Wednesday, January 18, 2006

black hat rant

OK, this is going to be a non-Torah rant, so check back another day for the usual lomdus part of this blog. Yesterday I happened to catch site of someone on the train wearing a wide brimmed Borsolino - very chashuv - and it brought to mind one of my pet peeves. I happened to notice this same person other days on the train learning from an English mishnayos, and lately he has started the daf with the Artscroll - someone whom b'temimus is obviously growing in avodah and learning, someone whom I guess comes from a background weak on learning and maybe even observance but who is moving up the latter of ruchniyus for the better. I just wonder why the black hat? Now, I mean no disrespect to those who were raised in a culture where the "levush" of the hat is a cultural "uniform" and therefore donning it is an act of conformity to the social mileau - I see that as neither a positive nor negeative phenomenon. But for someone who was not raised in that derech, for someone who is taking baby steps in growing in learning, where does this come from?
If I had to guess, I would assume this is part of identifying with a certain social stereotype. Lets face it - if you take a slice of the average American daf learner society, the majority of that slice I would venture to bet would be black-hatters, at least on Shabbos. A person donning the hat doesn't analyze whether he agrees with the hashkafa of Agudah, whether he really buys into every shita of R' Shteineman or R' Elyashiv shlit"a - he simply knows that if you want to be thought of as part of the "in" crowd of those who purport (at least) to take their religion seriously, this mode of dress serves to express that.
And this brings me to the point of sadness - why is it that the Modern/Centrist/whatever-you-want-to call it movement in the US is not as clearly identified with limud hatorah as the "black-hatters"? Why is it that the sight of a kippah-serugah wearing man sitting in a bais medrash sticks out like a sore-thumb? Why has there been a failure to produce in the US the equivalent of the dati-hesder type yeshiva movement that exists in Israel? I have no good answers. A few months ago I traded my black-kippah for a large white kippah serugah that I wear l'kavod Shabbos. It may make little difference, but I feel that my children and those who see me should have a picture of what it means to be a shomeir mitzvos and engaged seriously in limud haTorah (which hopefully I do to the best of my ability) while at the same time embracing certain hashkafos which would be to the "left" of what is current in true "charedi" circles - e.g. belief in the political success of Eretz Yisrael as the start of our national redemption, willingness to learn from secular culture, openess to women taking a more active role in avodas Hashem and an equality in general society. Yet, what impression is made my a single isolated person when I live within 3 blocks of two very large "modern-orthodox" shuls (as in hundereds of families), yet neither has an open bais medrash at night - is it any wonder that I make neither one my makom kavua for tefillah? How can one take modern/centrist orthodoxy as having any significant religious meaning under these circumstances?


  1. Anonymous10:41 AM

    Maybe you could just chalk it it to different community standards. Where I live the large active night seder beit medresh is housed and populated by the largest centrist/modern/tziyoni shul in the 'hood.

  2. Anonymous11:07 AM

    Dear Rabbi Brown,
    Don't you know it is easy to put on a black and about learning but it is much harder to learn.
    Move to Israel where you don't have to wear a hat to learn daf hayomi. Look forward to having you here.

    kol tov


    PS. recently on cross-currents they had a discussion about a black hat.

  3. Wow, I didn't know you publicly switched to the "dark" side (or I guess I should say "white" side.

  4. Anonymous8:55 PM

    The Black Hats identify themselves with torah, you are trying to do the same, so you identify with them, pretty simple

  5. Anonymous11:17 AM

    Where did you find it? Interesting read » »