Why BTs Should Not be Part of the “Chumra of the Month” Crowd

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.

44 comments on “Why BTs Should Not be Part of the “Chumra of the Month” Crowd

  1. The joke in the frum community for many years was that every Orthodox Jewish rav getting Smicha in the U.S.A. had Rav Moshe Feinstein’s telephone number written on the back of his rabbinical ordination certificate. However, the fact is that Rav Feinstein’s preeminence as a posek in the Lithuanian Yeshivishe olam did not necessarily hold for various Chassidishe or Sephardic groups. Although certainly the Admorim of those groups had great respect for Rav Feinstein, zatzal, their followers would go by the piskei halachah of their own rabbanim. It’s unclear that any Rav nowadays (until the coming of the Righteous Moshiach, bimhayra biyameinu) would be accepted as THE Posek HaDor. For example, despite that well known ruling of Rav Feinstein zatzal that there could be no Eiruv established in either Manhattan or Brooklyn, there were Chassidishe rabbanim in Boro Park who encouraged the building of a small Eiruv to include a number of streets and avenues in that neighborhood.

    You probably have to go back to the time of the original Gaonim from about 800 to 1000 to find a rav whose rulings were absolutely the halachah across the entire generation. Even the rulings of the Gaon of Vilna were not all accepted by Klal Yisroel.

    Rav Moshe Feinstein zatzal made it clear that anyone else could disagree with his psak; that “anyone” being of course a person who had thoroughly studied the Gemara and the Shulchan Aruch as he had done, and who could justify ruling on halachah.

  2. Steve, my understanding is that the Shulchan Aruch as modified by later accepted Poskim is the baseline. If you can show me one or more sources that say otherwise it would be greatly appreciated.

    I also thought CY was not a chumra, but my Rav said it was, probably because Rav Moshe said “a ba’al nefesh should be stringent”, which makes it a chumra even if the Shulchan Aruch said it without qualification. This goes back to my point about that the baseline halacha is the “Shulchan Aruch as modified by later accepted Poskim”,

  3. Mark,
    I am well aware of the information that you posted, and RMF’s creative reasoning for judging the many ‘bnei hayeshivos’ who he saw being lax in CY, leniently. (He states his motivation to be melamed zechus on so many torah-observant Jews at the beginning of his responsum where he breaks new ground with his celebrated heter.)

    Nevertheless, my point was, and remains, that adhering to cholov-yisroel as per the Shulchan Aruch CANNOT be classified as a ‘chumra’ at all – the Shulchan Aruch is the baseline for torah observance – no more or less. Rather, those choosing to rely on the heter advanced by RMF are choosing to rely on a ‘kula’, albeit by one of the preeminent poskim of the 20th century. The sheer number of harsh statements and warnings by the leading poskim of the last thousand-plus years regarding being stringent with CY make this very clear.

    Things like gebrokts, glatt beef (at least for most ashkenazim) and shkia d’rabbeinu-tam are chumros (not necessarily in that order-lol). Cholov akum is ‘ossur me’ikkar hadin’ which automatically elevates it to a significantly more sever prohibition.

    Regarding what your Rav said about the poskei hador of the last 100 years, I beg to differ. R’Chaim Ozer enjoyed a level of acceptance accross all spectrum’s which was truly unique. RMF was renowned as a great posek and talmid-chochom, but his rulings were significantly more lenient and this cost him acceptance by many in the chassidic and Israeli chareidi camps. The CI was not even close to these two in terms of acceptance. He was an unusually argumentative leader who took on the chareidi establishment in Yerushalayim (R’Chaim Naeh etc.) and lost. Recently discovered letters bear witness to the unusually poisoned atmosphere CI created.

    Gut shabbos and chodesh tov!

  4. My Rav pointed out that with the passing of Rav Elyashiv, it’s the first time in the current era that there is not a recognized ashkenaz Posuk HaDor. The five of the past 100 years were, Rav Chaim Ozer, the Chazon Ish, Rav Moshe Feinsten, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.

    Rav Moshe was without a doubt the recognized Posuk HaDor among ashkenazim and therefore his Pasak has significant weight.


