How I just made a total fool of myself

(Or how could I, of all people, not know that stealing is ok if you go to a haredi yeshiva?)

My membership at the Mamila Hotel health club includes use of its subterranean swimming pool. When I entered the pool this morning there were three very well-fed, tall, healthy yeshiva bochurs frolicking in the water, the sort of physical specimens that would make ideal combat soldiers in Golani, Givati or NaHaL. As it happens they were Anglos, not American but either British or South African, perhaps a mixture of both.

Normally the pool is empty at that hour, and I can do my pathetic laps unimpeded. And even when there are a few others in the water they tend to make sure that lap swimmers like myself are not obstructed. However these three young men could not care less. They made sure to roadblock the entire width of the rather narrow pool so that making it from one end to the other without detouring around one of them would be impossible. OK I got it, derech eretz (common courtesy) has been pretty much eliminated from the haredi rule book. Everyone knows that much.

Suddenly the life guard called them over and said, “Excuse me but the room number you gave me is not occupied, you are not guests here at the hotel. The yeshiva bochurs tried to argue and give the lifeguard some lip but eventually they gave up and left the pool.

When I finished my laps the trio were just finished getting dressed in the locker room after having indulged the hot showers, the fine shampoos and soaps and the quality towels that are there for the guests use. Their white shirts were perfectly laundered and starched; their fine black worsted trousers were spotless; their costly kaful shomneh (extra deluxe) tzitzis hung from their waistbands down to below their knees. Their black velvet kippot were perfectly perched on their carefully combed hair.

And I said to them ever so casually; “So you got caught sneaking in.” And they laughed and said; “You too?” And I said; “No I paid to be here.” And they said: “If you had told us we could have come in with you on your room number.” They assumed I was a hotel guest, not a health club member.

And so I asked them if it’s ok with them that they are stealing. And they said; “It’s not stealing.” So I said; “Why don’t you ask your rosh yeshiva.” And they responded; “We did, and he said it’s ok, that it’s not stealing unless we actually take something of value.”

Now mind you, they had used towels that cost money to launder, soaps and shampoos that cost a lot more than the shava prutah (penny worth) with which they will soon halachically acquire their wenches, and the Mamilah hotel is a business which pays good money to maintain a pool and hire its staff.

But I felt like a total idiot. They must have thought I was some illiterate Conservative Jew from Cherry Hill, a rube from Idaho, a hiloni (secular) kibbutznik from the deep Negev. After all I, of all people, should know that for haredim stealing is not only ok it’s maybe even a mitzvah, especially if one is stealing from those who don’t meet their own rigorous standards of ritual observance. It is doubtful, for example, that the owner of the hotel drinks only chalav Yisrael (milk supervised by a rabbi from the time of milking) or eats only glatt kosher. Plus he is probably a Zionist whose own sons and daughters have served in the IDF, which makes him totally fair game –– sheli sheli v’shelakh sheli, what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine.

And I DO KNOW better. How could I possibly suggest they ask their rosh yeshiva when in the haredi yeshiva world it is not only intangibles to which one may freely help themselves, but tangibles as well. To not pay taxes is a mitzvah. To freeload and get handouts, free healthcare and exemption from municipal taxes is a mitzvah.  To work off the books and then still collect a yeshiva stipend (pending a healthy kickback to the rosh yeshiva) is a mitzvah. To be protected by soldiers who sacrifice years of their life is something to which they are entitled and for which they do not even have to give thanks or make a mi shebeyrach (a prayer for the safety of the Israeli soldiers) during their Shabbos morning services, or – heaven forfend – stand in honor of the fallen soldiers when the two minute siren goes off on Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day)

And here I was making an utter fool of myself by suggesting they ask their rosh yeshiva if sneaking into a hotel swimming pool and making one helluva chilul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name) is halachically copacetic.

I was angry at myself. And I was angry at the lifeguard who should have called hotel security and escorted these boys out to the street in their swimsuits and let them make their way barefoot and bareheaded to the heart of darkness where I’m sure their rosh yeshiva would await them with open arms.

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.
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