Monday, May 02, 2005

On Snootiness

I suppose this isn't really a frum issue because people all over the world are snooty and look down their noses at others. But because there is a frum flavor of this and it came back to bite me over Yom Tov, I'll go on with it.

Over Yom Tov I met some new people who moved in one block down from me this past week. I'm not the most friendly person in the world (I'm more the quiet, blend-into-the-background type) and will rarely go out of my way to meet someone new. And yet, I always want to meet new people. So, when, as I was walking back from shul this man comes out of a house and wishes us "Good Yom Tov," I was quite happy.

We talked for a few minutes outside his house and discovered that he had moved in just this past week. He invited me to bring my family by (especially since he had a son in between my sons' ages and a daughter about the age of my daughter) later in the afternoon. I met no one from the family except him at that point.

Well, after the seuda, I drag the Mrs. out of the house, along with the kids to go meet the new neighbors. We were invited into the house, met his relatives, family and friends and made to feel very welcome.

Except that we (my wife and I) didn't feel all that comfortable. Maybe it was the way the wife was wearing a denim skirt on Yom Tov. Maybe it was their older daughter (ninth grade) going around nearly sleveless. Maybe it was the fact that none of the women in the house covered their hair.

We made polite conversation for about 45 minutes or so, welcomed them to the neighborhood, and then led them to a local playground where there were about 50-100 frum families playing. I introduced the husband to some friends of mine who were at the park.

But as we were walking (and out of earshot of the new homeowner), my wife told me that she didn't think that they were "our kind of people." I didn't let my wife in on it at the time (although I guess when she reads this [she does know about this blog] she'll know) but I was shocked at her statement for two reasons: (1) she's not usually a judgemental person and, more importantly, (2) I found myself agreeing with her a bit.

And that's where my trouble lies. I've always been a bit of a maverick. I don't wear a hat, despite traveling in communities where that is considered the norm. I wear a leather kippa almost as a statement of repudiation against my high school's overly fundamentalist hashkafas and the way they tried to "brainwash" me to them. But yet, I don't want to be thought of as less for that - indeed, I specifically try to make the point that I'm *NOT* less because of my leather kippa - I'm not less because I don't dress in the typical yeshivish fashion - and yet here I am looking down at other people for doing just that. It's disturbing to me, and very troubling.

If it was just me, I think that I might be able to look the other way (so to speak). But I'm trying to instill some Torah values in my kids - and among those values that my wife and I are trying to instill are that there are *some* standards for dress and modesty that must be adhered to. I won't demand that my son wear a hat when he's older and out of yeshiva, becuase I don't. But I will demand that my daughter wear sleeves. And I want my daughter to grow up to cover her hair when she gets married. I want my children to associate with people who will reinforce those messages, not undermine them. And, of course, then I think back to what other people think of me - how I might be viewed as undermining the the lessons and values that they want taught to their children - even as I insist that those values aren't necessarily valid or always true.

The snooted (me) has become the snootee in a fashion, and I don't really like it very much.

This has truly given me some food for thought.

The Wolf

38 comments:

Air Time said...

Move out of Brooklyn

Spend time with real Jews, not the cookie cutter variety that you try to fill your life with that mirror your exact values

Discover that frumkeit isn't in the length of skirt, headcovering or sleeve-length

Learn that being frum is like an iceberg, there is a whole lot more to it than what is showing on the surface

Still Wonderin' said...

wolf, I read your blog from time to time and I like what you have to say from time to time. But this post really irks me.

Your neighbors just bought a house. They are committed to living in a community. They need friends and a support system. But you just decided that because of how they dress, you're too good for them.

If my neighbors were like that, I wonder how many friends I'd have. Actually, now that I think about it, I really didn't have too many friends back when I lived in Brooklyn. Thank god I moved....away from people like you.

Please prove me wrong.

yoinoson schreiber said...

Great post.