    Cholov Stam and Cholov Yisroel Part 4

    Government Regulations
    (26) Aside from the opinion of the Pri Chadash, a very famous opinion of Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l on this topic is the following: In a place where a government maintains strict restrictions and gives penalties (27) to those who mix other milk into cow’s milk it is considered as if the Jew is present at the time of the milking. Knowing is like seeing,(28) and we know the non-Jew is in fear of being caught altering the cow’s milk.(29) This milk which is produced under government control is commonly referred to as cholov stam.(30) Others disagree with this heter and maintain that even if there are government regulations and penalties it is not considered as if the Jew saw the milk, therefore, this milk is considered cholov stam and may not be consumed.(31) One of the reasons for the disagreement is because government regulations can not be considered as if the Jew was there at the milking. In addition, the government regulations may not create the same fright (mirses) as if a Jew was at the production.

    Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l said that although many frum Jews and Rabbonim are lenient, and G-D forbid to say that they are doing wrong,(32) a ba’al nefesh should be stringent. However, one who is lenient has what to rely on.(33) Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l was stringent for himself. (34) Others say this was only said if you can not get cholov yisroel easily, but if cholov yisroel is available then one should buy it. (35) Based on this and other reasons, the custom in Eretz Yisroel is to be stringent since there is readily available cholov yisroel.(36) Nonetheless, the custom of many people (outside of Eretz Yisroel) is to rely on the opinion stated here.(37) It would seem that one who is lenient and goes to Eretz Yisroel to learn does not have to adopt their custom and refrain from eating cholov stam which he may have brought from America.

    (26) In the United States Government, officials inspect dairy plants three to four times a week, and take many samples of the milk to guarantee that the product offered to the public meets legal standards of purity, bacteria count etc. Although they do not check to see if any non-kosher milk was added, based on the other tests they do, they can indicate immediately if any non-kosher was placed into the cow’s milk. (Refer to Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 5:page 98:footnote 21). Refer to http://www.oukosher.org/index.php/learn/daf_ha-kashrus for updated information on today’s government inspections. (27) Even if the fine is small (Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:48, see Reshoot Cholov Goy pages 40-41). Although penalties may not be enough to avoid the mixing of other milk into cow’s milk, the bribing of the workers in telling them to do other than the norm would be too much money and we are not concerned about that (Igros Moshe ibid). (28) Refer to Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:47, and Reshoot (Cholov Goy) page 33. (29) Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:47-49. (30) Refer to Reshoot ibid:page 63. (31) Refer to Minchas Elazar 4:25, Melamed L’hoel Y.D. 36:4, Zekan Aron 2:44, Emes L’Yaakov page 308, Minchas Yitzchok 1:138, 2:21, 10:31:15, Be’er Moshe 4:52, Teshuvos V’hanhugos 1:441, 2:373, Shevet Ha’Levi 4:87, Kinyan Torah 1:38, Chelkes Yaakov 34, Yalkut Yosef 9:pages 90-93, Sharei Toras Habayis page 98, Hakashrus K’halacha page 419:footnote 42, Chelkes Binyomin 115:16. (32) This teshuva was written in 1954 and now there is a huge abundance of cholov yisroel it is hard to say that Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l would still have his position (Harav Yisroel Belsky Shlita). (33) Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:47-49, Y.D. 2:31, 35, Y.D. 4:5, see Chazon Ish Y.D. 41:4, Teshuvos V’hanhugos 2:385. (34) Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:47. Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l was lenient for his family (as related by Harav Aron Felder Shlita). (35) Igros Moshe Y.D. 4:5, Sefer Pischei Halacha (Kashrus) page 107 who brings a teshuva from Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, Chelkes Binyomin 115:16. The Melamed L’hoyel Y.D. 33 says cholov stam is permitted for light headed people. See Minchas Yitzchok 10:31:15 who says those who fear the words of Hashem are very careful from consuming cholov stam. Refer to Kerem Ephraim 115:pages 106-108 in depth. (36) Techumim 23:page 464. See Darchei Teshuva 115:6. Some are lenient and consume American cholov stam products which are imported to Eretz Yisroel (www.koltorah.org). (37) In addition the major kashrus organizations hold of Harav Moshe’s heter and give a hechsher based on it (KOF-K, OU, see OU document K-60). The Star-K does not give a hechsher on cholov stam. The Star-D is cholov stam but it is not directly affiliated with the Star-K (based on a conversation with Rabbi Rosen).

  5. Reading through these comments, an astonishing lack of basic knowledge becomes apparent. Chalav Yisroel is not a chumra – it’s something which the Shulchan Aruch (and every one of the commentaries on the page) unequivocally forbids. Those choosing to follow RMF and rely on his rather creative heter are using a kula, not the other way around. The other little issue is that RMF’s heter was disputed by his (equally prominent) peers, like Rabbi Breisch (Chelkas Yaakov) and he remains a minority opinion among major poskim.
    ‘Chumra’ my foot….. Choosing to follow the Shulchan Aruch and 95% of halachic authorities over the past 2000 years is not a chumra.

  6. Rambam, Hilchot Deot, Chapter 3, Paragraph 1:
    The Sages commanded that a man should not forbid himself things, except for those things that are forbidden by the Torah.

  7. @tesyaa

    This may be a situation where the non-kosher milk is a Davar Hama’amid, a substance having profound effect on the food, which, by inclusion, would render it disqualified for eating.

    To quote Adam above “For anything practical, you know what to do — http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/CYLOR

  8. @tesyaa – As I understand it, the leniences of bitul b’rov, b’shishim et al. are chal only when the davar issur (i.e. tipat chalav into a kedeirah full of basar) falls in b’shogeg. If it is b’meizid, then it is assur l’kulei alma. Someone please correct me if I am wrong, which could very well be the case. For anything practical, you know what to do — http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/CYLOR

  9. In the case of the German immigrant’s story, wouldn’t the nonkosher milk be batel? I know that chametz is assur bemashehu, but I didn’t realize that applied to milk (assuming the other conditions of bitul beshishim apply, of course).

  10. 30 Years ago I met a German immigrant to Mea Shearim and he told me of an event which occurred to his father in Germany.

    His father had hitched a ride on a Milk delivery wagon/truch and in conversation with the driver asked if the milk was cow milk. The driver said of course! The father pressed on and asked if it was really 100% cows milk and the driver told him what he said was a secret of the milk industry. He said that the farmers that he knew put a few drops of non kosher milk (horse, donkey etc.) into the containers so that it will not curdle… according to the driver, just a few drops of non-cows milk could help preserve many gallons of cows milk.

    I am assuming that this story is true and it shows:

    A. It is not just an issue of fillers

    B. There is incentive for a small less-regulated farmer to include non-kosher milk with the kosher


  11. Judy, there are many halachic factors at play here.

    All halachos are complicated and that is why it’s always fraught with danger when they’re discussed in comments on a website.

    I’ll try to find an article that addresses many of the issues involved in Cholov Yisroel.

  12. To Always A BT #28: My understanding was that the halachos of Chalav Yisrael are based on a careful analysis of the financial realities of the dairy industry of that particular place and particular time.

    At any place and time when and where non-Jewish dairy owners can make more money by adding cheaper, non-Kosher fillers to cow’s milk, and can “get away with it” without being jailed or penalized by the government, it is assumed that they will do so. Look at the terrible scandal in China, where infants died from drinking milk that had been laced with melamine. Although that had nothing to do with kosher, it had everything to do with cheap adulterants being added to a substance being marketed as 100 percent cow’s milk.

    My understanding is that HoRav Feinstein’s p’sak was based on the reality of the contemporary dairy industry in America: thousands of cows fitted into automated milking machines; non-Jewish consumers demanding (and getting) tight regulation of any substances added to cow’s milk; government inspectors and heavy fines, including loss of business license, to ensure compliance.

    I would also like to add, in terms of dollars and cents, that the milk of any other animal, other than a cow, sells at a high premium and can only be found in specialty gourmet food shops, such as goat milk and sheep milk. One would logically assume that the average dairy owner would prefer to sell pig milk or horse milk as a gourmet item at an inflated price rather than the relatively low price paid per gallon of cow’s milk. It’s like not suspecting a one-dollar bill of being counterfeit: it’s not worth it for the crook because the real thing isn’t valuable enough.

