Chumras in Perspective

A couple of weeks ago in my Gemorah shiur we got into an aside about Chumras. The Rabbe mentioned that he had once been approached by a gentleman who was asking for Tzedeka to help him buy a set of Tefillin for his grandson. As the discussion unfolded it turned out that this grandfather was seeking assistance in buying a $1500 set of Tefillin! The Rebbe, originally inclined to assist, declined to contribute. He said that it’s one thing to help with a mitzvah, but this gentleman should not be asking others to support his chumra.

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine shared a D’var Torah with me at a Shalom Zachor. It was around Parshat Vayakel. He started by posing the question, “What was the difference between the Keilim (vessels) that were in the Beit Hamikdash vs those in the Mishkan”? The answer is that in the Mishkan there was only one of each vessel and they were smaller than the ones in the Beit Hamikdash. This was so in spite of the fact that the B’nei Yisrael offered Moshe enough to have larger and multiple vessels in the Mishkan. In fact the B’nai Yisrael were offering so much of their possessions that Moshe had to tell them to stop. Why did he stop them? Surely, he knew that their destiny was to build a Temple large enough to accommodate whatever they wanted give. The answer given was that since the Mishkan was portable and carried by men, Moshe did not want the B’nai Yisrael to think that they could satisfy their desire to do extra (be Machmir) on their brothers’ backs.

The message seems clear. As much as we may desire to go above and beyond in our service to Hashem we must always balance this desire against its affect on those around us. Even when dealing in areas of normative halacha there is room to be lenient when it comes to issues of Shalom Bayis and Darche Shalom. How much more so must we be careful when dealing with that which is not required of us. Whether BT or FFB (and sometimes this can even be harder for FFBs) we can be faced with people, situations and environments that are not always, shall we say, receptive of our latest “development”.

Though so much in our observance seems black and white, this is one area where we can really modulate our observance to fit the environment. A kashrut Chumra, for example, which might work well in our kitchen, may prove to be onerous in our parents’ kitchen. One that works well in the New York Metro area might be really hard for the kids to keep while on vacation in Orlando. Something that makes sense in our community might be ridiculously out of place in our grandparents’ condo.

I guess another way to look at this is to weigh our desire to do a chumra against the chumra of being extra sensitive to those around us; whether they are spouses, children, parents, friends, or colleagues.

About a year ago I posted a piece about my teenage daughter’s decision to adopt a couple of chumras of her own when she was 14. One of them was to stop going to the movies. At the time, I wrote back to her that I was proud of her growth and a hope that she would, “… also know that Frumkeit is not just on the outside, but also the type of person you are and how you represent Yiddishkeit to other Jews and even non-Jews.”

A few years later, after we had moved to Israel, my daughter went back to the states for a visit. There, she spent a few days with my father. There’s not all that much for a not-so-mobile 70 something man and teenage girl to do down on the Jersey shore. My father suggested they go to a movie and my daughter, understanding the nuances of the situation, agreed. She did not “fall off the wagon” nor was she giving into some deep seated urge to see a flick. She maturely assessed that her chumra need not be carried on my father’s back.

My daughter’s ability to put her chumra in perspective showed me that, not only had she become “frum” on the outside, but that she had integrated her Frumkeit in a way that made her both a better Jew and a better person. That, I believe, is the essence of what our Rebbe was saying to us and what Moshe Rabeinu was saying to B’nei Yisroel.

60 comments on “Chumras in Perspective

  1. Chevreh – I don’t know how many are still interested in this thread, but I have an amazing real-time little story to share that sheds much light on the inherent challenges in doing the “Chumra Culture” right. It’s length is probably more appropriate for an independent post, but its relevance is definately to this discussion… so I hope a few will take the time to think it out with me here.

    It’s actually two recent incidents in which I found that my passion for truth threw me against the ropes of chumraism, each one missing the spirit of what true Halachic piety is all about:

    1) Re. my eldest son’s recent marriage into a respected ffb chassidic family.

    We knew this particular branch of the family had some “modern leanings” and that my son was respectively a big catch for them in that he has a reputation for being amongst the most capable and more devoted of the community. Yet this girl also had a rep for especially fine qualities and desire to grow and had indicated in the shidduchim that she wants to follow his lead in a number of chumras.

    Boker tov! After the wedding we find that her shaitel (wig) and some of her wardrobe is quite modern. While my wife wears dignified snoods and dresses a calm conservative, and we knew the Kallah wouldn’t be doing exactly the same, we still believed as per the aforementioned that she’d veer from her mother and dress a bit more tsanua, as per the known criterian for the “chassidic ideal”.

    Aye-aye-aye. My kishkes cramped, tho I kept telling myself she had so many more important qualities. Then, while I knew I should keep the dilemma to myself, it slipped out in a chat with my son.