It is your sort off dilemma that has caused me to move away from the chasidish ways I was taught. I am essentially an empathetic sort of guy and see people for what they really are. I was distressed when I found myself sniggering at a deeply humane person just because his shirt was blue. Over the years I came to realise that I was a bigot.

The problem as you are finding is that you can't have it both ways. You can't elect for an exclusive ghetto style lifestyle and at the same time act in a liberal and tolerant way.

BrooklynWolf said...

I'd like to still wonderin'. That was the whole point of this post. The whole incident disturbed me - deeply. I'm trying to find some way to reconcile my feelings on the one hand - which deep in my heart I know are wrong - with what I want for my children. I find myself now on the giving end of what I've been given for years - and I don't like it at all. I wasn't even aware that I had these feelings until they were brought out on Yom Tov. I've been thinking long and hard since this happened on how to overcome this bias I seem to have developed - and how to eliminate it.

I suppose this post was a way to help me get it out in the open. You know the rule - the first step to conquering a problem is admitting that there is one. This is my admission.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

Hey! I wear blue shirts!

Seriously, however, yoinoson, you've more or less hit the nail on the head. I've simply got to struggle with this.

The Wolf

Larry Lennhoff said...

My father a"h was not frum, but he taught me the laws bein adam l'chavero by the way he lived his life. Tzedaka, Gemiulit Chassadim, Ahavat Yisrael, honesty, all were core principles in the way he lived his life. Whatever claim I have to be a mentsch, whatever aspirations I have to be a mentsch all came from what he taught me.

Your kids will have plenty of chances to be exposed to frumkeit in your community. If your new neighbors can serve as examples of mentschlikeit, they are good people to for your children to meet. IY"H they will grow up to exemplify both.

Kol Tuv

Larry

Still Wonderin' said...

I have all types of relatives. Some drive to our house on Friday night for shabbos meals. Others, including myself, wear all types of clothing and vary in whether or not they cover their hair.

My wife (who covers her hair and doesn't wear pants, although her mother, and aunts do) and I only demand from our children to live the way we life. The key is sticking to your principles.

To explain the contradiction between what we do and what our relatives do, and they do ask, I always say to my children, "Different people do different things." I don't know if my kids will turn out exactly like me, but I do know they'll be real.

To eliminate your conflict, and to prevent spawning a new generation of hypocritical fakers, you may want to practice saying this in a mirror.

BrooklynWolf said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
BrooklynWolf said...

And you know something, wonderin', I have the very same relatives. Heck, I had relatives who drove (or took the bus) to my house for the seder this year. And my children, thank God, are smart enough to know what to take from them (in terms of behavior) and what not to take. There's probably no reason that I can't extend that to non-family as well.

I want to thank everyone who has commented and helped me with this issue. I still want to hear from others as well (even if you want to bash me - I could learn something from that too).

The Wolf

(Note: the previous deletion was a copy of this - I just changed the name of the person I was addressing as I put the wrong name in the post).

Still Wonderin' said...

Full disclosure: one of my seder guests asked me at 1:30 a.m. if I had a train schedule. I do, but didn't want to actively assist in his chillul yom tov. I said no, but walked him three blocks to the train platform so he could see where the schedule was posted.

i don't think you're thinking means your bad. i also don't think that DovBear's post assigning blame for all that is bad in Brooklyn as being your fault is fair either. It's just that in Brooklyn, it's very easy to avoid people that don't mesh 100% with our worldview. As a result, people in Brooklyn tend to take the easy way out, which is why so few people can get along: there's no motivation to do so.

Outside of New York City, the comfort level at ignoring certain people is less and we're forced to confront differences and reocgnize that we can get along despite having a different hashgafa.

I wouldn't run from Brooklyn because of this incident, though I can imagine in a few years you may feel the stirrings to move to another, less socially myopic neighborhood.

dilbert said...

