web analytics
July 7, 2015 / 20 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Birth Of A Leather-Kippah Jew

Front-Page-071312

Honesty, integrity, morality, sensitivity, passion, meaning – all these seemed to me to be missing from the world, and all seemed to be present in that beis medrash.

So I walked out of the yeshiva racked as if by a fever. The things I wanted most seemed to reside within. Yet my values were not welcome there. I was not welcome there.

I went to war. Desperate to somehow, some way, find a space where I could recreate the passion and values of the yeshiva, I fought raging battles across different times and dimensions.

I found a more tolerant yeshiva that granted me entrance. I got along well enough.

Then one Shabbos I shared a table with a kollel fellow and some friends. I was waxing eloquent on something or other I had read in the Jerusalem Post when a strange quiet descended. I continued, trying to explain myself, figuring they had misunderstood something I’d said. When I finished, the room was as deathly still as a funeral home.

Finally, as if to rescue me, the ba’al habyis offered me a fig leaf of support: “I guess, if you read the Jerusalem Post on Friday afternoon, after seder – well, I guess it’s all right,” he stammered.

It had never occurred to me that I needed permission to read the newspaper, or that doing so could be a bad thing. Reading a newspaper was a simple value of mine. Not Torah, to be sure, but a value nevertheless, and one I could not wish away no matter how much I tried.

* * * * *

Having failed at yeshiva, I joined the ranks of working bnei Torah – those whose hearts and souls remain in yeshiva even as their bodies are occupied with their jobs. Evenings were devoted to night seder and vacation time to a full-immersion Yarchei Kallah Torah-study program. I could show my secular side by day, all the while knowing it was just an act – my heart still lived in the yeshiva.

One day while riding the subway I met a friend who summed up my life perfectly. “I’m Superman,” he quietly confided. Either he had gone crazy or I had heard wrong, so I asked him to repeat himself.

“I’m Superman,” he said again. “I get up in the morning, and I’m tatty. Then I go into my room, lace up my wingtips, and I’m an entirely different person: I’m Joey the banker. Like Superman.”

But I wasn’t Superman. Much as I tried, I simply could not live divided against myself that way.

The downfall came quickly. The following Yom Kippur, I found myself struggling while klapping Al Cheit, having a hard time understanding just what I regretted, just what my sins were. Nothing came.

Suddenly, to my horror, I found myself regretting what I hadn’t done. As though I’d been seized by a dybbuk, each klap was accompanied with a vow that next year I would have something truly to be sorry for. I certainly didn’t mean to violate halacha, or to leave the frum community. But still, it was as if deep inside of me other values of mine were asserting themselves too, insisting that my greatest sin was not what I had done, but what I had failed to do.

I had failed to be truly alive, to be true to the full nature of my own self.

Yom Kippur concluded, I put my black hat back in its box. In its place, I took out an old T-shirt and jeans.

* * * * *

I briefly reveled in my newfound freedom. I could do anything and be anyone I wanted, restrained only by own conscience and the basic strictures of halacha. But I found that without being consciously attached to the world of the yeshiva, my religious devotion began to wane. Even my non-religious values seemed at risk.

Being frum and being a mensch, to me, were tied together like strands of a rope. Without one, I could see, I would have trouble being the other.

I stumbled around a little longer, and then, suddenly, the war was over; the fever had broken. Like a bee or a lion cub in a Disney movie, I had finished my journey and was ready to come home.

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

2 Responses to “Birth Of A Leather-Kippah Jew”

  1. Ronnie Urfrend says:

    Beautiful!!

  2. Eli Mandel says:

    Takeaway: the yeshiva system makes people feel inadequate and tries to keep itself exclusive that way because it actually doesn't provide a deep enough meaning.

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
George Soros: No friend of Israel
Hillary: George Soros is NO Friend of Israel
Latest Indepth Stories
George Soros: No friend of Israel

George Soros: “European anti-Semitism is the result of the policies of Israel and the United States”

President Obama

Sources say seemingly irreconcilable differences between the 2 main parties, Washington and Tehran.

Seder at the White House. The one without the kippa is President Obama.

Instead of accepting reality, the President is trying to hold on to an illusion.

peace in our time iran

Those who suggest further capitulation to Iran are wrongly harming the interests of the West.

Few Arab Israelis found anything positive in the decision of its MKS to join any Gaza flotilla.

US Jews prefer to be like their non-Jewish liberal friends complaining about “settlements” and Bibi

New Israel Fund & its supporters must be countered; Israel’s in the midst of an unprecedented storm

PM Netanyahu this week identified ISIS and Iran as Israel’s primary threat. It is a planetary threat that carries the promise of peace.

Haym Solomon, overlooked hero of the Revolutionary War, was America’s “Funding Father.”

Latvia, July 4, 1941 they forced many Jews in the shul putting it on fire; everyone was burned alive

There’s blood on the reporters’ hands AND New Israel Fund for funding groups feeding lies to the UN

Respect & appreciation for our country is not only a civic value but an essential Jewish one as well

When words lose meaning, the world becomes an Orwellian dystopia; a veritable Tower of Babel

Israel, like the non-radical Islamic world. will be happy see the ISIS beheaded for once.

Kids shouldn’t have “uninstructed” Internet access, better to train them how to use it responsibly

What if years from now, IS were to control substantial territory? What world havoc would that wreak?

More Articles from Mordecai Bienstock
Front-Page-101813

In recent years an important mitzvah has been largely forgotten by Klal Yisrael. Actually, it is not just a mitzvah that has been lost but an entire Torah value that impacts the very way we understand our world.

Bienstock-101912

Editor’s Note: In our July 13 front-page essay, “Birth of a Leather-Kippah Jew,” Mordecai Bienstock described his personal journey on the path to becoming what he called a “Leather Kippah Jew.” Here he elaborates on that vision.

“Let me be honest with you,” the rosh yeshiva began.

It was not a good sign. I was sitting for a farher, an entrance interview, with the rosh yeshiva of a well-known yeshiva in Jerusalem, and it was about to go very badly.

I was, to be fair, a very unusual applicant. I had just graduated from law school. My classmates and friends were headed off to prestigious clerkships or to seek their fortunes. I had other plans. My secular learning had now outpaced my Torah learning, and it was time, I believed, to catch up.

Once upon a time, there were Orthodox Jews who wore blue hats. Blue hats! Some wore brown, or shades of gray. In the summer, they wore white, or amber hats of straw.

One Jew. One lonely Jew. Our brother. Our sister. Our neighbor. Our friend. Frustrated. Bewildered. Alone.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is worse – the vast and growing number of frum singles, or the equally vast and growing number of newspaper articles trying to address the problem. Seriously, though, it’s not even close; our unusual system of shidduch dating inflicts significant damage on some members of our community. That’s why I’m taking the risk of adding this piece to the glut of shidduch-dating articles already on the market.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/birth-of-a-leather-kippah-jew/2012/07/11/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: