Considerations When Taking on New Chumras

Let’s say someone is considering whether or not to accept a given chumra (stringency). Let us use cholov yisroel as an example. He speaks to his rov, or rebbe, or mentor, and that person lays out the issues for him but ultimately says, as many rabbonim will in such a situation, “Those are the issues. You must make this choice for yourself.”

Now, the question: Is it appropriate for him to consider, when making the choice, that he enjoys the taste of cholov stam products? What if the rov did not include that among the factors to consider? Is it part of the question he should ask?

Note: We’re only using cholov yisroel as an example and we’re aware that segments of the Orthodox community consider this the halacha and not a chumra.

78 comments on “Considerations When Taking on New Chumras

  1. Nathan, it’s possible that some things our Sages have viewed as basic Yiddishkeit would appear to you as chumros. How do you really know which is which?

  2. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov opposed chumrahs.

    I wish we were wise enough to listen to his advice.

  3. Dear Tsvi, thank you for owning the accusation-hurling. And also for articulating why you equate egotism with fastidious Mitzvah observance. The reasoning, which I’ve been increasingly hearing from others, really was not so clear to me before.

    And there’s nothing like knowing where the other’s coming from when seeking to further a congenial discussion about serious life matters.

    But now let me try to respond. Once again I ask you not to take take this as a personal attack. Though you indicated this wasn’t the case last time, I suspect that the nature of these discussions can all too easily be interpreted that way (if even just by the audience). All the moreso after you tell me I “should” see your comments as a personal attack!

    1) I agree that “there’s no yetzer hara like the yetzer hara for frumkeit” and I personally have striven to fight that battle among many who do their Judaism in the spirit of oneupsmanship.

    2) My comment about being called a Baal Nefesh had NOTHING to do with the above. I had absolutely no intention to say, what you seem to imply, is a version of “look how well I do it; follow ME…”!! Rather I honestly shared that scen because I saw it as a real-life definition. That’s all. In fact, if you knew me and my struggles to keep many of the basics, like davening b’zman, shmiras einayim, etc, you’dappreciate that my offering myself as an example was the furthest from an attempt to flaunt my tsidkus. It was merely a stark look at the truth and a genuine turning to peers to say, “hey, it’s reeelly hard sometimes, but what can we do? This is what the Torah’saying. So let’s try to give each otherachizukand march forward.”

    3) You said: “religious self-delusion can provide as much if not more psychological ‘comfort’, in your words, than any physical teiva.” I totally agree. So let’s stop doing BOTH!

    4) what I meant by brotherhood and same boat is, like I mentioned in #2, that we ALL need to struggle with the call of becoming Baalei Nefesh. It’s NOT some sort of back-slapping excercise for the spiritual heroes. Rather it’s the stuff of bottom-line growth that every normal Yid (outside of the exceptional one’s who are presently overwhelmed with other Mitzvahs) must confront — so why not do it together?

    Please do try to see that this is my take on the inconvenient truth of Torah, ALSO FOR ME.

  4. yy, I don’t “feel attacked” — although you should, and the administrator’s comment is well taken. My previously hurled accusation was meant to be critical of a type of approach to personal avodah, where one is blind to the dangers of geiva and egotism inherent in fastidious approaches to mitzvah observance. There is no yetzer hara like the yetzer hara for frumkeit (including imagining oneself as a baal nefesh) and that kind of religious self-delusion can provide as much if not more psychological “comfort”, in your words, than any physical teiva. On a side note, I have no idea where/why you come up with phrases like “loftiest kind of brotherhood” “same boat” … this is not germane to the discussion about chumras and who is a baal nefesh.

  5. Adm – please clarify how where the “hurling accusations” occured in my comments! I genuinely asked a question, based on info I had about this term.

    I’m sorry you feel attacked, Tsvi, and truly hope we could have a mature discussion about this issue. To start off with, let me ask you to explain your suggestion that the orientation of assuming the applicability of B.N. chumras to the avg Yid as being egotistical. I understand it as being honestly encouraging of the loftiest kind of brotherhood, in that all these chumras, by definition, work against the egotistic fixation on comfort… and the idea that we’re all in the same boat offers a glimmer of hope that TOGETHER we might just get there.