    His position: “Abba you’re right and it bothers me too, but truly she’s got so much more great qualities to her than this issue, which is really just a matter of habit, that I believe I should not say anything until she asks and it naturally and uncritically comes out what I’d prefer.

    Now isn’t THAT an ideal way for an ultra-ultra to behave?

    2) a certain, very fine BT who frequents our Shabbos table just got engaged, right before his plans to return abroad. The whole family was thrilled. I went to buy him a little gift and penned a card for him “from your mishpocha in Jerusalem”. I then asked my wife and kids to all add their names.

    My near-18 yr old daughter said “Abba, I can’t do that! He has no business thinking of me as someone seperate from the family.”

    Whoa! “This was going too far,” I wailed. “Be NORMAL. A little Derech Eretz! I’m just asking you to add your name, UNDER that of your parents, to let him know that he really has a special place in the heart of the entire family.”

    She quitely held her ground. My wife understood us both. I asked the Rosh Yeshiva. He also said we’re both right, but that she’s MORE right! It’s a chumra that she’s imbibed from her education and if she’s really holding there it should be supported.

    I stand defeated! The fine art of keeping chumras is just that: very fine. It takes time and insider-experience to get it right.

  2. Yes, Charlie, Rabbonim are a wonderful resource for such precarious decisions… in principle. One just has to be careful that the Rav really knows his stuff. It’s one of the big secrets of successful Baal-Teshuvaness: Knowing who to ask and when.

    Believe me, I know a number of substantial stories where very respected Rabbonim misuse their expertise. Similarly there are far too many times that newbies set them up!

    And then there’s, of course, the hashkafa agendas, wherein well meaning Rabbonim see these questions as means for furthering their holy hashkafa and not necessarily helping the individual.

    Bob, I’m glad you clarified what you meant by “thinking.” It was misleading.

    Now what about Ben-David’s issues? In this new spirit of “6 commandments of good blogging”, how ’bout reformulating your gripes with the “Chumra Culture”?

  3. “Which should trump?”

    Isn’t that when we should be consulting with our rabbis?

    Mine have encouraged me to go out of my way to be hospitable to my (non-observant) family as long as no actual issur is involved, and to politely explain where my limits lie.

  4. YY,

    “Thinking” to me means a committed Orthodox Jew, not someone who’s an ignoramus or apikoros because of upbringing, personal choice, or whatever.

  5. and btw, doesn’t the conflict of our author precisely revolve around this same issue? Refraining from watching movies, certainly the uncensored type, comes out of concern for k. Yisroel, whereas keeping grandpa entertained is a matter of a. Yisroel. Which should trump?

    It really depends on how much the kdusha is being threatened vs the ahava being needed, no?

  6. What does “allow” mean here, Bob?

    If a “thinking Jew” chooses to be machmir in his apikorsis, does that also qualify for our tolerance? Let’s say like someone who genuinely is trying to keep faithful to Torah, but concludes that the borphetic concept about being a light onto the nations necessitates stripping ourselves of all that sets us apart from them and focussing on that which spiritually empowers… Should we allow for this too??

    Coming out of Par. Pinchas, we’re all probably sensitive to the issue of when / how to activate kinaus (religious zealousness), and I’m certainly not advocating it here in any form close to what that tsaddik gamur and malach H’ achieved. But the ESSENCE of kinaus
    is something part of the package of observing Torah.

    One might even call it the Mitzvah of being machmir for kdushas Yisroel over ahavas Yisroel.

  7. There’s always a fine line between righteousness and self-righteousness. The thinking Jew who has chosen to adopt or reject a particular chumra has to allow for other thinking Jews making decisions opposite to his.

  8. I’ll try once more to further this dialogue. So far two of my comments somehow disappeared! I do hope the administrators will help us use these tense formats as opportunities for real ah’ yisroel, which is not only to be nice but to constructively problem solve.

    Briefly, I would like to show my support for Charlie’s broad criterion for healthy chumra observance. No question that “machmir out of ignorance” is the soft underbelly of Torah Judaism. Kol sh’ken when it might involve, subconsciously or otherwise, estrangement, condescension or actual condemnation of others.

    At the same time, any serious student of historical Judaism cannot deny that chumras are an integral aspect of the religious experience (see the halchachas on kippa as a “Midas chossidas”!). They MUST be engaged, at one stage (or degree) or another.

    Hence all attempts to strip Judaism of its “chumra culture”, and certainly those which are characterized by bitter and biting animosity, must be streneousy rebutted.

    But again, as Charlie rightly stresses, chumras by definition must involve choice and contextual applicability.

  9. “On the other hand I can understand those that don’t want to take the risk of erring in this area and are machmir not to see any movies.”

