because some women find it very easy to just slip on a wig and very difficult to tie a scarf just right.  Once it’s on, I find the scarf way easier.  You don’t have to fuss or mess with it.  Wigs always need to be brushed, flipped, and adjusted.  Also, once you get the hang of wrapping, it’s easy.

Maintenance:  Wigs don’t require that much maintenance.  Once a month (depending on frequency of wear) they need to be washed and done.  Transporting them is a bit of a pain.  If my wig is done for a special occasion, I’ll transport it in a “shaitel box” (if we’re traveling for a wedding, say) but otherwise I literally toss it in a ziploc bag.  No comparison, of course, to transporting a scarf.  Duh.

Religious preference:  For most religious groups, with the notable exception of Chabad, covering one’s hair with a scarf is preferable.  In some Sephardic circles, wigs are actually a no-no.  The Chabad leader, Rabbi Scheerson, maintained that wigs were preferable for two reasons: one, if women felt beautiful they would more likely stay covered, and two, no hair shows out from under a wig, whereas occasionally hair can slide out from a scarf.

So that’s my comparison chart.  In my next installment, I’ll share other women’s personal reflections on the scarf vs. wig debate, plus why they cover, with what and when, and how it makes them feel.  Stay tuned…

Uncategorized November 24, 2014


Some of you may have missed “Finding Meaning in Terror,” my most recent post, if you receive notifications via email, since it appeared on the same day as an ad which appeared at the top of the email.  Please be sure to check it out.

“May G-d avenge their blood.”

Sounds harsh?  This is a standard prayer that one might say when hearing of the death of a fellow Jew at the hands of a hate crime – of one who was killed for being Jewish.  Last week, I included this short prayer at the conclusion of a Facebook post. 
One of the murder victims. His wife is a Markowitz from Cleveland. Rebecca Blech Schwartz, I am so sorry for your family. May his soul find rest and may God avenge his murder.
“Kraft described Levine as an exceedingly humble person, and while he was a serious learner devoted to increasing his knowledge of Judaism and Torah, he also had a sharp sense of humor and loved to joke around. Growing up in Kansas City, Kraft and Levine loved to watch the Kansas City Royals baseball team.”
Rabbi Kalman Levine The stories are coming in fast about the four rabbis murdered during the brutal terror attack in a Jerusalem synagogue – one of the them, in…

I know that previously, when posting thoughts of this nature, I’ve received some inquiries about the “avenge” piece, and this time was no different. In the chat box of a Words With Friends game, an acquaintance asked: 

I always felt good about the simple Jewish approach to vengeance: it belongs to G-d. We pray to Him to bring it on people who perpetrate evil, and we go through appropriate legal channels (including this incredible law firm) to bring about justice ourselves, but we do not take vengeance into our own hands.
Then I read this emotional piece by my friend Sarah Rudolph, expressing resistance to using the term – and it really made me think.  Revenge people-style, and revenge G-d-style are not the same thing.  People-revenge is angry, instinctive, emotional, and anger-driven.  G-d revenge is restoring justice to a world gone mad.  I don’t want revenge, because I don’t want to become an ugly person.  I want G-d to do it – because I know He’ll do it right.
And I’m proud of a religion that knows the difference.
Uncategorized October 28, 2014

Elevator Pitch


No rush on this…but I’m curious if you can point me to one of your blogs (or someone else’s) to address this issue:

I’m at the airport today with co-workers, all of whom are very well-educated professionals.  Three of us are Jewish, three not (only one male).  Somehow the topic of Orthodox Judaism, kosher, etc. comes up and I overhear the other two Jewish people talking.  Then the woman says, “Well, I could never be Orthodox because they treat women as second-class citizens.”  

Then the guy starts talking about how his mother teaches secular subjects in an Orthodox day school and how before she was allowed to teach, they reviewed her text books and “ripped out most of the pages on Native Americans” because the students weren’t allowed to learn about their lifestyles and/or see pictures of women with their arms uncovered, etc.  Both were chuckling about how outrageous these things are.

Well, I’m sitting there trying to figure out whether to say something, and if so, what would I say.  I had just met the woman at a meeting the day before, and didn’t want to come off in the wrong way (and my boss was there too).  