  6. i think that one can maintain that a person should not be reflexively Machmir or Meikil in the worst Pavlovian sense of these terms, but rather Mdakdek and evaluate with his or her rav what the halacha expects of them, etc,, and whether one, as a person, is a Baal Nefesh.

  7. I’d like to say something relating to the broader issue of chumros and modern frum society. We see that there is a perception in some quaters that the charedim are practicing a chumrah-stressing version of Yiddishkeit, and this is a negative phenomena. (I am not commenting on that viewpoint but just stating that clearly there is such a viewpoint.)

    But when we begin to look a bit at the sources, we see that perceptions of “machmir” are very fluid over generations. I think we can safely say even in the very modern communities, the communal standards are very machmir in some areas, relative to other periods of history.

  8. I just had an insight. When Mark or Dave chime in with their “be positive” commercials, it really has the intended effect. There is another blog that tries to maintain a positive tone by just not letting posts through that the administrator feels are negative. So what that, seemingly, does is just create more angst at not having one’s voice heard.

    Just a thought.

  9. > Are those of you who are defining B.N as something exceptional sure you’re not subconsciously looking to justify a Judaism of convenience?

    Are those of you who define B.N. as applicable to everyone looking to justify an egotistical Judaism of chumras and self-worship?

  10. well, well, well. It seems we have a fascinating division of viewpoint on a simple halachic definition, revolving around different orientations in av’ H’.

    Thank you for the complements, Jay (it was meant positively, right? :), but the point of that reference was that real talmidei chachomim and tsaddikim were using this term in real life with real implications. I emphasize that NOone presumed I was a Tsaddik nor outstanding in my Halachic observance. But they recognized my intense desire to grow within the Torah system.

    Just listen to the simple truth of the words: Baal HaNefesh. We all know enough Kaballah to understand this speak below the lofty levels of ruach and Neshama. Yet it’s also pointing to something beyond the “Ben Torah.” Surely the MB and other great Tsaddikim were sensitive enough to the needs of Klal Yisroel to not confuse us with ambiguous terms that could make such a difference to many lives.

    Bottom line, my friends: Are those of you who are defining B.N as something exceptional sure you’re not subconsciously looking to justify a Judaism of convenience?


  11. one of my rebbeim has been known to say that when he was in yeshiva, “no one (even the rabbanim) ever assumed that when the MB said בעל נפש יחמיר that it was talking to them.” it was definitely not considered something addressed to the usual range of Jews

  12. I asked Rabbi Welcher tonight, and he said Baal Nefesh in the Mishnah Berurah means someone who is very careful in their general mitzvah observance.

  13. One more case-R Teller in his wonderful book on RSZA mentioned that RSZA was not keen on men refraining from using an eruv and “allowing” their wives and children to carry.

  14. Ron Coleman-Let me try to give you an example. The MB in the Biur Halach, which is more Lomdish, as oppposed to the MB itself which sets forth the Psak, or the Shaar Hatziun which quotes many Chiddushim not found elsewhere Hilcos Shabbos or Hilcos Eruvin cites a major Machlokes Rishonim about whether one should use an eruv if a street is 15 amos or more in width and wherein the mechitzah is a Tzuras HaPesach, as opposed to an actual wall, regardless of the size of the population in the area included therein is less than 600,000-however one calculates that figure in a neighborhood and suggests that a Baal Nefesh be machmir. I heard RHS say that since this Machlokes is based upon a Girsa in a Yerushalmi which in turns is one of the bases of the machlokes, that only someone who is a Tzadik, meaning a Gadol HaDor, should conduct himself according to the stricter opinion.

  15. yy, it’s obvious that you’re definitely no average yid, so I don’t see how your personal example proves anything.

  16. Re. the search for the Baal Nefesh definition, let me offer a live reference.

    About 10 years ago, when I was first enterring the community within which I’m now deeply apart, I had a long discussion with the head of the community (a great Tsaddik and chacham) about my interest to bring down my many years of intense study of sifrei mussar, hashkafa and chossidus into real life. We concluded that I should try to take part, for a few hours every day, in the main kollel of the community. When I went to talk with the Rosh Kollel about it, he commented: “Oh yes; you’re the Baal Nefesh the Rebbe spoke of!”