    I have been taught that there are a number of good reasons to be machmir in particular issues: Your rabbi’s mesorah may be to be machmir, you wish to take on a stringency to be closer to HaShem, your community may have a standard in a particular area that is beyond the normative halachic requirement, etc., etc. But I have seen nothing that would indicate that there merit to being machmir out of ignorance. I’ve been taught that if we aren’t sure whether something is asur or matir, we are supposed to learn the relevant halachah, reading sources and asking shilahs as necessary, and that being machmir out of doubt is a lazy way out.

  10. “I’ve noticed that political liberals frequently accuse political conservatives of thinking and acting the way they do because of psychological and mental shortcomings or even disorders.”

    I’ve noticed the same phenomena from politically conservative internet blogs and talk shows regarding political liberals. Some of the more prominent right wing pundits are just plain vicious — not a model for good midot.

    I fully admit to being a liberal Democrat, but I decry the idea that everyone who disagrees with me is either pathological, dishonest, or stupid. The one thing that does rub me the wrong way is when someone distorts facts in order to promote a point.

    Similarly, people who hold to chumrot that I don’t aren’t necessarily either crazy or ignorant, and people who hold to leniencies I don’t aren’t necessarily careless with mitzvot.

  11. Just an observation (probably not a good one at that) but the hostility toward the chumras reminds me a bit of the strong concerns we had encountered with some of our family and friends (certainly not all of them) when we became frum (what! you can’t come to our simcha on Saturday, why can’t you think for yourself?!, does this make you better than us?, etc. etc.)

    having said that, the original piece seems to be saying that we can compromise somewhat, if it will help us do other mitzvahs. This seems to be a reasonable approach.

  12. About
    “4. Avoid disparaging or belittling someone’s personal pain or experiences”:

    If someone overgeneralizes from his experiences or information sources so as to demean an entire group, this violates
    “1. Avoid broad brushing entire segments of the torah community”

    This is the process whereby bringing actual experiences into the discussion is turned into a negative, not a positive act. This process has been repeated again and again in this forum regardless of the moderators’ efforts.

    One’s own pain and concern do not give one carte blanche to repeat cruel caricatures of the “other”.

  13. Wow, I find it amazing that Menachem’s post about his daughter’s attempts to reconcile her personal chumra with familial responsibilities and the halachos of kavod have led to, imho, a great deal of venom.

    While I firmly believ e that the discussion that has evolved is an important one, the tone of that discussion is not only unproductive but detrimental to ahavas yisrael. A few guidelines that I think will get us back to the place that we want this blog to be:

    1. Avoid broad brushing entire segments of the torah community;

    2. Avoid the use of onaas devarim (words that cause pain). This includes hyperbolic language and the purposeful use of words that have double meanings;

    3. Speak about the issues, not the person raising the issues;

    4. Avoid disparaging or belittling someone’s personal pain or experiences;

    5. Try to avoid sharp retorts calculated at shooting down the other person while in no way advancing the discussion; and

    6. Be conscious of how your words will effect others. Will they hurt someone, cause them pain, make them angry, discourage them, worry them, embarrass them, depress them?

  14. B-D, I’ll put it simply:

    If you talk with a fist in my face, I won’t listen.

    If you talk like one ehrliche Yid to another, I will.

    Your style has been at odds with communication.

  15. Bob Miller:
    I wanted to draw attention to the problem of using faux psychology as a weapon, and gave a well-known example.
    – – – – – – – – – –
    … and I obviously don’t think describing the Chumra Culture as narcissistic is “faux” psychology, but accurate.

    I’d be happy to hear a refutation of this idea.

    So far all I’ve heard are dismissals.

    And those dismissals themselves evince/confirm a narcissistic pattern of behavior.

  16. Hi, just stopping by to thank everyone for their thoughtful comments.

    While I understand where B-D is coming from (I live on the “front lines” here in Beit Shemesh), my original intent was not to attack chumras per se. It was more to sensitize people with newly adopted chumras to the idea that a chumra is not halacha and therefore one can exercise flexibility in applying them.

    With regard to movies; I find it hard to understand how one can say movies are intrinsically assur or soul damaging. Movies, like so much in our modern society, can be good or bad and it’s our job, if we so choose, to sift out the good from the bad, and admittedly there’s a lot of bad. (Our shul recently had a viewing of two terrific movies; “The Lonely Man of Faith” and Rabbi Wein’s “The Miracle of Israel”) On the other hand I can understand those that don’t want to take the risk of erring in this area and are machmir not to see any movies.

    Regardless, relative the milieu my daughter was in at the time, i.e going with the family on a very rare occasion to see a well researched family movie, her decision not to go to movie theaters was a stringency she took upon herself and not the actualization of an issur.

