For the week ending 22 June 2013 / 13 Tammuz 5773

Bedecked in Black

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Zalman

Dear Rabbi,

When I went home after learning in yeshiva, my parents got really upset by the more religious way I dress. I think this is really hypocritical since they are the ones who are supposedly liberal and who believe in equality and tolerance. If everybody can do whatever they want, why can't I wear black? Also, even though my Hebrew name (that THEY gave me) is Zalman, they insist on calling me Steve. How can I get them to understand?

Dear Zalman,

The Torah's ways are "ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace." If your actions do not bring peace, it may be that you are not following the ways of the Torah.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled that, although it's better to use a Hebrew name, there's no prohibition in using a non-Hebrew one. According to this, if your parents address you by your non-Hebrew name you should respond, and you should not correct them.

Regarding dress, Rabbi Feinstein maintained that there is no halachic obligation to wear any particular style that has become traditional for Jewish communities in various places and times. He also rules that there is no prohibition of "following the ways of the pagans" in adopting fashions of the gentile world. This is all providing that the clothing has no pagan religious significance and does not violate to the prohibitions against sha'atnez, immodesty, and cross-dressing.

I'm not advising you to wear ripped jeans and a Grateful Dead T-shirt. In Orthodox communities, as in all societies, specific styles of clothing are the norm. Integrating into these groups without dressing "frum" would be difficult. Therefore you are correct in viewing your dress as an intrinsic part of your development, and not necessarily accede to your parents' tastes.

However, you should still take their feelings into account. If your dress causes them distress, a compromise might be to wear "civilian clothing" at home, or to tone down religious clothing styles.

Respecting parents will demonstrate that Judaism does not seek to alienate children from their families, and is concerned with the preservation of family ties even when not every member of the family observes Jewish law.

Respecting parents requires proper communication, as the following incident illustrates:

A mother told her daughter, "There are two words which you use constantly, and I'd appreciate if you'd eliminate them from your vocabulary ... One is "nauseating" and the other is "disgusting."

"O.K., Mom," said the daughter, "Tell me what the words are and I'll stop saying them."


  • Mishlei 3:17.
  • Iggrot Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:66, Yoreh De’ah 1:81.
  • After the Return – Rabbi Mordechai Becher & Rabbi Moshe Newman, 2:1, Feldheim Publishers 1995.

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