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When my family started attending the local synagogue we stuck out like a sore thumb. We moved from a Jewish area of Toronto to a small town with one Synagogue.

I cover Everything, my husband was the only black hat in the place. I was approached by a woman who said that we make people feel uncomfortable. She said in particular that my hair being covered was "way out there" and "Jews don't do that anymore" .

Is there really such a thing as being too orthodox?

I never thought I would have to uncover myself to fit in at a synagogue. What should I do?

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    This question seems very broad. – mevaqesh Aug 25 '16 at 18:08
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    Congratulations. This post made it to hot network questions. – DonielF Aug 26 '16 at 3:55
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    lets try to keep the question focused; one question per question. It looks like we have two: a) Is there really such a thing as being too orthodox? and b) I never thought I would have to uncover myself to fit in at a synagogue. What should I do? The latter seems primarily opinion based. There is no such thing as a bad question, but there is such a thing as a question that is not strictly on topic here. – mevaqesh Aug 26 '16 at 15:22
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    Too Orthodox? Yes. Orthodoxy is primarily a sociological term. Too observant? Never! Here, however, the issue is not "too Orthodoxy" as much as "too yeshivish". Along these lines, I would distinguish between your husband's black fedora, which is a uniform for identifying with a community that is different than your synagogue's. If he feels there is a halachic obligation to wear two head coverings when praying, there are socially accepted hats that wouldn't be self-excluding. But your hair covering... Their objection there isn't your observance not a sociological marker. The problem is theirs. – Micha Berger Aug 30 '16 at 17:58
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    I too attend the only Orthodox shul in a small (but once larger) community. I've decided to be "proud to be meshuggeneh frum" (as I've been called) and I keep shomer mitzvot but am careful to be welcoming and non-judgy to those that aren't. – Jakub Sep 4 '16 at 6:32

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The Rema writes in the first Halacha of Shulchan Aruch (Partial Quote)

וְלֹא יִתְבַּיֵּשׁ מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי אָדָם הַמַּלְעִיגִים עָלָיו בַּעֲבוֹדַת ה' יִתְבָּרַךְ גַּם בְּהֶצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת.

And one should not be ashamed because of people who mock him in his service of God, and should also go modestly.

Whatever decision you come to, I feel like this is something worthwhile having in mind.

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    However this needs to be balanced with wearing leather shoes on tisha bi'av in a place where the nonjews will mock us. – user6591 Aug 25 '16 at 18:06
  • @user6591 This is a rather isolated instance that contradicts the exact translation of the above adage. However, a consideration going into that opinion, I think, is the changing status of "leather" shoes as a form of comfort. It was then, now, sneakers are considered more comfortable than leather, and, I gather that there are rabbinical debates on some level regarding wearing these on TB. Many rabbis forbid wearing crocs on TB because they are too comfortable. – DanF Aug 25 '16 at 22:14
  • @DanF not wearing Crocs is in difference to the opinion of the Rambam who we don't necessarily rule with. That may be an isolated rule and it may not be. – user6591 Aug 25 '16 at 22:20
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There is not such a thing as "too orthodox", no. There can be such a thing as "too pushy" when people are too direct in trying to change others, but that's not the situation you've described. Never feel guilty about following halacha for yourself.

There can also be such a thing as "unfamiliar and thus different". The only synagogue in town is the only place for Jews there to go, and those Jews might come from a range of backgrounds and observance levels. People at both ends of that spectrum of observance are likely to be a little uncomfortable with people they don't know who are from the other end. There are probably people there whose dress and behavior make you a little uncomfortable, but you're probably keeping that to yourself (and kudos for that).

Fortunately, people usually (in my experience, anyway) get over it as they get to know people. The person they know initially as "the black-hat guy", over time, becomes "Reuven", who works at the university and has three teenage kids and who's looking for a chevruta to study hilchot kashrut. And by that point, what he's wearing on his head will hardly be noticed.

