haredim kosher food 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Last week as I was flying back to Israel from the United States, I was
sitting next to two elderly women. These ladies were very anxious as
they explained to me that they were Evangelical Christians who were
coming to visit Israel for the first time. As they reviewed their
itinerary with me, I found their excitement contagious and I sincerely
wanted them to enjoy themselves and forge positive impressions of
Israel and the Jewish people.
Mid-conversation we were unexpectedly approached by a hassid who
tersely asked me, "Are you Jewish?" followed by "would you like to put
on tefillin?" When I informed him that I already put on tefillin, he
moved on to the next man sitting in front of me. This man was very put
off by the intruding question and dismissed the man, ordering him to
move on, which he did. He continued to ask every man in our section the
The ladies next to me looked confused and I could see by their
expressions that they were uneasy with both the question that was posed
and the reactions which followed. I was equally confused as I wondered
if indeed the hassid was fulfilling God's mission. Would God be happy
that it was being performed in such a forceful, insensitive and
distasteful manner? I approached the hassid and asked him this
question, to which he responded, "Nothing is distasteful or insensitive
when it is done in the name of God in heaven."
This answer is unacceptable and detestable, because from a Jewish
perspective if it is used liberally it is potentially dangerous.
An article was published recently claiming that a prominent rabbi and
halachic authority within the haredi community in Israel ruled that
braces on one's teeth are considered a "partition" and therefore
disqualify any woman who wears them from dipping in the mikve (ritual
bath). This rabbi explained that the water must come in contact with
every part of the woman's body in order for her to immerse in the mikve
and fulfill the commandment of family purity. This is despite the fact
that immersing in the mikve is performed while one's mouth is closed;
consequently the water would not touch one's teeth in any case.
Effectively this edict means that every time a woman with braces wants
to go to the mikve she would have to get her braces removed, which is
unreasonable and would deter observant women from seeking orthodontic
treatment. It also has serious implications for those women who may
have immersed in the past while wearing braces.
I CALLED a number of Torah scholars to ask their opinion. One suggested
that many of these rulings are fabricated and don't really come from
the rabbinical source quoted. While I began to ponder where the rulings
actually did come from, I was willing to accept an oversight at least
for the sake of preserving my reason.
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However, the nonsensical would not go away, for the following day I
read an article in The Jerusalem Post
("'Personal mehitzas' marketed
for haredim," February 19) stating that haredi airline passengers are
being advised to hang a new type of mehitza
- a halachic barrier to
separate the sexes - around the top of their airplane seats, to shield
their eyes from immodest neighbors and in-flight movies. The Rabbinical
Council for Public Transportation (something I never knew existed but
now that I do I will certainly look at trains, planes and automobiles
with much deeper and spiritual meaning) are encouraging the haredi
community to purchase the traveler mehitzot which stick onto the fabric
of the airplane chair and can be arranged to make a protective "shield"
around the head and in front of the passenger's face.
As Rabbi Shimon Stern, spokesman for the Rabbinic Council for Public
Transportation (yes, they have their own spokesman) called the travel
mehitzot very cute and very practical, I found myself wondering whether
my fellow observant Jews were either very confused or very cracked. Are
we, the same intelligent Jewish people who are referred to as a light
unto the nations, meant to pursue a Taliban-like existence defined by
extreme behaviors as we isolate ourselves from the world around us? Can
we honestly claim that these absurd suggestions and inventions are the
correct way of fulfilling God's plan and exhibiting spirituality in the
Surely this was not what God had in mind. In fact I would not be
surprised if God is looking down upon all of this and laughing
hysterically. As I pondered these questions I convinced myself that
perhaps these halachic restrictions were all part of preparing for the
Purim spirit of humor and good fun.
God never asked us to live an ascetic existence, nor does He expect us
to refrain from enjoying what the world has to offer. On Purim we eat,
imbibe, sing and dance - all physical functions with a clear message.
Purim reminds us that God allows the Jewish people to partake in what
the world has to offer, but He does not want us to get lost or
enthralled by it. God expects His people to arrive at a more
sophisticated, spiritual consequence.
Purim represents a fine balance between the physical and the spiritual,
between materialism and altruism. Purim restores a rare commodity that
is slowly dissipating from the Jewish community. This commodity is
called normalcy. The Jewish community should invest more in this
commodity by ridding itself of one-upmanship when it comes to
religiosity and by shedding its insecurities which tend to breed
radically absurd suggestions and extreme licentious behaviors.
The writer teaches at Hesder Kiryat Gat and serves as a guest
lecturer for the IDF Rabbinate. He is also an author and lecturer on
Israel, Religious Zionism and Jewish education. www.rabbihammer.com
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