Kippot and Cigarettes

Z is a pretty typical Modern Orthodox teenager in many ways. He goes to a Jewish day school and spends half the day studying Tanach (Bible and the prophets), Gemara and Hebrew. He goes to synagogue on Shabbat and he is a youth group leader. He plays on his school's basketball, soccer and baseball teams. He plays the piano and likes to read novels. He is also lukewarm about wearing a kippah. I totally get it. It's not always comfortable to stick out and look different than everyone else.

The fact  that he does not always have a kippah on causes me angst. Part of me feels like when Z is bare headed we are both being judged. I worry that people will think that neither Z nor our family are really Torah observant or that there is something intrinsically wrong with Modern Orthodoxy if their boys can go out with an uncovered head.

As Z has gotten older he has become much better about wearing his kippah in all sorts of situations and can often be found with a baseball cap on, an absolutely an acceptable alternative. The halacha (law) is not that a boy or man should wear a kippah it's that his head should be covered.

For some people the fact that Modern Orthodox boys in the United States don't always have a kippah on their head is evidence of the failures of Modern Orthodoxy. Truthfully I think it's about boys trying to figure out how to balance the world at large and Judaism. After all being Modern Orthodox is really about having one foot in each world and it's not always an easy balance.

I sometimes feel judged by more right-winged Jews. I know I should not care but I know that the fact that there are MO boys who do not always have something on their head is proof for some that there is something lacking in the choices that J and I have made.

In a way not wearing a kippah is a sort of rebelliousness. Interestingly, for the more right wing community rebelliousness in teen-age boys often takes the form of smoking cigarettes. Z recently said "Wouldn't you rather me not always wear a kippah and not smoke?" Of course I feel that way. I am actually that crazy lady on the street that tells teenagers that they look like idiots when they are smoking!(Tonight my kids made me promise never to say that again when I am with them.)

In my ideal world he would always have a kippah on and he would not smoke but in the world of teenage boys I'll take a bare head and a healthy body.


rebeccad said…
I know how you feel and he is right and wrong and inbetween. I also have a MO boy and he refuses to wear it in the in the house as his rebellousness. He parades about without it and I bite my toungue. On the rare occasions I mention it you should see the stares. However......he won't eat anything with out it. I then came to the fact he wears it when it really counts. He's a teen and thats how it is. I just expect it an except it. I don't like it but it is as it is. Like staying out 15 minute past curfew.
As for the more right wing try not to judge them maybe they aren't judgeing, alot of them are probally empathizing. You don't know whats happening in their own homes with their own teens. Like you mentioned smoking is slowly becoming the in thing to rebel with. AND alot worse! Trust me my son is in a school for these kids and he is one of the least of the issues! Feel pity for all us mothers who are subjected to TEENS!! I think it is Hashem's way of testing our endrence!

Thanks for your insights.

Anonymous said…
My mother died a painful, torturous death from emphysema caused by smoking. It's the Bad Guy who killed my mother, and I will never forgive it.
Your font is really hard to read! Good luck with your son, it does get easier.
Maya Resnikoff said…
It's fascinating to read about your son, going through his process of developing his self-presentation in the "outside" world, from your perspective. Thank you for sharing it.

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