e all know about the “Fifth Chelek of Shulchan Aruch” for sensitive issues, but I would venture to say we need to develop a “Sixth Chelek” to govern all those tricky social interactions, behavioral norms, and fashion details we’d otherwise miss. You can be a world-renowned halachah expert, but still trip over a banana peel at a kiddush. So here are my Top 5 Frum Faux Pas to avoid. And, because I’m feeling generous, I’ll throw in an extra one: The word “faux pas” is pronounced “foe pah.” There, I already saved you from one. The word comes from the French term meaning “false step,” or an embarrassing social situation. You already knew that of course; I was saying it for the other guy.
Misplaced Mazel Tov
Oh, my gosh, mazel tov! I just heard, so amazing, you look stunning, when’s the wedding?
Ummm, it’s my younger sister — I’m still dating.
As excited as we are for our friends and family when they have a simchah, the likelihood of a misplaced mazel tov likewise increases. Here’s what not to do: Don’t respond, “Im yirtzeh Hashem by you.” In fact — and I don’t want to speak for all people who needed more than six months to find their spouse — maybe never say, “Im yirtzeh Hashem by you.” I have yet to see someone respond to that reflexive brachah, well-intentioned as it may be, with a sincere, “Oh, my gosh, that is so thoughtful! Thank you!” Instead, you have two options. One is a quick apology: “So sorry, my mistake, simchahs for the whole family!” The other, if the awkwardness proves insurmountable, is to politely excuse yourself, go to the DMV, change your name, fly to Honduras, and begin a new life. Once you’re settled, send a letter to your family.
Clopping at the Wrong Time
Every shul has the guy whose whole life revolves around announcing insertions into Shemoneh Esreh — “Yaaleh v’yavo!” And every shul has the person who fervently clops by Selach Lanu on Shabbos, letting everyone know he’s davening the wrong Shemoneh Esreh. It’s happened to fine and decent people. The question is how to recover. Some people just move on and hope not everyone saw. Then there's the person who surreptitiously looks around following the clop and subtly begins to scratch his chest, hoping people will just assume he has an upper body rash. Better they think you need dermatological ointment than a luach.
Attire at Mosdos Events
You’re invited to an event supporting one of the local mosdos or some political visit. It’s called for 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday. What should you wear, and what kind of food are they serving? This is where you can really get stuck, so like a rabbi who always travels with an extra kesubah, I keep a tie in the glove compartment for these situations. And, so not to be embarrassed, I keep this handy guide discreetly tucked in my inside pocket:
Where’s my new hat? Did you check the upstairs closet? Yeah, that one has the one from the late eighties, it has red and green feathers in the band. What about on top of the drawers in the bedroom? No, that’s the one I wore to our wedding, it’s light gray and I look like a Prohibition era gangster in it. So, check the downstairs coatroom on top, there’s a bunch there. No, those are from a decade ago, the brims are so wide I look like the guy from the Curious George books. Here’s a statistic: For every decade past their bar mitzvah, the average frum male will accumulate two wrong hats to wear. So, if you do the math, your average 40-year-old is probably wearing the wrong hat.
Whether you tuck your tzitzis in or wear them out or do that roll over the belt loop so your friends in Bergenfield see that you’re serious, but like, not too serious, everyone is in agreement that there are some places where tzitzis should not be poking out, like from the front of your shirt. You can be poised and ready to go for a meeting, but one string trailing down the back of your thigh is going to make people second-guess your business acumen. In a feat that defies both space and time, I once saw someone with his tzitzis poking out of the bottom of his pant leg — and he wasn’t wearing shorts.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 746)
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