Thursday, August 18, 2005

Mar'as Ayin

Disclaimer: I have yet to go through this sugya, but I have been thinking about it lately. This post contains some of my a priori thoughts on the matter.

"Don't go into McDonalds because it's mar'as ayin." I'm sure everyone has been told that at some time, with the usual caveat that its if on a long highway trip out of state (that means NY to you non-NYers) where no frum Jews are around. But, wouldn't
anyone who knows a Jew shouldn't be in McDonalds realize there must be a reason? Or, alternatively, shouldn't they?

Why place the onus on the individual who is and not violating halacha? Why do we absolve the curious bystander, who, because he is *not* being dan likaf z'chus, fears the worst about the guy who sits next to him in shul.

But perhaps that is a partial answer. The two, dan likaf z'chus and mar'as ayin are mirror obligations. The general public has a requirement to judge each person favorably and to assume the best, while the individual has the obligation to avoid "tempting" the public to judge him harshly (that mar'as ayin is used as an excuse by some to get out of dan likaf z'chus is for another day).

Alternatively,instead of protecting against unwarranted assumptions, mar'as ayin might protect against behavior. Most are familar with the Ramban at the beginning of Parshas Kedoshim. There, the Ramban says that someone should not be
naval b'rishus haTorah, a la (get link) Glatt Kosher Hedonism, its letter-of-the-law ok but still suspect.
When dealing with shady business practices which are literally halachically ok but ethically suspect, one might be tempted to get away with it. Society hasn't conditioned us to steer clear of such practices, cheating on taxes is but one example. So mar'as ayin is that middle ground protection from naval b'rishus haTorah, a way to keep you from acting in suspect manners.

Nothing to do with how society sees you (but is called mar'as ayin because of the peer pressure, others seeing you and saying "he cheats on his taxes"...?)

Ironically, McDonalds would not fall into this category. One doesn't suspect a frum Jew to walk into McDonalds and eat a cheeseburger. But on the lesser actions, those which many do but shouldn't, that's where maras ayin has a role. Perhaps according to this view, a ba'al teshuva or ger (convert) would run afoul of mara'as ayin if they walked into McDonalds...

Thoughts? Comments?