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You know that dictum that ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread’?

Well, I feel that my credentials as an official ‘fool’ must have finally been stamped, as the last week, I’ve been sticking my neck out all over the place.

One day, I decided to tear down a pornographic poster for some ‘club’ event that was posted up near Jerusalem’s crack alley. Usually, I would just make a lot of disapproving, tutting noises about how disgusting it was, that my husband and kids (and others…) had to walk past such offensive smut.

This time, instead of tutting I took action: I ripped the poster off the wall proudly, and I wasn’t scared to defend my actions should some crazed club promoter come storming out from under his rock to angrily berate me for removing his pornography from Jerusalem’s holy walls.

No-one said anything – and I felt really good that for once, I didn’t just put my head down and ‘accept’ the nastiness swirling all around without complaint.

I had the clarity, however brief it may turn out to be, that people who stick pornographic posters up on walls are acting in a mentally-ill, anti-social way, and that behavior needs to be challenged, not excused.

L’havdil, the next day I was walking into Geula via Meah Shearim and the frum yobbos had decided to tip over a bunch of bins and set the contents on fire. (Given that the garbage disposal people are currently on strike, it’s kind of a mixed blessing.)

Usually, I would just walk past and tut. But this time, I was seriously considering going over and picking the bins up, or complaining – something! – to register the fact that this is mentally-ill, anti-social, unacceptable behavior, whatever the excuse for it. My daughter stopped me from doing it (she’s seen what can happen when I get all fired up, and I’m not sure who she was more scared for, me or the yobbos), and after we spent a couple of minutes discussing it, I backed down.

The next day, one of my neighbours knocked on my door to ask me to start cleaning the outside stairs by my house.

Some of the building’s girls were doing it up until now, but they quit and now he wanted everyone to ‘do their part’. It’s not an unreasonable request, but the truth is that for the last few weeks, I’ve been struggling to stay on top my basic cleaning chores inside my own house.

Between trying to get the book out, trying to ‘be there’ for my kids in whatever way God decides I need to be, and trying to get out more so that I’m not stuck in ‘anti-social’ hermit mode, I don’t have a lot of spare time at the moment. And if I do, I want to spend it cooking a nice supper for my family, or finally putting on a wool wash, or having a good conversation with my husband, instead of schlepping up and down the stairs outside to keep my neighbor happy.

I don’t know if this is right or wrong. What I can tell you, is that just before he told me I should clean the stairs every week, I was thinking I’d like to go and give it a sweep. But now I’ve been ‘commanded’ to do it by someone else, I can’t!

It’ll have to wait another three weeks now, or something, for it to get really bad and for my own free choice to kick in again, and decide I should do a bit of cleaning.

The last few weeks have been so weird, and changeable, and pressured, and strange, I’ve been having troubles pinning it all down, or knowing what I think about anything. You might have noticed that in my writing, too, which has been quite ‘light’ while I’m figuring out what God really wants from me.

The last couple of days, some big shifts have happened, and BH, I’ll share more with you about it all this week, because I think it may help you too, if you’ve been going through anything remotely similar.

In the meantime, caveat emptor: I may be writing and acting from the place of a fool, and not the place of an angel at the moment. But if that’s what God really wants, so be it.

For years, like many other people, I’ve been beating myself up over the fact that I’m not perfect. It seems like the obvious thing to do, especially when you hit the ‘sincere baal teshuva’ trail, and there are people lining up all over the place, just waiting to tell you about all the things you’re doing wrong.

One way you can spot who is a real rabbi, and who has genuinely humility, is that when those people tell you things – even very hard things – it actually helps you, and it goes in without causing you any spiritual damage.

For example, Rav Arush’s Hebrew shiurim can sometimes hit some very sensitive nerves, but I’ve been attending his Shabbat shiurim at the yeshiva for a few weeks’ now, and you come away feeling cared for, seen and understood. When someone is genuinely holy, and genuinely on a very high spiritual level themselves, they have a humility that’s impossible to fake, that makes you, the listener / reader / follower feel good about what they’re telling you, even if you are (inevitably) doing things wrong.

