A distinctive dress code identifies one as a member of a particular group throughout the world, and the world of religious Jewry is no exception.
It is minhag Chabad to wear a kapoteh on Shabbos (as discussed earlier). Since a person is largely defined by his clothes, it has become communally accepted that by choosing to wear this garb, one is in effect declaring that one identifies as a Chabad chossid; conversely, by choosing not to wear such garb, one fails to truly identify himself as a Chabad chossid.
Now I’m not quite sure why this is the case, and moreover I question whether it’s correct to make this the measure of identification. However, what is clear is that it is popularly regarded as such. So someone who takes upon himself to wear a kapoteh, which is generally a distinctive Chabad garb, is viewed by others, rightly or wrongly, as someone who wants to be viewed as a Chabad chossid, and thus for all intents and purposes, is a Chabad chossid.
Now, since the wearer of this garb knows that this is what others will think, even if he has some other intention in wearing this garb, that is irrelevant; he must consider the way he will be perceived by others. Thus, we find that according to Halacha one is considered to be desecrating Hashem’s name whenever one does something that others will perceive as wrong; even if one has a valid reason for doing so, it is a chillul Hashem, and one’s intentions are irrelevant.
So when someone who wears a kapoteh talks during the minyan, in addition to desecrating the name of Hashem, he is desecrating the name of the Rebbeim of Chabad, and the path in the service of Hashem that they have propounded. However, when he talks during the minyan and does not wear a kapoteh, he is desecrating the name of Hashem in general and his actions are of course wrong and indefensible, but he is not desecrating the name of the Rebbeim of Chabad. In this respect, his actions are less worse.
If you know that you’re going to talk in Shul, don’t come. And if you must come, at least don’t wear a kapoteh. Because if you show no respect for Shul, then your kapoteh and the declaration of affiliation that it signifies is meaningless and worse.
The same goes for those who trim their beards. Now, although many halachic authorities forbid trimming one’s beard, many using very harsh language, it is true that according to some, it is permitted when done in a certain way. However, those who have taken upon themselves to be chassidei Chabad are bound to follow the halachic rulings of the Rebbeim of Chabad, and since the Tzemach Tzedek maintains unequivocally that trimming one’s beard is forbidden min haTorah, one who identifies as a Chabad chossid and trims his beard violates a severe sin.
The same also goes for women who dress immodestly, and those who allow some of their hair to be exposed by wearing a tichel or the like, instead of following the Rebbe’s clear directive to wear a sheitel. And so on.
I am not claiming to be perfect myself, or claiming that all those who don’t fall short in these areas are perfect or anything approaching it. What I’m saying is simple—if you have chosen to openly, consistently, and most significantly, premeditatedly flaunt the minimum standards of observance of Shulchan Aruch expected of a Chabad chossid, then do yourself and everyone else a favor and don’t identify as one.
Because by doing so, not only are you sinning more than if you had not so identified, you are causing others to sin. When the atmosphere in the community is such that talking in Shul, trimming, dressing immodestly, and so on, is acceptable, then those who are already weak follow the bad example of those individuals, some of those who are stronger are weakened, and in general, the entire community is dragged into the mud.
I’m sure many of you will brand me intolerant. So be it. But, I say to these flagrant violators, what about your intolerance? Your intolerance for the clear rulings of Shulchan Aruch, disrespect for the standards of the community that you so proudly claim to adhere to, and disrespect for the Rebbe and his teachings, to which you declare yourself to be so loyal? What about your selfish, stubborn refusal to consider the spiritual damage you wreak upon your environment? What about your insensitivity to the sincere religious feelings of those who truly want to serve Hashem in the community, and their desire to live and raise their children in a wholesome atmosphere of G-d-fearing Jews and devoted chassidim?
If you must do these things, please, I beg of you, stop identifying yourself as formal members of the Chassidic community. If you must, dub yourself a “friend of Chabad.” Come and learn Chassidus, attend farbrengens and the like, and grow at your own pace. If and when you reach the point in your spiritual growth at which you are ready to follow the required standards of behavior, then your choice to openly and proudly identify yourself as a chossid will elevate both yourself and the community.
Until then ... leave the kapoteh at home.
(See also this letter of the Frierdiker Rebbe, which expresses a sentiment similar, and perhaps even stronger, than that in the above article.)