Being kosher seemed like a good way to be a true Jew, so I called the local Chabad House, and a nice man came and did the job. He finished, turned to go, and I asked him what I was allowed to eat. He sketched out the basic symbols and wrote “cholev yisroel” and “pas yisroel” on the bottom. I had no clue what they meant, but na’asai v’nishma: knowing nothing, I was machmir to only buy products listing those words.
Then Pesach approached. I called the same friendly man who told me to only buy things that said “non-gebroks.” End of conversation.
Thus began my Pesach minhag.
Although less naive about minhagim, my husband’s approach is always, when in doubt, you can’t go wrong by following the strictest guidelines.
Living in Monsey, it’s no problem being cholev yisroel. But gebroks gets us down year after year after year.
Pesach is the most resonant Yom Tov for most of us. I grew up gleefully eating on Yom Kippur, oblivious to Shabbos, but with a strangely nostalgic attitude about Pesach. We always had some facsimile of a seder. In speedy English and occasional bouts of broken Yiddish, my father attempted to imitate his father’s seder, while the kids snuck more and more Manishewitz. I didn’t really “chup” the point of this strange ritual. What lasted and lasted in my memory was the matzoh meal pancakes.
What an utter disappointment to make teshuva and resurrect Passover, and then find that the totem of my memory was taboo on the Yom Tov itself!
The concept of minhagim is an uncomfortable one for a BT. We all have them, but they were buried in the generation(s) of assimilation. Who knew what would be lost back when my great-grandfathers davened next to the FFBs’ great-grandfathers in the shtetl shul? Who knew that I would be only one out of dozens of my ancestors’ progeny who would regret history, and devote her life to piecing back together the broken line?
What of our history is “kosher”? Yes, I grew up eating gebroks, but I also grew up eating BLTs and dating non-Jews, practices that I am most definitely not going to pass down to my children.
How can BTs sort out our legitimate fossils? Knowing that my grandparents emigrated from there, is it okay to research Lithuanian Jewry and then adopt the customs of those frum Jews? How much has survived in my DNA? Is it because I’m a “yekkie” that I’m on time, or because I grew up inculcated with the Protestant Work Ethic?
Does aping the actions of mentors or emulating the habits of sages create a meaningful tradition? What about when there are several legitimate practices? Why do I have to tough out the “minor” fast days–my FFB female friends eat or only fast half the day, just like their mothers did. Must we also shun garlic on Pesach because two centuries ago it was transported alongside grain, and so it became some families’ practice not to use it? At what age should I put away the bobby socks and hold my pre-schooler up to the tznius standards of the big girls? How do we answer with conviction when our kids ask which way our family holds?
It’s kind of scary: at what point does twisting open the soda bottles on Shabbos morph from a habit to a tradition to an immovably holy practice that will be passed down from generation to generation?
Originally Published in April 2006
Lately, we’re eating gluten-free for health reasons. It’s nice to have so many gluten-free foods available for Pesach.
To Mr. Cohen #47: Blame the delay in joining Derech Emet on my wacky home computer…virus is an understatement for what’s wrong with it. It enjoys logging me out of whatever website I try to log onto. So when I tried before to join, it shut down. Glad that I finally managed to complete the groups joining process. I look forward to receiving your words of Divrei Torah.
Judy Resnick, thank you for joining my web site for quick easy Divrei Torah. I have been waiting for you to join for a long time.
To Mr. Cohen #45: I did try to join, but maybe I clicked on the wrong keys. It very much sounds like the Derech Emet group is one I would enjoy being a part of, so I will have to try again.
Now that Pesach is over, we can all enjoy knaidlach again, along with our Shabbos challah.
Judy Resnick, I am NOT angry at you, Chas VeShalom. I just wish you would join my web site for quick easy Divrei Torah because you expressed admiration for my Torah a few times.
Approximately 7 Jews from Beyond BT have joined, and I now have over 613 Jewish members, Baruch HaShem!!!!
Part of today’s situation is close intermingling of Orthodox Jews with many customs specific to their families, present or former communities, or particular Orthodox paths. We ought to respect differences of this type. Someone entering Orthodoxy from a non-Orthodox background can be bewildered by the many variations in customary practice.
Mr. Cohen, I have tremendous respect for you and for your prodigious intelligence, and I beg for your mechilah if I have slighted you in any way. No disrespect was ever intended.
It is interesting that despite all of these restrictions and chumras that one still hears kashrus “horror stories” popping up. Just talk to the mashgichim on the front lines, so to speak, upholding the standards of the supervising agencies.
