Monday, November 17, 2008

Erva – A State of Mind

My dear and old friend Rabbi Harry Maryles in his recent blog Religious Ruling – Wigs Are Out defies the hareidi community to actually adhere to the ruling of Harav Elyashiv. A Rabbi Maryles suggests it is highly doubtful if it will ever happen!

Rabbi Elyashiv’s ruling in essence rejects the halachic validity of today’s sheitels, because essentially they are erva and defeat the whole purpose of the sheitel. Rabbi Maryles pointed out that this is the same Rabbi Elyashiv who ruled against Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s work on evolution. He questions whether these same rabbanim who supported Rabbi Elyashiv on the Slifkin issue and who jumped on the bandwagon in destroying Slifkin will also support Harav Elyashiv on this new “tempest in a tea pot” and replace their wife’s sheitlach for scarves, snoods and babooshkas?

The question that Rabbi Maryles asks is profound, perhaps more so than he realizes. While disagreeing with Harav Elyashiv I nevertheless have a deep and abide respect for his approach to halacha. He happens to be not only a purist but a consistent purist. Anyone who has studied his pikei halacha will realize that his decisions are based upon his pristine understanding of the text and the spirit behind the text. In other words, what were the reasons behind textual references? And if the reasons weren’t apparent he made certain assumptions that would have far reaching application. In addition his rulings are detached from politics and the prevailing social mores and values.

Having said that I don’t necessarily agree with him, but at least I know and appreciate where he is coming from. His psak negating Slifkin was ridiculous as was his recent call for a Yom Tefillah on November 13 as I have already commented. However his psak on sheitels is a psak that is not only correct, but will be the least heeded of all his piskei halacha because it creates not only inconvenience but also undermines the mores and values of some of the hareidi community.

As was indicated earlier, the basis of his piskei halacha are detached from politics and social mores. He is a purist. Many within the hareidi community while wishing to maintain the normative behavior of the hareidi community sought the ways and means to have their cake and eat it too. If their women had to wear a sheitel, they would; but without detracting from or impinging on their sexuality. And this is precisely the reason why Rabbi Maryles’ comment was so profound. Without him perhaps realizing it, he suggested that the bulk of this community wouldn’t comply with this halacha because their women would no longer look hot.

I’ve mentioned before ( see my essay When She’s Hot, She’s Hot – or Not) my interest in attending “frum” weddings goes beyond the traditional reception, and the anticipated deafening and boring klezmer music; there is the tantalizing smorgasbord of hareidi women decked out in their “shabbos best” sheitlach, their spiked heals and suggestive outfits. If they had the slightest inkling of the spirit behind the halacha they would present themselves more modestly with a deportment conforming to that of a bas yisroel. Unfortunately, pilpulism has reigned supreme for generations, robbing the halacha of its spirit, and reducing it to neat loopholes where taking advantage of the “law” is carnation in one’s lapel buttonhole thus rendering our “practice” far removed and remote from the intended. Harav Elyashiv understands this obviously, thus his ruling.

What Harav Elyashiv ought to have ruled on as well is what constitutes modest behavior for women who wear the sheitel. The pilpulists will call me out on this. They will suggest that one can’t mix tznius with the inyan of ervah because they are two different things. For a pilpulist this might be true. But for one seeking truth and clarity, understanding and appreciating ervah subsumes the willingness to make the connection with tznius. By bridging the two, ervah and tznius take on a whole new meaning; removing them both from the pilpulistic gobbledygook, becoming instead a state of mind and thus a state of being.