Atrue story: A very close friend who supported me greatly when my husband was ill invited me to her son’s bar mitzvah last week. On the phone, I jokingly admitted to not owning garbiyonim (thick stockings) and laughingly said that I hoped she didn’t mind if I came without. She responded that it was up to me. The next day, having reflected, she called to give me mussar (a morality lesson) about skirt length, makeup and the immorality of sheitels. She pleaded that this was not about our relationship, but that of mine with Hashem [God].
What’s your take, ladies?
A percolating Tzippi Sha-ked:
I find it alarming when the “Pam Peled” in me emerges. (No, not liberating, as she would mutter!) I mean the belief that the haredi world is cultish and only remotely resembles the Judaism that Peled advocates. Yet I admit to having those thoughts recently when a very dear haredi friend invited me to her son’s bar mitzvah.
Our friendship is complex. I was instrumental in bringing her to Yiddishkeit (she turned haredi); later, she was there for me during my husband’s illness. So, there was no way I wasn’t going to attend her simha.
After her “mussar” call to dress suitably (and I fully realize she meant well), I groaned and bristled a bit. No sheitel, no makeup, long skirt – oh my! It wasn’t my proudest moment when I asked my son to be on the lookout while I sneaked into the car, so my neighbors wouldn’t wonder why I had turned “Mea She’arim” on them.
Things got even more complicated when I arrived at the Jerusalem venue and saw a former boyfriend (the host’s brother) standing sentry at the door. There was zero chance I was going to let him see me. (Proof Hashem has a sense of humor.) I stalled until he entered the men’s side. I spent the evening crouching, avoiding and in ill humor. My host’s secular family members were (of course) dressed to suit their own comfort. They seemed startled to see me in this uniform.
I acceded to my friend’s suggested terms because her friendship means a lot to me. But I have to admit that, unfortunately, I didn’t do it with a good attitude.
Modesty is a concept not to be taken lightly. Tzippi, my dear friend, was the very one who introduced the notion to me some 30 years ago. I asked her to look after my darling two-year-old firstborn on the campus lawn, while I returned some library books. (Remember, Tzipp?) Tzippi gazed at her lovingly and, in my absence, sent a little prayer upward that this girl would not wander the earth barely covered like her mom was doing; that her mother (me) would be smart enough to teach her feminine integrity, self-love, and modesty of dress and behavior. Watch out for Sha-ked’s prayers!
Yes, when hosts and guests are extremely different, it can be uncomfortable. I once attended a relative’s huppa where the bride wore Saran wrap. While I wondered what statement she was making, I reserved judgment. To each her own.
There is Halacha (law) and there are minhagim (customs). Covering elbows, knees and chest is Halacha. Wearing socks is a traditional communal custom.
The rabbis teach us to attend to the other’s “this world” (material comforts) and our own “next world” (spiritual evolution). We don’t need to teach others how to relate to Hashem.
Yet this incident sounds like something a ba’al teshuva (one who becomes religious) would do. We are a breed of our own. We try really hard, earnestly overachieving, but our way of life never feels totally natural. We are “new drivers” on the road of life ad infinitum, never feeling comfortable, forever needing to teach others how to drive. Gotta love us!
The important thing is to invite each other. With no judgment.
You know what? I can’t quite take this subject seriously. I keep thinking of our spot school-uniform checks; teachers sneaking up on unsuspecting pupils and whipping them off to the toilets, where we knelt while they measured, with a ruler, the distance from ground to hemline. More than four fingers worth of gap and you were sent home for emergency skirt-lengthening. One day some protesting seniors strolled into school with ankle-length skirts; they were sent home, too.
So I keep wondering exactly how Hashem evaluates his relationship with the multitudinous women in his life. (Is it all the women in the world? Or just the Jewish ones? Do you have to be pious to warrant a relationship with the Blessed Be He? What about ladies who keep Shabbat but slip into jeans and flip-flops on unholy days? Does He need a ruler, or can He determine just by sight if skirts pass muster?)
No wonder there are wars breaking out all over the place, and refugees struggling, and cancer striking down our best; no wonder there is wife-beating and child molestation and drought, mudslides and famine. Poor God is simply deluged with measuring dress-length and calculating whether stockings are the correct denier; he can’t cope with anything else. I’m sorry, I just can’t love it.
What isn’t so funny, however, is how Sha-ked kowtowed, and how we all kowtow, to this utter craziness. So we pay more for our food, and fly to Cyprus to get married, and our boys spend more time in the army because their boys don’t go.
It’s not that hilarious after all.
The rabbis teach us to attend to the other’s ‘this world’ (material comforts) and our own ‘next world’ (spiritual evolution)
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‘DOES [GOD] need a ruler, or can he determine just by sight if skirts pass muster?’