Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tocho Kevaro: The Clothes Don't Make The Man

Moshe Einstadter wrote a beautiful book entitled The Yearning Soul: Essays for the Thinking Jew. He has an excellent passage regarding the idea of tocho kevaro (the ideal that one's exterior appearance reflects who one truly is inside). This excerpt appears on pages 113-114 of the work.

Incidentally, I may be many things, but I do not pretend to be what I am not. I do not pretend to like you if I hate you, I do not grant forgiveness if I have not forgiven and I have never pretended to believe in any ideology (whether it be the Agudah's or that advanced in my Sex & Gender Roles class) in order to gain favor in another's eyes. It is possible that there are those who hate me, but at least they hate me for what I am. I have never understood why one would desire to live a life reflecting values and ideals that one does not share. I believe this is my one good quality- I am stubborn, a member of the am kishei oref, and if I do not agree with you, I will not flatter you into a pretense that I do. I have lost a lot because of this but if I did not hold fast to my honesty, I would have nothing. God can see all that I am; why should I hide in the face of human censure? Of the two, I have far more to fear from- and am far more accountable to-Him. He knows the weaknesses and frailties of His daughter, the sins she has committed and the paths she has walked; He knows my reasoning or lack thereof. If I am ashamed before anyone, it is Him. God and my parents have the right to ask better or more of me. No one else.

~

Excerpt:

Rabban Gamliel denied entry to the beis hamidrash to those disciples whose exterior did not truly reflect the inner person- she'ain tocho kevaro. We may translate this principle into a correspondence between chitzon and penim. The former must express the latter; anything less is untruthful.

There was a time when only those of chassidic background, abiding by the massorah transmitted by their forebears, dressed according to a well-defined code. All others, including benei yeshivah, dressed each appropriate to his station and in keeping with his individual taste. The Torah persona was evidenced by the manner in which one walked and talked and by his total deportment. This is no longer so. Today the black hat, an extensive display of tzitzis, and now, quite common, peyos wound behind the ears are the standard accoutrements of the Yeshiva man; these symbols profess, to those conversant with their meaning, that the bearer is a true ben Torah.

The abject truth is that unfortunately often they signify nothing at all. Rather than being motivated by modesty of dress, the Chofetz Chaim's strick interpretation of u'reitem oso and a halachic concern with the shi'ur of peyos, they are frequently no more than a uniform donned by members of a fraternity. It is not that these individuals are insincere, but that a chitzoniyus which ought to reflect a penimiyus hardly reflects it at all. Instaed of a foremost concern with the cultivation of the inner qualities of the Torah personality, the focus is directed largely upon the effortlessly acquired outer trappings. If the external is still meant to convey a correspondence with the inner person, then Truth is sorely compromised; and if it no longer does, then we have reduced matters of religious significance to little more than social propriety.

Am I therefore suggesting that black hats be exchanged for grey, that tzitzis be concealed; and that the length of peyos be shortened? Only an absolute fool (there are instances wherein the conceptual term "absolute" may be justly applied to the concrete) would draw such a conclusion. No, I simply decry the fact that ha'emes ne'ederes and nothing more. Blessings be showered upon the wearers of black hats- but let them not rest until they have assured themselves that were Rabban Gamliel to stand sentinel at the portal of the beis ha-midrash, he would grant them entry.

7 comments:

Binyamin said...

excellante

Anonymous said...

Chana, I don't believe that there is anyone out there who truly hates you. Well, I know, we all read some strange comments on your blog from some loons, but that's their problem. Anyhow, I loved the honesty and sincerity in this post.

Anonymous said...

Do you think that the R' Gamliel story was referring to how they dressed? I always understood it as more about their actions (of which dress is only a small part).

there are those who "talk the talk" of the beit medrash but whose actions don't (simple example-talking during chazarat hashatz)
KVCT
Joel Rich

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

"There was a time when only those of chassidic background, abiding by the massorah transmitted by their forebears, dressed according to a well-defined code"- I think this slightly misguided, as even the Chassidim in Eastern Europe didn't have a strict dress code.

In the rural areas the Jews (who were usually Chasidim) wore the traditioal Polish farmer cap, a rugged outer garmnt and, depending on their means, knee-high socks an shoes. The city-dwelling Chassidim looked a little more like how we think of Chassidim today as dressing, but they also usually wore the cap instead of the rimmed hat, many times wore long pants (instead of the knee-highs), and at times wore short (non-black)jackets and ties.

The truth is till the end, Chassidut in Europe was not realy about dress, especially considering that usually all of a towns Jewish inhabitants were Chassidim, and usually had some sort of connection to the Rebbe (even if they were already more secuar than religious). The Rebbe cared more about keeping his flock in the Ultra-Ortodox/Chassidic (as opposed to the Zioist or Bundist) camp than if they 'dressed modern' or went to the Yiddish theatre (which most did).

harry-er than them all said...

i quote different parts of the same essay here http://ayeshivishharry.blogspot.com/2009/08/everybodys-special.html
and here http://ayeshivishharry.blogspot.com/2009/08/parshas-reeh.html

(sorry i don't know how to tag in the comment box)

Shira Salamone said...

For Harry:
Ms. Tech-Challenged here thanks Kiwi the Geek for her instructions for creating a hyperlink in a comment, which I'm passing on to you (and anyone else who's interested):

[A HREF="put the link here"]put the text here, whatever you want the reader to click on[/A]

For every [, substitute an <.
For every ], substitute an >.

Chana, I hope you're feeling better. Now stop making me hungry. :)

aaronswish said...

"Only an absolute fool (there are instances wherein the conceptual term "absolute" may be justly applied to the concrete) would draw such a conclusion."

Is that really true? I'm hardly so sure. Actually I think a reduction in the popular fetishization of certain clothing styles would be an excellent start on many fronts.

"It is possible that there are those who hate me, but at least they hate me for what I am. I have never understood why one would desire to live a life reflecting values and ideals that one does not share."

IMO if one is (or would be) hated by nobody, then one is probably doing something wrong or is tripping up somewhere in the area of integrity. We are not supposed to make everybody happy with us.