You grew up in Philadelphia and you are a passionate Eagles (the local football team) fan. Somehow, you were able to land two tickets to the New Jersey Meadowlands Arena to watch the NY Giants play your beloved Eagles in a crucial playoff game in January (Sorry, Eagles fans, not this year).Here’s the question: What color jersey do you wear to the game? Do you proudly wear Philadelphia green, do you ‘wimp out’ and wear the despised New York blue, or do you ‘punt’ and wear some nondescript color?
Well; are you a conformist or not? Do you go with the flow, are you indifferent, or does part of you enjoy walking against traffic? The question is not about if you could wear Eagles’ green (you certainly could, if you look like a linebacker and if you don’t particularly mind getting a beer bath from the upper deck), but also if you should – or if it is prudent to do so.
I certainly do not mean to carry the analogy to its logical conclusion – that ba’alei teshuvah are entering a hostile environment, Heaven forbid. Nor do I suggest that you will be subjected to a ‘cholent bath’ should you wish to attend a Shabbos kiddush with out-of-the-‘yeshivish’-norm clothing. Having said that, there is the very significant reality that as a ba’al teshuvah, you have moved from a diverse population to one where certain norms are often maintained. In the secular world, this would be like moving from SoHo to Salt Lake City. (It is important to note that this reality is more pronounced if you chose to settle in more buttoned-down communities such as Monsey NY, Passaic NJ, or Kiryat Sefer, Eretz Yisroel, as opposed to, say, Seattle WA or St. Louis.)
There are also very far-reaching consequences of your conforming-vs.-independent streak decisions. It’s fine to proclaim your self-expression at age twenty-five or thirty, but what are you going to tell your teenage son in ten years when he asks you, “Does Hashem really care if I wear a hat?” (if you select a black-hat lifestyle) or when your nineteen-year-old daughter asks you, “Where does it say in Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) that I can’t wear a thumb-ring or spike my hair?”
Enjoying the Give-and-Take
As one of those responsible for the creation of this website, I am having a great deal of nachas (pleasure) from the give-and-take of these important issues. I think that all responsible views should be aired – even those that may be a bit off the beaten track. It will help everyone frame his or her opinions and generate constructive dialogue.
I have much more to write on this subject of conformity – and on the topics of finding a Rav who understands your issues (not always that simple), relationships with your family members (keep close, if at all possible), Thanksgiving (I strongly feel that most of you should not ditch that one), raising your FFB children (too long for a sound-bite), and the broader issue of where to position yourself in the shades-of-gray spectrum of Jewry (I’m not even ‘going there’ now).
Time permitting, I will try and contribute to these posts in the future. In the meantime, please allow me to offer my very best Gut Shabbos wishes (Shabbat Shalom to contributor Shirah Shuraqui) to all our readers and contributors.
B’ahavah (with much affection)