Bein Adam Lchavero

Bein Adam Lchavairo is a blog dealing with interpersonal relations within the Jewish community and the interactions of the Jewish and Gentile worlds. We're new. Be gentle.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fear of a Black Hat.

I was just reading a blog entry that was talking about the difference between Halacha (law) and Minhag (custom). This is an important topic. There are many people who don't seem to grasp the difference.

I should begin by noting that Minhag is not inherently weaker than Halacha. There are many things that are Minhagai Yisroel (the Prevalent Customs), and are so entrenched in history that they may as well be Halachot themselves. As I am not an ordained Rabbi, I do not wish to get into a long conversation about which is "better" or what is what.

Rather, I want to talk about perceptions and Minhag.

At the time of my Bar Mitzvah, I was in a Yeshiva that had a rule : Bochrim were to wear a black hat and jacket for Mincha (Afernoon Services) every day. This was not exactly a challenge for me. Aside from being the norm in my Yeshiva, it was my family Minhag as well. As an interesting aside, what hat you wore was a very big deal to some kids. Mine was actually a Stetson, which wasn't "the norm". I loved it.

Later, I switched to another school. At that school, there was no such rule. You could wear a black hat to Mincha if you wanted or you could just wear a Kippah. At first I stuck with the old, familiar black hat. However, as we did not have lockers and there was no place to store it, I eventually stopped. It was weird at first, but I got over it. I continued to wear a hat on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

When I was dating my future wife, she informed me that she loved the way I looked in my black hat. When I went home to meet her family, she wrote "this is my future husband's hat" on the box when I was not looking. She's sweet like that.

Point* I had a point. Now where was it?

Ah, yes. Black hats and marriage.

A funny thing happened after I got married. I started wearing a Tallit (Prayer shawl). I would get up, put a hat on, walk the block to shul, and then take the hat off and put the Tallit on. After doing this for some time, it began to strike me as silly. I mean, I wasn't wearing the hat to daven in anymore. I was wearing to walk down the street. Where's the chashivus (importance) in that?

I thought on it for a while, and then quietly stopped wearing a hat.

No-one in my community commented. My father did not comment (except once, when I was growing a beard, to comment on the irony that his two "black haters" shaved and his two non-black hatters were bearded). One of my siblings did, but that particular sibling comments about everything, so I thought nothing of it. My wife was probably the biggest opponent, initially, as she just thought it looked nicer.

I have not worn a black hat in years, with the exception of two Levayot (funerals). In fact, I don't even own one anymore, as my last one was destroyed two moves ago (along with, alas, the hat box with the note from my wife). I had to borrow one for the above-mentioned funerals, where I wore one out of respect to the people who had passed.

What is interesting is: I kind of want to start wearing one again.

There's no real logic to it. It's just that it's a family minhag and I feel by doing it, I'll be showing proper respect for my parents and showing them "Yes, I know I gebructh (don't ask), but that doesn't mean I'm rejecting you, see?"

One thing that gives me a bit of pause is perception.

I no longer live in the same community. In my old community, people didn't care what you wore or where you davened. Sure, some people didn't get along, but they never seemed to use Yiddishkite (Judaism) as the excuse.

The place I live now lacks that. While I've found a shul that doesn't have that same issue, there's very much a sense of everyone watching everyone else to see who is doing/saying/wearing what. Everywhere I turn people seem to find an excuse for Machloket (conflict).

I'm reminded of an incident at a shul where I used to work. We were going away for Shabbat, to the same community where the shul was. I took my luggage, including my hat box, in to work. When the Assistant Rav walked in, he stated "Whose hat is that? Did someone lose it?"

"No Rabbi X. It's mine."

"Yours? You wear a black hat?!"

This Rav, who is no longer with us, was a great amazing guy. However, even he was caught up in perceptions. He saw me as a non black hatter. Finding out I wore one "threw" him.

Like I mentioned, my current shul isn't like that baruch HaShem (Thank G-d). There are people there who wear black hats and others who don't. No-one really cares.

I don't think a black hat will make me a different person. I think some people around here might think it does or that I'm trying to "outfrum" them (whatever that means). However, if I spent all my time worrying about what others thought of me, I'd never get anything done.

Time to start saving for a black hat.