So, I said, “Well, I study with an Orthodox rabbi and his wife and over the years I’ve learned that Orthodox Judaism really doesn’t feel that way about women.  While I know people may have that misconception, it is really not true.”  The other woman said, well, maybe I just don’t know enough and we left it at that.

Anyway, long story, but I’m curious – do you have a blog or something that “refreshes” my memory about what I might say in these conversations?  Almost like an elevator pitch.  While I feel confident in my belief that this view is not accurate, I would love to have a better handle on some good answers.  Over the years of learning, I know I’ve heard different answers, in different contexts, but when faced with the situation today, I suddenly felt almost at a loss for words. Or, maybe I shouldn’t say anything? 

 Any advice?

Dear Elevator,
There are really two questions, as you articulated.  One, what are the answers I should have at the edge of my brain and tip of my tongue that, while not the entire answer, is easily exportable to others who don’t have the access that I have to what Orthodox living looks like?  Two, when and under what circumstances should I export them?  And if I don’t choose to, what else should I do or say in that moment?
The Torah tells us that it’s important to have those answers at our fingertips – mostly for ourselves.  When someone mocks a group of people or an idea, and we only have a vague feeling or notion that it’s off, it’s really unsettling.  It should be a generalized goal of life to know truth and live by it.  Later, we have to decide how much and when to share those ideas with others – especially when negativity is the context.
So let’s first approach The Truth about the things that were said.
Whenever I or my kids are insulted by someone, the first thing we try to do is ask: is it true?  Meaning, no one – cultural or religious groups, professionals, irrespective of age – is immune to mistakes.  Sometimes the best change comes via unpleasant criticism.  What a great opportunity to use it to introspect and see if it’s true, and if so, what we can do about it.  In this way our greatest mockers become our best coaches (which is a good form of revenge, incidentally).
The Questions:
1. So, are Orthodox Jews anti-women?
2. And are we insular with regards to learning about other cultures and religions?
3. Are we overly consumed with modesty in Victorian ways?
The Truth:

1. Some individual Orthodox Jews are anti-women, but for that matter, so are some non-Orthodox Jews and some Christians and some Chinese people and some Muslims.  A better question is are MOST Orthodox Jews anti-women, or is the RULEBOOK of Orthodox Judaism (the Torah) anti-women?
And I honestly think the answer is NO.  Most Orthodox men that I know treat their wives and other women well. The Torah does teach different paths of spiritual fulfillment for men and women, which definitely highlights different public roles, especially in synagogues, but as I’ve written elsewhere, the great mistake is to judge Orthodox Judaism by what goes on in the synagogue, because what goes on in the synagogue is a fraction of what Orthodox Jewish life looks like. 
In the home, schools, and family, women play a huge role, and perhaps even a huger role than men.  In the Torah as well, we see many instances where husbands are told to listen to their wives in some of the most pivotal decisions to affect the Jewish people, and where the women kept the faith where the men wavered, insuring the continuation as a people.
I’ve noticed a double-standard.  Orthodox women are allowed to make fun of men in speeches, but Orthodox men are NEVER allowed to make fun of women in speeches.  Hmmm.
2. Insular?  Yup.  We believe that idolatry, adultery and murder are really, really, bad, so we avoid them in all their forms.  If I’m at an IMAX and there’s a scene of an ancient culture worshipping their idols, do you know what I do? I close my eyes.  That’s insular.  I don’t want to view something I believe is an affront to my God.  I want my children learning about Native Americans, but I don’t need them learning about the details of their religion where they conflict with Judaism.  All of us are insular, just about different things.  
Within the Orthodox world, you’ll see a big spectrum on this too.  I doubt the school in question was Modern Orthodox, for example.  More insular forms of Orthodoxy will be more likely to censor more strongly – which is good or bad, depending on your orientation.  Most people think the religious guy one notch more religious is a fanatic, whereas the guy one notch less is a flake.  Welcome to the human condition.
3. Well, that’s a toughie.  Who’s to decide what “overly,” what’s “extreme,” and what’s “Victorian”?  In the 1950s national TV looked wildly different than it does today.  In Namibia, for example, some people barely wear clothing at all.  When I see homecoming dresses on Facebook, I blush.  And when it comes to the education of our kids in their most formative years, most Orthodox people opt for a more sheltered culture in terms of how much skin they want their kids to see.  Public schools deal with where to draw the line, and so do we all.  We draw the line in different places, and we all judge each other on our misdrawn lines.  
How many times have I held myself back from commenting on the homecoming dress issue (ok, I just killed my streak)?  Many, because I know that no one is interested in me judging their kids for being immodest.  Just like I don’t want anyone judging me or my kids for being immodest.  There are all kinds of reasons why people will draw their lines in various places (literally) – Jewish law being only one of them.  But Orthodox Jews, and especially their men and kids, are also really sensitive to what they see – not just to what they look like.  Is it possible to see this neutrally?  Instead of negatively?
And, the Pitch:

1. “I’ve been fortunate to hang out with a lot of Orthodox people, and, as individuals, I don’t see that they’re any more chauvinistic than anyone else.  They do believe that men and women are different, but mostly only in synagogue – at home, school, and play, it’s a really level playing field.”
2. “I’ve been fortunate to hang out with a lot of Orthodox people, and I think the reason they’re kind of insular is because their main goal is to give their kids strong Jewish values, above anything else.  So they really try to filter out the noise in attempting this.  I guess we all do that in different ways, huh?”
3. “I’ve been fortunate to hang out with a lot of Orthodox people, and I think that they are really into modesty.  I mean, we all struggle with where to draw the line in raising our kids, don’t you think?  In that we all agree.  We should probably try to respect each other’s struggle – we’re kind of all the same boat there.  It’s a tough battle.”
The Moment:
Should you say any or all of the above things?  Sometimes just knowing them is enough.  The barometer is, are they interested and open to what you think about Orthodox people?  Will they feel enlightened or annoyed? Expanded or resentful?  That’s your call to make.  But knowing it for yourself is a really good feeling. Sometimes, that’s all we need.  And if the moment does not call for education, feel free to fall back on my favorite parenting word:
Personally, I think you did a fabulous job.
What would you say?
Uncategorized October 20, 2014

Blog Roundup: Anniversaries, Racism, Post-Partum Practices, and the Shabbos App

Welcome back, OOTOB readers.  With all the holidays over, the kids are back in school and I’m itching to blog regularly again!

Since so many interesting things have piled up over the past month, I decided to do another blog roundup for my first post back.


Firstly, happy anniversary to me and my wonderful husband (as one favorite commenter here calls him, Mr. Ruchi.  We love that).  We married 21 years ago October 18th on an absolutely magnificent fall day.  I am supremely grateful for him and actually, he’s the support behind this blog and all the things I love to do.  For my anniversary gift, I asked him for another year of being a great husband (together: AWW!).  Don’t worry.  I’m still angling for a trip to Florida too.  I’m not THAT holy.


Next up, I found this really interesting piece about how people with Aspergers view the rest of us (nicknamed NTs, for “neurotypicals”).  It really got me thinking about Jews who are racist, and especially why more religious Jews might be more racist.  Sometimes racism is a response to discrimination, which is a result of being different – especially obviously different, as religious people are. Sometimes it’s a defense mechanism, to be okay with your different-ness.  Tell me what you think.


This is something I’ve long thought about.  Why are women in America supposed to just bounce  back after birth?  The way I grew up, and even more so in more Chassidic families, a woman who gives birth is called a “kimpiturin” (that’s Yiddish) for six weeks, and is supposed to pamper herself and lay low and let others take care of her as much as possible.  To be honest, I kind of chafed at this after awhile since I had easy births and was raring to go – but in retrospect, it’s a great invention, and a very necessary one.  In the non-Orthodox world I see none of this.  Women are out shopping and carpooling and getting dressed up so soon after birth (forget about going back to work).  Living in Israel, I saw a much greater respect for the post-partum state than here in America.  Why is this an Orthodox (and more Chassidic) thing?  I have no idea.  But there’s a definite difference.


