Do Orthodox Men Wear Suits 24/7?

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Dear Jew in the City,

I live in Hollywood, California, and here there is a community full of Orthodox Jews with beards and everything. I was wondering where do they work? How do they make money? I have never seen an Orthodox Jew outside of this neighborhood. I been in many business places, offices, etc., etc. and have never seen and orthdox man working there?

Also do you guys wear the suits 24/7? In the house? Camping, beach, etc??? And second I’ve never seen an Orthodox Jewish couple out on a date somewhere like the movies or dinner. You guys dont go out much or what?

Sincerely,
Raj

Hi Raj,

All good questions. I understand your curiousity – I’m sure we Orthodox Jews can be a bit puzzling from the outside looking in!

Since I’m Jew in the City (as in New York City), I’m not personally familiar with the Orthodox community in Hollywood, California, but I’ll answer your questions to the best of my ability based on things I do know about Orthodox men who have beards, hats, and suits.

First of all – not all Orthodox men have hats and beards and suits. The ones that do would be considered “ultra-Orthodox” in English or “Chareidi” in Hebrew. I know it’s hard to tell from the outside, but there are actually many different types of Orthodox Jews out there. Even the ultra-Orthodox world is broken into many groups.

The two main ones are: Chasidic and Yeshivish. Within the Chasidic world, there’s a group called Lubavitch (or Chabad) that is a bit different in dress and philosophy than most other groups of Chasidim (as they’re more involved with the larger world). So I don’t know for sure which subdivision you’re seeing in Hollywood, but with black hats, suits, and beards, my best guess would be either Yeshivish or Lubavitch.

In that case, I’ll answer what your average Yeshivish or Lubavitch man would do for the various things you asked, but I’ll also explain what some more modern Orthodox Jews do as well.

1) In terms of where they work: For the most part, people in the Ultra-Orthodox world are less into college education than people in the Centrist or Modern Orthodox world. That means that there are usually less professionals in those circles, although professionals do exist. For the men that work, that leaves them with jobs as teachers in Jewish schools, rabbis, and various businesses. In Manhattan, there’s a big electronic store called B&H photo owned and run by Chasidim, and everyone knows about Chasidim who work in the diamond district.

There are also many Yeshivish and Lubavitch men that don’t have jobs in the traditional money making sense. Many Yeshivish men learn Torah full time, so like grad students, they’ll get a stipend to live off of while they learn and almost always have wives who work.

In the Lubavitch circles, many of the men (and women) are shluchim, or emissaries, and their job is to start new Jewish communities and open up synagogues, Jewish schools, and reach out to unaffiliated Jews. These shluchim have to raise their own salaries as they’re running non-profits.

2) In terms of do the men wear the suits 24/7? In the house? Camping, beach etc??? Let me preface this answer by saying that because I’m not personally ultra-Orthodox or married to an ultra-Orthodox man (if I had to categorize myself, I’d call myself Centrist Orthodox), I can’t tell you what these men are literally wearing 24 hours a day – although I’m pretty sure they don’t sleep in black suits!

From what I’ve seen, there are some men from the ultra-Orthodox community that wear a white shirt and dark pants nearly all the time – even for outdoorsy activities. (I’ve been on hikes in Israel where I’ve seen men dressed like this.) The reason for this way of dress is that there’s an idea that a Jew should have a certain recognizable way that he or she looks, and at some point (I’m not sure when) it was decided that black and white was the standard in these circles.

Some men wear suit jackets in addition to the white shirt and black pants (although I’ve never seen hats or jackets on a hike). Some wear black hats during the week, others only wear them on the Sabbath. In terms of the Chasidic community – different types of Chasidim differentiate themselves (in part) with how they dress. There are various types of hats – some fedora style, others fur. There are also different types of coats these men wear.

3) In terms of you never having seen an Orthodox Jewish couple out on a date somewhere like the movies or dinner. You’ve never seen them out to dinner because they eat in kosher restaurants only. In terms of the movie question, you’re right – you haven’t seen men in black hats and beards at the movies because most ultra-Orthodox Jews do not watch movies.

Now, just so you don’t assume that the practices of the ultra-Orthodox community are the same throughout the entire Orthodox world, I’d like to clarify some points. There are certain practices that are Jewish law: i.e eating kosher, observing the Sabbath, praying. There are other practices that are community standards or traditions which develop out of philosophical outlooks.

