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