This is just one big “oy” and falls into the same conceptual category as kosher bacos, kosher-for-Passover Cheerios, and kosher cheeseburgers (fake cheese, fake meat, or both).  It’s a Shabbos app so you can use your smartphone on Shabbos.  I’m going to artfully dodge the actual halachic issue, and go with the assumption that it’s technically “kosher” according to Jewish law.  I have found, over and over again, that non-Orthodox people are usually more sensitive to “kosher loopholes” than the Orthodox.  To be sure, there’s a huge outrage among the Orthodox community about this app, since it’s something new and, well, outrageous, and because the technology piece of Shabbos makes Shabbos observance more contemporary than ever.  Everyone who’s anyone is recommending a tech-Shabbat.  But I’ve found that in the less-obvious areas, especially food issues, non-Orthodox people are more likely to detect the problematic mindset in finding legal loopholes.

One could argue that those who live bound by halacha deserve and should celebrate the areas that they can find loopholes in – “easy for you to say” sort of thing, to the non-Orthodox.  Others feel that Judaism is a relationship, an attitude, and that looking for loopholes in relationships does not a good relationship make.  I myself adopt both attitudes, depending on the issue.  I’m not a fan of the kosher cheeseburger thing, for example.  But that’s for me.  For others it’s important to eat what they can find permissibly, and it will make it easier for them to keep kosher properly in the long run.

So that’s all for now, folks.  See you in the comment section!

Controversial Observations, Uncategorized August 13, 2014

Book Review: Growing Up Amish

Quick poll: how many of you are fascinated by the Amish?  I used to think it was my Orthodoxy and my identification/feeling of “otherness” that drew me to the Amish, but then realized that many of my fellow MOTs, Orthodox and otherwise, feel the same way.

I know how I feel when I read a book or see a documentary about my culture through the eyes of others (unfortunately, there is no documentary about the Orthodox, made by the Orthodox).  Icky, that’s how.  They never really get it right.  So I’m wise enough to be skeptical when I see or read such stuff about other cultures.  I know they’re not hitting the nail quite on the head.

A couple of months ago, my husband and I were in Amish country checking out a bed-and-breakfast for a possible retreat weekend with our organization, and in the room was a book called “Growing Up Amish” by Ira Wagler.  I flipped it over and saw that it was a memoir written by a man who tried, multiple times, to remain in the Amish faith and ultimately left.  I wanted to plop right down in the rocking chair and read it, but couldn’t, so I made a mental note to READ THAT BOOK.

Why?  I could tell, just from skimming that:

It was a first-person memoir.
It was about someone who, while he ultimately left the fold, did so without extreme anger or bitterness.
It was a beautiful portrait of the faith without a “tell-all” expose, tabloid feel.
And at the same time, it was honest about the struggles inherent in the culture.

So when a friend sent me a gift certificate to Barnes & Noble as a gift (props for people who know just what to get!) I straight up and ordered the book.

And finished it in two days (and was an ineffectual mother during said two days).

I can’t possibly convey all that I loved about this sad and beautiful story, but I will say this.  The whole time I was reading the book, I was comparing Amish life with Orthodoxy, and actually more, Hasidic life, which has more in common with Amish life.  There similarities and so many stark differences.  I’m not qualified to comment on Hasidic life since I’ve never lived it, but I do know more about it than your average Jew, so I’ll go out on a limb.

(A word about the writing.  It’s sparse, even plain, like the Amish life it describes.  But that’s good, because the writing itself gets out of the way and is a transparent window.  The world of the Amish comes straight through the writer and is almost untainted by his own experience.  That in itself is a thing of beauty.)

The similarities are obvious, at least the external ones.

Distinctive dress for both men and women.
Restrictions in terms of modernity and mixing with outsiders.
A special, insider language.
Regular religious services.
Large families.
Clear roles for men and women.
Tight-knit, supportive communities.
Variations in rules and customs depending on individual community – where some are considered too strict and some are considered too lax.
Stigma toward those families where a child has “left.”
Clear expectations and protocol regarding dating and marriage.

But there are some pretty major differences.