Rav Shalom Arush and Rav Ofer Erez excel at this. They excel at telling you about their own spiritual struggles, and failures, and challenges, and how they themselves got out of very trying and tiring situations where their emuna got tested to the Nth degree. Their books are both full of this advice and wisdom, that in both instances was earned the hard way, from the ground up.

But then….(we’re about to controversial here) – it’s not just about what you say, it’s also about the way that you say it. So it is, that I can have people tell me to ‘just say thank you’ for all the hard stuff I’ve been through recently, and I literally want to punch them in the face.

When Rav Arush says it, as he so frequently does, it goes straight into my soul and I GET on a fundamental level that he is giving me a spiritual shortcut out of my troubles, that he knows works because he’s tried it himself.

But then, the same words gets parroted at me by someone who’s read the books, or heard some shiurim, but otherwise is still chock-full of bad middot, arrogance and a few other things too, including ingratitude – and it makes my blood boil. I literally can’t stand what I’m being told, and I start to develop very negative feelings about both the speaker and the message.

Part of the reason I’m writing this post is because after pondering at length whether I was turning into a heretic because I just couldn’t hear the ‘just say thank you’ stuff from certain people any more, G-d helped me to see: 1) how dangerous and misleading all these ‘Rav Arush wannabes’ are, with all their smug, pat ‘advice’ that’s devoid of sincerity, caring and compassion and 2) how amazing Rav Arush and his advice actually is.

Now I live in Jerusalem, I have had the privilege of seeing Rav Arush in action on a number of occasions, and he is the real deal. I can’t tell you the number of people who call him, or simply show up on his doorstep out the blue, or corner him when he’s getting in or out of his car – and he tries to accommodate everyone. He’s never too busy saving the world to offer a kind word to his fellow Jew, even though he really is very busy off saving the world.

Rebbe Nachman wrote that at the End of Days, there would be a lot of religious fakers, trying to ride the coat-tails of real kedusha to get themselves some unearned kudos and respect from other people.

That’s not a chiddush, I know. But the chiddush for me, at least this week, was that they can still be scoring points for the ‘other side’ when they’re quoting Rav Arush at you. It literally makes the mind boggle.

So if you’re being given ‘advice’ that’s making you feel bad, worthless or like you’ll never reach the lofty level of the person who’s running their mouth off at you, press pause on the beating yourself up attack and remember one thing: real tzadikim make you feel positive about yourself, even when you’re doing negative things – and fakers make you feel negative about yourself even when 99% of the time you’re doing positive things. Buyer beware.

Warning: there isn’t going to be a cucumber in sight in this post…

‘The secret of shmita year’ is the title of one of the chapter headings in a Hebrew book by Breslev Rav Ofer Erez, called ‘From the Depths’.

In a nutshell, Rav Erez explains that sometimes, we experience a time of such prolonged, intense darkness in our lives, that it’s called ‘The secret of shmita year’. Remember that before BigAgro, keeping shmita meant letting the land lie fallow for a year, which could mean you’d have no food to eat for a whole 12 months.

Food = parnassa = sustenance = livelihood = the means, the werewithal to stay alive, to live.

Rav Erez explains that in our times, this sort of potential destitution and economic vulnerability can still happen, but with a modern twist: G-d takes your house away; He takes your job (or business) away; He makes everything you try to do fail, often inexplicably. After this has carried on for a while, you hit rock bottom, and you start to wonder how you are ever going to make ends meet enough to continue to live, to be.

All your financial security, all your assets, all your confidence in your ability to make a living, evaporates. It’s a massive test.

Rav Erez explains that the only way to pass this test in one piece is to work really hard on your emuna, and in particular, on your emuna that Ein Od Milvado ­– G-d is really all there is.

If you can hang on to your faith in the middle of this test – and believe me, it’s really not easy – then, he explains, you’ll see that G-d Himself is sustaining you, and that He always was, even when you thought it was your great degree, or your amazing real estate acumen, or your fantastic job that was doing it all.

If you can hang on, and again that can be a very big ‘if’, he explains that it’s a massive tikun, or soul correction, that fixes a whole bunch of very deep, hard-to-reach things in a person’s neshama. And it doesn’t last forever.