    Now gentlemen, believe me I’m no Tsaddik. I’m rather closer to Ron’s definition of “someone with high spiritual ambition.”

    The point for this thread is clarify that Chumras ARE meant for the average Yid. When the MB tells us that a B.N. should be concerned for x, he means DO it if you want to grow, but it probably won’t hurt if you don’t.

  17. So how would he explain the way this term is actually used in the Mishna Berurah? Was he telling tzaddikim how they should conduct themselves, being tzaddikim and all?

  18. Ron-Based upon what I have heard from RHS on this term over the years, Baal Nefesh is a term used in Chazal, Rishonim and Poskim, as opposed to Sifrei Musar and Chasidus, to denote a Tzadik-not just any Ben or Bas Torah with high spiritual aspirations that he or she equates with assuming as many Chumros as possible.

  19. I’m Jewish, has a lot of threads on eating disorders. It seems a lot of its contributors have these problems.

  20. I would add to Mark’s list (comment 43) a deep soul searching of why the individual is considering taking on the chumrah and why this particular chumrah.

    I’m Jewish, not sure if there is a web site or blog but Rabbi Goldwasser has a book on the issue which, I believe, has contact information for people dealing with that issue. (If it is a personal concern, I would recommend seeing a professional and not relying on a website or book, if you haven’t already done that).

  21. Near the middle… “Oneg Shabbos vOneg Teshuva” or something like that.

    Good point / assessment that we seem much more proccupied with chumros bein ododm l’mokom than bein odod l’chaveiro. – seems to be unlike the lessons of chumash, the Avos were equally if not more concerned with chumros of bein adam l’chavero (e.g., gezel).

  22. Ron, do you agree with my assesment that we seem much more proccupied with chumros bein ododm l’mokom than bein odod l’chaveiro.

  23. >See the piece yourself, it’s printed in Ohr haTzafun.

    It’s a big book. Could you be more specific please?

  24. Michoel, of course you’re right. All the more so regarding Jewish blogs! I just would like to see more discussion of my narrower question. Which I actually think I am getting…

  25. > Are you familiar with the part where we confess to “pleasures taken not on Shabbos and Yom Tov”?

    > How do you square this with the Slabodka teaching?

    The Alter doesn’t address Tefilla Zaka, but he squares it away with Yom Kippur in general, showing that the ikkar of the teshuva on Yom Kippur is actually also the physical pleasure associated with it. (meal before, Yom Tov clothes, etc.) See the piece yourself, it’s printed in Ohr haTzafun. My interpretation of “pleasures taken not on Shabbos and Yom Tov” is when I take a little of the Shabbos food for lunch on Friday. You know, a little chicken, cake, etc.

  26. > We certainly can feel the difference between a Yom Tov meal and a Thanksgiving meal, even if it’s the same company and the same food.

    I completely disagree. Can you feel the difference between a kosher mezuza and a posul one? Kosher tefillin, posul tefillin? Kosher chicken, traife chicken? The only difference is that one is a mitzvah.

  27. I think personal pleasure are regulated within the halacha depending on the person’s level.

    By marriage, the Gemora and Rishonim discuss to what degree attractiveness is a consideration and whether there are differences in this for men and women.

    I find the case of Rebbe illustrative. He was the richest Jew in the world and he had all the delicacies available and he was always entertaining dignitaries. Yet he said he didn’t take a pinky’s worth of pleasure from the world. There are at least 2 ways to understand this – 1) He didn’t partake of the foods that he had or 2) He did partake but he didn’t consider that pleasure because he only ate out of service to Hashem and the Jewish People.

    It’s a difference between spiritually directed pleasure, which is really Avodas Hashem, and individual non directed pleasure.

    Of course none of us are on the level of Rebbe of having only spiritual directed pleasure, but we certainly can feel the difference between a Yom Tov meal and a Thanksgiving meal, even if it’s the same company and the same food.

