The Memo

Here is where I reveal myself to be a narrow-minded misnaged. I expose myself because I have a feeling that there are many more like me out there, and I’m trying to help the naive newcomers who don’t seem to have a feel for the topography.

To: All BTs who want to date smart and interesting centrist Orthodox women but who include a photo of themselves wearing a bekesher with their profile

Subject: How you are narrowing your dating pool

A conversation I had not so long ago while perusing a fellow’s profile:

Me: He looks really interesting—look, he’s been to Cambodia with the Peace Corps after he became religious. But what’s up with the bekesher in the photo? Think it’s Purim?

Father: No, it looks like a wedding. And you see he mentions Chabad further down.

Me: Yeah—he became religious through them and he likes their ideas. But what’s that got to do with the wrap-around tapestry?

Father: It seems he’s got chassidish leanings. Maybe he’s not for you.

A conversation I had not so long ago with a friend:

Me: So why don’t you want to go out with him?

Her: Well, he’s gone a little weird. He started wearing a bekesher. Tsupwithat?

Another conversation with another friend:

Her: You’d like him. He’s really into lots of stuff. Plays seven instruments. Invented a new golf shot. But… he wears a bekesher. I don’t know why. He’s totally normal otherwise.

Look, I get it. You became frum in college through the campus Chabad, and you have a soft spot for the sect. (We all do.  They’re the indispensable if adorably odd sibling.) But do you sit on your hat before you wear it? Do you grow a bushy beard? Do you walk around with your shirt untucked? No. So why the 16th-century Polish costume?

A bekesher doesn’t just represent chassidus, an ultra-orthodox sect. It represents the irrational part of chassidus—the part where they can’t tell the difference between an anachronism and a custom. Or, it sometimes seems, between an anachronism and a Torah commandment.

It makes the average over-educated woman uneasy. She begins to wonder about your BT motivations. She wonders at your opaque rational processes. She wonders if you’ve finished your BTing, or if you’re still travelling across sects, and might wake up in Satmer one day. Or maybe Bat Ayin. Or someplace else she’d rather (in her admittedly narrow-minded way) not be.

So, if you’re trying to weed us out, you’re doing a great job. Just keep posting those bekesher pics.

But if you want to broaden your dating circles, and you can’t figure out why otherwise intelligent and charming women are making the unintelligent choice of not dating you, take this suggestion: shock her with the bekesher on your Shabbos sheva brachos.


The Objectification of Male Accessories

Conversation at the Shidduchim Family table over Pesach:

Good4:…she loves Chassidim, she’s going to marry a streimel.

Bad4: I hope she’ll marry the man in the streimel.

Good4: (rolls her eyes) Duh! You don’t have to be so technical.

But I wasn’t really. I think we have a serious social malady on our hand: the objectification of the male accessory.

Feminists of secular society decry the objectification of the female; the fact that women are seen as the sum of their parts and develop identities tied to their appearance. This can (studies claim) severely hamper their social interactions.

But in our society the “checking out” often goes the other way. Important questions: is he a black velvet or a kipa sruga? Is he a blue shirt or a white? Is he a black hat or a streimel?

There is no doubt that this leads to men developing identities tied to their headgear or shirt color or the location of their tzitzis.

But the yarmulke is the most objectified, perhaps because it can be so much more nuanced in meaning than a hat or shirt. The fabric, the color, and the position on the head all create a detailed dossier of the wearers political, theological, and social beliefs. Men who arrive from small communities wearing a yarmulke that they liked for fashion reasons are quickly set straight and sent shopping. And when a classmate informed me that he was going to buy himself his first, I felt the need to advise him on a neutral style. The idea of an innocent outsider purchasing a yarmulke based solely upon aesthetics and comfort can wake you screaming in the night.

In fact the yarmulke is fair game for engagement arguments. I’ve heard of women who think their beau is perfect… if only he’d wear something darker. And why shouldn’t he? She’s all dolled up so he can proudly walk down the street with his beautiful fiancé, why shouldn’t she get to be equally proud of an “objectively” gorgeous guy? It’s just a piece of fabric, and takes a lot less time and effort than blow-drying her hair every morning.

Studies remain to be done over whether this objectification inhibits men’s social interactions, but I suspect it does. I mean, would you bother being charming to someone who was already writing you off as a “black leather, top of head”?

Now, I’m not saying you can’t try to judge people by their appearances. There’s something to be said for affiliation by clothing, even if it’s not always accurate. (Shirt-out-tzitzis-flying means Chabad when paired with a scruffy beard, but yeshivish slob when paired with a 5 o’clock shadow.) But for goodness’ sake, don’t objectify them!

Sorry Good4: she’s not marrying a streimel. She’s marrying a chossid. A man who wears a streimel.

Just give him the courtesy of being a man and not his hat.