Remember the Monsey meat scandal of a couple of years ago? As one rav put it, “People who wouldn’t drink water in somebody’s else’s home, for fear of ingesting unfiltered microscopic bugs, suddenly found that they had been buying, cooking and eating traifa meat all that time.”
And Bishul Yisrael is a very difficult standard to maintain outside of Eretz HaKodesh; I would not complain if the Rabbis decided to annul it, since it seems to accomplish nothing but: reducing our food options, increasing the prices of our food and unnecessarily dividing Jews.
If you disagree with what I say, then please do not become angry, because nobody really listens to Baalei Teshuvah anyway.
I believe that the extra Pesach chumrot that prohibit: kitninot, gebruchs, rice, fish and garlic DO NOT save Jews from sinning; they only make our lives more difficult by: reducing our food options, increasing the prices of our food and unnecessarily dividing Jews.
Tractate Pesachim, chapter 1, warns that there is no limit to extra Pesach chumrot; it says Ain LeDavar Sof (אֵין לַדָּבָר סוֹף).
Last but not least, all of these extra Pesach chumrot have been criticized by Rabbis.
If you disagree with what I say, then please do not become angry, because nobody really listens to Baalei Teshuvah anyway.
If you assert that Ashenazim in Israel can eat kitniyot since the Sephardim there never accepted the prohibition, then by should Ashkenazim in Israeli follow the stricter Sephardi standards of bishul Israel and eat only Beit Yosef meat?
Mr. Cohen, I do believe that the various stringencies that arose around Pesach and chometz came about due to the diverse situations that Jews found themselves in over the next 3300 years.
Kitniyot, for example, which was never accepted as a Pesach stringency by the Sephardim, began because many legumes have a kind of spoiled fermentation (not chimutz, but sirchon) and/or are grown near or with the five grains that are actual chometz.
I believe that non-gebroks started because of the fear that the matzah used in many matzah mixtures was not well enough baked, or was not made from watched wheat. Even though my family and I enjoy “broks” on Pesach, I am careful to bake and cook only with machine shemurah matzah meal (available from companies such as Haddar and Gefen). Many people like us who do “brok” still avoid products with matzah meal (such as gefilte fish loaves or store-bought Pesach cakes) simply due to not knowing what matzah meal was used.
Interestingly enough, years ago my youngest daughter put in a three-week stint working at a well-known Pesach bakery in the famous neighborhood of Boro Park. While the bakery sold many delicious varieties of potato starch cakes, they had only one matzo meal cake, a brownie, that was sold separately from the other cakes and certified as made with shmurah matzoh meal.
The Torah was revealed at Mount Sinai over 33 centuries ago. The custom to not eat gebroks on Passover appeared approximately 3 centuries ago.
This means for the first 30 centuries (3,000 years) of Jewish history, all Jews ate gebroks on Passover and no Jew ever suspected that there was anything wrong with it.
The custom to not eat gebroks on Passover is never mentioned anywhere in: Tanach, Mishnah, Jerusalem Talmud, Babylonian Talmud, Rashi, Tosefos, Tur, ibn Ezra, Rambam, Ramban, Rishonim or Shulchan Aruch.
Rabbi Yosef Grossman, Otsar Erchei HaYahadut, Page 297:
Matzah Sheruya [gebrockts] is matzah that, after having been baked, is soaked or comes into contact with water in some other manner.
Not eating Matzah Sheruya HAS NO BASIS IN HALACHAH, because matzah that has been baked cannot ferment and become chametz.
SOURCE: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, 2008 April 4 edition of The Jewish Press, page 5
I once heard Rabbi Heineman tell this joke: The wife of the rav made booties for the cat which she put on the cat whenever it went outside after she’d cleaned for Pesach. The rav noticed what his wife was doing and told her that it really wasn’t necessary. She responded, “Ach! If I’d always listen to you, the house would be traif by now!”
He also said that Pesach is rife with all kinds of minhagim and chumros. While we may not personally do them, they are all valid.
I take a more liberal approach to it all. It is hard enough to just find out what is required and stick to it. Adding extras often makes it unbearable to me. Part of this is just my personality — I have a hard time with things that just don’t seem to make any sense to me. So many chumrahs and minhagim seem to me to be in that category.
