Last night after Havdalah of Yom Tov Sheni Shel Galius, I went out with my wife to get some Pizza at the mall in Ramat Bet Shemesh. I passed by a book store that had a photo of the Brisker Rav, Rav Yizchok Zev HaLevi Soloveitchik, on the cover. My curiosity got the better of me so I opened it up. It contained various photos of the Brisker Rav and people and institutions from his era. The first picture I saw was of a group of Talmidim from Yeshivas Mir in Europe, pre holocaust. It was of a young Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, Rav Beinish Finkel and some of the older Talmidim. It was a striking pose. The Talmidim were not only all clean shaven, they were all well dressed. I do not mean in the Charedi style of today consisting of black suits, white shirts without ties, and black hats. They did not have that same cookie cutter look all of today’s Bnei Torah of the right have. I am talking… well dressed, in the style of the era. The suits were not all the same style. They all looked like any well dressed, well groomed man of that era. The suits were light and dark, vested, and un-vested and they were of course all wearing hats... stylish light colored ones. The only “give away” that they were even Jewish was that context of the picture. And these Bachurim were the cream of the Torah world. They were the elite… the best and the brightest students, all invited to come learn in the limited space of the Yeshiva world.
I am told by various people who have made a study of this that the Bachurim in the great Lithuanian Yeshivos, like Mir were not only encouraged to look and dress that way, they were forbidden to look… well… Yeshivish. Beards could not be grown. Peyos were forbidden. Any attempt by a Yeshiva student to grow a beard or Peyos and he was called in by the Rosh Yeshiva, accused of Yuhara, and told he must shave. The only exceptions were the Chasidishe Bachurim who sometimes attended these Yeshivos. They were allowed to keep their beards and Peyos. I am told that in some cases these Chasidishe Bachurim, feeling a bit out of place would themselves shave and then grow back their beards when they returned home for Bein HaZmanin.
Today, the exact opposite is true. The students of the Charedi Yeshivos look… well… Charedi. They are clones of each other. The vast majority of them have Peyos, and beards. And anything but a dark suit is unseen in their environs. Blacks hats: Universal. In short every student looks like a virtual clone of another.
I’m not sure why the Roshei Yeshiva of old were so adamant about their Bachurim dressing well. I am told that the reason in part was to please the parents and supporters so that they wouldn’t think their Yeshiva students weren’t going off the deep end. But what ever the reason, it is clear that these great Gedolim of yesteryear were concerned about the image of the Yeshiva and how their Bachrim reflected that image. Young men in that era, could be individuals. They did not have to look like clones of each other.
Not so today. The rabbinic leadership in the Yeshiva world on the right is more concerned with separating their students from the world, than they are about their image. And this is the source of one of the biggest problems we face today. By separating these young men today they are in fact keeping them isolated from the world, Rabbinic leadership preaches isolation. They disparage the outside world as having either no positive value or as being outright evil and to be avoided at all costs. By encouraging the current mode of dress; the sameness in dress, they are accomplishing just that: separating themselves from society and vilifying it with the same act.
Indeed one can say about today’s leadership versus that of the Roshei Yeshiva of yesteryear: Niskatnu HaDoros. Keeping their students in their “own “uniforms” which includes peyos and beards is but one of the methods whereby they exert control over their every action. Roshei Yeshiva have been vested with virtual infallibility. Terms like Daas Torah were invented so as to vest them with this virtual control over the lkives of their students. But Daas Torah is not Ruach haKodesh. This was made clear by no less a man than Rav Elyashiv in a conversation with Rav Nosson Kaminetsky. He clearly stated that he has no Ruach Hakodesh. And he is considered the Gadol HaDor by almost all Charedim. In fcat there is probably no one elese of his stature alive today with the possible exception of Rav Ovadia Yosef. But if you ask most Bnei Torah about the Daas Torah of “the Gedolim” they will include, as part of the definition, that their words are generated in part by Ruach Hakoddseh.
Family Mesorah is all but disappeared except if it is not in conflict with the Charedi Hashkafa. This is another aspect of the total control the current rabbinic leadership has. One cannot say to a Rosh Yeshiva that his parents and grandparents did things differently than the Yeshiva does. They are Daas Torah. Parents… are at best ignorant.
So what is the result of all of this? We are now in at least the second generation of such indoctrination. Parents have themselves been indoctrinated to “look” a certain way and the parents themselves look to the favored Rosh Yeshiva instead of the parents and they teach their children to do the same. This is the world of Charedim. It is all about Daas Torah. And "Daas Torah" controls every aspect of their lives, including how they dress. And this is the world of the future if things don’t change.