Many of the questions I answered above about ultra-Orthodox Jews are community practices and not Jewish law. The ultra-Orthodox community, for the most part, has more of an insular attitude. We Jews used to be forced to live separate from non-Jews (back in Europe), but a few hundred years ago, when Jews were allowed to leaves the ghettos, there was a decision to be made – was it better to continue staying to ourselves or live among the rest of the world while maintaining Jewish law?

The people who chose to stay among themselves are what we now call ultra-Orthodox. They believe that too much mixing with secular society is detrimental to their Jewish observance, and therefore they’re more strict to dress distinctly, avoid secular education, and not be a part of secular culture.

The group that decided to go out and mix with the rest of the world, but still remain observantly Jewish were called Modern Orthodox. Modern Orthodox is a super loaded term because it means many different things to many people, so for the sake of this post, I’m going to use generalizations and simplifications (and I apologize if I offend anyone).

It seems that Modern Orthodox Jews have broken into two main camps – right wing Modern (or Centrist Orthodox) and liberal Modern. Right wing Modern/ Centrist Orthodox Jews still try to maintain this original value of living in society but remaining careful about Jewish law.

Liberal Modern Jews tend to be more lax about Jewish law in general and seem to commit to the major laws like the Sabbath and keeping kosher, but aren’t necessarily committed to laws of modesty, daily prayer, etc.

So let’s do these questions again with RWM (Right Wing Modern) and LM (Liberal Modern). In terms of where they work, both RWM and LM have all sorts of jobs, but usually are professionals as both believe in secular education. They’re generally doctors, lawyers, or work finance, accounting, or computers. You might have seen these people in their various fields without even noticing them because the men might not be wearing yarmulkes to work and otherwise dress the same way other people in their fields would dress.

These men wear all different types of clothes - RWM may tend to wear khakis and slacks only with colored shirts while LM will generally wear anything: jeans, shorts, slacks, etc. In both groups some of the men might have beards, but for style purposes, not religious ones.

You generally wouldn’t see RWM at non-kosher restaurants unless they were at a work function and either had kosher food brought in or came along but didn’t eat. Some in the LM camp might eat only dairy or salads in non-kosher restaurants.

Both RWM and LM would be at the movies, but generally speaking, RWM would be more selective to choose movies that weren’t immodest whereas LM are generally less careful about such things.

Even with my in-depth explanation, this was still all a simplification, but I hope it helps clear up at least some of your questions.

All the best,

Allison

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Comments

  1. Abacaxi Mamao says:

    I object to your assertion that:

    > They’re generally doctors, lawyers, or work
    > finance, accounting, or computers.

    This may be true of men in NYC, but if you look at both men and women (and most MO, both LW and RW, women I know work outside the home), and outside of NYC, Modern Orthodox Jews work in many other professions, including, but not limited to:
    biologists, physicists, teachers, professors of various sorts (history, English, Bible), social workers, engineers, electricians, interior designers, nurses, non-profit administrators, statisticians, advertising (sales and design), graphic designers, writers, marketers, etc.

    And if you leave the US and go to Israel, you also have MO police officers, bank tellers, grocery store clerks, sanitation workers, plumbers, vintners, restaurant owners, cooks, and waiters, and basically anything you can think of. (There are also MO Jews in the US who do those things.)

    Just please be aware that you are writing from a very specific class and culture context that is not, at all, universal in the Modern Orthodox world. Thanks!

    • Thank you for your comment, Abacaxi Mamao. I wasn’t trying to explain what Modern Orthodox Jews in every area of the world work in. I was just focusing on L.A. which I believe is similar to NYC. But it’s good to clarify that in other parts of the world, jobs are more diverse. Also – I didn’t mean to imply that MO women don’t work. As you mention, most do. I just didn’t touch women in the response at all since there was already so much to say regarding men. Thanks for the clarification though!

  2. Gail Scott says:

    Thank you, Allison. My son is Baal Tsuvah for over 2 years and is now
    RW (I guess). This explains things very clearly as I can’t understand why he can’t just be MO (to make it easier on me!).

    I have also been amazed at where an Orthodox Jew lives can also tell you which degree of Orthodoxy he is following; there are Teaneck Jews & Passaic Jews & of course, Lakewood Jews.