  28. Ron,
    I think it is the nature of blogs that conversations vere in all sorts of directions not intended by the original poster. That is a good thing.

    As for the issue that you intended to be discussed…
    Of course personal pleasure should be a consideration in all aspects of avodas H’. When one marries, does one not think of their own happiness and pleasure? If not, perhaps one should marry the most unatractive woman to her a chesed.

  29. Ron, as I’ve thought about and read through this thread, I think clearly understanding the nature (kulah, normative, chumra) of the halacha being considered is essential to answering your question.

    For instance, if we would consider CY the normative halacha, then considerations of taste would play a significantly diminished role then if we would consider CY a Chumra. And that would apply to any change in halachic practice.

    Here’s a starting point for a thread summary on taking on Chumra’s
    1) Clearly understand the halacha
    2) Understand any possible halachic side effects of taking on the new practice
    3) Understand the side effects on our family, friends and community
    4) Analyze the physical desire and any possible backlash

  30. R’ Chaim – Food is one of the main challenges that we are faced with on a continual basis and therefore it is fertile area for spiritual growth. As we go through the Mesillas Yesharim we start with being careful with Kashrus, to being scrupulous in what goes into our mouth, to separating as much as possible from the pleasures of food in the higher levels.

    Perhaps when the Alter of Slobodka is talking about pleasure as a path of Teshuva it is when our pleasure is directed towards Hashem. Beginning with the reason for having the eating pleasure, through the Brocha, through the actual taste experience, through the meal with it’s Divrei Torah, through the after brocha.

    At its essence, food connects the body and the soul. If you don’t eat for a while you’ll feel faint, go a little longer and you’ll pass out, a little longer and you’ll die and your soul will leave your body.

    Rabbi Tatz points out that it’s the food of the Mizbeach in the Beit Hamikdash which connects the entire world to the upper spiritual worlds.

  31. To beat a dead horse.

    Why is it automatically presumed by everyone here that the increased sanctity of the Nazir derives from his asceticism in not drinking wine? True that is undeniably one component but whose to say that his inability to empathize and mourn (based on inability to become rituallu impure), or his diminished self-image (based either on his unkempt hariness or subsequent baldness) are equally contributory to his elevated k’dusha=sanctity/spirituality?

    The way I read the P’sukim it is more about the hair than the wine abstention.

    Why is it so matter-of-fact that the stricter the diet the holier the individual?

  32. BD mad a good distinction before between chumra (adopting a stricter halchic opinion as practice) and mili d’chasidus (going above and beyond the call of duty in a pietistic sense).

    About the former the Kotzker Rebbe taught dehr vuss preevt yoytsay tzu zein l’chol hadeos… iz nuhr yoytzay m’daatoi=”he who attempts to fulfill all opinions (minds) suceeds only in going out of his mind!”

  33. I must confess that I find this whole thread somewhat disheartening. I know that Ron gave the caveat that he is using CY just by way of example but throughout the thread it is axiomatic that stringencies in diet automatically equate to “spiritual” growth.

    Chazal tell us that “a person ought not say ‘I cannot stomach swine flesh’ rather he ought to say ‘I’d very much like swineflesh but what can I do? The Torah prohibits it!'” IOW the connection between our diet and ur morality/spirituality is rather nebulous and in the realm of “chok”. Why aren’t we considering additional piety in lashon hara and desisting from speeech that might be allowable according to some poskim? Why aren’t we considering donating more than maaser (up to 1/5) to tsedaka? Why not question (if we are in business) that we ease up on our competitors and drop some din Torahs even when the law is on our side?

    If we gave 1/10 as much consideration to what emantes from our mouths as we do to waht goes into our mouths this world would be a far happier, and more kosher, place.

  34. The Alter of Slobodka argues that the essence of Teshuva is Shabbos (same shoresh), and the essence of Shabbos is Oneg, so the way to teshuva is via pleasure in the physical world, in all of the permitted ways that “oneg shabbos” connotes.

    everyone is familiar with the part of tefilas zakkah where we forgive all who offended us and hope that they do the same.

    Are you familiar with the part where we confess to “pleasures taken not on Shabbos and Yom Tov”?