If you continue to attend and participate in the community, and start to get to know the other people there and find common interests, I think it likely that people will stop caring much about what you're wearing.

And finally, I've found that if you gently go about doing what you know to be right for you, even if it's not a norm in your community, and without judging others, sometimes you'll find you've inspired somebody to learn more or even take on more observance. I've personally seen this with Shabbat observance. You make a kiddush Hashem just by being there.

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You might be a source of inspiration for others that want to be more observant. Keep going.

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    @sabbahillel I find this a perfectly valid answer. It is a good one-liner with dense meaning: He implicitly says "no, there is no 'too orthodox'", and, because he suggests that Rebecca may be an inspiration, shows sympathy with her position; this covers some of Ploni's argument. The answer also did not require any clarification, in case that wasn't obvious. – Peter A. Schneider Aug 25 '16 at 10:43
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The word "Orthodox" is ambiguous. Technically, it is a sociological grouping. Because in practice, that group is of people trying to observe classical notions of halakhah, we think of "Orthodox" as the set of Torah observant people, or sometimes, the community / communities of Torah observant people.

(There is a gap there I want to point out: There is more to following the Torah than following the kinds of halakhos more readily codifiable in a Shulchan Arukh. For example, hilkhos dei'os / chovos halevavos -- laws of character refinement and attitude. Laws of general disposions toward people that don't fit into a finite list of specific actions, etc... One might argue that due to the self-definition of Conservative and Reform, Orthodox ended up being defined by only a subset of following the Torah -- those laws whose observance specifically depend on accepting classical halachic reasoning. And thus, it is quite possible to be Orthodox by observing the black-letter law, and yet not be fully Torah observant; in fact, to miss the very parts of the Torah that define the forest rather than the trees! At least, for some usages of the word Orthodox.)

So, breaking down your question into various uses of the word Orthodox.

Is there such a thing as too observant! Never.

Is there such a thing as choosing too many observances that don't fit in sociologically? Of course. Along these lines, I would include your husband's black fedora, which is a uniform for identifying with a community that is different than your synagogue's. Not "too Orthodox" but "too yeshivish". If he feels there is a halachic obligation to wear two head coverings when praying, there are socially accepted hats that wouldn't be self-excluding. Same observance, different sociology.

In contrast, their objection to your covering your hair doesn't sound like it's about social queues that are separable from the actual observance of the halakhah. Too Torah observant? Never! The problem is theirs, not yours.

There is an area of overlap. What if there are mutiple equally valid interpretations of halakhah? On the one hand, one might feel their more stringent interpretation is being more correct; why not continue to cover all their basis. On the other hand, if it causes division and animosity, it may be wrong for that reason alone. There is a reason why there is supposed to be a notion of a minhag hamaqom, the local place's community custom. Today the world shrunk enough and we've become too mobile for the concept to work too well. But if your pactice is causing friction... You'll need to consult a competant halachic decisor. Depending on the case, the specifics of the ruling you're following might warrant not switching, or the notion of mihnhag hamaqom might mean that you're doing something wrong by not switching.

Last, off topic, but I feel a need to express berakhos for best of success (hatzlakhah rabba) for settling into the new community. Clearly you are now among people who are culturally very different than you, and I presume you want to have friends in your new neighborhood. Since it has evidently been proving to be a tough transition for you, I feel that remaining with Mi Yodea's usual formality and omitting the berakhah would be wrong. Keeping in mind the difference between cultural norms and halachic norms, so that you can adapt more culturally without watering down observance might help, but asking for G-d's Aid is always appropriate.

(H/T @Monica Cellio who talked me into expanding my comment into an answer. I hope neither of us end up regretting it.)

