Opinion: What Were You Thinking? | Meir Bergman

I generally write opinion pieces based on different things that I observe that don’t necessarily have anything to do with me. This time, however, it’s personal. And while it’s directed at one individual specifically, it applies to everyone.

I am baruch hashem married to a wonderful bas yisroel, a woman of valor, of grace, and for whom Torah and its ideals are of paramount importance. But there’s a slight catch – she didn’t grow up with the same values she holds so near and dear today. Her family was a lot less yeshivish when she was young than they are today. Over the years, as they learned more and more about the beauty of yiddishkeit, they moved further to the right, so much so that their children are now married to mainstream bnei torah.

Still, my in-laws are very noticeably out-of-towners – my father in law wears colored shirts and they don’t give off a “Lakewood vibe.”

Last week, I invited my grandfather- and father-in-law, who came to visit us in Lakewood, to go to Bais Medrash Govoha to see for themselves the largest Torah institution in the United States. I knew that, as being tomchei torah themselves, they would gain a new appreciation of the learning going on there by seeing thousands upon thousands of bochurim and yungerleit engaged in it.

And so they went, excited to see the famed BMG with their own eyes. But they returned back to home within minutes, saying they didn’t get to see anything. I asked them why, and they said that as they headed to the doors of the yeshiva at the 6th Street campus they were blocked by a man presumably learning in the yeshiva who told them they are not allowed in. Why? Because they “weren’t dressed properly.”

What was this dress code they weren’t following? It isn’t exactly clear, but they were wearing colored shirts (gasp!).

Think about it for just a second. Because two men looked a little different they weren’t allowed into one of the premier torah institutions in America. Do you think we’re helping to invite others into our circles by turning them away because they are a little different? They hold the same values as you, they care about the torah just as much as you, but you can’t fargin that they’re wearing a colored shirt? Are you insane?

By the way, both men are quietly among the greatest philanthropists in America and Eretz Yisroel today. There are numerous mosdos, batei midrashim, and shuls that rely on them for their support. They have put their money where their mouths are and are supporting learning and avodas hashem more than you could ever dream of, but they’re bad because they don’t look like you? Do you not realize that they most likely (though they have not told me so explicitly) walked away from that encounter with a bitter taste in their mouths about BMG and Lakewood in general? Do you not comprehend that BMG quite possibly lost the support of two people who have the potential to be major donors? Would you have treated them differently had you known that they are baalei tzedakah? I have no doubt that you would have.

This is a problem that has manifested itself far too many times already. We have become so stuck in our little, narrow box that we can’t see the beauty of Jews who don’t look exactly like us. It’s sick, it’s disgusting, it’s reprehensible.

As for the person who blocked the way of my father-in-law and grandfather as they attempted to enter BMG, I have one question for you: What exactly were you thinking?

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29 COMMENTS

  1. I am not doubting you but thus story is very hard to believe. I have seen all kinds of people, dressed in all kinds of dress, walk into any BMG building . Even if this story really happened , it is so not the norm and the individual in question is one in a million not stable,. It is not fair to post this here as if this is something that happens normally ,because it is not. You can ask any person learning in BMG and I dont believe that you will find even one who will tell you that they know of anybody who would stop anybody with a colored shirt from entering a building. Unless for some reason, they looked like a security risk to someone and based on recent episodes, was afraid of a security incident. But the colored shirt part as the reason is just hard to believe.

  2. C’mon ! Stop judging
    ( btw it is Elul )
    Can it happen ? Sure
    U did write “presumably “ learning n yeshiva ! I wonder about that
    I could guarantee 99.999.999 % people don’t really care how one is dressed. I can attest , seeing who knows how many men walk thru the walls of Bmg dressed definitely not like the “yeshivish vibe ״ and no one ever said a word to them. on the contrary they welcome them with open hands and the biggest smiles
    The title of this article is
    “ what we’re u thinking “
    It should have said
    “ what was the WRITER thinking “?

  3. שוטים ושוטרים
    There has never been a lack of those characters, who assume upon themselves to uphold imaginary standards.
    During my time at the BMG, there was an individual who frequented the coffee room, only to remove or cross out any advertising signs about Morah Shprintzy or Mrs. Goldwhatever, due to his misguided sense of tznius.
    He is still single, by the way. Maybe that’s because it’s improper to even hear a female name? Who knows..

