Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Tishrei 5765 - October 13, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

by Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein

I was sitting on a bus a few weeks ago, on one of those pairs of seats which face each other rather than only forward.

The bus had stopped at a bus stop and I was leisurely sitting there, watching as the people paid for their fare and meandered down the aisle looking for a seat.

Suddenly, in a swish of movement, a boy of about seven plunked down on a seat facing me. He was dressed like a regular cheder boy and I wondered where his mother was.

He was chomping -- yes, actually chomping -- on what could only have been at least four or five large pieces of chewing gum.

Since we were facing each other, I didn't feel that I was being particularly rude as I sat staring, utterly amazed at the gyrations of his young jaws, going up and down, up and down, then suddenly shifting to a violent side-to-side motion.

I live in Jerusalem. Though there are some not-yet religious people who chew gum on the streets, it is rare to see gum chewing among the religious population.

Yet there I sat, facing a sweet little face framed with beautiful payos, mesmerized, while his mouth rhythmically bounded up and down, up and down, right to left, right to left, repeating the cycle again.

It was so incongrous that I was taken aback and wondered what kind of a child this was. Then, what must have been his older sister plunked down next to him on the double seat. Her mouth, too, was in constant up and down, side to side motion.

You must understand, I have never seen such vigorous gum chewing since leaving American thirty-five years ago. And here, right in front of my eyes, were two of them! Before I could recover, a sheitel-clad woman holding a baby slid on to the seat. Her two other children maneuvered closer to each other to make room for her.

I must admit, I had been wondering how a parent could allow a child to chew gum like that in public. Somehow, it just doesn't seem like appropriate behavior for a person whose life is supposedly geared to reflecting the will of our Maker.

But even if a parent did allow gum chewing -- such violent gyrations? It seemed indecent, even for the privacy of a person's own home, let alone on the streets.

As this thought flitted through my mind, I looked at the woman's face to gauge what kind of a person she might be. Imagine my surprise to see her chomping away on a wad of gum which looked, from the bulge in her cheek, to be at least half the size of my fist.

Yes, I am too critical. Yes, I really must stop judging people and mentally criticizing them and their behavior. Yes, it is disgusting of me and I hope that Hashem doesn't judge me the way I am constantly evaluating the people I see. I've begun working on it this year... And yet...

When I heard the mother speaking in (American) English to her children, I was a little less shocked at such gum chewing, though truth to tell, it is sad that that should have mitigated my reaction. Because no matter from which country a person originates, s/he should realize that vigorous gum chewing, like a hungry cow its cud, is not appropriate behavior for anybody purporting to be a representative of Hashem's will in the world. Besides, our behavior is registered and copied by our -- and other people's -- children.

I thought of all this when I met a friend of mine a few days later in Geula. Even from a distance, before she said anything, I saw that her mouth was busily gyrating up and down, right to left and repeating the bovine motions.

This is a fine, composed, mild mannered, respected member of our community. Not a young, nor a loud, nor a pushy person by any means. In the twenty-five years I have known her, I have never seen her chewing gum, neither in the streets, nor in her home.

We don't know all the ways in which a person's behavior can have an influence on someone else. Nor do I know the proper response to something that is not actually a sin. I just know that it looks peculiar for frum people to be walking around chomping their jaws and violently gyrating them around and around. And even if gum chewing is at first restricted to the home, as one becomes accustomed to chomping and it becomes automatic and even unconscious, it will spread out, continuing while walking on the streets or even in school! And if one sees gum chewing on the streets, it becomes progressively less shocking and offensive, and more people will be doing it, copy-cat-like, even those very ones who would not have dreamt of doing it months before.

A boy with payos and a girl with long sleeves and a woman with her hair covered sure look peculiar walking along the street chomping away.

Not very much like a royal family. And much more bizarre than holy.


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