    While I hear the sentiment of some who say, “why should I have to compromise, let him compromise”, I am reminded of a fundamental principle I learned in driver’s ed back in high school. After we learned all the traffic laws, especially all the different scenarios of who has the right-of-way in what situation, our instructor said this corny yet powerful statement, “Nobody has the right-of-way but everyone can give it.”

    So sure, within reason, the other guy should be tolerant of your stringency, but this is about you, not him. Hopefully, someone out there in the blogosphere is saying the exact same thing to him. Think how pleasant it would be if while I was trying to minimize the impact of my chumra on him he was trying to accommodate me.

  17. …and as to calling Agudas Yisrael pathological—have you no shame, B-D?

    You can make your key points without throwing lit cherry bombs.

  18. B-D opined, “So: yy assumes all non-haredim are compromising on halacha – a typical distortion of the Chumra Culture – and now you assume that all Modern Orthodox are liberals.”

    Not so, since I know many counterexamples personally. However, I wanted to draw attention to the problem of using faux psychology as a weapon, and gave a well-known example.

  19. Bob Miller:
    I’ve noticed that political liberals frequently accuse political conservatives of thinking and acting the way they do because of psychological and mental shortcomings or even disorders.
    – – – – – – – – –
    I am a right winger, both in American and Israeli terms. My family’s path of teshuva coincides with – and was strengthened by – their path from liberalism to neo-conservatism. I’ve lived over 10 years on the West Bank.

    So: yy assumes all non-haredim are compromising on halacha – a typical distortion of the Chumra Culture – and now you assume that all Modern Orthodox are liberals.

    Yet despite these stereotypes, there continues to exist a large, broad mainstream of non-Haredi Torah-true Jews who are not trying to rewrite halacha and have not recast Judaism in liberal terms of social justice.

    They are simply practicing normative halacha instead of normalizing chumra.

    Both hard left and hard right ends of the political/religious spectrum are susceptible to diagnosis of narcissism – because they both are heavily invested in the notion that they alone bear The Truth.

    Thus the Obama campaign and Agudas Yisroel share the same fundamental pathology.

    Here is a conservative (non-Jewish) blogger parsing the role of narcissism in modern social discourse (click around, there are several good articles):

    Anyone with experience of the haredi world will have no problem recalling cases that match the examples cited in these articles.

  20. I’ve noticed that political liberals frequently accuse political conservatives of thinking and acting the way they do because of psychological and mental shortcomings or even disorders. The idea that the latter can think and act based on a set of established, legitimate principles is dismissed out of hand. I’m hoping we can restrain ourselves from trying that specious line of thought against any group of Orthodox Jews.

  21. My friend, B-D (yes, I do pick up a kindredness of soul that believe could be cultivated positively), I’ve taken a moment to glance back over here, tho don’t have the time to immediately address your points (we’re in the middle of 7-brochos for our son, bla”h). Still I want to note before this thread might get too fractious that I hear your request for substantially addressing your issues and I will, G”W, do so in the near future.

    In the meantime, part of your above attack is based on an unfortunate BBT timelap. I had written my comment #30 BEFORE your comment #29 appeared.

    Also, may I suggest you think again about your accusations of “clinical narcissism” in how I suggest possibilities of subconcious motives in what you write in light of the very intensely judgmental tone and vocabulary you use?

    May the follow-ups be an opportunity for us both to model the kind of mature problem solving between different shades of religiosity in which we so deeply believe.

  22. yy wrote:
    Ellen (15) said it well:
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    I’m sure she did – and I’m sure her somewhat guilt-ridden formulation suits your perspective better than my own.

    But that doesn’t mean you can substitute her words/opinion for mine in constructing your MO straw man.

    Do you see how doing that – claiming to know better than me what I think – confirms my description of the narcissistic projection at the core of the Chumra Culture?

    so when you write:
    B-D needs to ask himself what really is it about his chareidi comrades in secularly educated professions that irks him so.
    – – – – – – – – – – –
    … I’ve already described what bothers me. Could you address those points – which are repeated by many observers of the haredi world, and not just me?

    and when you write:
    Or have they perhaps come to a different conclusion than him about the purpose of life being something bigger than streamlined religious observance?
    – – – – – – – – –
    1) “Streamlined observance” is your own straw-man construction. We’ve discussed this before.

    2) When I described my friends as “wistful” about how things have turned out – that means that many of them REGRET how things have turned out.

    But they feel trapped, unable to change or leave their environments.

    Several of them are distinctly apologetic to me in explaining some of the chumrot that now delimit their lives – hastening to explain that it is not their choice, but a communal standard.

    They are equally apologetic – and sometimes express to me their frustration – at their inability to publicly espouse certain ideas that their intellectual background leads them to believe.

    Several have expressed their fears about their children’s financial futures when American grandparents are gone and American-educated parents must support them all.

