There’s nothing wrong with unspoken rules, we all live with them, we thrive on them. Did anyone teach your average kollel guy to not hold a door open for a woman? No, it’s an unspoken rule, in fact if he were to hold a door open for your average frum woman she would feel more uncomfortable than he, so for the sake of comfortableness all around, kollel guys know not to hold doors open for women, even when the woman is pushing a double stroller and has three kids holding onto the sides of the stroller.
Thus is the power of unspoken and unwritten rules.
My cheder had an unwritten rule, and this is how I found out about it.
I was the second in my seventh grade class to be bar mitzvah’d and because my cheder was a very small one, and a very new one with the class above me always being the oldest grade, we didn’t have quite enough people for a minyan so we davened in a nearby shul.
Every morning I’d catch the bus to school lugging my tefilin along proudly and get there with enough time to awkwardly put on my stiff and unfamiliar tefilin straps.
I didn’t notice anything at first but within a few weeks it dawned on me that I had never been asked to be the chazzan, and then I noticed that I had never been given an aliyah. This was strange, in fact it was so strange because some of the kids leading the davening were so inept that even an am haaretz like me was correcting them and that’s what had made me notice the fact that I had never been asked to lead.
Shragi being Shragi, I didn’t say anything. Not that I minded much either because I am petrified of raising my voice in front of a crowd any larger than two and I was never one for participating in school anyways. But I had noticed and I couldn’t unnotice what I had noticed.
One morning my rebbe approached me in that uncomfortably close way of his so that you could smell his first two coffees of the day and said (in Yiddish of course) “if you go to the mikvah one day let us know, then we’ll give you an aliyah”.
So that’s what it was!
Of course there were the kids who ran into the mikvah as soon as they got off the bus and of course I wasn’t one of them but I had never thought much about it. I just wasn’t a big mikvah-goer, nor was I one to come late to shacharis. Not that I had a problem with those who did come into shacharis late, after all, they were on their way to becoming nice, respectable chassidishe adults, and no self respecting chassid comes running into shul in the morning without stopping for the daily dip and subsequent coffee.
But was this the reason I wasn’t invited to daven far’n umed or given an aliyah? I was quite sure that some of the kids went to the mikvah before catching the bus; had he asked each one of them whether they had been to the mikvah that morning, or did he just make assumptions about people? I know he never asked me whether I had gone, he simply stated matter-of-factly that when I went, I’d be a welcome member of society.
I learned that day that in addition to unspoken rules to which we had to adhere, there are unspoken assumptions being made about us every day over which we have no power.