  4. I learned in BMG as a Bachur and in Kollel for many years. I saw many people come through Yeshiva dressed in all types of clothing. I can guarentee that the person they met is not even part of yeshiva. No one would say boo to them for the way they dressed if anything they would show them around. It’s easy to paint all Yeshivas with one stroke as the same and closed minded. Yeshiva has a many nebachs walking through its halls as it’s an open place so just like your saying the yeshiva system shouldn’t judge so to you shouldn’t judge.

  5. Wait, you invited your father in law and grandfather in law to go to BMG and you didn’t take them. Where are your middos ? I should write a opinion piece on you.

  6. Feel vey bad for you for what occurred. However, such a thing is wrong regardless who they are, not sure why its important to write all about their money they donate to mosdos h’torah, we as Klal Yisroel accept anyone regardless of how rich you are and regardless if you have the same dress code as the other. All the best.

  7. I learn in BMG. Been there almost two decades and never saw someone turned away because of the color of their shirt. Maybe they bumped into an unstable individual. Have them come back and ask any normal looking yungerman to show them around or take them around yourself and they will have a great visit.

  8. I am not surprised. It had happen to me since I live in Lakewood. I was attending as Sephardic shill for 4 shabbat it in a row. No one welcomed me when I walked in. After nthe 4th week after the prayer was done I was approched by one the people who sit next to the rabbi and started asking me million of questions. It starts if I am staying by someone? He was shocked that I live in Lakewood. To make long story short. He told I can’t come like this to shill you must wear a special outfit, I said otherwise? He couldn’t tell straight out I am not allowed to come in but he hint it. I said just say it clearly. I told him don’t worry I won’t be coming back in here ever again.
    Our Torah states כי בתי בית תפלה יקרה לכל העמים
    Since when and Judaism goes by certain color or dress code. As long a person dressed modest and act in proper way of Torah that’s all it matter. My question to those people who are care what color of shirt your wear do you think Hashem won’t accept people prayers if they aren’t dressed white and black? The answer is Hashem look at our heart and deeds not color of our shirt or outfit.
    Now you wonder why we still in exile? This is called שנאת חינם.
    We should love each other and connect to each other don’t think you are better than any one else. Remember we are ארבעה מינים they need to be combined together in order for it to work.
    ואהבת לרעך כמוך
    Look what’s happening all over the world Hashem is anger at the whole world and everyone still sleeping and no one cares. Stop being עם קשה עורף
    I think it is enough what we going through. We should have learned from our אבות.
    We should follow what משה רבינו Been telling in every פרשה of ספר דברים.
    Love each other and be nice to each other. Don’t judge each other over the color shirt.
    These people who prevent a Jew from enter בית כנסת to daven to Hashem, their Torah is worth less. דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה

    • Dear Sephardic brother,
      It must have been the same jerk standing outside BMG in the letter above. In every basket of apples, there will always be a rotten one like the idiot who told you what he said. Been living in Lakewood for over 30 years. I never saw or would believe anything like this could ever happen. Try again and you will see.

  9. I’m wondering if perhaps they asked the man if there was a dress code. Maybe they felt uncomfortable when they heard that everyone will be wearing a white shirt and dark pants?
    My husband has taken people to see bmg; people who were wearing jeans and knitted yarmulkas. No one said anything. Maybe because my husband was the escort?
    Btw- I do think it would be a good idea for Lakewood to be more involved with Kiruv and accepting people who grew up different.

  10. This is quite disturbing, although since I have seen and been with people wearing colored shirts who walked into and all around BMG with no problem, I would venture to guess this was not a “regular” ben hayeshiva.Indeed,the very fact that he was blocking them at or before the entrance sounds like someone a little “off” who took upon himself the role of guard. Nevertheless, (and especially if I am wrong in my assessment,) I would suggest that rather than posting this letter online where the offender likely will never see it, you should print and post it in the lobby and hallways of that very building.

  11. In Reb Aharon’s Lakewood, bochurim wore striped shirts, were called by English names, and they learned by day and by night. THAT was the only thing which mattered.