    … and then there are those who engage in the same sort of condescension/triumphalism that you do, yy. I don’t count these folks among my friends – but I encounter them frequently among my coworkers and other haredi acquantainces. And similar tendencies in my haredi sibling and in-law have seriously strained our family.

    The ones who – again duplicating the patterns of clinical narcissism! – reinterpret other’s behavior in ways that bolster their scenario of knowing better, and being better.

    People who reject criticism, or the very positing of alternate Halachic paths, as a dangerous threat to their fragile sense of superiority.

    People who, as you say, cannot distinguish between “questioning, pricking and insulting”.

    so when you write:
    I think B-D’s pain is real and his experiences substantial.
    – – – – – – – – –
    Could you please address them, then, instead of explaining them away with the ludicrous, condescending ruse of knowing better than me how guilt-ridden I am?

  23. “And perhaps, recipricoly…”

    Chaiim — there are no chareidim here badgering the MO’s at every opportunity!

    I think B-D’s pain is real and his experiences substantial. They are worthy of our giving him opportunities to formulate his complaints in an intelligible and pointed manner. However, as has been pointed out in this forum a number of times, there’s a fine but very distinct line between questioning, pricking and insulting.

    All too often he does the latter.

    I agree, btw, that there are many relevant lessons to be learned in Parshas Pinchas.

  24. From these exchanges, it seems people can be inordinately sensitive to beliefs and practices they don’t share. This oversensitivity can be voiced as a form of altruism (I don’t want them to be subjected to that) or as a desire to be free of entanglements with the others and their weird ways. If Group A is constantly irking Group B and vice-versa, while A & B are both Orthodox Jews, it’s time for a truce. We can put our emotional intensity and competitive spirit to better use.

  25. B-D needs to ask himself what really is it about his chareidi comrades in secularly educated professions that irks him so.

    Perhaps. And perhaps, recipricoly, chareidim need to ask ourselves what really is it about MOs in secularly educated professions that irks us so. I’m suspicious of those who say l’kovod Shabbos kodesh before each spoonful of food on Shabbos and I’m equally suspicous of those who are convinced that every negative feeling they bear towards a fellow Jew is predicated on their zelous jealousy for HaShem’s honor.

    Remember that for every kohen descended from Pinchos there are two desended from Elazar and Ithamar!

  26. Is that what you and Chaim G. are espousing?

    moi???? I don’t get it. Re-read my comments on this thread. I’m (basically) on your side! Comment 28 was meant to be supportive. However, your “tsushtel” to Messianists was an even better retort.

  27. Ellen (15) said it well:

    “It would make my life easier if the Goldsteins would drop their chumrah so I don’t have to feel guilty, judged, etc.”

    B-D needs to ask himself what really is it about his chareidi comrades in secularly educated professions that irks him so. Are they ALL simply negligent in providing their children with the same economic and intellectually-stimulating oppiortunities as they had? Do they ALL simply lack the supreme pshychological health that B-D prides himself in?

    Or have they perhaps come to a different conclusion than him about the purpose of life being something bigger than streamlined religious observance? And if so, as Ellen suggests, is he sure that his constant badgering of such people is not really a battle with his own conscience?

  28. are you more upset about their life choices than they themselves are?
    – – – – – – – – – – –
    You can ask them – but please don’t use a rhetorical ruse to deny me my own quite valid opinion about a communal phenomenon. I am sure many Habad “Messianiacs” are not troubled at all by their position – yet many others feel quite strongly that there is a problem.

    It’s amusing to see the “I’m OK with it” argument used to defend haredization – usually this amoral argument is put forth by liberals who have no moral code beyond what feels good to the individual. Is that what you and Chaim G. are espousing?

    I’m certainly “upset” when the Chumra Culture impacts me directly or indirectly.

    Directly as in:

    – being constrained by my sibling’s mounting chumra observance when I make a simcha, or invite them to my house, and feeling sorrow at the emotional distance that their narcissistic use of chumro-based one-upmanship has produced in our family life.

    – sharing my friends’ own wistfulness about the intellectual breadth and curiosity that once was part of their lives, and now is not part of their or their childrens’ lives.

    (I think a lot of them became frum in a certain English-speaking BT milieu and didn’t realize that the larger haredi world was much different. Or they didn’t realize that their children would not have the same resources/education as they did. Or they’ve been blindsided by the mounting exremism of the haredi world.)

    Indirectly as in:
    – wondering who will pay for all these unemployable haredi young people (likely me as an Israeli tazpayer) and having to discuss this with my sons and field questions from non-religious Jews.

    – pain as a Jew seeing the inevitable corruption of values in the haredi world that comes from a society based on handouts and gimmes. And pain at the consequent chillul haShem and political divisiveness – which distance many secular Jews from their faith.