    OK, but let’s suppose you stop by a small farm and buy milk from “Johnny,” the owner of the farm, who obligingly pours it from a big jerrycan into your personal one-quart jug. You didn’t watch “Johnny” milking his dairy cows “Bessie” and “Bossie,” so how do you know he didn’t also get some of that milk from his prize pig, “Cissie”? You don’t know.

    That’s certainly not the same thing as buying a quart of Tuscan Milk or Dellwood Milk, which companies are completely automated ultra-modern dairy businesses.

    That’s why permission to drink “cholov stam” is only for America, and not for Europe and/or Israel, and not for milk from a small farm as opposed to from a huge dairy business. Also kosher supervision is required for any additives to the milk.

  13. We’re getting bogged down in nomenclature, partially because AABT wrote:

    The biggest problem with all this is that people don’t know the difference between halacha, chumra & minhag when they decide to take something on (or drop it).

    No, that is not the biggest problem. We are talking here about halachic options which can be conceptualized in a number of different ways but which, for purposes of this discussion, amount to “chumras” and “kulas” — more or less strict practices that can have a real impact on the process of becoming an observant Jew.

  14. Always a BT – Gebrokts as well as not eating fish, chicken and garlic are based on chumras regarding Pesach. They are based on the facts the Chometz in not Mevatel B’Shishim (negated in 60 parts) and is also chayiv Koreis (a strict category of liability) which makes it different then our normal Kashrus eating prohibitions. Therefore, we are generally more stringent across the board when it comes to chometz on Pesach, and different Poskim in different communities have taken these stringencies to different degrees, such as Gebrokts.

    There are also difference regarding Cholav Yisroel depending on the location and community, which are also dependent on observing certain chumras regarding it.

  15. to Mark #20
    So, are you saying chalav yisrael is halacha outside the US & chumra inside the US? Who is the source for that?
    And, not eating Gebrokts is a chumra? It depends on who you ask. I know people who’ve asked this sheilah & been told that even if it’s a family minhag, it is unneccessary in modern times. Others (same family) asked their rav & were told to continue to refrain from eating Gebrokts. So, if not eating Gebrokts is a chumra, what about the people who don’t eat fish, chicken, garlic, etc?

  16. To Bob #26: That’s the chumra for Adar Aleph (does not exist this year). You hit them with geklopte shaines.

  17. To Bob Miller #24: It’s Shevat, so the chumra of this month is to eat bokser (carob) without breaking your teeth.

    Another chumra for Shevat is to eat all of the shiva minim, seven species, for which Eretz Yisroel is praised, so that you can make the brocha acharona “al ha peyros.”

    A third chumra is to eat esrog jelly cookies. Pious Jewish women run around the neighborhood on Isru Chag Sukkos collecting all of the leftover esrogim, which they boil with pectin and citrus slices into esrog jelly.

    They make a dough from Yoshon flour (carefully sifted to get rid of any microscopic bugs), kneading more than two kilos at onc time in order to be able to “separate challah.” Half the dough is then put aside to make Hamantaschen for Purim. From the half dough left they make cookies for Tu B’Shevat, with a dab of esrog jelly in the center.

    These special esrog jelly cookies (“ugiot”) are eaten at the Seder for Tu B’Shvat, after consuming arba kosos.

    After that, you go out to a stand of fir trees and wish them a Happy Birthday. They’re rejoicing anyway about being pardoned to live another year (your neighbors didn’t cut them down for their December festival).

    Did anyone mention that Adar follows Shevat? Happy Purim! (Getting a head start on my Purim Torah).

  18. Charlie, how does that allow someone to rely upon the fact that something is pure cow milk. What if they milk and distribute solely intrastate? Rav Moshe’s psak is based upon the prevalence, at least in those days, of government inspections and hefty fines.

  19. “Chalav Yisrael is halacha; there is a heter given by Rav Moshe to rely on American Law in the U.S. b/c it’s not economically feasible to mass produce milk from non-kosher animals.”

