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August 29, 2015 / 14 Elul, 5775
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Letters To The Editor

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Since I imagine that the answer to these questions is “not many,” I respectfully suggest that the voting public ignore how many “names” are affixed to flyers and advertisements, and instead judge candidates on their own merits.

Moishe Mark Halberstam, Esq.
(Via E-Mail)

Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss Responds To Reader Harold Marks

Dear Harold,

Thank you for your probing letter in the Nov. 8 issue regarding my Nov. 1 column “Thou Shalt Not Be Different.” As you correctly pointed out, there are some subtle – and some not so subtle – distinctions concerning when being different is called for and when it should be avoided.

As you illustrate in your story about Rav Pam, we certainly are advised by the Torah to be different from many of the gentile norms. As the pasuk teaches, We are a nation that dwells apart.

I am certainly not advocating wearing a miniskirt if everyone else does, nor am I recommending using foul language in a vulgar office environment where such language is used. You ask (tongue in cheek, I hope) whether I would advocate using a tongue ring if everyone around me does so. Certainly not, but I would consider relocating from such an environment. As the Rambam says, a person is greatly influenced by the environment in which he lives.

You raise another delicate issue. Avraham Avinu was the essence of being different. That’s why he was called Avraham HaIvri, for the whole world was on one side while he was on the other. And the Chazon Ish certainly towered above other men – and in many regards was quite different from the mainstream.

However, it is important to distinguish why a person is doing something. Is he doing it in order to be different or in order to be better? Therein lies the key. The former is screaming for attention and can get himself into trouble by separating from the community, not blending in with his fellows, etc., as I discussed in the article. The latter, however, is the objective of life, as you point out: to strive to improve and to excel.

Finally, you raise an interesting question. Should a chassid who finds himself in a Modern Orthodox environment remove his chassidishe garb? Rav Singer, zt”l, of the Sefardishe Shul of Boro Park would wear a regular hat in his shul but when he attended the tisch of the Bluzhever Rebbe, ztl, he would wear a shtreimel. To answer your question, a difference that does not grate on people is not a problem. It is when the difference can be seen as aggravating or condescending or haughty that we must be very vigilant.

The Torah recommends that we try to achieve uniformity in one place even if more than one practice is 100 percent halachically acceptable. It is for this reason that in my shul on Chol HaMoed Pesach and Sukkos we have separate minyanim for those who wear tefillin and those who do not. As the Torah says, “Lo sisgodedu,” which the Gemara interprets to mean “Lo saasu agudos agudos – Do not make different factions in the same place.”

Once again, I thank you for helping me crystallize and clarify these subtle distinctions and may we all merit to know when to be different and when to blend in.

Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
Staten Island, NY

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