This post is not about clothing to buy. This post is a reaction to the toxic attitudes of many in the Orthodox world, not just Charedim in Israel, toward those who do not dress "tsnuis enough." Please note that this blog exists for me to share my personal shopping habit and it is not meant to coerce anyone to dress in a manner that makes her feel uncomfortable.
This post was spurred by the recent events in Beit Shemesh. I will not recount them here. If you don't know what's going on yet, google "Beit Shemesh" and I guarantee you'll get more news than you want. I am unequivocally against crimes against the students of the school and the adults who defend them, and I hope that every perpetrator is brought to justice, if not in this world, then in Olam Habah.
But I don't think this is just a Chareidi issue. This is an Orthodox issue in general. Those who do not dress or act in a completely Orthodox fashion are ridiculed by Orthodox Jews of all persuasions; Modern, Centrist, Chareidi, and even Datla"sh (formerly religious). Let me start by telling some of my own story.
I started becoming observant during my freshman year in college. I met an attractive guy (not my husband) in the Kosher Dining Hall (KDH) during the first Hillel Friday night dinner. It turns out this guy was raised Orthodox, although he was no longer shomer mitzvot. I started eating in the KDH with him regularly. At the KDH, I met a number of Orthodox women my age from the nearby Orthodox community and I began spending Shabbatot and school breaks with their families. With the help of these friends, I began my religious journey.
The journey was rocky. One day that year, I was dressed tsnuisly at the Kosher supermarket in this community looking for Kosher vitamins with my chest-baring, non-tzitzit and non-kippah wearing boyfriend. While we were searching for these vitamins, a woman overheard me getting frustrated looking for these vitamins. Instead of directing me to their location, or suggesting I ask customer service, she told me to go next door to Rite Aid for vitamins in a very negative tone. The only thing we both thought is that she didn't think we belonged in a Kosher supermarket. Needless to say, it was not the best introduction to the general Orthodox population.
Fast forward to the summer. A family was very kind in allowing me to stay with them for free so that I could be in the Orthodox community. In the middle of the summer, this family had a last-minute (to me) male overnight guest who happened to be quite knowledgeable about halacha. He stayed up all night = answering many of my questions and patiently explaining a lot about texts. We were in the living room of the house with occupied bedrooms surrounding us. We got coffee at about 4:00 or 5:00 AM because we weren't going to get any rest. He left that morning, and I had a fairly busy day. When I returned, I was called some of the similar names the girls in Beit Shemesh are being called and given a very short period of time to get out of their house. Nothing had happened between us, and I was pretty distraught. To act out, I went on a big (about $1,000) shopping spree of all very non-tznuis clothing. I never violated Shabbat or Kashrut, though, as a result of this situation.
By the end of the fall, a little over a year after I began becoming observant, I became as fully observant as I was for a number of years. I met my husband that fall and we began dating in the winter. We were engaged in the early summer, but we didn't get married until 2.5 years later.
I learned that many people were quite vocal in their displeasure of our long engagement. I stopped meeting new people and making friends in the Jewish community because I got tired of being derided for having a long engagement. I would estimate that over 90% of the Orthodox people I met made it clear to me that the length of my engagement was wrong. I was 19 when I got engaged. I got married at 22. My husband was 20 when we got engaged. He was 23 when we got married. We couldn't have supported ourselves until our wedding date because my husband was still in school and I only started working a few months before our wedding.
In the year I took to become observant, I wasn't perfect. For example, there was one time when I turned the light off in a friend's bathroom on Shabbat when I wasn't thinking. I was so embarrassed, I turned it back on knowing that I violated Shabbat.
Why am I sharing this? Because becoming observant and growing more observant even when born Orthodox is a process; it doesn't happen overnight. I liken the ba'al(at) teshuvah process to pregnancy and childbirth; it's long, drawn out, and painful when you're observance is growing rapidly, but when you reach your goal of "Orthodox" you forget how difficult that process was. I, for one, often forget and I will sometimes instinctively have negative thoughts about posts of friends and celebrities who are growing in observance but haven't reached the vaulted "Orthodox" status. Then, I will remember to shut my mouth and appreciate their growth. I wish everyone else would.
I am a fan of Mayim Bialek on Facebook. She played Blossom as a teenager in the 90s, which was one of my favorite TV shows growing up. She now plays Amy Farrah Fowler on the Big Bang Theory, one of my current favorite shows. She also happens to be growing in her observance of Judaism.
Ms. Bialek posts about her growth, and she also posts about how she doesn't observe all the mitzvot and gives examples of how she doesn't observe everything. For instance, she had to tape episodes of the Big Bang Theory over the first days of Sukkot. She wrote an article about this on Kveller and posted the article to her Facebook page. Ms. Bialek has never called herself Orthodox, but it didn't stop the negative comments from Orthodox fans. Instead of congratulating her on trying to grow in observance of the mitzvot and informing masses of people, including many less or unaffiliated Jews that there are halachot, her lack of Orthodox observance was bashed in a lot the comments. These comments are now removed from the post on Facebook and on Kveller. She also had to remove so many Facebook posts from her Kveller article on her Emmy's dress, that she only has 25 comments remaining. That article was the last in a four-part series documenting her search for a "Hot and Holy" dress for the Emmys, in other words, a dress that didn't leave nothing to the imagination. Because her dress had a cutout across the top of her breasts, her dress choice was blasted in many comments for essentially not being tsnuis enough for this blog.
I'm going to go out on a limb and assuming that the "Sikrikim" Chareidim in Israel are not on Facebook and certainly not fans of Mayim Bialek. Most likely, the same people who post negative comments on Ms. Bialek's posts are the same people who watch the events in Israel in horror. But when it comes down to it, their attitude toward others' observance is not much different than the Sikrikim. We will not be able to eradicate the violent behavior from our midst until we eradicate the judgement of our fellow Jews from our hearts.
Update: I just received an Asara B'Tevet email from Rabbi Silber of Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim in Baltimore. Rabbi Silber is an absolutely amazing rav, and he said something similar to what I said in this post, but he said it far more eloquently.