Hmmm. summer is coming and park dress is going to be an issue. I am the guy in the sandals, nice khaki shorts, white shirt, carrying the sefer, going to the park and reading, or studying, while my kids gambol about. There are others in white shirts, coats, hats, and long pants, and nice shiny shoes who are talking about their mortgages. Of course, there are those in shorts talking about mortgages, and those in suits studying. My kids have to wear nice clean clothes(girls in skirts or dresses), and no tank tops or sports jerseys, and it bothers me inside when I see kids dressed in what(to me) is an inappropriate way for Shabbat. But then again, I am pretty sure that I am an example of how not to dress for some. It is tough seperating the outwards from the inwards, but it is worthwhile doing. However, for the kids, you establish what is acceptable for you and them, and stick with it.

ADDeRabbi said...

MY wife and I struggle with this all the time. My wife's generally the realistic one who is concerned with the kids absorbing values that my wife and I don't espouse, while I'm more idealistic and consequently open and accepting.

I think that the fatal flaw here is the 'Us-Them' dichotomy (i.e., 'our kind of people'). There are lots of different Jews that I don't want my kids hanging around with, or that I don't like hanging around with myself. But I think there's a real danger in defining one's comfort zone so narrowly.

BrooklynWolf said...

Still Wonderin',

Re:
i don't think you're thinking means your bad. i also don't think that DovBear's post assigning blame for all that is bad in Brooklyn as being your fault is fair either.


I don't think that Dov was really being 100% serious that all of Brooklyn's problems are my fault. That's why I responded with my comment.

The Wolf

Larry Lennhoff said...

I don't think that Dov was really being 100% serious that all of Brooklyn's problems are my fault. That's why I responded with my comment.
Too bad - the idea that if we helped you we fixed all of Brooklyn's problems was pretty appealing. :>)

KT

Larry

Still Wonderin' said...

i'm not so sure. If Dov Bear lives where I think he lives, he's probably feeling pretty stifled by black hats and sorta-yeshiva-types about now.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the problem at all. There is a difference between color of shirt, fabric of kippa and halacha! There is also a difference between thinking someone is less makpid on halacha than you are and looking down on them. You can tell your kids that you hope/expect them to keep halacha, and within halacha, that some things are just social statements (color of shirt etc) And that some things are chumra. And that some people are less knowledgeable and/or less observant. And that the latter is not nec. to be looked down on, and that externals and easily measured frumkeit is not the be-all and end-all, but that overall, indeed, people who don't keep to the letter of the law are NOT your kind of people in the sense that they are not makpid on things you are makpid on, even if those things are not the only important things in judaism!! I don't see ANY equation between social customs and halacha. It is very different to worry that your kids will deviate from some arbitrary social norm like what fabric kipa to wear and worry that your kids will learn to take halacha lightly.

BrooklynWolf said...

And that some people are less knowledgeable and/or less observant. And that the latter is not nec. to be looked down on,

That, anonymous is exactly the problem - I did look down on them.

And, while I know that the fabric of my kippa is ultimately not really the issue, I know that to other people it is. I know that were I single, I could be everything someone is looking for in a spouse and be rejected simply on the basis of the fact that I choose to cover my head with leather rather than terryline. And here I've gone ahead and done it to others.

I certainly intend to stress to my children that certain mores and standards are to be maintained - and now that I think about it some more, it probably shouldn't be as hard as I thought to do so. After all, most of my family is not frum, and my kids know not to learn from them (in the sense of what they wear, what they eat, etc.). Likewise, we have non-Jewish neighbors on the block with kids the same age as our kids and they know the same things about them. And yet, here I'm concerned. Maybe because they are doing these things while under the guise of "frum?" Maybe. But maybe I don't give my kids enough credit to learn from the example my wife and I try to set for them.

The Wolf

Avi said...

Wolf. I too wae a yarmulka, although I live in Monsey " Ir hakodesh". Everybody in my shul wears a hat, big deal, i am not impressed . It's whats in your heart that counts. Dont get bent out of shape, by the nonesense that the frummies are trying to inflict on you. Avi

Anonymous said...