One of the main ones is that it didn’t seem from the book that the religion had too many daily responsibilities.  Meaning, it certainly impacted daily life from the way you dressed to the way you transported yourself and to your profession of choice (farming).  But in religious Jewish life, you have religious things you do, on your own and not just communally, every day from the moment you open your eyes in the morning, to your meals that you eat, to what you eat, to prayer services (for men) three times a day.

It seemed from the book, and again, it could be the book just didn’t express it fully, that you had your prayers in the morning after breakfast, and then you were busy with your chores all day.  Sunday was church to be sure, and there was the weekly “singing” which was religious in nature.  I say a prayer the moment I wake up and every time I come out of the bathroom.  I constantly choose kosher food.  I monitor my speech to make sure it’s not disallowed for being mean or untruthful.  I say “please God” and “God willing” in my daily conversation.  I give charity every time I get paid for something.  I pray myself whenever I can – and it was actually Ira discovering this personal, spontaneous form of prayer that ultimately saved his relationship with God.  I’m not saying this is better or harder or anything.  It’s just a stark difference that I noticed.

Also, there was a huge difference in holidays.  The book didn’t mention Christmas or Easter or any religious holiday, even once.  I don’t know why.  But Judaism is pretty much always either recovering from a holiday or preparing for one.  There are the famous ones like Rosh Hashanah and Passover, and also the lesser-known ones like Shemini Atzeret, Shavuot, Tu B’shvat, Rosh Chodesh, and what-have-you.  There’s always a holiday, and it’s a huge part of our lives.

Schooling was another big difference.  In Orthodox Judaism, and especially Hasidic Judaism, school is completely bound up with religious life.  It’s daily, it’s long (dual curriculum) and it continues for a long time.  In Amish culture, school seemed to be just school and not tied to the religious system or community.  It didn’t seem as though the Amish attend school after eighth grade either, as they are needed for farming, but I could be wrong.  In Orthodoxy, school is so inextricable from the religious system that if a child has a bad experience at school, it almost always creates a conflict in that child’s religious identity. And religious Jews are expected to always continue their religious studies, no matter how old they get – boys and girls.  Whether it’s in the form of post-high school Israel programs, or less formal lectures available in one’s community, or lectures available online or over the phone, ongoing learning for all is a very prioritized value.  Outside of church, I didn’t pick up on any of that in the book.

One very difficult part of the book to read about was the stoicism that the author describes in his community.  When he experiences tragedy (no spoilers) and his parents experience the pain of their children leaving the fold, expressing one’s feelings is taboo.  While all families operate differently in any culture or religious system, it was indicated by the author that this stoicism was definitely inherent in Amish life.

Orthodox Judaism, and even more so Hasidic Judaism, does have some degree of communal protectiveness where it’s taboo to openly admit your problems and failures, but I was struck by the contrast between Amish living and Jewish living in terms of dealing with tragedy.  In Judaism, you have the broadest gamut of emotions built into the calendar and even into the prayers.  There’s Orthodox funerals, where everyone is openly crying.  There are Orthodox weddings where bride and groom are very likely sobbing in prayer under the chuppah.  There’s the wildly ecstatic Simchat Torah celebrations and intoxicatedly joyous Purim parties.  There’s Tisha B’av, where we cry for Jerusalem and for personal tragedies.  There’s Yom Kippur, where we cry in repentance for our misdeeds.  People get choked up when they speak at bnei mitzvah and weddings.  We get together for impassioned and tearful prayers for Israel.  Wow, it’s just so different.

On a sort-of tangent, one of the most depressing parts of the book was where Ira expressed his need to process his depression and about how therapy was absolutely off-limits.  I’m pretty sure it was like this in Orthodoxy till recently (but that’s true of the general world).  The stigma is receding in terms of accessing help, but probably not in terms of admitting that one needs help.  And we still have a long way to go because one of the features of Judaism is perfectionism.  Not just in the religious community but across the board – although religious and secular Jews perfectionize about different things.  Secular Jews perfectionize more about academics and religious Jews more about who they marry, but either way it’s a Jewish trait, so being imperfect and experiencing depression and seeking therapy are still far more taboo than they need to be.

