By Herbert Cohen
WHEN I was in junior high school, I met Dolly, a sweet and personable girl. She went to a different school and one day I invited her to visit my school. Those were innocent years, and nothing seemed nefarious about my asking a girl that I knew to tour my school.
The tour was excellent except for one problem. A school janitor saw me in the building after hours with her and reported me to the principal. The next day I was summoned to the principals office where he lectured me about the appearance of impropriety. His speech had a lasting impact. I learned early on to be sensitive to how my actions might appear to others.
The appearance of impropriety is the catalyst for much of what happens in The Boxer, the story of Danny Flynn, a former Irish prizefighter who comes home to Belfast after serving 14 years in prison. There he reconnects with Maggie, an old girlfriend, now married to an imprisoned IRA man.
A paramount value amongst the IRA is that wives remain loyal to their husbands even when they are sent to prison for long terms. The IRA fighters view with disdain the slightest impropriety. They know that if an IRA member were to feel that incarceration would lead to the breakup of his marriage, it would become increasingly difficult to recruit members.
Yet, Danny meets with Maggie, his old flame. Danny went to prison as a convicted terrorist and Maggie reluctantly moved on, eventually marrying and having a child.
But now, their private talks soon become public knowledge. Once others become aware of their surreptitious encounters, nothing is the same.
NOTHING immoral occurs between them. They confess their mutual love, but thats it, respecting the unwritten code of the IRA. However, Dannys enemies torpedo his plans to open a boxing club, in which both Catholics and Protestants can participate.
Violence erupts, leaving innocents murdered and maimed. The future of peace between the Irish and English is jeopardized. The suggestion of inappropriate behavior between Danny and Maggie motivates Liam, Maggies son, to burn down the town gymnasium where the boxers train.
Judaism has much to say about marit ayin, the appearance of impropriety. For example, the Torah tells us that if a woman is alone with a man other than her husband, the appearance of impropriety might trigger a crisis of trust between spouses.
Judaism encourages us to be sensitive to how our behavior appears. We maybe innocent of crime, but our actions may give a different impression. It is wise to see our behavior through the eyes of others.