"That, anonymous is exactly the problem - I did look down on them."

Yes, but you can think that what they are doing is wrong, you know, and you don't have to say it doesn't matter. It can be true that people who aren't makpid on halacha are better people than those who are, but it can also be true that they are just being slack. Looking down on people is generally not a good idea, b/c you can't see into their heart, but in isolation, one can look down on particular behavior. I don't get your point. Yes, people who don't follow halacha strictly might be great anyway, but this is not correct behavior, and they aren't MORE likely to be better people than thoose who do, either, so what gives?

"And, while I know that the fabric of my kippa is ultimately not really the issue, I know that to other people it is. I know that were I single, I could be everything someone is looking for in a spouse and be rejected simply on the basis of the fact that I choose to cover my head with leather rather than terryline. And here I've gone ahead and done it to others."

I completely disagree with this. There is a WORLD of difference between not being makpid on halacha and social mores. People who don't differentitate between social mores and halacha are part of the problem whether they label people badly b/c they don't follow some arbitrary social norm (yo9u aren't frum b/c you don't wear a white shirt) OR they equate them with actual halacha (as you are doing here!). It's the same error.

Anonymous said...

"I know that to other people it is. I know that were I single, I could be everything someone is looking for in a spouse and be rejected simply on the basis of the fact that I choose to cover my head with leather rather than terryline. And here I've gone ahead and done it to others."

I mean, don't you see a difference between not marrying someone b/c you don't like the fabric of their kipa and not marrrying someone b/c they don't wear a kippa in the first place??????

GoldaLeah said...

Reactions like this are usually fear based, which is quite evident in your post. But is your fear really rational? Poeple are probably afraid of you because of the non-hat wearing deal. Should they be afraid? Will you influence their kids to ditch their hats, too? Doubtful. Will these new friends pass hand-me down nearly-sleeveless shirts to your daughter in an effort to corrupt her? Doubtful. And, mabye, they're afraid of you, too. Why not ditch all the fear and just be friends?

BrooklynWolf said...

Anonymous:
People who don't differentitate between social mores and halacha are part of the problem whether they label people badly b/c they don't follow some arbitrary social norm (yo9u aren't frum b/c you don't wear a white shirt) OR they equate them with actual halacha (as you are doing here!). It's the same error.

I'm not equating social norms with halacha. I understand that there is no siman in Shulchan Aruch that says that I'm going to hell for wearing a leather kippa. But I'm not focusing on the bein adam lamakom here. I know the difference; but there are those who either (a) don't know the difference, or (b) choose to ignore it and treat it as "halacha" anyway. I have no doubts that were I to run into my former high-school classmates, the thought that would be going through their head when they saw me sans hat, sans longer peyos, with a leather kippa and sans beard (although not during Sefira) is "oh, nebuch, he's gone off the derech..." It's the *attitude*, not whether or not it's actually against halacha that disturbed me then; and it's that same attitude now that disturbes me again, especially since it's coming from me.

Wolf

Anonymous Coward said...

wolf,
interesting post. I won't comment on the real issues because I am not quite sure how I feel about this yet :-)

But just want to clarify a side point:
my wife goes by the psak that a woman does not *have* to cover hair in her own house, and (in some scenarios) in her father's house. Is that an MO-only thing?

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

i give you credit for struggling. it is not an easy call for you. and i also give you credit for writing openly about this. may Hashem bless you to keep struggling and growing always, and to pass THAT on to your children.

Parent of 3 said...

I'm not sure why your strugling with this so much. It seems that you value the sanctity of jewish morals and halacha, and would like to raise your childen the same way, your not judging your neighbors as people, your judging their actions, and thats ok. Their actions are wrong, again i too am not judgning them as people, they may not know better they may have grown up differently and have a hard time commiting to something out of their norm, but why is it not ok to want to educate your children with proper values of modesty and to protect them from ill influences ??

You should laud yourself not condemn yourself.

KlalYisrael said...

