In my Torah studies I’ve learnt that not only should you do the right thing, but you should also be seen to be doing the right thing. The example I was given was that a Jew shouldn’t enter a non-kosher restaurant to use the facilities, lest someone think that he or she might be eating there. Should we be more concerned with the appearance of doing right (or wrong) or the actual practice?


Certainly we should be more concerned about what we do than how we look. But this does not mean that we can completely ignore the way things appear to others.

We cannot be invisible. Nobody lives in a vacuum (unless you are a vacuum cleaner bag). Our actions impact others whether we like it or not. Every individual contributes to the social fabric. And so we are responsible not only for our actions, but also for the impression they make, because we are responsible for the morality of others, not just our own. Any behavior that might work against the furtherance of goodness is a moral problem.

It isn’t about my reputation as much as it is about my influence. When I do something that looks wrong, even if I have a perfectly good and innocent explanation, the damage is done.

If I enter a non-kosher restaurant to use the facilities, while I have not broken any law of keeping kosher, I have bridged the divide between kosher and not kosher, and invite others to do the same. In the same way, if I have a glass of soy milk during a meal of steak, I give off the impression that I could drink milk with meat (unless the container is displayed prominently on the table).

But there’s a deeper reason not to do something that just looks wrong, even if it isn’t wrong, and even if no one is looking. And that is because not only can such activity affect others, it can affect us too.

Actors know that when you play a character, you can sometimes become that character. The self we project to others can sometimes be absorbed into our own identity. And so by looking like you are doing something wrong, you may come to actually do it. By feeling comfortable in a place you don’t really belong, you may end up thinking you do belong there. You can’t remain immune from your surroundings, or from your own actions.

This law, called mar’it ayin, teaches some powerful lessons: your morality is my business; I affect my surroundings and my surroundings affect me; and together we form a community, so everyone’s actions count.