Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Shevat 5761 - January 31, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
Hat is (part of) the Question
by Susan Yaakobi

A true story

She didn't know what gave her the sudden desire to go to shul that Friday night. Maybe for lack of anything better to do, a mixture of curiosity and nostalgia -- I wonder what it's like to go to shul for the first time since I was a schoolgirl, and be able to understand some of the siddur. Having been in Israel for over two years, she had relearned quite a lot of the Hebrew she had scorned as a youngster.

Anyway, it was certainly an interesting experience to see the old familiar sights and be assailed by the sounds of the prayer which she felt penetrate directly into her soul, bypassing her conscious intellect. So quickly and smoothly.

However, the first thing was not to feel out of place. Oh, here's a girl of about my age who, I can see, is without a hat. Just to be on the safe side...

"Excuse me, do I need to wear a hat?"

"Are you married?"


"Then you don't need to wear a hat. You are dressed quite suitably, although your sleeves should really cover your elbows."

"I'm sorry. I didn't know. Now I understand why all those religious women go around looking so `covered up' even in the height of summer."

"It's called tzniyut, modesty and propriety."

"If you don't mind me bothering you so much, would you be prepared to show me what's going on in the prayers? You see, I'm here for the first time since I was a schoolgirl in England. Then I used to visit shul regularly every Shabbos morning, but, I am ashamed to say, only for social reasons. I never took any interest in what was going on..."

"Certainly, but it is forbidden to talk in shul except for what is connected to the davening itself, so here, I'll just show you..."

They finally parted, the girl, Esther, to her home for Kiddush and the Shabbos seuda, and she, back to her rented flat shared with another girl, a ten minute walk into the very secular suburb of Tel Aviv.

On impulse, as Esther drew away, she called to her, "By the way, what time do they start here tomorrow morning?"

"Six thirty."

"Oh, that's a bit early for me. But, maybe, I'll try to make it..."

"I'll be very happy to see you then. Shabbat Shalom."

Back in her apartment, she reflected on `what she had done.' She, a confirmed, know-it-all atheist who despised all religion as a `Freudian father substitution,' deciding to go to shul on Shabbos?

Well, what does she care? She was not going to force herself into a fixed mold of beliefs -- that was exactly the thing that she had always despised -- every since she was twelve years old and had decided she didn't believe in G-d. At that time, this was certainly the conventional stance that everyone paid lip service to then -- and she therefore staunchly remained sitting during the amida in school prayers in the morning and afternoon, even though everyone else stood and prayed, mouthing the blessings thoughtlessly and mechanically, as was expected of them.

In fact, now that she came to think of it, she rather liked the idea of going against the current. For after all, here in Israel, now, in the early seventies, in her social milieu and where she had chosen to live, being scornfully anti- religious and atheistic was hardly daringly unconventional - it was just the opposite - the very essence of conventionality! And when she tried to discuss the subject in some depth with professedly intelligent people of her age, she was chagrined to find that, contrary to her own agonizing over the meaning and purpose of life, these `athiests' were merely tarred with the same brush as the conventional, utterly non-thinking people she had attended school with, and with whom she had attended the "Jewish Youth Debating Society" -- which always found people to support the current philosophical, social or political ideas of the time, but were at a loss to find anyone daring enough or thinking enough to disagree.

She also liked the idea of surprising, or even more strongly, shocking her family and acquaintances by suddenly declaring she was going to start keeping mitzvos...

Wait a moment! What was that? Keeping mitzvos? She had only just visited shul one Shabbos, and she was already deciding to keep Shabbos, eat kosher, dress modestly...!

That, dear readers, is indeed how it started...


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