    How do you square this with the Slabodka teaching?

  35. Mark, “a synonym for a Tzadik”? Why would the MB ever write that such-and-such is an appropriate halachic approach for a Baal Nefesh if it meant that? No tzaddik considers himself a tzaddik, including, I am sure, RHS.

    I always understood the term to mean someone who has high spiritual ambition. It is surely a subjective test, but my point is that it is one to which the individual is invited to submit himself.

  36. Mark-I have heard RHS emphasize many times that not everyone is cut out to be or should assume that he is a Baal Nefesh-which he understood to be a synonym for a Tzadik, as opposed to the average FFB Ben or Bas Torah or BT.

  37. I didn’t really mean to get a whole discussion going about chumros. My narrow question, for what it’s worth, was whether a sincere frum Jew in the position of making certain choices should or should not consider personal pleasure and desire when making those choices. A few commenters here did get that.

    DK, you do mean heterim as opposed to kulos, right? What are some examples of what you mean?

  38. RE Mark’s comment 33,
    Of course when the Chofetz Chaim says that, he is saying that according to him, the din is that you can be lenient but it is better to be machmir. But also, he is usually indicating that according to some earlier authorities the din is like the machmir opinion. So in the end, there are probably not that many things about which we can say that they are clearly chumros according to everyone.

  39. I think one of the issues that seems to be coming out is exactly what is a chumra? Is there a normative halacha in a community and from that norm we define what is a chumra or a kulah.

    I read online that there are about 20 times where the Chofetz Chaim says in the Mishna Berurah that a Baal Nefesh should be Machmir. Those instances are clearly Chumras. But for the other thousands of cases, what is the halacha.

    I highly recommend this article on the rules for determining halacha.

  40. The yekke community, as I have been told, is very makpid on CY, so R’ Schwab may have felt this person was breaching a yekke’she norm.

    BTW, the heter of “Chalav Stam” was not a novelty introduce by Rav Moshe. The Chazon Ish permits it and the heter goes back as far as R’ Yonasan Eibshutz.

    As far as chumros go in general. There is a story with Rav Hutner. A student approached him that he wanted to grow a beard but was afraid it would interfere with his work. Rav Hutner told him he has to decide if it is an Esrog or Mayim Acharonim. One has to evaluate one’s behavior in context of how they relate to the issue in general.

  41. Yeah, of course chalav Yisroel is preferable according to Reb Moshe. I was in Tiferes Yerushalayim about 15 years ago (way after the advent of plentiful chalav stam all over NY) and there was a small container of chalav stam milk sitting out in the coffee area. I don’t think that Rav Dovid Feinstein necessarily put it there, but he for sure didn’t throw it out!

  42. Michoel, I’m not sure everybody agrees with that. Some understand Rav Moshe’s teshuva as a heter and where Chalav Yisroel is readily available it should be keep as the normative halacha.

  43. Bob,
    It is not at all possible that Rav Schwab held himself able to argue on the etzem din with Reb Moshe. I mention it this because those that keep Chalav Stam need to know that they are keeping the halacha according to the posek hador, and there is no pikpuk, at least here in the US.

  44. Possibly, Rav Feinstein ZT”L and Rav Schwab ZT”L differed all along in their basic psak regarding permissible milk, and there was no chumra issue whatsoever.

  45. Steg 13,
    Many decisions that parents make create obligations for their children. Not sure why that, by itself, should be problematic.

    Happens that I keep Chalav Yisroel and allow my children to eat Chalav Stam. It is a very good arrangement in that it allows them to eat at all their friends’ houses without making the friends feel bad and without making my children feel superior. It allows them to feel that their father is noheg a stricter degree of observance than what he asks of them, also very positive. And it is good for me also, consistent with my outlook and yeshiva back ground.

  46. E, I am not advocating either side of the CY issue here, but I have to admit I can’t resist responding to a couple of points you made:

    Yes, I in fact do consume chalav stam products — although the post was not about me.

    Notwithstanding what is available in the grocery store in our neighborhood, I mainly sleep in our neighborhood; most of my weekdays are spent in other neighborhoods, including from time to time, because of my work, places that have virtually no kosher food or kosher people.

