Sunday, 2 September 2007

Chumra of the Week #1 - A Mad Dash to the Dashboard!

Originally posted 9/2/07, 5:24 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
I hate to start a thread on Chumra of the Week with possibly the BEST of all stories I have heard so far, but I could not resist the temptation.  :)

A friend of mine confirms this as true. Several years ago - in an Israeli neighborhood that began to turn "hareidi" - everyone covered virtually their entire kitchens with Aluminum, or Tin Foil.

This one fellow - in order to protest this mindless, over-the-top, yet trendy chumra - one morning decided to cover his automobile's dashboard with tin-foil. Not to be out-done, the entire neighborhood emulated his car and each person covered his or her own dashboard with tin-foil by the very same evening. I insist on calling this the Chumra of the DAY instead of the week because it spread like wild-fire within its first 24 hours!

IMHO - this one tops the "hoaxy" ethanol chumra and beats a tongue-in-cheek chumra I once tried to plant on the Internet myself. For reasons of safety for myself and my family, I will not publish online this proposed preposterous chumra, but you can reach me offline at the usual address to find out more details.



Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

Of course there are some legitimate reasons to be machmir. And even in cases where one personally does not see the need to be machmir, the fact that the other is machmir may still the demand respect for a variety of reasons. Having said all this, there are also clearly cases where being machmir is inappropriate. One is when it is associated with haughtiness - and such cases need to be identified and challenged as such. Another is where it identifies, for want of a better word, stupidity.

Lack of knowledge is clearly a reason to be machmir. But one should recognized that the real weakness is the lack of knowledge and the reality that one is machmir actually indicates this weakness. The chumra should be accompanied with a statement of humilit and a mea culpa -- because one doesn't know any better. This is one reason why the gemara states that a person who follows the chumras of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai a fool. It may be necessary, sometimes, to be machmir but because one is lacking. Such situations need to be recognized and actually commended for the commitment but with the identification of the lack.

That is not the case here. Why does this bring forth a chuckle and a declaration of stupidity? Because one of the great problems in our world are people thinking that they know and/or can make decisions without really understanding the body of knowledge and the process. Torah demands thought and knowledge. If we think we can circumvent this reality, you have these types of problems. People making ludicrous decsiions in the name of Torah -- because they are not taught a prime lesson, ein am haaretz chasid -- a person lacking Torah knowledge cannot even be a chassid, let alone a tzaddik or a chacham. This is a great problem in our world today. We are so concerned about turning off the am haaretz who is becoming or has become or continues to be frum -- by simply teaching that one needs Torah info and thought before making any derived decsions of Torah practice -- that we end up with a mockery of Torah.

JJ said...

A few things to note:
1) a chumra in reference to one mitzva can be a kula with respect to another (note R Eliezer Berkovits on T'nai B'Gittin who comments that being machmir in Gittin is also being Mekil on Bein Adam L'Chavero)

2) 2 chumras can be mutually exclusive if teh logic forcing one to be machmir in one mitzva underlies the same principle of being Mekil on the other - I cannot think of a specific example here....

3) the drive for chumrot may override a minhag which has halakhic significance (eg. waiting for 6hrs after meat when one's minhag is 3hrs) - certainly Hatarat Nedarim would be in order?

Interested in further discussion..

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

Some excellent points and in looking at the spectrum of kullahs and chumras, the spectrum is often shortened, leaving out often mitzvot bein adam l'chaveiro. We once ran an article that pointed out, in a similar vein, how being machmir in kashrut could yield being very meikel in the realm of bein adam l'chaveiro.

Your point regarding the logic of the halachic system is actually the basis of the final understanding of the gemara in Eruvin in regard to following chumras of Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel. They may be specifically contardictory in logic. Torah ultimately is a system and plugging into the system, how we understand the system through our Torah study and analysis, is very important. Motivations of chumra or kullah, notwithstanding other problems, take someone away from a holistic approach to the system.

Your final point is also well taken. This is part of the point of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik's classic essay "Rupture and Reconstruction". We usually talk minhag in a chumra sense but it has an application beyond that and a minhag of kulla is to be respected within the value of minhag.

Anonymous said...
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JJ said...

One other comment - what about this new fad of adopting all kinds of other minhagim which have not been in one's family?

Specifically, I have many friends (and relatives) who have adopted the minhag of not cutting a boy's hair until 3 or of lighting an extra Shabbat candle for every child they have. Is there a problem with this?

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

In certain ways, the problem with this fad is not necessarily the movement itself but the lack of thought and underlying study in this movement. There are questions of chumra and kullah. There are other questions of whether it is a change in minhag or the adoption of a new minhag. There should also be the recognition of the possible binding nature of any change and the need to state that everything is bli neder.

Take the two examples that you present. I know of no minhag to specificaly cut a boy's hair before 3 so this is a question of the adoption of a new minhag. Is it simply because someone wants another reason to have a simcha? So why not, unless, of course, someone is bothered by the quesitonof the root of this minhag and whether one wants to continue this line of reasoning? Its the fact that it is not thought through.

As for the case of the Shabbat candles, that could be more complicated. There are a variety of other minhagim including specifically just lighting 2. Adopting a new minhag is thus at the expense of the old minhag -- and that should not be done so simply. Often people are pressured to change their minhagim by others, who maintain this new minhag, and think that it is the only way to go. That is a real problem! The issue is not only the minhag but the lack of knowledge of the entire picture of Torah. The result is actually problematic for changing to light an extra candle may be violating the neder of the previous minhag.

Anonymous said...

I have one chumrah that I have adopted. I do not say Machnesei Rachamim in selichot. I hold that we do not pray to angels. I also get to make selichot just a little bit shorter. That is my kind of Chumrah.
A ketivah v'chatimah Tovah to everyone. Dave willig