I realise that the main point you are making here is your personal struggle with your attitudes, but I think there is another issue also going on.

Communities do not have a life of their own. They are only made up of many individual people who behave in similar ways. So, if someone says "Brooklyn is snootie" - then they mean... "the people in Brooklyn are snootie". The individuals who share views live together and thus, a 'community' is created.

But.. communities can shape views on outsiders and in a most ugly way. We get used to things being the same and start thinking that different is bad.

Perhaps this is why it is bad to live in such homogenous communities.

Jack's Shack said...

Their actions are wrong, again i too am not judgning them as people, they may not know better they may have grown up differently and have a hard time commiting to something out of their norm, but why is it not ok to want to educate your children with proper values of modesty and to protect them from ill influences ??

Oy, could that come across as being more provincial and more obnoxious. Who wants to find the derech if this is the kind of intolerance you encounter.

Mirty said...

GoldaLeah hit the nail on the head. And I would happily pound it in. Sorry, but I cannot sympathize. I've been the girl in the "almost sleeveless" blouse and on the receiving end of this sort of thing many a time. Step outside your fears.

Eliezer said...

I think this is a common dilemma in american frum communities where due to our emphasis on style over substance.
Moreover, as many of the post-modern frum community (referring to those who grew up in and attended modern/very-modern jewish schools only to subsequently reach higher levels of frumkeit after Israel or some other yeshiva/seminary experience) have found they have affinities toward certain aspects of their old lifestyles which aren't always readily accepted by the "frummer communities", thus leaving them hashkafically between a rock and a hard place.

PsychoToddler said...

This is a great post, Wolf. I applaud you for being self-critical and honest in your reactions, though I can see from the comments that some people don't get that. I too am of the "leather kippah" with kids who wear black hats, which at this point I treat as a school uniform and not a hashkafa. It's hard to know when to take a stand.

I came from the shorts and sandals on Shabbos crowd (hi dilbert). When I first moved to my current community I sat out on the porch reading a book in my shorts on Shabbos. I don't do it anymore. Why not? Not because I think there's something wrong with it. It became very unconfortable for me, because I could tell that the neighbors were forming opinions about me based on my clothing.

Normally, I wouldn't care what they think. But I began to see, as my kids got older, that it was having an effect on them. They were being treated as outsiders, sometimes by people who had just moved in the year before. Forget the fact that most of my kids were born here! And through being treated as inferior, some of my kids started acting inferior.

So I started to conform a little. I don't necessarily feel good about that. Fortunately it doesn't get too hot around here!

But whether my kids wear leather yarmulkes or black hats, I think that I'm doing a pretty good job raising them as frum kids. The trick is to make them feel comfortable with who they are.

And I think you need to feel more comfortable with who you are. Then you'll feel less threatened by those who are a little different.

parent of 3 said...

Their actions are wrong, again i too am not judgning them as people...

Oy, could that come across as being more provincial and more obnoxious. Who wants to find the derech if this is the kind of intolerance you encounter


You have reading problems. Does this need to be repeated ? DO NOT JUDGE THE POEPLE< JUDGE THE ACTIONS, just like the torah does,and dont let your children learn from them !!
forgive me, i grew up in a modern community and have been trying to rid myslef of the horrible influences of everyone around me.
To think that i was never aware of the prohibition of pre-marital sex untill i was 16, and you wonder why there are jewsih people having abortions all over the west side of manhatten. !!

Think to yourself, would you have your children play with an infectious aidss patient.... why is a childs spirituality an less an issue ??

Jack's Shack said...



You have reading problems. Does this need to be repeated ? DO NOT JUDGE THE POEPLE< JUDGE THE ACTIONS,


Sure, I have reading problems. I think that poeple is actually spelled people.


forgive me, i grew up in a modern community and have been trying to rid myslef of the horrible influences of everyone around me.



It sounds to me like you have a number of serious issues that you need to come to grips with.