    Having said that, my personal experience, frankly, is that CY products are really overpriced and the milk goes sour as soon as I open it. I felt that I was being exploited during a certain period when I endeavored to buy CY where it was available even though I was not strict about the matter. I decided to stop being exploited.

    I did not have any occasion to speak to Rav Schwab zt”l about that issue nor was he my rav, nor did he have the opportunity to consider my situation in all its aspects when the friend of mine you refer to was before him. Everyone has anecdotes about what great rabbonim have said about this and man other topics. Why is this one any more compelling than the rest?

    I am not interested in discussion of whether or not I was personally motivated by a desire for non-CY products when I made my decision. I was asking the question as a general proposition. CY was merely an example. The question, really, can be applied to any number of issues. Cheers!

  47. EPA18,
    It is not the main substance of your post but I think it should be addressed:
    I highly doubt Rav Schwab was suggesting that Reb Moshe would have held differently nowadays. Chalav Yisroel was already very accessible in the last decades of Reb Moshe’s life (in the NY area). Rav Schwab may have been indicating simply that this person was one who should be makpid.

  48. Ron, you asked, “Do I say, ‘I am allowed to do it halachically, so why make Yiddishkeit harder than it has to be?.’ Or do I say, ‘Considerations of physical pleasure should not affect my avodas Hashem’?”

    A friend of yours in your community was once in the apartment of the late Rabbi Shimon Schwab, ztl. When Rov Schwab heard that the individual did not keep cholov yisroel he became quite agitated, and asked “How could you not keep cholov yisroel!!!” Surely, Rov Schwab knew all about Reb Moshe’s position on the issue. But times had changed, and the easy availability of cholov yisroel products in the New York area no doubt caused Rov Schwab to believe that Reb Moshe might have held differently nowadays, at least for those in the NY/NJ area. Surely the individual involved enjoyed his haagen-dazs at the time, but he did change and ever since has been keeping cholov yisroel. We all made sacrifices on our way to becoming frum. But how often do you stop and think (at this point), “Boy, what I would do right now for a good lobster bisque?” It’s probably the same with taking on something like cholov yisroel. With the passage of time, the desire for non-cholov yisroel products wanes, especially when you – Ron – have a wonderful kosher supermarket in your town, which carries numerous cholov yisroel products, the quality of which, over the years, has definitely improved.

  49. Bas – you’ve touched on a raw nerve! No question that when some people place “pieties before people”, as an earlier post put it, people suffer. But that shouldn’t be construed to mean that the pieties are wrong in themselves, nor that if this mother would have dropped them then her kid would have been ok. She apparently hung on to these chumras as an expression of her neurosis in childraising. Just like some people will “cling to their belief in religion”, as per an up-n-coming pres. canditate, out of economic woes. This doesn’t invalidate the religion!

    Steve Brizel — thanx for that drush. Helpful

  50. I would just like to say something about taking on chumros. I have a friend who has many children, one of which became a kid at risk and gave her alot of aggravation. Acting up, kicked out of school, the works. So she went on and on telling me how could this happen, how could G-d do this to her, she keeps cholov yisroel and pas yisroel and yoshon, plus doesn’t read goyish books on shabbos. She felt “here I am, keeping all these chumros, and now G-d does this to me!” It really bothered her.
    my family personally buys mostly cholov yisroel stuff, but we didn’t take it on as it makes it hard when we visit family in areas where you can’t get cholov yisroel.

  51. Ron – here’s some straight advice:

    a – if you’re only talking about yourself (a single person living alone), then the fact you have a ta’ava (desire) for the possibly-to-be-restricted item/product/activity is indeed a consideration. If you have a very great desire, then you’re going to put yourself into a position of battling a desire for an optional reward. Because you may fail, you have the potential to bring negative feelings and feedback that may damage your religious practice. All for an optional activity. If your desire is not so great (hey, I love Ben and Jerry’s, but Kleins is adequate kind of thing, I’ll miss B&J but it’s not a crushing blow to my life), then taking on the chumra (modern terminology usage) is very reasonable and a good path to growth.

    b – If this involves a chumra that will impact more than just you, especially if are married, even more so if with children, then the chumra should only be considered if your wife fully agrees (and depending on their ages, in particular post-bar/bat mitzvah, the children as well). Otherwise you’ll sow discord in the family, damaging shalom bayis (a mitzvah d’oraysa) for a chumra. This is a serious religious error.

