web analytics
November 26, 2014 / 4 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Celebrating The Death Of The Blue-Hat Jew


Mordecai Bienstock’s Dec. 24 front-page essay – “Death of the Blue-Hat Jew?” – was an interesting, important, and for the most part accurate assessment of what is happening today in Jewish America.

The author injected into his wonderfully well-written piece a warm feeling of nostalgia, invoking a time when we were able to enjoy family meals on Thanksgiving Day without any guilt. He was also quite articulate in describing the evolutionary process that gave birth to religious Zionism and rise to ultra-Orthodox – or what we today call haredi – Judaism.

What he failed to mention, however, was how the “Blue-Hat Jew” became that way in the first place and how he arrived at that not-too-frum-and-not-too-frei niche on the spectrum of Jewish religiosity.

When we fully understand the circumstances or events that created the so-called Blue-Hat Jew, I believe we will better understand why we now have this schism in Orthodox life, which Mr. Bienstock understandably laments.

At the turn of the century, more specifically between 1880 and the start of World War I in 1914, about 2 million Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews immigrated from Eastern Europe, mostly from Russia and Russian-controlled portions of Poland. My mother, a”h, was part of that wave of immigrants. The majority of those Jews settled in New York City.

Jewish leaders at the time urged assimilation and integration into the wider culture, and Jews quickly became part of American life. My mother and most of her co-religionists and co-immigrants spoke with very pronounced Yiddish accents, which was considered an embarrassment by younger Jews who strove desperately to shed that old-time tradition and become real “Yankees.”

It was not only the Yiddish accents that caused discomfort to many Jews; the European mannerisms also plagued and even humiliated young Jewish Americans as they strove more and more to distance themselves from their immigrant parents. Nor was it only the children who felt this way; it was the dream of most immigrant parents to make sure their children not only had a better life than they had, but that they were accepted as equals by other Americans.

After World War II, Jewish families joined the trek to suburbia as they became wealthier and more mobile. The Jewish community expanded to other major cities, particularly around Los Angeles and Miami. Young Jews attended public high schools and secular colleges, met attractive and marriageable non-Jews, and in time intermarriage rates soared to nearly 50 percent.

I believe that even before the advent of wide-scale assimilation and intermarriage, Hashem had seen how His people were being decimated and sent a yeshuah in the form of the Young Israel movement. I believe the creation of Young Israel was a major factor in stemming the tide of assimilation, affording the children of religious immigrants the opportunity to mingle with truly American Jews, which was of paramount importance to them, while at the same time keeping them from abandoning, or even severing, their Jewish heritage.

Even so, when I attended Torah Vodaath in the early fifties, the Young Israel on Bedford Avenue was off limits to yeshiva students. To be caught attending Young Israel services was to risk severe penalties, even expulsion.

Though that punishment may be viewed as somewhat severe or an overreaction, the logic behind it was understandable. The philosophies and goals of the yeshiva and those of Young Israel were totally at odds with each other.

The reason d’être of the Young Israel movement was to attract young people who no longer wanted to be viewed as “shtetl Yidden” with long beards and peyos and all the other trappings of religious Jews. They wanted the clean-cut, modern American lifestyle, with English spoken correctly and without accents, with hats and jackets not being a requirement, with secular studies encouraged and admired, and with the freedom to socialize with their similarly situated peers.

I believe these are the people Mr. Bienstock was referring to when he used the term “Blue-Hat Jews.”

But that was a long time ago. Today, Baruch Hashem, we have thousands upon thousands of good, solid American boys learning in yeshivas. We have thousands of the more “modern” Jews who are in business or professions while at the same time scrupulously attending daily Daf Yomi lectures. The Young Israel movement itself, no longer merely a vehicle for stemming the tide of assimilation, is a shining example of how Jewish life has evolved.

In other words, sad though Mr. Bienstock makes it sound, the Blue-Hat Jew has simply gone the way of the electric typewriter and the pushcart. And I think that’s a good thing. Today our infrastructures are different. Yiddishkeit in America is no longer a foundering entity unsure of its status or its future. There are strong niches for everyone. Outreach and kiruv groups abound. Today there are groups and organizations for every stripe or form of religiosity.

So I believe we can actually celebrate the disappearance of the Blue-Hat Jew – because he has finally come home.

Irwin Benjamin teaches Talmud to Bucharian high school students at MTJ on the Lower East Side. His articles have appeared in various Jewish publications. He can be can be contacted at irwin.benjamin@rcn.com.

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.

No Responses to “Celebrating The Death Of The Blue-Hat Jew”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Ferguson, Missouri: rioting against racism, encouraging murder
The Foul Stench of the Ferguson Fallout
Latest Indepth Stories
Rabbi Maurice Lamm

Creativity without clarity is not sufficient for writing. I am eternally thankful to Hashem for his gift to me.

Golden presents a compelling saga of poor but determined immigrants who fled pogroms and harsh conditions in their homelands for a better life in a land of opportunity.

It seems to us that while the Jewish entitlement to the land of Israel transcends the Holocaust, the Jewish experience during that tragic time is the most solid of foundations for these “national rights.”

Too many self-styled civil rights activists seemed determined to force, by their relentless pressure, an indictment regardless of what an investigation might turn up.

Egypt’s al-Sisi is in an expansionist mood. He wants Israel’s permission to take over Judea and Samaria.

Cries of justice for Michael Brown drowned out any call for justice for Police Officer Daryl Wilson.

Cloistered captain Obama, touts his talents and has the temerity to taunt Bibi,his besieged ally

Former PM Ariel Sharon succinctly said, “the fate of Netzarim (Gush Katif) is the fate of Tel-Aviv.”

“What’s a line between friends?”

Unrest in YESHA and J’m helps Abbas and Abdullah defuse anger, gain politically and appear moderates

A “Shliach” means to do acts with complete devotion and dedication in order to help bring Moshiach.

The pogroms in Chevron took place eighty five years ago, in 1929; the Holocaust began seventy-five years ago in 1939; the joint attack of Israel’s neighbors against the Jewish State of Israel happened sixty-six years ago… yet, world history of anti-Semitism did not stop there, but continues until today. Yes, the primitive reality of Jews […]

“We don’t just care for the children; we make sure they have the best quality of life.”

“Why do people get complacent with the things they’re told?”

More Articles from Irwin H. Benjamin

Mordecai Bienstock’s Dec. 24 front-page essay – “Death of the Blue-Hat Jew?” – was an interesting, important, and for the most part accurate assessment of what is happening today in Jewish America.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/celebrating-the-death-of-the-blue-hat-jew/2011/01/05/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: