Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
A number of weeks ago, when the Trumps were traveling to Saudi Arabia, I was struck that Melania did not wear a head covering, despite being in an Arab country where the custom for women to cover their heads is common. I was reminded as well that Michelle Obama did the same in one of her travels, so this is truly not a political statement. I was quite bothered by this lack of respect. Not because I agree with women needing to cover their heads to show respect as a sign of modesty, but because I have always believed that when you enter a person’s ‘home,’ you follow the customs of their home.
In my house growing up, this meant no swearing. In our home, there was an unwritten rule that people would not use any foul language, and even if they had the nastiest mouths outside of our front door, they knew this would not be an accepted practice in our home.
In our home today, the ‘house rules’ include no phones at the table. Period. Anyone who comes into our home, a family member, friend, the kids’ friends, community members, etc., are all properly informed of this house rule and are expected to follow it. If they need to check a text or answer a call, they are welcome to leave the dining room or kitchen table and be on their phone, but the expectation is that people will return to the table without electronics, and they do.
When I’m traveling in Israel, I’m quite aware of ‘house rules.’ When I enter an Orthodox synagogue, I am respectful in my attire. When I walk through the neighborhood of Meah Sh’erim or B’nai Brak, I know that I am entering into their ‘home,’ and I dress, speak and behave as is their custom. When I visit the more traditional Arab communities, I make sure to cover my head. My only challenge in Israel, quite honestly, is when I visit the Kotel, because, in theory, it belongs to everyone, and so we should all be able to dress and act as we see fit and appropriate, but the Orthodox community would not agree with this assessment, and I’m not looking to create a scene in that most spiritual place.
When I visit with my colleagues in their mosque, I take off my shoes and put a head covering on, out of respect and acknowledgment of their customs and beliefs. When I enter a home that is nut-free due to allergies, I would never dream of bringing in a Snickers bar. It seems so very black and white to me. So why do we have such a hard time following ‘house rules?’
Pronounced: KOH-tell, Origin: Hebrew, Western Wall in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest site.