    This is not accurate. It is actually a violation of federal law to transport milk from non-kosher animals across state lines for sale in the US.

  20. Chalav Yisrael in America is considered a Chumra. Not eating Gebrokts is also considered a Chumra. Upsherin is a Minhag.

  21. To clarify some misconceptions above:

    Chalav Yisrael is halacha; there is a heter given by Rav Moshe to rely on American Law in the U.S. b/c it’s not economically feasible to mass produce milk from non-kosher animals.

    Not eating Gebrokts on Pesach is not a chumra, it’s a minhag. Same for upsherin.

    The biggest problem with all this is that people don’t know the difference between halacha, chumra & minhag when they decide to take something on (or drop it).

  22. Ron, your last comment raises another question. How much of what we are told lately is couched in the most definitive-sounding, scary language only to force us to a certain conclusion, and not because it really is the only normative option? Are we considered to be too immature to respond appropriately to measured, reasoned arguments?

  23. In addition to chalav yisroel, there are a lot of issues I remember encountering early, such as:

    • When is Shabbos over — 48 minutes after shkiya? 60? 72?
    • Is shaking hands with a member of the opposite sex in a business or other non-frum (but respectable) context allowed?
    • How long do I wait between meat and milk — three hours? Six? “Into the sixth hour”?
    • How much should I spend on my tefillin?
    • What parts of my face can I shave, and with what?
    • Do I really have to stay up all night on Shavuos? If I don’t, should I still do so anyway?
    • So 18-minute matzah is good, or not good, besides for the seder?
    • Can I read a non-Torah book or magazine for pleasure on Shabbos?

    What’s troubling is that in many cases I have seen language from very “authoritative authorities” describing the chumra they endorse in the harshest terms, i.e. — to use the example of handshaking — “this is a matter implicating one of the three cardinal sins regarding which a Jew is commanded to give up his life rather than compromise”! Similarly a new sefer has come out in English decrying any form of beard-trimming or shaving as far beyond the pale of normative halacha.

    That’s troubling for a lot of people, such as me.

  24. Before the Spanish first brought potatoes into Europe from South America (in the 1500’s CE), was it possible to strictly exclude gebrochts during Pesach? I wonder if anyone can show the historical timeline of the non-gebrochts minhag vs. the widespread eating of potatoes.

    See http://www.history-magazine.com/potato.html

  25. Below is some information on the source for the Chumra of Gebrochts. It should be pointed out that for Pesach, because of the strict prohibition of eating Chometz there is more room to take on Chumras. This of course does not mean that a BT or anybody should take on Gebrokts or Chumras when it is not appropriate for them.
    Please CYLOR – Consult Your Local Orthodox Rabbi.

    During the holiday of Passover, Jews are forbidden to eat any of five grains specified in the Talmud — wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye — if they have been “leavened.” Leavening, (Hebrew: חמוץ‎, chimutz), is defined as flour of one of these grains combined with water and allowed to sit for more than 18 minutes before being baked.

    Once flour has been reacted with water and rapidly baked into matzo, it is no longer subject to leavening. According to this argument, matzo and its derivatives are neither “leavened” nor “leavenable,” and, therefore are permissible for consumption during Passover. A reading of the tractate Pesahim from the Babylonian Talmud (c. 500) makes it clear that in Talmudic times, matzo soaked in water was permitted during Passover; the Ashkenazi rabbi and exegete, Rashi (c. 1100), also indicates that this was unobjectionable (Berachot 38b).

    However, the custom later developed among some Ashkenazim, primarily Hasidic Jews, to avoid putting matzo (or any derivative, such as matzo meal) into water (or any liquid), to avoid the possibility that a clump of flour that was never properly mixed with water (and thus is still susceptible to leavening) may come into contact with the liquid. (This appears, for example, in Shulchan Aruch HaRav, c. 1800.) Therefore, some Jewish communities, especially Hasidic Jews, do not eat matzo ball soup during Passover. “Non-gebrochts” recipes and products generally substitute potato starch for matzo meal.