This attitude is a huge problem for me trying to be frum. I have to admit that it sometimes makes me a hypocrite in my own eyes — I do, and believe, a lot of things that, from a rational standpoint, don’t make any sense. Luckily, I am only human and don’t have to be totally consistent. I’m working on it…
On the other hand, I do think that minhagim and chumrahs can be a very positive thing. The halacha is like a black and white picture. The minhagim and chumros add the color that makes the picture beautiful.
So, I take on those that beautify and add meaning and depth FOR ME. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you will find another set to paint your picture with.
And the best part of it all is that we can, even with all our different customs and chumrahs, all sit around the same table and celebrate being Jewish together.
My husband Ira took on the halachic practices and minhagim of Rabbi Shmuel Elchonon Brog, his eleventh grade rebbe at Yeshiva Chaim Berlin. Now that our sons are 26, 24 and 20, Ira told them, “Well, these are not really family minhagim handed down from past generations, just what I did based upon what my rebbe taught me, so you can choose to do differently if you wish based on what your own rebbes have taught you.” To his pleasant surprise, our oldest son said, “No, if Daddy does something based on what his rebbe told him, then it becomes a family minhag and should be followed.” So it seems that we Baal Teshuvahs and Geirim are creating our own family minhagim, which if within the “daled amos” of the halacha are just as valid as what somebody else’s great-great-great-grandpa followed.
My Rav, Rabbi Noach Weinberg, taught us not to accept a chumra if it would limit or interfere with ones Avodas HaShem and thereby stifle pleasure or joy in Torah observance. Over the years I have tried to focus on the basics of Torah belief and observance and ‘do more’ only when it enhances those goals and does not detract from them.
Question: What do a potato and yichus have in common?
Answer: The best part is six feet under.
Sorry folks, just a little yichus humor. Though I’d like to think I’ve moved on, I still seem to have this need to identify my Holocaust-survivor mother as having come from a frum family. That and a dollar barely gets me a cup of coffee. I learned along my journey that family is family, no matter from whence they came. Most of us have some horsehair-shaitel-bearing great-great-grandmothers and bearded great-etc-grandfathers in our illustrious pasts somewhere along the line. But contacting any of our cousins is worthwhile for various reasons. When I was growing up a distant cousin had come to my hometown in pursuit of his doctoral degree. He tracked us down and began spending Friday night Shabbos meals in my Conservative household while I, as a teenager was pursuing Orthodoxy. HE became frum. So that contact with the Conservative cousin can have interesting results…
About Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky (known as the Steipler):
He did not eat gebrucks but he allowed his family to do so.
Because of this his meals were prepared in kelim separate from the rest of the family.
In his old age when it was hard for him to eat matzah unless soaked in water, he was matir neder and ate gebrucks.
SOURCE: Toldos Yaakov http://www.revach.net/article.php?id=3564
Rabbi Yosef Grossman, Otsar Erchei HaYahadut, Page 297:
Matzah Sheruya [gebrockts] is matzah that, after having been baked, is soaked or comes into contact with water in some other manner.
Not eating Matzah Sheruya HAS NO BASIS IN HALACHAH, because matzah that has been baked can not ferment and become chametz.
SOURCE: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, 2008 April 4 edition of The Jewish Press, page 5
When the author of Sefer Chayei Adam (Rabbi Avraham Danzig, born 1748, died 1820) suggested prohibiting the consumption of potatoes during Pesach as kitniyos, the then-Gerrer Rebbe said:
Man can not live by what the Chayei Adam decrees.
SOURCE: Chaim Revier, Mishpacha Magazine, 2007 March 28, page 12
To receive quick quotes from Jewish holy books and short true stories of Rabbis, go to:
For many years, my husband Ira and I were members of the Brooklyn kehilla of Rav Avigdor Miller, zatzal. Rav Avigdor Miller could never have been accused by anyone of not being strict enough about Pesach kashrus. However, being Litvishe, he had never taken on the minhag of non-gebroks. There was a story told in his kehilla of the gentleman, a Baal Teshuva, who went before a temporary three-man Bais Din (actually just three observant Jews sitting together) to free him from his neder to follow the minhag of non-gebroks. Afterward, Rav Miller zatzal shook his hand and said, “Mazel tov, now you can enjoy Pesach.”
A Simple Jew
April 7th, 2006 08:44 12Mordechai Y. Scher: Where can I get a copy of ‘Keeping Up With The Katz’s: The Chumra Syndrome-An Halachic Inquiry”? It sounds like a very interesting article.
