Many years ago, I operated a store in the Hasidic community. I went to Hasidic minyans, and shared jokes, and socialized with them. I was invited to weddings and Bar Mitzvot. On most days, I dressed in black and white, like everyone else. On formal occasions, I wore a long coat and a black fedora. When I first got the Hasidic “formal ware,” I showed up at my teacher’s apartment, and he said I looked fantastic. Then he told me I can’t dress that way all the time unless I was willing to live the life that went with that appearance. My existence in that community was at most, peripheral, so I chose to not dress that way all the time.
The reason my teacher told me that, was because it would be wrong to dress like a Hasid, and not live like a Hasid. I had no desire or intention to live that life, so it made sense for me to not give the appearance that I was a Hasid who was doing something that was wrong for a Hasid, when in reality I’m not one.
Many years ago, I visited a Messianic community in another state. Some of their people wore kipot all the time, and went around with blue and white tzitzit tied to their belt loops. There was nothing wrong with the appearance, although the belt loops thing is not really the correct way to perform the mitzvah. The problem was, they dressed this way everywhere.
One guy in particular was coming out of a Chinese restaurant, where pork was obviously being served. He came out wearing his kipah and his tzitzit. Jewish people walking by saw him coming out of the restaurant, and laughed hysterically. He could have said that he didn’t eat any pork, which would have been fine, but the reality is, that someone who dresses Orthodox, needs to live orthodox, or he becomes a laughingstock. Its never a good testimony when you crack people up by your actions. That was what my teacher was trying to tell me. Our appearance needs to match our beliefs and actions. I’m not saying that a person can’t eat in a restaurant that isn’t Shomer Shabbat. I’m saying that if you look like you are someone who is Shomer Shabbat, you shouldn’t be eating in a place that is not.
There is an easy way around this problem. There are two solutions: The first is to simply, remove your kipah and tuck in your tzitzit if you are eating in a non-kosher restaurant. The other solution is to wear a cap over your kipah. If you are wearing your kipah to honor God, you are not fulfilling the mitzvah if you are giving the appearance that you are a religious person doing something wrong.
Appearances are important. They can alert people to who we are, and reflect on what we believe. That can be good when we are doing things that are positive, but not so good when we do things that send conflicting messages. A friend of mine who wears a kipah and tzitzit all the time, went to dinner with his wife at a Red Lobster restaurant. Jewish people came up to him and said they were offended that he was there. He responded that he was offended that they were eating unkosher food, but the damage was done.
I don’t tell people where to eat. I don’t tell them what to do. I will tell them that I don’t think its wise to send conflicting messages. All that does is make people want to avoid you. If I want people to avoid me, I’ll smoke a cigar.