  26. Rav Avigdor Miller zatzal followed the Lithuanian not the Polish or chasidishe derech, and consequently did not go along with the chumra of not eating Gebroks on Pesach. His rebbetzin Ettel Miller OBM would prepare kneidelach for the Yom Tov chicken soup from shmurah matzo meal, and would make other matzo and matzo meal combinations for Pesach.

    Once a fellow from his shul expressed to Rav Avigdor Miller that he wanted to give up the chumra of not eating Gebroks. Rav Miller poskened that he only needed to be “mattir neder.” A mini Bais Din of three men was convened that quickly annulled his vow. Following the short ceremony, Rav Miller shook the man’s hand and told him, “Mazal tov, now you can enjoy Pesach.”

    I suspect that many people took on Gebroks simply due to doubts about the kind of matzoh and matzoh meal being used in these matzoh miztures. It’s one thing in your own Pesachdike kitchen to be careful to use only shmurah matzo meal and shmurah matzo in any matzo meal or matzo cooked dishes. It’s another thing to wonder what type of matzo meal is being used in a Pesachdike grocery product or a Pesachdike hotel. Insisting on no matzo meal in any purchased prepared Pesach food product, such as frozen gefilte fish loaves or breakfast cereal for kids, is not usually due to being non-Gebroks but due to basic Pesach kashrus. Also, insisting on a non-Gebroks Passover program at a hotel usually implies not just that particular chumra but a whole level of observance by the program and the guests (similar to the whole “black hat” culture).

    One year, my daughter worked for three weeks at a famous Pesachdike bakery, selling Pesach cakes and cookies. The bakery sold only one matzoh meal product, brownies, made with shmurah matzo meal, that were carefully labelled and kept away from the potato starch goodies.

    I use shmurah matzo meal to make kneidlach and brownies for Pesach, plus I also make a matzo kugel for the last days (if it appears that we’re going to end up with too much leftover matzo). The point is that not keeping Gebroks doesn’t mean one is lax about Pesach kashrus or less frum, it is simply a Chumra.

  27. Shmuel commented in part:

    “I can still remember him walking on a summertime shabbos, free as a bird, while his wife sweated pushing a double stroller and carrying a baby in one of those sling contraptions! There is no doubt that if he had asked the same rav about whether he was permitted to act as he did, the answer would have been “No.”

    FWIW, RSZA was very critical of husbands who followed such a chumra.

  28. Mark Frankel’s comment IMO hit the nail on the proverbial head. Dikduk BMitzvos implies neither always being meikil nor machmir, especially with respect to the chumros suggested by Mark .

  29. Shmuel’s points show how important it is to have a good relationship with a sympathetic, competent Rav.

  30. One of the problems with people keeping chumros (and especially BTs, who know so little that they have no perspective) is that there is much of the time what is a chumra in the abstract is also a kula when put into practice.

    I happen to know a person who for some reason didn’t want to use the local eruv. He asked a rav who told him that it was permissible to use the eruv. So he refused to rely on the eruv, but his wife did rely on it. I can still remember him walking on a summertime shabbos, free as a bird, while his wife sweated pushing a double stroller and carrying a baby in one of those sling contraptions! There is no doubt that if he had asked the same rav about whether he was permitted to act as he did, the answer would have been “No.”

    This doesn’t mean that all chumros are bad. It does mean that someone needs to have perspective, which is relatively easily gained on a case by case basis by asking a sha’aila to one’s rav every time one wants to deviate from what one has been doing until now. For some reason some people think they only need rabbinic guidance if they intend to adopt a more lenient practice –when in reality they need such guidance whether their intended practice is perceived as strict or lenient.

    There are or course a lot of other factors as well.

  31. I think the anecdote about his brother and fasting on erev Shabbat raises an important point. His brother observed a practice that he thought was worthy of emulating. He had the type of relationship with that Rav that he could ask if he should adopt the practice.

    At the yeshiva where I used to teach there was one talmid who arrived with numerous uncommon practices. He had adopted what he thought a particular Rav was doing. I asked him once if he had ever asked his Rav why he did a certain thing and if it was the halacha or a personal chumra. The talmid was shocked at such an idea.

    I think the BT who feels safe asking his Rav these types of questions will have the best chance to experience balanced growth.