I second that emotion…
And yet one more word on Shayna’s original issue of matzah meal pancakes and gebrochts:
while I’ve yet to meet a Chabad-Lubavitch chassid who isn’t paranoid about *any* liquid in the vicinity of their matzah, apparently the real issue is WATER. So a matzah meal pancake recipe with only oil, egg, and/or milk for liquids should be fine. Matzah brie, on the other hand, always involved water when I was growing up.
Not that it addresses the underlying issue of minhag, but I know from my own experience that sometimes just knowing that a specific something from our pre-BT days is *not* ‘forbidden’, even by minhag, just not normative within a community, helps ease the ‘stuck in the middle of two worlds’ feeling.
I had the honor of becoming BT, then (years later, by personal choice) relearning Hebrew with Ashkenaz pronunciation, then relearning birchos haShachar according to a different nusach when I got married. And I’m still as sane as I ever was. :) There’s always something to juggle.
This article was quite interesting to me though I approach it from another point of view. My father-in-law is a Holocaust survivor who left his parents’ home at the age of twelve to learn in a yeshiva in a different country and, unfortunately, never saw any of his family again. He was the only survivor of the entire family (he had 10 siblings). Many of the minhagim that he follows are not those of his father simply becuase he can’t remember exactly what his father did in many situations. My husband changed some of the things his father does because he would like to do things the Chassidic way, which is his real heritage. So, you see, it is not only BT’s that have this dilemma. FFB’s may also have similar problems.
Shalom, I too have become a “Torah Observant Believer” all I have are stories of my father and grandparents who came from Russia, they were Orthodox Jew’s. I was raised by my Christain mother to have pride in my Jewish heritage. Never did I ever think of myself as anything else than a Jew, call it anything emotions, feelings, or DNA. After almost a life time I have come to the fullness of who I truly am and for the last 10yrs have been obervant to all that Torah commands. I believe my heart is circumcised by the love of my Elohim’s Word. Sometimes I find myself in an insensitive place by both Christain and Jewish believers. As a volunteer Chaplain in our local hospital it can become quite amusing. When they see me come down the hall covered head, Star of David etc. But what ever it may bring Torah is Life.
Several years ago I was at a Shabat lunch on Shabat hagadol. Everyone around the table shared their particular nutty Pesach chumrot, many of which have been mentioned here, and many of which aren’t really chumrot but minhagim since there is no halachic basis for them. As people continued around the table I kept wondering how anyone could possibly enjoy Peasch with all these restrictions on top on the many restrictions we have from HaShem and the rabbis.
I happened to be the last to share. I said that I wasn’t into chumrot and really didn’t want to adopt minhagim that would make life more difficult. Oh, I did mention that I didn’t sell chametz but either ate it all up, gave it away, or disposed of it before erev Pesach. (I didn’t think that this was a chumrah but the halachah l’chatchila.)
The entire table immediately turned on me (in a friendly way) and insisted that I was the craziest person there, that nobody in their right mind would actually try to get RID of all their chametz! Most of them were FFBs whose families had been selling chametz for as long as anyone could remember.
The mishnah says, “Make for yourself a rav” and not, “Make for yourself a chumrah”. I had concluded that it was better not to sell chametz but to actually dispose of it after a shiur my rav had given and he had approved of that decision — and he had also strongly suggested NOT taking on any additional Pesach chumrot. (To my amazement, I found a woman who ALSO didn’t sell chametz and married her. We have yet to sell any chametz.)
I had been warned not to rely on the halachah books because they may not represent the actually halachic rulings in practice in any community other than that of the author, and maybe not even there since the author may include his own opinions in contrast to the more accepted ones. I don’t think there is any substitute for following a rav, especially this time of year.
I used to daven in a stieble where the ba’al habatim took turns giving a short Shabbos morning drasha. One week, one of the congregants went on and on about how people were confused about taking on the “chumrah” of gebruchts.
I held my tongue, but wanted to scream that the speaker himself was confused. Gebruchts is not a chumrah, or stringency. It is a custom, and therefore is sheer folly for anyone to take on arbitrarily.
I acquired my chassidishe minhagim from my rosh yeshiva and rebbe, who gave me my approach to Yiddishkeit but never asserted his own particular practices. Only when I asked if, because I was attracted to and inspired by chassidus, did he tell me I was permitted to take on such practices as nusach Sefard, gartel, Rabbeinu Tam zman and tepillin, and — yes — gebruchts. Other practices of his he told me not to copy since they were particular to Kloisenberg chassidim, whom I had not formally joined.
