Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Dress Code

The holidays are once again approaching. The one time of the year when it is acceptable to throw off the stifling yoke of our Chassidus delectus and officially put time and effort into having a good time. A holiday village is chosen from the list of places where it is known a minyan (ten men who get together for prayers) will be available locally. Ostensibly this is because one is supposed to pray with the required forum every morning and evening but my suspicious mind keeps noticing that the ones so extremely careful to have a minyan nearby are often the same ones who, when in town, prefer to chat with their friends outside while the ten get their job done inside.

The next thing to arrange is the wardrobe. Those who know Chassidim well will know that sartorially we are still somewhere in the darkest regions of sub-civilised Europe; our trademark long, dark suits now, ironically, being produced by the Hungarians as they break all records in dragging themselves forcefully into the very centre of the developed world. Those who know Chassidim intimately will know that our fashion statement carries on through all the way to the North Pole, by way of knee length white knickerbockers. Still, come August, and with the fumes of the Hill replaced by the bracing sea air, they put their hair up under a baseball cap, remove their topcoats and tread out incognito in their baggy suit pants, white shirts, pale yellow tzitzis and tailored waistcoats, often with a pair of clip-on sunglasses to make them look real cool.

Actually, although I do scoff a little, I do owe much to my garb. The Chassidic dress code by being so distinctive and quaint does look, to the lay person, like it conceals a Rabbi within. In the years that I was studying outside London I used to ride the train a lot. On the long inter-city rides I used to enjoy striking up conversation with fellow passengers. The atmosphere and the very fact that we knew we would never see or hear from one another again was conducive to some very frank and open conversations with people who must have felt they were talking to a Rabbi.

I spent hours counseling people for a multitude of sins I know nothing about. I once spoke to an Irish man who wanted me to agree with him that even when he used contraceptives against the wishes of his ‘Holy Father’ it was not wrong if he did not feel it was wrong. He called them French letters and I of course had no idea what he was on about. I agreed with him wholeheartedly that God would not mind him using his letters at all as long as he felt it was right - although as a Brit I secretly felt He would much prefer a letter from any other nation!

I was also recently surprised to learn that because we are seen as gentlemen of the cloth we are also privileged to be treated as such by many goyim. Just as it is not cricket to hit a woman but it is cricket to hit on her the same is true for a Rabbi. Indeed I must now begin to suppose that it is not only due to my winning ways that I have managed to sail unscathed through the storms my reckless tongue has sometimes unleashed.

I hope that my fellow Chassidim, as they hit the coast this year, will have the good sense to realize the impression they are making and appreciate and return any favour wherever they meet it. I pray even more fervently that they don’t abuse it, Heaven forbid, in a time when in the eyes of many the difference between one religious fanatic and another is only kappel-thin. My final prayer is that whatever they do they should please, please do it in a different village to the one I’ll be in.

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