    Mark – you pose a different question. Modern kashrus relies greatly on trust and consequences. When an organization makes a serious error or, G-d forbid, intentional violation, they lose that trust. It is not a chumra to avoid such a place, it’s common practice and simply wise given current kashrus methods. That said, if the place had a change in management and/or improvement in supervision, and the choice was again a shalom bayis issue with the spouse, biting your tongue and going there for the sake of your wife is fine. Giving in to the children on such an issue is another matter (not recommended, standards must remain strong for children, not overly bendable).

  52. I would suggest that chumros depend on the halachic issue involved and whether the Poskim view it as an area that has been the subject of Chumros or Kulos throughout the generations, as opposed to what appeals to a person. I heard R M Rosensweig explain based upon the Rambam in Hilcos Nedarim and Hilcos Deos based on a Gemara in Chulin that chumros are necessary when a person has to bend himself or herself back to get back to normal. That may be why Chazal were so insistent on Mehadrin Min HaMehadrin after the Greeks and their Hellenist sympathizers defiled the Mikdash, thus offering an answer to why Chazal rejected the applicability of such halachos as Tumaah Hutrah Btzibur.

  53. “This was pointed out to us in Yeshiva High School when we learned an Aggadah about sages so pious that they would not even touch themselves while going to the bathroom. ”

    B-d, If you look in the beginning of the Shulchan Aruch/Mishneh Berurah, you’ll see that this is brought down as the stam halacha. Now perhaps later poskim have ruled otherwise and a case can probably be made that your Rebbe advised you wisely for your situation.

  54. You can’t consider the person in isolation. A lot depends on the halachic or beyond-the-letter-of-halachic path being followed in the person’s neighborhood or community, either at the direction or suggestion of the local posek or because of local tradition.

    Some follow the local chumrot not to take any personal stand, but to fit in.

  55. Ron Coleman (post #7):
    Rav Dessler talks about the “spring mechanism” of contained-but-not-yet-mastered impulses – the more you compress a spring, the more it resists.

    The Yetzer Hara hates to be ignored more than anything else. He often uses chumrot to keep you enmeshed with an issue that you really should be killing/shrinking with benign neglect.

    This was pointed out to us in Yeshiva High School when we learned an Aggadah about sages so pious that they would not even touch themselves while going to the bathroom. Our Rebbe cautioned us not to take on such chumros in the mistaken notion that this would help us in our youthful struggles with sexual urges. In fact such a chumra would have kept us preoccupied with just that topic.

  56. So far, the discussion has conflated two very different things called “humrot”:

    1) Classical “Nazir” / Mussar Construct: a chumra is a temporary stringency undertaken for a specific goal of spiritual growth – to recalibrate or (re)sensitize oneself to a specific physical/behavioral issue. It is not desireable to remain in the extreme behavior overmuch.

    2) Sloppy Modern Construct: “chumra” as in “machmir” – that is, choice/acceptance of a halachic ruling from the more stringent end of the range of halachic opinion. This then becomes normative, long-term behavior for the person.

    Many differences between the two – the former is highly individual and “not normal” by design, the latter validly includes consideration of communal norms in addition to the individual’s opinion – yet must be livable for the individual long-term.

  57. What if there is a really great restaurant which was caught selling treif a number of times under different managements.

    Now there is a new management, but many people are being machmir and not trusting the kashrus any more even though there is a normally acceptable hechsher for the restaurant. Do you have the right to be machmir and deprive your children of this wonderful restaurant food?

  58. It’s also important to take other people into account — if you happen to prefer the taste of חלב שראה ישראל חליבתו over the taste of חלב הקאמפאניעס, and you decide to take it on as a hhumra — could you be defining a family minhag and depriving your children of options, if they don’t happen to have the same taste as you do?