    And again – I am entitled to all these – my personal experiences, and conclusions from them – whether or not my haredi/haredized friends see the problems, or agree with me about their cause.

  29. I’m sure they’re not upset at all. At least not on a conscious level.

    It’s their unsuspecting children that B-D is worried about.

    For them it was not a matter of choice. Good or bad.

  30. Bob Miller:
    How many such people in what you called the “Chumra Culture” do you actually know, B-D?
    – – – – – – – – – – – –
    My wife and I – both of BT background – have seen at least 1/3 of our friends slide into the charedi world, in addition to one of our siblings.

    In my work (Israeli hi-tech) a good portion of the religious people I meet are BTs who live off their secular education while letting themselves be drawn into a world in which those opportunities will be closed to their own children.

    Some of these people have been wistfully apologetic about their submission to Charedi culture – and the diminished intellectual/life opportunities they are giving their children. Some have been quite vocal in their insistence that they now posses “the Truth” – obviously a comforting/intoxicating position to be in.

    Several of these friends and family have used Chumra Culture as an emotional support and social lever in the way I have described in this and other posts.

    My observations are confirmed by those of other mainstream Orthodox bloggers.

  31. Why should there be a halachic difference between Chumra and hidur mitzva? I believe this is an erroneous assumption. Otherwise, would one be able to ask tzedaka to buy, say, a silver esrog box? a nicer talis? a prettier sukkah? Rather, for both hidur and chumra, be moser nefesh only your OWN nefesh!

    BTW, congratulations on your daughter’s good sense in correctly understanding her obligations in kibud av and bein adam lachaveiro.

  32. c.b. thank you for your comment. Very well stated.

    One that works well in the New York Metro area might be really hard for the kids to keep while on vacation in Orlando.

    I think that a better way to get the point across would be: One that works well in the New York Metro area might be really hard for the kids to keep if they decide to live in “xxxxtown” to do Kiruv.

  33. B-D said,
    “People raised in a society in which newlyweds expect a whole laundry list of perks, feel entitled to use Other People’s Money for chumra purposes.”

    How many such people in what you called the “Chumra Culture” do you actually know, B-D? Or is this another reflection on a social group you know of only through hearsay, blogs, Jewish media or other indirect means?

    I would like you to pay attention to the laws of lashon hara. No need to be machmir, just a bit less meikal.

  34. Regarding movies and hidur mitzvot, I remembered that the movie “Ushpizin” is in part about an unusually beautiful — and extremely expensive — etrog!

  35. Several posters have focused on the what you might call the “donor’s dilemma” in the situation.

    But what about the other perspective:

    What am I permitted to request of others?

    This is to me the more interesting question, which more directly addresses the sense of entitlement that has emerged from the Chumra Culture.

    Chumros are no longer “extra credit” or temporary aids to an individual growth process.

    They are the coin of social interaction.

    People raised in a society in which newlyweds expect a whole laundry list of perks, feel entitled to use Other People’s Money for chumra purposes.

  36. Moshe,

    Wouldn’t it depend on the movie? While I don’t attend very many movies today — there isn’t a lot coming out of Hollywood these days that I’m interested in — there have been a lot of great movies in the past.


    I think Rabbi Riskin was making the point that I *don’t* have to check to see if my Shabat hosts hold by my own minhagim — that I can rely on the kulos of my host as long as he is shomer Shabat. I remember the first time I ever hosted the rabbi who is now my posek for a Shabat meal. I expected him to inquire what hechshers I used; instead he gave me a grilling as to how I reheated cooked food on Shabat!

    My wife and I don’t take on a lot of kashrut chumrot. The one big chumrah we have taken on is not to sell chametz on Pesach — we get rid of it all by eating or giving it away or trashing it or burning it. But we’d never dream of not eating in the home of someone who holds by mechirat chametz.

  37. Menachem-
    I remember your post about the very sweet letter your daughter wrote you when she decided movies weren’t for her, and I think what you wrote about your daughter here was wonderful. I hope my children will always show such sensitivity and respect for their not-so-frum grandparents. I’d say you should be proud of her, but I’m sure you are :)

  38. Moshe & CB…very nicely stated.

    By the way, if you do want to go to Orlando, there is a very nice glatt kosher restaurant and shul in the heart of the big theme park area of town…

    The problem with the rest of Orlando is that everyone else walks around half dressed. So bring very dark sun glasses, guys. Otherwise, a more appropriate vacation destination might be a good idea.

  39. One that works well in the New York Metro area might be really hard for the kids to keep while on vacation in Orlando.