I read this, and I almost cried from relief. You see, everything my husband and I have tried for the last two years financially, professionally, socially, religiously – you name it – has flopped so badly it went past ’embarrassing’ a long time ago.

It got so bad at one point that I started watching the local bag ladies to pick up tips for when I’d have to pack up and move again – to the nearest dumpster.

Until a month ago, I truly couldn’t see how we were ever going to turn things around, or how we were going to be able to ‘live’ in any sense of the word, once our house money ran out.

Then I went to Uman. I learnt a lot of lessons there, I got a lot of breakthroughs, and one of the biggest presents I came home with was the feeling that maybe, just maybe, we will be successful again, we will earn money again, we will own a home again, it will be good again.

I know Shmita year is only two months’ old for most people (if it’s even on their radar), but I feel my own personal Shmita ended in Uman last month. And now, I’m waiting for the good times to roll again, whenever G-d’s ready to send them down.

What’s the Jewish hat name, and other questions

It might surprise you to know that the most popular search time involving Jews (besides Israel) is: Jewish hat name. Every single month, around 5,000 people are wondering to themselves, “what do Jews wear on their head” and “what’s that hat, that Jewish wear?”

(It might surprise you to know this, too, but hardly anyone on the web is searching for ‘Jews’. Nearly everyone is searching for ‘Jewish’, which kinda explains why traffic from search engines has been so puny, the last four years.)

So, I decided to do a post devoted to answering the question of: “What’s the Jewish hat name”, and other related questions – all phrased the same way people are searching for them on Google, so that hopefully more people will find the answers to their questions about “what do Jews wear on their head?”

Q: What’s the Jewish hat name?

A: The Jewish hat name will vary depending on what country and what community you’re in. In the US, UK and other English speaking countries with a large population of chareidi or Chassidic Jews, the hat will be called a yarmulke, which often sounds as though it’s pronounced ‘yamaka’.

So, when people want to know: how do you spell yamaka? – the answer is, you don’t spell it how it sounds.

But there’s another Jewish hat name that’s very common too, and that’s the kippah. Most of the Hebrew-speaking Jews in Israel will refer to their Jewish hat as a kippah, not a yarmulke.

Q: Kippah vs yamaka – what’s the difference?

A: While in theory, any beanie-type Jewish hat could be called either a kippah or a yamaka, in practice, there are certain types of Jewish hat that are only called by one term, or the other. For example, in Israel, there is a type of crocheted kippah that’s usually very colorful, and which can range in size from teeny-weeny, to ear-covering huge.

The smallest knitted kippah I ever saw was on the head of a teenager who was clearly making a point to his parents, and it was the size of a quarter. This type of knitted kippah is almost never called a yarmulke, as yarmulke is a term commonly used by Jews outside of Israel, and most Jews outside of Israel don’t wear a knitted kippah.

There’s many reasons for this, but a big one is that many Jews don’t feel so comfortable wearing a big, flamboyant, colorful kippah that’s going to instantly mark them out as Jews, in a world where violent anti-semitism is on the rise.

So usually, a Jew who is wearing a kippah in public outside of Israel will wear one that is black, and less immediately obvious. And the types of communities who are ‘religious’ enough to wear a kippah full-time tend to refer to it as a yarmulke.

Q: Why do Jews wear hats?

A: Jewish men cover their heads as sign of respect to God, and as a way of acknowledging God’s omnipresence in the world. Even a not-observant Jew will usually cover their head when they attend services at a synagogue, or for other Jewish life cycle events like a wedding, funeral or Passover Seder.

In Israel, many Jewish men who otherwise don’t wear a kippah or hat will cover their head in some way whenever they are reciting a bracha, or blessing, usually on food or drink. Often, you can see some very creative ways of Jews covering their heads in this way, with napkins, tablecloths, and even their own hands being pressed into service.

A more religiously observant Jew will cover their head 24/7, because they are more aware of God’s presence in the world, and are trying to respect it, and stay connected to it, throughout all their mundane actions throughout the day.

