“Any man who is under 30 and is not a liberal has no heart; any man who is over 30 and is not a conservative has no brains.”
-Winston Churchill (or not)
Many young people, in the context of college, yeshivah, or seminary, like to spend their time discussing issues of policy. Specifically, in the Orthodox Jewish world, issues pertaining to halacha. During the year that I spent in Israel, I had many such conversations with peers about issues as the kashrut status of Rabanut Yerushalayim, saying hallel on Yom HaAtzmaut, and the role of kiruv within the Jewish community. We also discussed things like tzniut and mandatory army service in Israel.
It’s funny how as a 17 year old teenager, I could be SO convinced that my position was right. Most of my opinions haven’t changed objectively since then, but this past weekend, I had an enlightening experience.
I spent shabbos with a family that I respect a lot. I had never actually met them before, but they are the cousins of a close friend of mine. This close friend and I wanted to spend shabbos together, and she asked her cousins to host. It was the type of place that, after being there for only a couple of hours, I felt like I’d known them my entire life. They told me to make myself at home, and I did. The wife and I spent the entire weekend joking around, as if we were old friends. I teased the 14 year old cousin as if he was my own little brother. I spoke with their 16 year old about various options for college (His school starts having college guidance meetings in 10th grade? What??)
The wife is an attorney at a fancy law firm in New York City. She covers her hair outside of her home, but not when she’s at work. That’s when it hit me. I have dreams of going to law school and working a large firm like hers. I never for a minute have doubted whether or not I would cover my hair. Of course I would. The question was always, how? I don’t really like the idea of sheitels. What’s the point of covering hair with hair?
“It’s a way for women to follow halacha, while at the same time feeling comfortable with their appearances” always seemed like a weak argument for me. In Israel, I decided that I would only cover my hair with hats or scarves-a blatant declaration of my status as an Orthodox, married woman.
I started thinking about her situation, and how odd it was that she didn’t cover her hair at work. Then I thought, what will I do in that situation? Wear a hat, like the 60 year old southern ladies going out for tea? Wear a scarf, like a twenty-something teenage wannabe? I couldn’t think of a single option that would be appropriate in a business environment, with the exception of a sheitel, which, of course, the 17 year old me had decided was inappropriate.
Later on, the issue of national army service came up. Of COURSE boys who don’t want to go to Yeshiva should serve in the army, right? Sure, in theory. But Israel is in the middle of a WAR!! Going to the army means signing up for war. Can I really handle that? Do I want to place my children in a position that forces them to be in life threatening situations? No, not really. No amount of Zionism is going to change that. Land can’t bring back a dead child.
Maybe the year in Israel is for exactly this purpose. Maybe the flipping out is a good thing. Even if people don’t end up sticking with all the changes they make in Israel, they will be able to separate the things they do/don’t do because of halachic ideals from the those that they do/don’t do because of personal comfort. And that’s an important distinction.