Can ultra-Orthodox Jews have long hair?
10 questions to ask an Orthodox Jew that you would never dare ask
Gitty Beer wears a wig, a skirt, her shirts are long and high-necked, she prays before she eats and before she drinks. She describes herself as "modern Orthodox" - and yet breaks the Sabbath, the time when Orthodox Jews are actually not allowed to work or even turn on the lights. How can that be? As an emergency paramedic for the volunteer organization Hatzalah, she drives an ambulance and sometimes helps give birth to a child at a bus stop. Just like two months ago when the cell phone rang on the Sabbath. "Saving lives is the highest religious law," she says. The cell phone stays on during the Sabbath, from Friday to Saturday evening.
I meet Gitty in her East Jerusalem apartment in the Ramot district. We sit at a table with twelve chairs - Gitty has five children - and talk about Arabs, cheeseburgers and homosexuals. She is 44, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, and has been married to husband Eli for 26 years, whom she met five times before the wedding. They have already been to Dubai together, where Gitty wore a burqa - not particularly successful, as she says: "They immediately noticed that we weren't locals. Probably my hair was sticking out or the scarf was wrong."
We have questions.
VICE: Isn't it bizarre to wear someone else's hair over your own hair?
Gitty Beer: I don't even feel the wig anymore because I almost always wear it. You should cover your hair as soon as another man outside of the family is with you, but I do it myself in front of my children. I think the wigs are chic and I feel good, like a queen. A hat would also be allowed, but I don't particularly like it. I have three wigs for that. Without them I feel naked - and you wouldn't show yourself naked in front of friends or family. I don't wear a wig when I'm with my husband. Although I don't go to the hairdresser, I have wonderful, long hair, take care of it and do great hairstyles, which I then just show my husband.
Also at VICE: I had my hair cut by one of the worst hairdressers in New York
Do you feel bad looking at other men?
I even look at other men very often - to find a partner for my daughter. But even if I do, I am not looking at them in a sexual sense, I am just looking. I wouldn't go so far as to approach a man on the street and joke around with him, I don't even shake hands with men in greeting. But look, what's wrong with that?
Do you feel like a second class person in the orthodox division of roles between men and women?
Absolutely not. Just because you separate the sexes doesn't mean you automatically suppress one of them. One can also benefit from gender segregation. In my opinion, you can concentrate much better at school if there are no guys around to impress. In a few ultra-Orthodox communities, however, there are rules that could be interpreted as anti-feminist. For example, women are not allowed to drive a car in a specific Hasidic community. Why shouldn't a woman be allowed to drive a car? I think that's wrong. But in most churches I don't see any unequal treatment, many Orthodox women work and have goals, dreams and equal rights.
Gitty and her dog Chica
Do you ever get bored in the synagogue?
Sometimes it can get boring, yes. Then I make plans for the next few days, chat with people or look around for a future partner for my daughter. But just as it can get boring in a lecture, it doesn't mean the lecture itself is boring. The relationship with God is very individual, some are defined by going to the synagogue, praying, reading the Torah. Others define themselves through other things, like me. Every connection to God is different.
Because electrical appliances are not allowed to be switched on on the Sabbath, some Jews use time switches. Is that a scam?
No, they are tools to make your life easier. There is nothing against it. We program the stove and turn on the air conditioning before the Sabbath begins. There are even Sabbath elevators that automatically stop on each floor so you don't have to push buttons. You get in and just drive a little longer. We Jews have always been very inventive and found a solution for everything. Like the rule that you should cover your hair. We say: wig is OK, after all, it is also a covering.
Do you sometimes wish for a different life with fewer rules?
No way. I love my life. I like the rules and think they are correct. But one should distinguish between rules that God gave us and rules that are man-made. For example, the Hasidic tradition of wearing fox fur hats in the middle of summer, at 30 degrees. Is that Judaism? It's a rule invented by a rabbi. For some it is important and part of the faith - fully justified - but I go to the core and stick to the rules that God gave me.
In her free time, Gitty builds dollhouses - here a shuk, a typical market in the Middle East
What do you think of people who grow up Orthodox and later turn away from religion?
I can understand that this can happen when you are forced to grow up, nothing is explained to you and you are expected to follow everything blindly. It is important to explain, understand and question laws. One should feel the connection to God. He knows exactly what you want and need. Just like he wants you to rest on the Sabbath. I don't understand why anyone would want another life.
How often do you fancy a cheeseburger with bacon?
Never. You have no desire for things that you have never tried before. All my life, I grew up thinking it was disgusting. There's a nice analogy to help you understand what I'm talking about: When I went to China, there were cockroaches in the food market. Delicious, think the locals. What do I think? Disgusting. It's the same with the cheeseburger, it's completely alien to me.
Do you think Palestinians have a right to live in Israel?
Of course, everyone should have the right to live where they want. As long as they are good citizens and good fellow human beings, do not want to kill me and participate in society. They could live in my house as long as they pay rent. As an Orthodox person, I would prefer to live in a religious area that is the same. For example, we're not allowed to drive a car on the Sabbath, and I think it's nice to live in an area where I don't see cars because it makes it feel more sacred. But if someone else wants to live here - no problem.
Do you judge homosexuals?
I don't think people deliberately disobey God's laws. The Torah has special rules that forbid it, but I do not judge anyone. Everyone is individual, everyone wants to live the best life. Personally, I would follow this rule, but how can I judge someone? Do i know what you feel? There is only one being who is allowed to judge - and that is God.
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