  12. This story is sheker and should be taken down for trying to stir up machlokes and loshon hara. There are constantly people coming in to see the beauty of yeshiva and no one throws anyone out. If this story happened, then they met up with a disturbed individual but not a regular typical talmid in yeshiva. Stop writing this story as if this is the norm and creating hock.

  13. I’ve been in Yeshiva close to 40 years. The only time anyone made an issue about how someone was dressed was when Governor Christine Whitman came into the Beis Medrash. Unless your in-law was wearing a skirt, no one would say sword.

  14. I used to daven at the yeshiva every morning because I worked in the vicinity I came in with my work uniform on with a jacket ofcourse. I NEVER had this experience. This is not reflective of the yeshiva.

  15. This story sounds patently ridiculous. I studied in the Yeshiva for 6 years. Never once did I encounter anyone who would remotely think about doing such a thing. They may have run into a self appointed weirdo who is running his own show. This doesn’t make sense at all.

  16. FAKE NEWS. Make up a bette story. I’ve seen dozens if not hundreds of people through the years walk through the halls of Bmg wearing allsorts of clothing. College kids etc. There is no code and it’s hard to believe anybody would stop another individuate at the door. So unlike previous comments, I do not believe the story at all

  17. There are security cameras. Tell us exactly what date and time this occurred and we will get somebody to check the videos to see if this really occurred and who it was .

  18. ‘ I have a dream that my kids will one day be judged based on the content of their character, and not by the color of their shirt. ‘
    – Make colored shirts great again!

  19. Without debating the veracity of this story, one thing is clear from all these writers some of whom learn currently in BMG and some that have learned in the past. Reading all the comments on this letter noone on this blog has even remotely condoned the actions of this deranged person, rather every one has gone to great lengths to express their shock and disbelief that such an episode could even occur. As such this writer has an obligation to show his father in law and grandfather this very article and that they should see for themselves the reaction of all the current and former talmidim of BMG. I think that would go a long way in setting the record straight…

  20. This happened to me in a yeshiva in Israel. I was wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants. Loose fitting, grey color, and navy blue sweat pants. I was on my way to the gym, and then saw I passing by a Yeshiva, and was curious to get a look at the Beis Medrash. I walked in and it seemed it was upstairs, so I asked where it was, and they would not answer my question. The fellow I spoke to was not unstable at all. He was just very unkind. He put his hand to wave me away. I said, I’ve learned in Beis Medrash before, why won’t you tell me where it is? Is it upstairs? Another fellow walked up, and started to scream and make all kinds of noises to shut me up. He wasn’t unstable, he was just acting vicious. Like those people you see at rallies and demonstrations. It is a problem in Yeshivish Judaism. It is also a problem in shuls, in Lakewood shuls as some stories here attest. I have experiences of my own. If you don’t wear a hat, some people really give you the ol’ stinkeye. I went to an Ashkenazi shul in Lakewood and sat near a Sephardic guy who didn’t wear a hat. But rather a knitted yarmulke. After three months, he was wearing a hat. He no doubt felt the peer pressure, and thought it wasn’t worth it to keep a knitted yarmulke on. After he stopped, I was the only holdout in that shul without a hat on, and the week he started wearing a hat, people started literally staring at me, like nu, it’s your turn. Now how do I know that’s what they were subliminally communicating with their intense staring. Well, it can’t be many other things. But say they just wanted to burn a hole in my skin by staring, for no reason at all, well that would be wrong too.

  21. As I come from a modern orthodox family. When going back to visit I always get stared down the whole davening for wearing my black hat……

  22. I don’t believe this story one bit, I don’t live in Lakewood and I wear a white shirt only on Shabbos I have been to BMG several times when I visited Lakewood, (although not recently) nobody looked at me twice, actually, 2 random Yingerleit or maybe they were Bochurim came over to me and said hello and asked me in a friendly way where I was from. I don’t believe this story. PS. just wanted to add this even though its not relevant. i was sitting in a Bais Medresh in the five towns area when a teenager (male) not dressed appropriately (for Shul) came in and walked over to a middle aged man who sitting and learning, and said “Hi Rebbe!” the man looked up, jumped up- a gave the teen a warm hug and huge smile. I will never forget that.

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