  3. Simone Shapiro says:

    I’d like to respectfully disagree with a few of the statements you made about Lubavitch. 1) “Where they work.” Since many of the Lubavitch community came into it at a later age, there are, in fact, many Lubavitcher’s who are doctors, lawyers, in finance or work with computers, as well as some who are house painters, small business owners,musicians, scientists, etc. 2)”The group that decided to go out and mix with the rest of the world, but still remain observantly Jewish were called Modern Orthodox.” Lubavitch certainly is a group that goes out and mixes with the rest of the world. 3) Finally, I dislike the term “ultra Orthodox.” I consider that a term of disparagement, similar to saying somebody is a fanatic. As I see it, once certain basic statements are accepted, a person (or group) is Orthodox, otherwise they are not. Within Orthodox there is a spectrum. That’s it.

    • Thanks for your comment, Simone. I appreciate you adding this extra information, but I hope readers understand that there was only so much detail I felt I could go into as the post was already getting quite long. In terms of there being professionals in the Lubavitch world who keep the professions they had before they became observant, I tried making note of that when I said: there are usually less professionals in those circles, although professionals do exist. Since you bring up Lubavitch ba’alei teshuva who keep their old professions, it should be noted that the same thing ususally happens in the Yeshivish world. In addition, something else I didn’t get into about the Yeshivish world is that there is a sub-division within that community of guys that learn in yeshiva during the day go to college at night in order to make a livelihood. This concept is known as “Torah eem Derech Eretz” – learning Torah and also getting a secular education in order to have a livelihood.

      Even though ba’alei teshuvah usually keep their professions once they become observant, I was trying to highlight the fact that secular education is generally not valued in the Chareidi world the way it generally is in the Modern Orthodox world. That means that many of the Chareidi ba’alei teshuva who went to college themselves will not want their own children to do the same. Again, of course there are exceptions, but I was just trying to illustrate some of the defining points between the various groups.

      In terms of Lubavitch mixing with the world, I specifically made that point when I said: they’re more involved with the larger world [than other Chasidim]. While Lubavitch do mix more with the secular world than other groups in the ultra-Orthdox world, they still (generally) retain a distinct way of dressing and in general are not into secular education, as much as the Modern Orthodox camp which has a philosophy of “Torah U’Madah,” meaning that science, literature, arts, should not just be studied in order to get a profession, but that they have an inherent value in themselves as they can enhance one’s understanding of Torah.

      In terms of the word ultra-Orthodox being a disparaging word, “Jew” can be used disparagingly, but I’ve reclaimed it here on this site. I’ve also seen Chareidi used in very disparaging ways in non-Orthodox Jewish publications. I put the term in quotes when I first used it because for better or for worse, it’s a term that’s used and it’s a term that’s understood by people universally to describe the groups that I was describing.

      I agree with you that there is a spectrum, but within that spectrum, people often draw lines around themselves, give themselves labels and have distinct philosophies. At the end of the post I made sure to mention that Even with my in-depth explanation, this was still all a simplification because people are complicated and it would be impossible to list every detail and every exception to every rule.

  4. Michelle says:

    Thanks for your breakdown on the spectrum of Orthodoxy, it also answered some questions I had. Shalom!

  5. I know I’m a bit late to the comments but felt I had to write in thanks for your efforts on this topic. First, kudos for walking through a minefield of labels and generalizations. You have great ahavas yisrael and it shows in your non-judgemental efforts to explain our mishugas.
    Second, and the main reason I needed to comment, is that your effort here was helpful to me on a personal level. I am a recent Baal Teshuva that needs some perspective on my own, new, life.
    I have an advanced degree and interact with the secular world in my profession. I would not feel comfortable modifying my outward appearance to appear more observant when my observance isn’t part of my secular day job. It’s as if I wear a secular uniform as part of my parnassah. Perhaps my attitude will change as I continue to learn. I feel I’m in the secular world to take actions that elevate this world. If I can do that more easily by wearing my uniform, then perhaps that is what was intended.
    I am moving from BT to MO and the change, growth really, is exhilirating. Thank you for sharing some perspectives and labels so that I can gain some clarity and classification to where I’m located on this journey.

  6. Terrific post. I like how you gave descriptions that are generally accurate while making it clear that there is much more complexity if one wishes to look more closely. You provide clarity with sensitivity. Thank you.