    Just to stir things up :-)
    Why does a vacation in Orlando trump a kashrus “chumrah”? Who says Orlando has to be (or can be) the destination if one can not maintain one’s level of observance? My friends and I used to go white water rafting (levels 3-4+) – we were a bunch of single girls in our mid to upper twenties, and that level of rapid necessitated a (usually male) guide on each raft and a (skin tight) full body wetsuit because we’d go late april, early may. We justified the guide as “pikuach nefesh” and the same for the suit, but looking back a few years later, I’m not sure we should have gone in the first place.

    On a more serious note, to Mr. Hall who (quoting R’ Riskin) wrote that being shomer shabbos is enough for kashrus: what it I’m a Shomer Shabbos Ashkenazi and a Sefardi wants to eat meat in my house – I believe he can not unless I purchase Bais Yosef Shechitah.
    Or what about something I personally experienced – my Rov hold that unfiltered water in NY is OSSUR – not a chumrah – completely ossur – to the extent that (and yes, we asked) I can not eat the soup at my sibling’s house in BP – which is ironic because they are chassidim and are much more stingent when it comes to certain Kashrus matters than we are, but their Rov/Dayan specifically does not mandate filters so they don’t, not even to accommodate us when we come.

    One final point – just because there’s an allowance for a leniency doesn’t mean actually following halachah as it’s stated is automatically a chumrah.

  40. People, you’re stuck too much to your chumra/kula mentality. Not going to movies is not a chumra, it’s just protecting your soul/psychi from certain damage! It has nothing to do with religion!!! It’s very unhealthy to go to movies even for a goy!!! You could call it a chumra if it were refraining from opening bottles on Shabbos, or wearing thick stockings. But here the teenager is saying “I dont want to sit for two hours like a vegetable while my brain is being stuffed with all kind of nonsence people call entertainment…”

    Regarding going to the movies with grandfather, let’s say it’s like aggreing to eat an extremely unhealthy piece of cake together with chips and coke, which will give you pimples and stay in your kishkes for days, in order to make grandpa happy… Is that the right thing to do? To tell the truth, I don’t know…

    But kol hakavod to the young lady for realizing that movies is poison for the soul. Just don’t tell her it’s a chumra.

  41. I’m beginning to realize that someone else’s chumrah is none of my business unless its consequences is imposed on me. I believe the uproar about chumros comes from others feeling compelled to keep up with the Goldsteins. It would make my life easier if the Goldsteins would drop their chumrah so I don’t have to feel guilty, judged, etc. about not adopting the same chumrah. If I’m comfortable with my level of mitzvah observance, than someone else’s using cholov Yisroel products only, or bowing when saying “Yehai shmai rabbah…” is his/her decision. When I find myself judging, I know I’m uneasy that they’re taking on something that I might have misgivings about. But that’s my problem.

  42. Just for the sake of discussion, what if the collection was for an average priced pair of Rabbenu Tam t’fillin, which the family was noheg to wear?

    That’s a tough one. I think this ones easier:

    Two collectors come to your door, one for Michoel’s cause another to buy a Rashi (first pair) for a student at one of the Russsian Kiruv Yeshivas who’se own parents can’t or won’t buy one for him.

  43. Tzedakah funds have alternative uses. In a given situation, one use may have higher priority than another even though mitzvot are involved in both. There is also a general concept of supporting local Jewish causes before more distant ones, all things being equal. Causes in Israel have a special status of course, because that’s our Land. Among causes in Israel, some have a higher priority than others, too.

    Determining priorities requires some investigation and consultation. What feels best may not be best.

  44. Just for the sake of discussion, what if the collection was for an average priced pair of Rabbenu Tam t’fillin, which the family was noheg to wear?

  45. Chumra’s aside…In my experience, a person’s hashkafos say a lot about him/her. It could, of course, vary from one thing to another, be it kashrus to dress to yeshiva or camp. Most folks are not living the cookie-cutter typecast that some like to claim others do. Still, picturing a frum person standing in line at the movie theatre (assuming you could identify them as a frum person) would make me do a double-take. Not what I would call an inspiring sight…

  46. I believe there is also really a question about the propriety of spending $1500 for the most mehudar tefilin for a bar mitzvah boy in general, unless perhaps — as is not the case here — money is no object.

  47. The givers part in the mitzve of zedaka is to give, not to judge.

    Is that so? As far as I know this applies only on Purim where the halacha says : “Give to all who open their hands”. Otherwise IIRC a cursory review of the laws of Tzedakah demand donors to be very judgmental and discerning. On a common sense level as funds are not unlimited and allocation of scarce resources obtain triaging is in order.

    We are not talking about someone, who takes your zeduke money to the casino – he wants to buy some nice “mehuderdike” pair of tefillin for his grandson! Thats a good thing!

