By David Feinder
There is currently a phenomenon in the frum world to follow adopt Chumrot in a manner that almost resembles the “Keeping up with the Jonses” from the 1950s. While it is true that Pirkei Avot may say that a Torah Scholar should sleep on the floor, eat bread and salt, etc., that is something to strive for. It does not mean that you should do so, nor must it be taken literally. BTs are often under pressure to do as much as possible and be as strict as possible as quickly as possible. However, there are plenty of reasons to not belong to this crowd and here are a few of them.
It is always easier to simply forbid something than to permit it. To permit something requires more study of Torah as you must understand the reasons why something is permitted and under which circumstances. Simply saying “You can’t do xyz” is lazy. BTs who have worked to reach the level that they are at quite simply are above taking the easy route and should try to understand when something is forbidden, when something is allowed and when to consult with a Rav.
Many Chumrot originated as personal Minhagim that a given Rav or Rosh Yeshiva had for a specific reason and their students or community took on that Chumra without understanding the reason. My younger brother nearly did this while in Yeshiva when he asked his Rav if he should fast on Erev Shabbat. His Rav gave him a resounding no and proceeded to tell my brother that fasting on Erev Shabbat is his personal Chumra and if my brother wished to do, he needed to understand the reasons first. My brother does not fast on Erev Shabbat and now understands that one man’s Chumra often should remain that person’s Chumra.
If you accept a Chumra upon yourself, you may need to say Hatarat Nedarim just as you would if you switched between different sets of Minhagim, i.e., from wearing Tefillin on Chol Hamoed to not wearing Tefillin and then back again (a subject for a different post). Just the thought of convening a Beit Din should make a BT – and FFB – think twice about Chumrot.
There is also the fact that many of our leaders have been on record criticizing Chumrot. For example, the Mishna Berura says in regards to fasting on Yom Kippur that those who stretch fast days out beyond Tzeit HaKochavim are foolish. It should also be noted that the Nazir brings a Korban at the end of his Nazir period for having committed a sin by being excessively strict during that period of time. If the Nazir is penalized, certainly unnecessary Chrumot tacked on to Halacha – which can be said to be quite strict at times – should be second-guessed as well.
Finally and most importantly for a BT, if you accept a certain Chumra upon yourself and then find yourself unable to keep adhering by it, you will feel like a failure on some level. In addition, in a world where we all unfortunately judge each other when we see the slightest deviation from what we’re used to seeing, this could affect you socially as people will want to know why you stopped doing whatever Chumra you were doing. BTs should take their time and only accept Chumrot when they feel ready and not when some outsider says they should.