Another less happy reason why a Jew will wear a hat, specifically, as opposed to a kippah or yarmulke, especially outside of Israel, is to try to ‘blend in’ a bit more, while still covering their heads. In recent years, the Chief Rabbi of France put out a message telling French Jews that it was preferable for them to cover their heads with a baseball cap, or some sort of other generic head gear, in public, to avoid being singled out by anti-Semites. That same message is being heard in Jewish communities throughout Europe, including Belgium and Germany.

In the UK, where I’m originally from, most Jews are usually relatively comfortable wearing an obviously Jewish kippah or yarmulke in areas with a high population of visible Jews, like Golders Green, Stamford Hill or Broughton Park. But when they go into areas with fewer Jews where a man in a little Jewish hat will stand out a mile, they will often also tend to plump for a baseball hat instead.

Q: What’s the Hasidic Jew hat called?

A: There are many different answers to this question. If you’re referring to a round, furry disk of hair that can sometimes rise up to a foot tall (!), this is called a shtreimel. This type of hat is typically worn by Hasidim on Jewish holidays, and the Jewish Sabbath, or Shabbat, as a mark of respect.

Orthodox Jews typically wear their finest clothes on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, and as shtreimels are usually very expensive to buy, they are kept for the special occasions.

Then, there’s the black fedora type hat that other observant Jews tend to wear, also throughout the week and also on Shabbat. Depending on which group of religious Jews you belong to, the style of the hat will vary. For example, Chabad Hasidim typically wear a type of black hat called a fedora with a more pinched look at the front, and a down-turned brim.

While people who belong to what’s called the more yeshivish crowd (after a yeshiva, the place where Jewish men learn Torah), will tend to wear a Borsalino style with the brim up.

Again, this changes depending on the community and country you’re looking at. One thing to note is that while you will see a lot of shtreimels even in Israel, you tend to see far fewer black hats, outside of certain enclaves. That could be because Jews in Israel feel much more comfortable wearing their little Jewish hats in public here, so they don’t need a different type of hat to cover up their kippahs or yamakas.

Q: Why do orthodox women wear wigs?

A: There is a commandment, or mitzvah, that once a Jewish women marries, she should cover her hair. There are a few different reasons given for this commandment. (Go HERE for a more in-depth discussion of this subject.)

The first reason is that hair is very attractive to other men, so when a Jewish woman covers her hair and keeps it only for her husband’s eyes, she is sending a very powerful message to other men that she is unavailable.

There are also kabbalistic reasons for covering hair, that have to do with bringing more spiritual bounty and blessings down into the Jewish home. The Jewish tradition is full of stories which clearly depict how the effort a married Jewish woman makes to cover her hair brings her all sorts of blessings in the home, including successful children and increased parnassah¸ or the ability to make a living.

Now, in terms of why do orthodox women wear wigs, specifically, we hit a big disagreement within the orthodox Jewish community itself.

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, z’tl, was a very big fan of orthodox Jewish women covering their hair with wigs, and that’s why you see so many Chabad ladies wearing wigs, even today.

On the other side of the debate are a number of big rabbis, including many Sephardic Rabbis, who have a very strong tradition that married women should only cover their hair with a hat or scarf, and not with wigs.

The issue is still being hotly debated, and each orthodox community has its own guidelines and mores. In practice, many orthodox women outside of Israel will choose to cover their hair with a wig over a hat or scarf simply to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to themselves.

For example, when I was coming through Manchester airport a little while ago, because I was covering my hair with a hat, as opposed to a wig, I was called over by the security staff, and taken off to a little booth on the side where I was asked to take my hat off, so they could check it.

Man, my hair was a fright show… And that whole experience is not exactly fun, so many orthodox Jewish women in those types of situation will just prefer to wear a wig, and to blend in. Also at work, it’s often just easier to wear a wig, to avoid any awkward situations or potential discrimination.

In Israel, far, far fewer women wear wigs, and most of the married women who choose to cover their hair do so with headscarves, in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Again, I could write a whole book on the topic of “Jewish head covering female”, but I hope this gives you the main idea.

  • If you have any other questions about Jewish hat names, or other aspects of Jewish life, please leave me a comment, and I will do my best to answer your questions. You might also want to check out the Judaism 101 category, for other articles exploring basic Jewish concepts.