To think that i was never aware of the prohibition of pre-marital sex untill i was 16, and you wonder why there are jewsih people having abortions all over the west side of manhatten. !!

Just rolling my eyes, meaningless.

Think to yourself, would you have your children play with an infectious aidss patient.... why is a childs spirituality an less an issue ??

You come across as a serious bigot, an embarrassment and I mean that. To suggest that someone who thinks differently than you is like an AIDS patient is wrong, ignorant, misguided and a complete misunderstanding and mispresentation of all that is good about Judaism.

ADDeRabbi said...

postdoc,

your wife's behavior corresponds with that advocated by Tosafot in Ketubot 72b s.v. 've'ela'. They even suggest that to require women to cover their hair all the time would be intolerable.

I'd hardly call Tosafot MO, but it seems that you'll only find that phenomenon in the MO community. I'm not quite sure why, given that the Tosafot represent the mainstream Ashkenazic position, but it may have something to do with uniformity and religious one-upsmanship that characterizes the UO community and which The Wolf alludes to in this post.

Larry Lennhoff said...

I'd hardly call Tosafot MO, but it seems that you'll only find that phenomenon in the MO community. I'm not quite sure why, given that the Tosafot represent the mainstream Ashkenazic position
Just to check, I assume you are referring to the habit of not covering hair at home when men other than the husband are not present.

I blame the more rigid practice on the literal interpretation of the story of Kimchit (Tractate Yoma 47-A), who believed that all 7 of her sons had a turn as kohain gadol because 'the rafters of my house never saw my hair'. Despite chazal's reply 'Lots of women have done so and it didn't help them', and despite the fact that IMHO the story is best interpreted as a parable ("I always conducted myself with tzniut in front of my children, just as though I was in public") people eagerly seized upon this as a segulah. It is so much easier to keep one's hair covered than to work on one's middos. (I feel the same way about the Ari and Chametz, by the way).

Kol Tuv

Larry

BrooklynWolf said...

It's interesting that you bring that up Lenny (the story of Kimchit) because that came up in the conversation I had with my wife. She doesn't cover her hair in the house (when other men aren't present - when we have company she does cover her hair) and she commented how others would look askance at her for that. Of course, not being a kohen, she has a 0% of any of her children becoming kohanim gedolim. :)

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

I would have my kids play with an AIDS patient, provided they could understand to keep away from blood. Likewise, I would have my children play with frummies, if they could understand not to become bigots.

Mordechai said...

I haven't read all of the above comments, so pardon me if I repeat.
The fact that you feel this conflict is a testament to your declared tolerance. The visceral hesitation is only natural, for how can you expect to erase years of indoctrination and submiminal conditioning completely?
correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks to me as if the reluctance you feel is caused mainly by the lack of conformity with halachic standards- lack of tznius, headcovering etc. There is nothing wrong with being careful about to who and what you expose your family too. In fact, it would be downright irresponsible not to be concerned.
One point to reference is whether you are also reluctant to befriend this family due to how other members of the community will view you. If you find that is the case, add that to your food for thought. After proclaiming yourself above all of that, are you finding that you haven't really broken out of the whole mess?
In any case, I would say take some time to observe this family and determine whether they are out of step with your values to the extent that they may negatively influence your children, but you yourself should maintain friendly relations and perhaps serve as a guiding force.
I've said enough- but don't listen to anybody who calls you intolerant for your feelings. They are the product of a open mind.

Anonymous Coward said...

Adderabbi - Thanks much for the source.

Larry - actually, i was referring to a psak given by our MO rabbi that a woman need not cover her hair in her own house *no matter* who is present.

As far as Kesuvos 72a/b: the text seems to clearly state that a woman is permitted to walk around her own courtyeard (and, K.V. her own house) with uncovered hair (at least, that's my limited understanding of the text). It also does not stipulate whether or not other men are present. IMHO, the assumption seems to be that men are going to wonder by/enter courtyards unanounced.

Sorry if this is inappropriate forum for this :-)