    There are many levels between Tzedakah to the most deserving causes and squandering Tzedakah dollars on drunks and gamblers. But priorities must still be set. The greater question to me is not the judgementalism of the donor but the judgement of the solicitor. He may have wanted the most beautiful of T’filin for his grandchild and, IIRC Halakha demands that he pay up to 1/3 above the price of a standard kosher pair to do so, but lacking his own funds to do so, should others foot the bill?

    IMO there are a number of “charitable” causes today that are really nonsense and only siphon off ever scarcer dollars from the truly needy and worthy. Not to mention the unfortunate presence of charlatan tzedaka collecters.

  48. Nice post and sentiment. Also points to the alarming phenomenon that except for a few dwindling mussar outposts all “growth” and “chumra adopting” seems limited to bein adam l’mokom.

    But if planning compromises/felxibility for the sake of bein adam l’chaveiro one should consult a Rov for the “neder” ramifications. Remeber the line we say erev Rosh haShanah about “Or a good behavior which I accustomed myself to three times and did not say b’li neder“?

  49. Aren’t there guidelines regarding how much extra one is supposed to spend in order to beautify a mitzvah? I’ve heard 20%.

    Rabbi Riskin has written about the importance
    of *NOT* keeping ones own chumrot regarding kashrut in the homes of those who are observant but do not have as many chumrot:

    “The Halakha in the Shulchan Arukh permits one Jew to eat in another Jew’s home as long as he/she is Sabbath-observant; that must be the guide in terms of where we are allowed to eat.”

    ‘On the basis of a Rabbinic discussion in a number of places in the Talmud (B.T. Gittin 2b, 3a and Hullin 10), normative Halakha determines that an observant Jew may eat in any home where the individual responsible for the kitchen is a Sabbath observer. Once he/she observes the Sabbath, he/she becomes an acceptable witness who automatically testifies as to the Kashrut of the home. Note well that the Shulkhan Arukh doesn’t ask that the would-be guest inquire or himself check into the ingredients; the assumption is that the Sabbath observer (a suitable criteria for which is one who does not use electricity on the Sabbath) would be careful about the Laws of Kashrut as well. As my revered Rebbe Rav Soloveitchik zt”l was accustomed to say, “Kashrut is more a matter of reliability (ne’emanut) than it is of truth.” I rely on the Sabbath-observer even though I do not check into all of the products used.’

    He stresses that the unity of the Jewish people should trump all chumrot.

  50. A person may adopt a chumra for strictly (!)personal reasons, because of a family tradition, or because of a tradition followed by his community or prospective community. In the family and community cases, members may be so accustomed to the chumra that they don’t regard it as such.

    The situation is complicated further when a practice that most poskim consider to be a chumra is now held by one or more other poskim to be an absolute requirement. In some cases, your own rav falls into the latter group. Is it safe or proper to go with the majority when your rav is in the minority?

    Spouses may find after marriage that they view a possible chumra (in one of the above categories) in opposite ways, which can cause special complications.

    The comments above apply to halachic leniencies (kulos), too, in much the same way.

  51. Arieh, re:your point about the tefillin, I agree that this is a question of hidur mitzvah and not one of chumrah. However, in a tzedakah situation, I DO think it is important for the giver to know these things and get involved, in a respectful manner. Tzedakah funds are limited and if I only have, for example,$100 to give to tzedakah, do I want to (or should I or am I allowed to) give the entire $100 to someone who already has enough money for a nice pair of kosher tefillin but desires a more mehudar pair if that means I won’t have funds to give to someone else who doesn’t have a pair of tefillin at all or, more importantly, food to eat?

    Re: your point about movies, I assume that Menachem’s daughter’s rebbeim do not hold that going to movies is assur.

    On the movie issue, it seems to me to be more of a hashkafic choice than a chumra which begs the question of whether Menachem’s point about considering the affect on others is different when the matter is a hashkafic preference as opposed to a chumrah.

  52. Dear Menachem,
    its not a Chumrah to buy expensive Tefillin. Its a Hiddur Mitzve, beautifying a mizva. The givers part in the mitzve of zedaka is to give, not to judge. We are not talking about someone, who takes your zeduke money to the casino – he wants to buy some nice “mehuderdike” pair of tefillin for his grandson! Thats a good thing! Its not upon you to decide, if his grandson should have the best tefillin possible. You do/give what you can. HKB”H will continue to lead this grandfather on his way to his grandsons tefillin.

    Reg. the mishkan/B”M-vessels: it is stated in torah “she haAron Nassa es Noissov” the Aron hakodesh carried the one who should carry him. Just as an idea to add and to braoden your view on the matter.

    Reg. daughter/movies: You cannot call something, that is clearly halachically forbidden, a chumrah. A chumrah is a further enhancement of a mitzva or another fence against an ossur. But to refrain from an aveirah is not a chumrah.

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