  7. Thanks

  8. Manuel Blanco, Son of Liebowitz says:

    Dear Allison,
    First let me say that I enjoy reading “Jew in the City” very much. Each one of your emails brings another learning experience to my life as a Jew and as a person. I am 55 years old and since I am born of a Jew have been Jewish all my life. I originally come from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which seems to me one of the few places that have Jew-Ricans. :-) I have since met others. I am also member of the Masonic fraternity. I live in Moreno Valley, CA which is pretty far away from any Orthodox Jews to be sure or so I thought. One day I am cleaning my driveway and a van pulls up,inside which appeared to be a Chasidic person driving and a lady as his passenger. It was a hot summer day and I was in shorts with no shirt. I quickly ran into the house and told my wife who is not Jewish but yet a much better Jew then I am “Ruth, I know you think I’m nuts but remember the Chasidum from the Southside? I believe there is an Orthodoox Jew outside the gate?” I rushed to put on a shirt, long pants and open the gate. All are always welcome in our home but to see an Orthodox Jew in my driveway in what many consider the desert was quite a shock although even the thought that I could be right was an honor. It was as you mentioned to Raj was an Chabad Rabbi named Rabbi Shmuel Fuss and his wonderful wife Tzippy. To say the least he changed my life, my heart, my soul and my love for G-d and being Jewish. G-d through this Rabbi in the desert teaching Judaism gave me a feeling that I never had before. I have been ill as of late but recently during a family crisis of my younger Brother passing away he made himself available to help us through the loss of a loved one. Our Masonic family also were a blessing through it all. Rabbi Fuss has since become a dear friend and of course our Rabbi but even more than that, he has become part of our family. When I lived in Williamsburg although I am Jewish the Chassidum really didn’t speak to us much. I never really was a practicing Jew in any sense. I am learning though and enjoy it. You are so right to say that there are many varieties of Jews within Judaism. Allison, I know that I have gotten off topic a few times here but your answer brought back a special time in my life when an Orthodox Jew pulled in the driveway and changed my life. While I have heard other Jews speak somewhat badly of Chabad I can tell you that I have never heard a Chabad Rabbi speak ill of any of the types of Jews or any faith for that matter. Be they Reform, Conservative or Orthodox I have learned from the Rabbi that “A Jew is a Jew, is a Jew.” We are all one in that sense. Thank you again for your newsletter. It like Chabad brings happiness to anyone it touches. Sincerely & Respectfully, Manny Blanco

  9. Modern Hareidi Jew says:

    From a completely objective point of view, the terms “modern” orthodox and “ultra”-orthodox are completely inaccurate. The Hebrew word “hareidi” is defined simply as “orthodox” – not “super/crazy/fanatic/ultra” orthodox. In addition, there is absolutely nothing modern about [G-d forbid] dressing/acting like a Gentile, or studying their philosophies and literature (i.e. “Torah u-madda”), as it has been done by Jewish people for thousands of years. [N.B.: I believe that math and science are in fact not Gentile studies, but are rather objective ways of understanding the physical world, and, with the proper mindset, can greatly aid in understanding our holy Torah and the good L-rd up above and down below.] I am personally a hareidi Jew, and I believe that the term “modern orthodox” applies perfectly to me – I am orthodox according to the definition of the word, and I possess a cell-phone and a laptop and a navigation system in my car ;-).

  10. Modern Hareidi Jew says:

    I would just like to add that, despite the fact that certain practices of so-called “modern orthodox” Jews may not fit my understanding of the dictionary’s definition of hareidi/orthodox, I nonetheless value the midah of “ahavas Israel” (love of fellow Jews) more than any other, and as Mr. Blanco stated before me, “be they Reform, Conservative or Orthodox I have learned … that ‘A Jew is a Jew, is a Jew.’ We are all one in that sense.”

  11. Modern Haredi Jew,

    It wasn’t Allison who coined the terms Modern & Ultra-Orthodox every community uses them, even here in Sydney. You also can’t translate Haredi directly from Hebrew to English as whilst Haredi means orthodox we want to be able to talk about different types of Orthodoxies, like the word crisps covers all crisps but sometimes you want to talk about a particular brand of crisp as they all have different qualaties. Ultra doesn’t have to mean super/crazy/fanatic either, in this context it just mean extra in comparison to other Jewish people.