Mistrust of the “outside” world is a theme that seems to be shared by both Amish folks and religious Jews, but there are important differences.  The Amish in the book shunned the outside world and modern conveniences because it is their policy to be plain and simple.  Anything fancy is by definition against their philosophy.  Religious Jews and especially Hasidim believe that modern conveniences are awesome as long as they don’t compromise Jewish values (and you can afford them).  Dishwashers?  Great!  Cars?  Fabulous!  But as soon as technology introduces concepts that are foreign to Judaism, that’s where we get wary – much warier than the secular community.  (It is true that materialism in and of itself is a problematic issue in Judaism, but we don’t carry it anywhere near as far as the Amish.)

Smartphones are a perfect example.  Smartphones afford unlimited access to the internet, with all the good, bad and ugly that that includes.  We are very mindful about introducing that kind of technology into our homes and into the hands, particularly, of our impressionable kids.  While smartphones have definitely made themselves comfy in many an Orthodox home (including mine), we are very conscious about its pernicious influence whether in religious philosophy, language, immodest images and themes, and music that is antithetical to spirituality.

So for us, it’s not modernity in and of itself that’s problematic, but rather where that modernity will take us in terms of Jewish observance, belief, and values.

In some ways I envied the Amish while reading the book.  Their plain and simple life without cars and technology, while gritty, seems far less complicated than mine, with my carpools and constantly pinging phone.  But the grass is always greener elsewhere.  Would I really rather spend my time churning butter?  Not so much.

More to discuss, for sure, like the marriage system, authoritarian parents, and kids who leave.  Read the book, and weigh in below.  I’d love to hear.

Controversial Observations, Uncategorized July 6, 2014

Blog Roundup: Female Orthodox Clergy, Israel’s Special Unit, Oprah on Shabbat, and more

Although the Jewish world is still reeling from the murders of the three Israeli boys, there have been lots of other things cooking on the interwebs.

1. Rabbah Sara Hurwitz

Orthodoxy’s first female [fill in word of choice here] came to Cleveland to speak recently, sparking locally a huge wave of controversy that is brewing within the larger Orthodox world. Here’s another response to the issue in general.

As an aside, I find it interesting that while in English, our language is moving more toward gender-neutrality, Hebrew will never be gender-neutral.  Therefore, while in English, the word “rabbi” has been broadened to include women, in Hebrew a new, gender-specific noun must be chosen, and what that noun will be is still under debate.

That said, here’s what I posted on Facebook on the subject (granted, in the middle of a conversation):

…another important question that I believe is underlying this entire discussion. It also will clarify why I don’t have a problem with men running the show in established clergy positions. That is: are you willing to accept the status quo in normative Orthodox Judaism, or are you seeking to push the boundaries to where they have not been before? I am not casting aspersion on the second option, but I will say that if your starting point is that women should have as great a role as possible within clergy then no one should be surprised when that endeavor is met with resistance and push back. I accept the status quo and proceed from there. I don’t feel I ever got mixed messages since we didn’t learn Gemara as a subject as I was never taught that men and women do the same things. Am I stupider or happier? Pathetic for not questioning and pushing the status quo, or more fulfilled internally for it? I guess everyone can make their own judgments. I’ll say this. I feel that I am reaching my potential as a Jewish woman leader doing exactly what I’m doing. I find no boundaries or frustrations. That is my experience, for whatever it’s worth.

2. Israel’s Special Ed Unit

Grab some tissues, because you’ll need them for this.  Seriously, is there ANY country like Israel???

3. Your Life In Weeks

Not specifically Jewish, but this was a good piece of mussar – wisdom that helps remind you why you’re here on this earth.

4. Oprah Learns About Sabbath

I found this video interesting from a Shabbat-observant perspective, of course, but a little cheesy from the Oprah perspective.  I like Oprah a lot actually, but what does she mean she didn’t “know” Sabbath was on Saturday?  Wouldn’t you just say you didn’t know it was “originally” on Saturday, until Christians changed it to Sunday?  There was one line in there that I loved – something like, if a door opens for you, and your faith doesn’t fit through that door, don’t walk through that door.  In any case, this is a cool guy (who is apparently famous) standing up for his religious values in Hollywood.  Thumbs up from me, for sure.