  32. OK, Mark, I guess I follow. Certainly the hat is a chumra. Not everyone agrees that cholov yisroel is a chumra (I do, and I say if you can’t rely on R’ Moshe Feinstein…) but, yes, of course.

    I do think, however, that when one writes an article such as this one and does not provide his own definitions, it becomes like a Rorschach blot, and we read into it what we want to. Many people who have commented here on the years have defined “chumras” as practices that many or most of us would regard as prescriptive, but they take this view because they can cite to one or two lenient views or are part of a community where simply no one observes the normative halacha.

    I think you have made a key point that obviously follows from this understanding: What stage of development are we talking about?

  33. To build on Mark’s 12:59 comment about things for a Baal Nefesh and good things to do, one example immediately comes to mind for me.

    Halacha doesn’t outright forbid very much in terms of relations between a husband and a wife. However, a number of not-assur practices are characterized negatively and a fairly narrow range is characterized as ideal. I believe this is an area where it’s common for people to take on chumros, either intentionally or accidentally (I think in many cases people believe they are following halacha and/or err on the strict side because they are embarrassed to clarify with a rabbi), and potentially at great personal/emotional cost.

    I think this can cause problems for FFB’s as well, but more so for BT’s in my opinion, for several reasons.

    Also, I would characterize a general tendency toward avoiding leniency and/or refusing to seek heterim as being chumra-like, even though the person may not consciously adopt this tendency as a hard and fast rule. I think BT’s and gerim can be especially self-conscious about this and view it as a sort of failure to even *ask* their rabbi if it is possible to be lenient. If it’s a strictly individual matter, like extra fasting, it’s not such a big deal, but if other people are affected it’s a whole different story.

  34. Occasionally I’ve read anti-chumra-culture or anti-black-hat-yeshiva comments here from people who seemed to really object to Orthodox Judaism (or maybe any Judaism) as such. Realizing that a call to abandon teshuvah would not play well here, they instead tried to stir things up and maybe proselytize for atheism by going after easier, more specific targets.

    Others have sincerely criticized those who adopt certain chumros because of social pressure or other extraneous reasons. Chumros without the inwardness that should accompany them can be a real problem in some communities.

    My own yetzer hara seems to want me to become more lenient. Do I then take out a membership in the chumra-of-the-month club to balance things out? This is not so facetious! Historically, some have adopted personal chumros for that specific purpose.

  35. Ron, I doubt whether the author will chime in.

    A chumra would be anything in the Mishna Berurah where it says it’s for a Baal Nefesh or its a good (Tov) thing to do or its a Yeish Omrim. Not using a generally acceptable Eruv would be an example. Wearing a hat to daven is a chumra. Cholov Yisroel is a chumra. There are literally hundreds of examples of chumros in halacha and I agree that a beginning BT should not be following any of them. Hopefully Ron can come up with his own examples of chumros and tell us whether he thinks they should be kept by a beginning BT.

    I think the author makes the common mistake of throwing all BTs into the same category. A BT of 1, 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25+ years should have different halacha practices. And of course where you live also makes a difference.

    Hopefully BTs and FFBs are growing in their observance which means they have to constantly look at how they observe the halacha preferably with the guidance of a Rav.

  36. What are the chumros that the author is specifically worried about, in terms of ones he has seen BT’s adopt, to their detriment? He only mentions fasting on erev Shabbos, and that in connection with a personal anecdote; I don’t know anyone who has had a “yetzer hara” to do this.

    I think this question is very important because I seem to recall many instances of people weighing in against supposedly unnecessary or unjustified strictures in halacha, or groups or rabbonim who support these practices, but seldom specifying them. Sometimes I think these arguments are stalking horses for ideological opposition to a certain approach to Jewish practice. So if this author could clarify his concerns, it would be helpful to me.

  37. Rav Avigdor Miller zatzal used the analogy of a savage wearing only a loincloth who puts on a top hat. He criticized BT’s and Geirim who sought to adopt esoteric Chumrot while still in the stages of first learning how to practice basic essential Judaism. Continuing the analogy, first you have to have a complete suit of clothes, and only then can you choose if you wish to add on the top hat.

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