  • Thank you for this answer. The points about sociological norms and the case of multiple valid practices/minhag hamakom are important considerations. – Monica Cellio Aug 31 '16 at 15:01
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No there isn't.. Truth is truth..No name can change it..If it is changed then it doesn't remain truth..So if one one obeys the truth,people's remarks does not matter.. It happens just because people want their own desires to be fulfilled so they use such remarks to mock others.. secondly,there is extremism like if it is said that drinking water is good and someone start drinking it all the time,doing nothing else and forgetting other good things.. Being a Muslim,we are called with a lot of mockery names by those who see us submitted to the will of God..But those names does not matter because we know that we do things according to the Book of God and sayings of His messenger (Peace be upon him)... So as you did something good..You shouldn't count her words and stay on truth... as it is not something innovated in religion

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Au contraire, you have an obligation to rebuke them for not acting according to Halacha (Vayikra 19). This discussion deals with the limitations on this mitzvah. You'd have to decide based on the particular situation whether it's right for you to rebuke them.

As for what you're doing, although there is an issue of breaking away from the tzibbur's minhag, that's clearly not applicable in the scenario you described, in which they're not acting according to Halacha and you are.

Hatzlacha Rabbah. As always, don't forget to CYLOR when it comes to Halacha l'maaseh.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; the conversation between MoriDoweedhYaa3qob and DonielF has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Aug 25 '16 at 13:01
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Yes. One is "too Orthodox" when one judges others for shortcomings other than sheer evil; when one hates people (for the group they belong to); when one no longer feels or acts like a part of humanity; when one no longer feels like oneself; when one no longer knows who he is as an individual; when one has lost touch with one's personal conscience and its rulings; when one feels constantly effaced and oppressed; or when one is numb or averse to the wonder and beauty of the world and its numerous expressions of goodness. These are all the same as losing touch with G-d. This is not and never was the goal of Judaism, ch"v.

If you're not guilty of any of these, then you should be only proud, never ashamed, of your great service of G-d.

  • Rollback if you don’t agree. – LN6595 May 29 '18 at 20:31
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This is a sincere question, and all the answers above offer fantastic, sensible advice.

Isn't it somewhat sad that Jews have to make any type of comment in shul solely based on how people dress and look? It happens both ways. I live in a mainly Orthodox community and most shuls are Orthodox. There is a Young Israel in my neighborhood that has a terrific open-minded rabbi who wants every Jew to attend his shul. So, the rabbi himself on Shabbat is the only one wearing a kapotah (long black frock.) Some wear black hats; most wear suits and ties; the Israelis wear half-open shirts unbuttoned to the middle of their hairy chests; and we have some "hippies" with long hair wearing patched or torn jeans. Nobody cares (well, a few do, but they're a tiny percentage.)

The point to all this - keep in mind what your doing. You're going to shul and so are they. Everyone is there to form the minyan and pray in shul. This is a small shul, you say. So, I assume that your husband attending the shul is one of the regular people forming the minyan??? If that's the case, enough said. Without him, no minyan; no service, and everyone loses.

I think that if anyone comments on how you dress and bothers you about it in anyway, all you have to say is, "This is how I dress; and we're all here to pray. We're not here to model our clothes." Plain and simple.

This dispels any concept of "Orthodox" and various groups and sects and certainly eliminates fashion from the discussion. I think it's a completely nonsensical discussion, Rebecca. It doesn't warrant any answer from you. People who are that nosy have their own insecurities, for whatever reason. They have to resolve it themselves.

If you feel that you must provide some answer, you can just mention that just like they do, you are there to pray and a shul is meant to include even non-Jews who feel like praying in a shul. If non-Jews are included, how much moreso should your shul include every Jew regardless of how s/he dresses. And, by all means, you can relay them the story about my Young Israel.

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It is my personal opinion that there is no qualification for "Orthodox"; or you are Orthodox or you are not. It is of no matter what "other people" think; there will ALWAYS be cricism. IF what you are doing, feels right to you, then do that. NOR, IMPNSHO, should you rebuke any other person for what they say. Simply say: "thank you for your opinion,I will take it into consideration". ABOVE ALL; Do what your heart tells you to do. I find that this often goes further than discussion.

