Costumes vs. Character


Moshe Ben-Chaim



I am still disturbed at the women and young girls who study in Yeshiva in Israel, and come home seeking a boy with a black hat, not seeking a boy with impressive acts of kindness, intelligence, and the true values. And even if they do seek the latter as well, they do not say so; clothing takes precedence in their descriptions of desired mates. All too sad, girls in their 30s and 40s have not abandoned this practice of seeking the costume, as opposed to the person. They sometimes pass their childbearing years unwed, childless. I recently spoke with a frum girl 33 years old, seeking a shidduch, who too is blinded by such immaterial issues, as if they are at the core of Judaism. I did not hold my tongue, but patiently and politely rebuked her for her focus.


These misdirected young Jews seek things that are not commanded, and are even punishable, as we learn in Zephaniah, one of the Prophets. The Navi Zephaniah (1:8) states that God punished certain Jews for dressing “strangely”. Radak in his final “Yaish Omrim” teaches their sin: these Jews dressed “to appear more righteous than their brethren, and their ways are evil”. Not just wrong, but “Evil”. Zephaniah clearly teaches against the practice of using our garb to convey our relatively greater piety. One actually loses his or her piety when attempting to flaunt it.


One may dress as he or she feels, since laws regulating clothing are limited to cross-dressing, modesty, and idolatry. Now, if God did not command us to wear specific garments – which reason dictates is meaningless – then we are wrong to add to God’s words. One cannot argue that such a practice is a “Rabbinic” law or even a custom, for a “custom” must regulate a “law”, not something free-floating. One cannot start a custom to wear green on Thursdays for this reason; as such a custom is unattached to any Torah or Rabbinic law. So dressing in black, white, yellow or orange is up to the individual, provided no cross-dressing, idolatry or modesty is violated. Such dress will not come under the jurisdiction of Torah, just as what vegetable I eat today also is not governed by Torah.


However, the conscious act of wearing “specific” clothing to distinguish one’s self, is a violation, and is not part of Torah. One who is truly righteous is humble, and does not seek an audience, or applause for his good deeds: “And humbly shall you walk before God”. (Micha, 6:8) God is his only concern, for only God determines truth and delineates what is real, and what is of value. His sense of reality is not human applause, but God’s word alone. A truly righteous person will not concoct new ways of “being frum”, as he is afraid of violating the prohibition of adding to the Torah. A truly righteous person knows that God did not overlook anything when He completed His limited Torah – limited to 613 laws. Such a righteous person also knows the Rabbis were enabled to set fences around the Torah laws, with no ability to manufacture new laws. Righteous men and women never follow the ignorant masses that violate Torah philosophy, as these Jews violated in Zephaniah’s times.


Being more religious than God was in practice during Zephaniah’s days, and is still alive and healthy, misleading more and more Jews. But unfortunately, these mislead Jews of last generation, are now today’s teachers. Instead of young Jews seeking good reasons to marry, they search for faults, refusing candidates, while emphasizing how righteous they are “for they will not date someone who does dress a certain way.” As Zephaniah said, “their ways are evil”.


We should seek the good in others, “Dan es kol adam l’kaf zechus”, and not seek ways to self-aggrandize ourselves and our religiosity, when doing so is wrong, and passes up fine young men and women based on criteria that violate Torah.


I doubt these over religious young Jews would accept those who the greatest Jews married: Boaz married a convert Ruth; Moses married a black, Midianite woman; and Joshua married former harlot, Rachav. But these great individuals set examples of “true” Torah ideals: judge the person, not who they used to be, or what they look like. God also selected Ruth’s descendants, Kings David and Solomon, as they were righteous. It mattered none to God that David, Solomon and Ruth had no “yichuss”, or lineage. Abraham our forefather also had no yichuss, as his father served idols, Abraham himself served idols. Yet, God views the current state of the person, not immaterial issues like lineage and skin color or someone’s past. We are supposed to mimic God’s ways. Moshiach too is a descendant of Ruth, the Moabite. I fear this will be a rude awakening for many, but what people need is exactly this: to awake.


Students are not thinking for themselves. As Rabbi Bachya, author of “Duties of the Heart” teaches, “Vayadata Hayom, Vihashaivosecha al Livavecha”, “And you shall know it today, and place it on your heart”. (Deut. 4:39) This is recited each day in Alenu. Rabbi Bachya teaches that we are to learn from here that we first listen to the traditions of the Rabbis “And you shall know today”, but then, we must reason for ourselves if what we hear is sensible, “and place it on your heart”. Rabbi Bachya teaches that one who fails to fulfill the second step, and blindly accepts traditions, is doing a “disgrace”. Now, if in the areas of Torah, one must use his mind and reason for himself, why would he be exempt in other areas, such as seeking a mate? Therefore, even if a teacher tells a student to seek a boy based on external garb, something upon which the Torah does not command, then, single men or women would be acting disgraceful to follow such a teacher’s directive, if his or her mind tells them that seeking garments in place of Torah virtues is the crooked path.


The fundamentals of Judaism have been replaced in schools and yeshivas with a “manufactured Judaism”, not even Judaism at all. If one wishes to find a Jewish mate who adheres to true Torah values, he/she must study the Torah, and not simply follow what ignorant Jews claim to be Torah. If you cannot accurately identify a Jewish idea, then you cannot seek it out in a mate.


God’s words must replace man’s corrupted actions.