On a recent visit to New York I was quite shocked to see that Orthodox Jews still walking the streets with black hats, long coats, beards and peyos. Why is it necessary to be so behind the times?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
I heard a true story which should shed light on your question.
There was a Chassid dressed in all the traditional garb, travelling on a plane. He sat down next to a woman who was also Jewish. After a few minutes, she turned to him: "Jews like you," she hissed, and then went into a tirade about how shameful it is the way Chassidim dress in light of modern society. "It's Jews like you that give the rest of us a bad name."
After she finished venting, the Chassid looked at her and said, "I beg your pardon, ma'am. I'm Amish."
"Amish?!" said the astonished woman. "Oh, I respect the Amish people and the way they have maintained their traditions all these years."
The Chassid kept quiet, but when they finally got off the plane, he turned to the woman, and said in Yiddish, "You should live and be well!"
Of course the fascinating part of this story is how the Jewish woman was bothered only when she thought the man was a traditional Jew. But I’m not sure exactly what the problem is. In fact, the Midrash says that when the Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt, the only thing that kept them from completely assimilating into Egyptian society was that they maintained distinctive cultural items like mode of dress.
An interesting upshot to this story is that the Chassid was Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D., founder of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center near Pittsburgh, one of the leading alcohol and drug rehabilitation facilities in the world. Rabbi Twerski has written 80 books dealing with modern psychology and personal growth from a Jewish perspective. So I suppose the way a person dresses has little to do with being "behind the times."