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My opinion is do what you are comfortable with and don't worry about others. In my community in Israel almost everyone in every shul wears black pants and white shirt on Shabbat. When visiting shuls in America on vacation I've had people give me a hard time for not wearing a jacket or hat on Shabbat. I'll explain to them that this is my community custom, but only to make them feel better (it usually doesn't). I don't really care what they think about it.

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    נותנין עליו חומרי מקום שהלך לשם, ואל ישנה אדם מפני המחלוקת – Double AA Mar 21 '17 at 19:21
  • Welcome to Mi Yodea YoshBear! – mevaqesh Mar 21 '17 at 19:29
  • While the question was probably too broad and not clearly defined, answers should generally be sourced. Learn more about how this site works, from this short useful Beginners' Guide. – mevaqesh Mar 21 '17 at 19:29
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I think most of the answers here are spot on. But i want to add something that I don't think has been represented enough. Which is that yes, you can be too Orthodox. And by that i mean, you can get so caught up in following particular sets of rules or ideas, that you lose sight of the purpose, and you get separated from a community.

The general halakha is that married women cover their hair. This is commonly done to let men know who is available and who is taken. Whereas in Sephardic culture, the ruling is that all woman need to cover their hair for the sake of modesty. I'm saying this to show there is often nuance to halakhoth, and there can be differences that are both legitimate. If an "Orthodox" Ashkenazi person moved to a Yemenite community and said that his unmarried daughter didn't need to cover her hair because his Rebbe's daughter didn't cover her hair.... It's not going to go well. That visitor has lost touch with something very important.

There is a very powerful minhag to cover ones head as a male in synagogue (and nearly everywhere for that matter). However, there isn't a requirement for the head covering to be a black hat/fedora. That is a personal choice, and typically a chumra (extra stringency). Your husband stands out because his black hat makes a declaration that his personal practices are different than the accepted practice of the community. If i go to a charedei community wearing a Sombrero and use a Pancho with tzitzit as a tallit, i'm following the halakha, but you can bet nearly everyone in the community is going to be either upset at me, or feel uncomfortable with me being there. I could stand up a recite how i'm following all the halakhoth and this that or the other, but it doesn't matter, i've lost touch with something.

The community of Cairo had a lot of interesting issues, one of which was that women stopped covering their hair altogether. The Rabbis originally tried confronting women to encourage them to practice the modesty of covering their hair, but in the end they stopped because the practice grew too large, and because there were other indicators that the woman was married (such as wedding rings). The reason given by the Rabbis as to why they stopped protesting was that they could not argue with the "New freedoms of the time/land." This may sound like a cop out, but they used this reasoning to enact other things. For example, whenever a new Torah scroll was written and given to a community/synagogue, the original practice was to sneak the Torah scroll into the synagogue by secrecy in the night. But in the late 1800s, Egyptian Jewry had lots of public support, lots of religious freedom, and so the Rabbis changed the custom to having Torah donation ceremonies during the day, with singing and dancing in public outside the synagogue. Their reasoning? The freedom of the time/land.

So in other words. Community practice is often very important, and community practice can many times be at odds with personal practice. Your husband is at odds with community practice by deciding to wear a particular head covering that usually declares a level of stringently. Your head covering may be different than community practice, but that doesn't mean you can't wear a hat. But perhaps you can wear a head covering that fits the community better. Such as a scarf, or a hat that looks like it belongs as part of your outfit, rather than a declaration of a religious practice.

  • "If i go to a charedei community wearing a Sombrero .... feel uncomfortable with me being there." Would you be being too Orthodox then? I wouldn't think so. You make a good point about not standing out unnecessarily, but you don't give any reason to think "Orthodoxy" has anything to do with that, let alone that higher degrees of "Orthodoxy" is problematic. – Double AA Aug 31 '16 at 17:27
  • "And by that i mean..." If that's what you mean then fine, but it sure is a non-standard use of the term "Orthodox". You could also say the person is being "too tuna fish. And by that i mean..." As long as you've defined your terms we can understand, but it's bizarre. – Double AA Sep 1 '16 at 1:55

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