It’s really interesting to meet cool, forward thinking people who embrace Orthodox Judaism. It goes to show you how wide HaShem’s arms are — extending out to everyone, everywhere. That’s the kind of G-d I believe in.
But I realized recently that the Baal Teshuva movement (a semi-organized effort to help secular or progressive Jews become Orthodox) may have a weird unintended consequence: it can turn you into a gigantic poser.
Far be it from me to call anyone, Jewish or not, a poser. I know myself. I’m lame. I’ve had it pointed out to me by the authority on contemporary Jewish life (aka FrumSatire) that I am, in fact, a hipster. I bemoan that title, while accepting my lot in life.
But I have noticed something about the mini tribes of Baal Teshuva 20-somethings that flock around dynamic Modern-ish Orthodox rabbis: they all start to look alike, after a while. I don’t mean this in a Black Hat way. No, I mean that in addition to following the derech (path) of the Lord, you also weirdly end up following the path of your new Frum Family. You switch your Bob Marley tee shirt for a Moshav Band shirt. Your skinny jeans turn into not-so-skinny pants. You find yourself buying one of each knock off vintage hat from Target. Throw in the tzitzits, beard, etc. and you just…well…kinda end up looking like everyone else.
It reminds me of being in high school in the south. Over the summer, a few kids I knew started going to the “youth church” where they skateboarded and listened to Christian emo and read Bibles with titles like, “Jesus Freak Manual” and “EXTREME Faith!!!!!” You kinda knew it was dorky, but at the same time, isn’t it nice to belong to something?
Looks aren’t everything. I remember a Chabad that I went to, where the rabbi said (and I’m loosely paraphrasing), “go to Crown Heights and you’ll see the entire Chabad Lubavitch community dressed exactly the same. Some people think that means that you’re not being yourself. But what does it mean to be you? Does wearing a pink shirt make up who you are? No! It’s who you are on the inside. Your personality. Who cares about what’s on the outside?”
I wonder, though, at what point in a person’s quest to find the knowledge of the Torah and embrace Orthodoxy, that it doesn’t turn into Hebrew Fashion Week. Or, put another way, is there vanity in collective modesty?