12/07/2005

Good Acting or Wishful Thinking? Why I can Fake Being Yeshivish

I’m not chareidi. I don’t pretend to be chareidi. Or yeshivish. However, whenever I’m with chareidi friends, relatives, or colleagues, unless it’s a setting which would really allow my ‘true colors’ to come through, I’ll inevitably leave the impression that I’m chareidi as well. I’ve often wondered about my ability to do this.

I used to think that it was because I’m a good actor (‘faker’), but that can’t be the whole story. Having gotten a pretty yeshivish education through middle school, somewhat yeshivish through high school, and then 9 years in yeshiva, YU, and kollel, grown up in a fairly chareidi neighborhood, and had family which runs the gamut of Orthodoxy, I got pretty comfortable with the language, idiom, and cliché, and share the same girsa de-yankusa as much of the chareidi community. Moreover, I’m in the Rabbinic profession, and have a shtella in a location that would scare many off (and not because of lack of options).

However, I was never really trying to hide anything. I don’t dress ‘in uniform’, right up to the knit yarmulke, and will often take controversial positions in these discussions (like: television isn’t so bad; the internet is a great tool; there are heterodox clergymen who are as ‘le-shem shamayim’ as you and I; etc.). I also don’t hide the fact that I learned in yeshivot that are anything but yeshivish.

So it dawned on me that there’s something else going on. Namely, that they see me, a meticulously observant, learned Jew, and this translates directly, automatically, into being chareidi. There’s no alternative. MO is a way-station on the way to being Chareidi (BTW- I think that many MO probably think the same of Conservative Judaism). Everything about me that diverges from the model chareidi Jew would somehow be explained away – I dress this way to gain rapport w/ the balabatim, value secular learning because it makes me sound more intelligent and therefore gives me more credibility when I talk about why they should be frum, etc. They want to see me as one of them much more than I care to been seen as one of them.

Just a few minutes ago, I got a telephone call from AJOP, asking questions about the last conference and recommendations about the upcoming one. They asked if there were any issue that I felt should be addressed. I thought that the entire scenario was simply bizarre. AJOP asking me what I thought should be on the agenda for this year’s convention.

I responded that they should address issues of Torah and Science, writ large, since many of the methods offered to those of us ‘in the field’ have been rendered treif. I’ll be sure to report if they address it, and if I attend the conference.
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