    The term Modern in this context doesn’t necessarily mean up to date, like a modern computer. It simply means that Jews who follow a ‘modern orthodox’ live what society considers a more modern life style. For example the local Chabad Rabbi where I live like you owns a laptop, smartphone and I’m sure he also has GPS. However he does not watch TV, listen to any English music (unless it’s playing at the place he’s at), he doesn’t let his kids watch disney movies and carefully screens which books his kids read e.g. No Harry Potter and as Allison pointed out he doesn’t go to the movies either.

    I don’t think people should be offended by these terms. You can’t lump everyone into one category and say orthodox as everyone has a different level of observance, it would be very hard to discuss differences within practices without giving each sect a name, we would get so confused!!! I call myself modern orthodox but it doesn’t mean I’m less of a Jew then someone who defines themselves as reform or a Chabadnik, it’s just I do it differently.

  12. Just a point I want to clarify, I am a Charedi (Bais Yaakov) teenager and my family and I are Litvish Yeshivish. When you said the women work while there husbands learn, they don’t just work, in my community the frum women are not only in fields of education yet also in psycology, medicine (a relative of mine has 10 kids and is a pediatrician specializing in neurology), accounting, occupational therapy, therapists, personaly trainers, law and lots more. Also when the married men reach about 30 they get degrees, usually through correspondance. I have a brother who is a CPA. In my school (Bais Yaakov) and Sara Shnerir’s Bais Yaakov secular subjects are compulsary in order that women will be able to get jobs and support their husbands in learning.The difference between MO and Ultra Orthoox going into university is that Charedi do it inorder to get a job, in order that they can support their husbands in learning, support sons and sons in law in learning and most of all support their family. The MO does it to make money and for career.
    Also in my house we have non-Jewish books, yet my parents screen then first. We don’t have a TV as not only can one not filter a TV, also if I had a TV I would sit in front of it all day. My mother sais that when I am old and w119 years old and nothing better to accomplish I can get a TV, yet now as I have my whole life ahead of me having a TV would stop me from reaching my goals.

    You said “Many of the questions I answered above about ultra-Orthodox Jews are community practices and not Jewish law. “. However Chalav Yisroel is an obligation form our sages, yet many MO don’t keep it today. Most rely on the Heter of R Mosh Feinstein which was that only if it was impossible for you to get chalav yisroel products then you can have chalav stam (non chalav yisroel products)

    Going onto the main topic, my brothers where black hats after bar mitzva, and before they go off to Yeshiva in Israel or America they wear white shirts and black pants on shabbos and Jewish holidays. THen they go to yeshica-’flip out :)’ and start wearing black pants and white tops everyday except when we go away asw a family to the middle of nowhere tehre some of my brotehres wear their black pants with a green, red or blue top. (we are not allowed to wear denim as denim is considered ‘lower class’ (mainly the ones that are ripped and faded) and as the children of the King we are to wear clothing that befits nobility. (black pants and white shirts and suits are smart)

    • Moshe Hacohen says:

      Chaya,

      Your characterization of Rav Moshe Feinstein ZTZ”L’s Psak concerning Cholov Stam is not accurate.
      Rav Moshe never said that one can only use Cholov Stam if it is IMPOSSIBLE to get Cholov Yisroel products.
      He said that a ‘ba’al nefesh’ should, preferably, use only Cholov Yisrael. But he said that, since there are government regulations prohibiting adulteration of milk and government inspectors enforce those regulations, Cholov Stam is not Cholov Akum and it is not prohibited to use it.

  13. Although I am married now, I too went to Bais Yaakov and share most (not all) of the philosophies you expressed. I just wanted to point out that you should try to find out more about the components of the letter written by Reb Moshe Fienstein in Igros Moshe. You should also ask your father or brother to explain the halochos of “rove” before you assume that eating cholov stam is a Heter.

  14. I’m a Baalat Teshuva and think I’m somewhere between Modern Orthodox and Yeshivish Modern. I wish we weren’t so dependent on labels though. As long as we are all Torah Observant and keeping to Halakah!

  15. Kevin Anderson says:

    I have to say I really enjoyed reading this. I am an athiest living in NYC. Always wondered about the various dress that I see out in the city. Your explanation was thorough but understandable. Thank you for this.

  16. Lazer Katz says:

    Thanks!

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