  59. I once heard Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l say that Judaism is like Yaakov’s ladder. You need to reach for the heights but you can’t jump steps. Taking on a chumra needs to be something that fits with who you are. You shouldn’t jump rungs.

    ANother point: I think that long before you ask a rabbi about which chumra you should or shouldn’t be taking on, you need to ask YOURSELF the same question. I don’t think there are rabbis who have ruach hakodesh nowadays.

    You need to weigh how much the lack of enjoyment is going to get in the way of your simchas hachayim. People too often think it’s a mitzva to be stoic. Well it is a mitzva to accept things God deals us, but it’s a really big mitzva to be happy with your life of mitzvos.

    So think and think some more. You might be able to handle the chumra, and your rabbi might say go for it, but perhaps you shouldn’t have asked for it in the first place. And it might not be the rabbi’s fault, it might just be yours!

  60. I think that in areas of chumras, people need to take into consideration their personal tastes, proclivities, tolerance levels, etc. Even if one’s Rav knows them very well, there are still things that he will not or cannot know about a person. On a side note, when taking on chumras, it’s important to make sure that taking on a chumrah doesn’t lead to slackening in halachah. A person only has a certain amount of koach.

  61. If it’s a BT who is considering a new chumra, perhaps the rav could also help the BT analyze what de facto chumras the BT has already accepted on him/herself, as a product of whichever biased kiruv system the BT went through. (see chart from post on Groups within Orthodoxy)

    In general, I would think that there needs to be a very strong reason to accept upon oneself a new chumra — the example from chumash is the nazir who must bring a chatas because the deprivation of one’s permitted pleasure in this world is like a chet. From my experience, the usual reason is neurosis or self-delusion of some kind that it’s a more spiritual way to live. Maybe in some religions, but not Judaism.

    Ron – 1) Recalibrating one’s relationship with a physical pleasure is among the major reasons for mitzvot –

    “Recalibrating” needs to be defined. I would prefer something along the lines of “enhanced appreciation” (for Hashem, the world He created, etc.) The Alter of Slobodka argues that the essence of Teshuva is Shabbos (same shoresh), and the essence of Shabbos is Oneg, so the way to teshuva is via pleasure in the physical world, in all of the permitted ways that “oneg shabbos” connotes.

  62. Ron, do you advocate the same open-mindedness towards heters as you for chumras? Beyond BT staff, feel free to answer that question.

  63. Ron Coleman wrote:
    I’m saying the mixed motivation is no mystery. Do I say, “I am allowed to do it halachically, so why make Yiddishkeit harder than it has to be?”. Or do I say, “Considerations of physical pleasure should not affect my avodas Hashem”?
    – – – – – – – – – – –
    1) Recalibrating one’s relationship with a physical pleasure is among the major reasons for mitzvot – and for acceptance of chumrot.

    So it’s already a “consideration” isn’t it?

    2) To my taste, your formulation smacks uncomfortably of a non-Jewish type of monastic denial of “the flesh’.

    One can validly ask “will denying myself set me up for a yetzer-hara sucker-punch by making me feel deprived and driving my attention towards the thing I am denying myself?”

  64. I really disagree with you, BD. I like being treated like an adult. Many BT’s, I think, are addicted to “asking.” But that’s really not the issue I’m raising here.

  65. In my experience the “decide for yourself” line is often just that – a line recited at the end of a “consultation” that reinforced the considerable social pressure surrounding many chumra decisions nowadays.

    Often the Rav being consulted already adheres to – and may be actively promoting – the stringency under discussion.

    It’s also a bit of a copout – if this is one’s “mashpi’ah” then they should be able to give a definite opinion about whether accepting the humra is a positive step at this time.

  66. I’m saying the mixed motivation is no mystery. Do I say, “I am allowed to do it halachically, so why make Yiddishkeit harder than it has to be?”. Or do I say, “Considerations of physical pleasure should not affect my avodas Hashem”?

  67. You have to thoroughly understand your own motivations. This is an area where mussar study can help. You also have to factor in the likely effects of your decision on those around you.

  68. Well if you don’t enjoy the taste why would it be a chumra. You obviously have to consider the fact that you will be “giving something up”.

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