For the week ending 2 August 2003 / 4 Av 5763

Keeping It Under Your Hat

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Mrs. H.

Dear Rabbi,

I have been at my current job since November and it requires me to work with the public all day. Until recently, I always wore hats to work and was not even aware whether or not my co-workers and patrons knew I was wearing them for religious reasons. Now that summer is here I started getting questions like "why are you wearing a hat indoors", and figured it wasn't worth it to be annoyed all the time trying to think of an answer that wouldn't turn into a whole long discussion. So I decided to make the switch to wearing a wig to work and figured people would just think I got my hair done. Imagine my surprise when I found out that all my (non-Jewish and non-religious) co-workers and patrons keep asking the other religious person at my office why I stopped covering my hair! To me and probably every other religious person who I see during the day, it is obvious that I am wearing a wig. But how do I respond to the people who apparently have admired me all along for my religious beliefs and think I have stopped being religious?

Thanks for your help.

Dear Mrs. H.,

What a problem, I truly empathize with you! I think that the simplest way to deal with the situation is to turn it into a humorous anecdote. The workplace is a pretty small world and if you tell the story to a couple of your colleagues and have a little laugh with them about the way that the whole thing did not work out the way that you imagined, Im sure everyone will find out pretty quickly. That way youll be able to let everyone know that you havent compromised your religious beliefs without making some kind of public announcement that might backfire and make you look ridiculous. May G-d give you the insight to say the right words at the right time!

Understandably, you seem to have wanted to avoid making an issue about your religious observance. However, sometimes avoiding the issue can make it worse while addressing it has certain advantages. Having to explain the Torahs position to others is a great opportunity to clarify the matter for ourselves. People generally ask sincere and probing questions (sometimes forcing us to consult others) whose answers benefit us as well. The dialogue itself, while sometimes heated, in the long run actually deepens and enriches relationships. When all is said and done, most people will respect the Torah view (even if they disagree) and theyll respect you for living up to your values and beliefs as your colleagues seem to have admired you all along.

Your situation reminds me of a story I read about a religious law student who maintained his beliefs and practices despite the difficulties he encountered in his non-religious environment. He became close to the dean of the school who admired his dedication to his ideals, and who eventually got him an interview with a highly respected law firm. While waiting for the interview, he grappled with the dilemma of whether to wear his yarmulke or not. At the last moment he decided to take it off in order to avoid making an issue of his being a religious Jew. Once in the office, he was shocked to find that the head of the firm, who had thoroughly researched the candidate, respectfully put on a yarmulke for the interview while he had taken his off. Needless to say, his integrity was questioned and he didnt get the job.


  • Horizons, Number 28, "The Lawyer Learns a Lesson" by Roizy Waldman

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