Given the lack of Hadracha given to most young men and women, we will now proceed to outline a basic approach. If nothing else, this should give you an idea of what is acceptable, what issues need be considered and what Sh’eilos need be asked.
Too often, a new BT walks into Yiddishkeit with his/her eyes closed. They begin taking on various things with a minimal understanding of what they are doing. This is tantamount to claiming to understand Hottentot culture by simply reading a National Geographic article. My favorite example is the Yarmulka. A BT makes one of the most profound decisions in his life and proudly publicizes the fact of his new-found Judaism by wearing a Yarmulka. His sole thought is “I’m proud to be a Jew!” Imagine his chagrin when he finds out that he is making a religio-political statement. Others are reading all sorts of information he never intended into his choice of head covering. Velvet, fabric, leather, knitted (with letters knitted in or not), color (blue and white says something), size, use of clips all are delivering other messages beyond “I’m proud to be a Jew!”
American culture places a heavy emphasis on expressing one’s individuality. This may be shown in dress, dyed hair, pierced body parts, tattoos etc. Often, the wilder, the better. Yiddishkeit values the concept of the one within the group. The society is more important than the individual. Expressions of uniqueness are appreciated, valued and looked up to within the confines of learning, Chesed or Tzidkus.
Reread scenario 4 in the last section. He sounds familiar because you’ve seen him, and many like him. They feel comfortable because they are still operating on their old value system. You feel uncomfortable for them realizing that they’ve not yet ‘gotten it’.
Bochurim tend to get into the swing of Yeshiva. Apparently, it is the in thing to become Machmir. The stricter you are the more “Frum” you are. From a Halachic point of view this is generally nonsensical. (What can be an operative approach in an older Talmud Chachom will not work for a new BT or a young Yeshiva boy.) Over the years of observing hundreds of Ba’alei Tshuva and B’nei Yeshiva, it has been the rare, strong minded person who has maintained a sense of equilibrium in the face of the peer pressure to take on more and more Chumros.
THE DEAD GIVEAWAYS THAT HE’S A RAW RECRUIT
When he bends his knees in Shemona Esray his forehead brushes his kneecaps.
His Yarmulka almost covers his ears.
He’s still rolling out the AW in Echaaaawwwwd when you’ve finished Shema.
He washes with a cup for everything, scrupulously using enough water to wash the car.
Bentching takes longer than the meal.
The expression on his face during Shemona Esray appears to be intense pain.
When he makes a Bracha each word is strreetttccheddd ooouuuttt sooo thheeee woooorrrrdssss aaaapppprrrooaacchhhhh nnonnnnnssssennnnssse.
If he wears a Talis, it is color coordinated with his ensemble and resembles flashing neon lights.
He’s picked up the “oi” of the Yeshivishe Oilem but retains modern Hebrew’s Tuf and Patach.
Well you get the idea.
These should be the guidelines.
A- Asay Lecha Rav. Discuss any new item you wish to take on with your Rebbe first.
B- Then, learn the pertinent Halachos, inside a sefer, with a knowledgeable person, so you actually know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and the proper way to go about it.
C- Always say “I am accepting this upon myself B’lee Neder, without the force of a vow”. Should you neglect to say this and wish, in the future, to discontinue any given practice, you would most likely need to get released from a vow, “Hataras Nedorim,” through a Rav. This is not always too easy.
D- Remember that each new Minhag and Chumra you take on will have future ramifications. These may include:
1-additional, and probably unnecessary, difficulties with your non-frum family.
2- Additional difficulties in finding a Shidduch if you are single.
3- possible Sholom Bayis problems if you are married.
4- Future constraints in the job market.
1- Limitations in communities you can comfortably live.
2- Unforeseen consequences in future child rearing.
E- Determine, in conjunction with your Rav, how this will help your growth as a person. Minhag and Chumra are not purposeless exercises.
Payos– Your Litvish Rabbeim most likely do not have long Payos. Your Chassidish Rabbeim do. In Yeshiva communities today, most children have Payos, Litvish or Chassidish. While there may be excellent reasons for growing long Payos, there are just as many for not doing so. It rarely fails to grate when seeing a young man with Payos who obviously is a beginner. He thinks he’s being really Frum. Others may see him as a novice with pretensions.
Gartel– All that was said about Payos applies to Gartel as well. It is Halachically unnecessary, although there are wonderful Kabbalistic reasons for doing so. If you really want to wear one, think of it as a future reward for finishing 4 or 5 Masechtos of Gemora. Most likely, should you achieve this goal, B’Ezras Hashem, you will be over the desire to wear a Gartel.
Gebrucht– If this is not your family Minhag, I strongly urge you not to take it on. This is a (relatively) new Chumra B’Alma. The ramifications of Shalom Bayis far outweigh this Chumra.
Not selling real Chometz– Sounds good but remember, your great-grandparents had no Chometz to sell. People bought as they needed and stored very little. Those whose families had this Minhag should definitely keep it. Others are looking at Sholom Bayis issues (it’s harder to manage Erev Pesach), issues of Ba’al Tashchis (throwing out perfectly good food), and buying food after Pesach from the Jewish storekeeper who had, anyway, sold his real Chometz.
Using/ not using the Eiruv-
Black hat or not-
Choosing the most “Frum” Yeshiva for your children-
TV or not TV-
For women, degrees of Tznius-
Tzitzis, in or out; size of Beged-
T’vilas Ezra, using the Mikva-