Mixing and matching is a common ba’al tshuva condition, and frequently not a healthy one. It is consistency that gives us our spiritual bearings.
But, alas, I do miss matzah balls.
Great Essay. I know what you are going through, being a BT also. My wife and I come accross these questions all the time. We hold Cholev and Pas Yisroel, we follow all the “rules”, but I find that our 9 year old daughter pushes us further. We are expecting another child the end of June and this one will be FFB. A good Jewish name, not an english one and a Jewish one. All the best in your growing of yiddishkeit.
A Happy and Kosher L’Pesach.
I find there’s a tremendous amount of competitiveness and comparisons from the second we begin preparing for Pesach straight through the last day. I dropped out of some of the competition long ago, e.g. where are you holding in your cleaning (I knew someone who removed her chomitzdike pot-handles to clean underneath), when are you turning your kitchen over (as in:”Oh, we’ve been eating pesachdik since Shushan Purim”) (slight exaggeration), and of course, what minhagim do you follow? As a BT, I have the so-called good fortune of having come from a kosher home, including Pesach, so I can presumably reclaim some of those minhagim. But truth be told, I don’t know if those are minhagim or first generation adaptations by my mother, whose family was wiped out in the Holocaust when she was in her teens. I didn’t think to ask her if her Orthodox parents did things the same way she (who had taken on my father’s Conservative version of Yiddishkeit) was practicing, and neither of my parents are alive to confirm or deny anything. I know my mother did the best she could with the memories she brought from a lost European childhood, and I suspect that’s true for many FFB’s as well. I remember her getting annoyed with me when I was a freshly-frum 16 year old and constantly pulling out the bencher after I’d eaten bread, telling me that her father taught her she only had to bench at night for all the bread she’d eaten that day. I often wondered whether he’d told her that because she was a girl and didn’t have to do everything by the book, or whether she’d actually been told that at all, and didn’t remember it as it was told her!
As for Pesach, I grew up with these yummy matzo-meal rolls, which I couldn’t make when I got married because my husband didn’t want to brok. Interestingly, HIS parents, who were from a Chassidishe family (also lost in the Holocaust), had abandoned their Chassidishe minhag and DID brok, and they had to cooperate with their son’s minhag (which he took back from his grandparents) when we went there for the Seder. After my divorce, my rov told me I could take back my father’s minhag, and in my home we ate those matzo meal rolls so I took it back willingly. And my sons, who liked knaidlich and matzo meal rolls, were mater nedorim and took on MY minhag instead of their father’s. So much for minhag.
I have all kind of sociological and psychological theories for people’s points of reference for “what we do”, and I believe some of that need comes from having lost so many “thems” in the Holocaust. I also find that the older I get, the less need I have to explain to anyone why we do what we do and “we” has become what we do in MY home (after all, I’ve been making Pesach for 34 years now). And my kids will (and already do) pick and choose the minhagim that work for them, or that they’ve taken from their wives or their communities, just like everyone else.
Here is an unrelated query: The issue of machine shmurah versus hand shmurah matzah is an old controversy for which one can find many Gdolim on each side of this machlokes. Could one say that following a Mesorah that demands that one fulfills the mitzvah only with either is also a matter of Minhag as opposed to psak or the view of rov Poskim?
David-ther is a statement of Rabbeinu Tam in a Tosfos in the beginning of Gittin that the letters that form the word minhag can also spell Gehinnom. I heard RHS explain this statement by saying that some people tend to conflate the undeniable importance of Minhagim and attach the importance of halacha to them, a proposition that is not always the case.
I also find it strange that people have not seen or heard of this manner of making kiddush since, as mentioned, I had learned that this is the preferable manner to make kiddush. Maybe that shows how strong minhagim can be.
Standing for vayechulu and sitting for kiddush has it’s source in the Tosefot. The Gra did this. Standing is for testimony. Sitting is because kiddush is supposed to be in the location of the meal, and one sits for a respectable meal.
David’s comment that his guests hadn’t seen this intrigues me. This manner of kiddush seems to be the halachicly more normative approach. I don’t know why so many people stand. We need a halachic anthropologist to clear that up… :-)
Havdalah can be a bit more complicated. On the one hand, it is a kiddush, as the Rambam points out. OTOH, it’s not associated with a meal. I know Rav YD/JB Soloveitchik had an examination of this, just can’t recall where right now. He sat for havdalah, according to what I’ve heard.
I also stand for Vayechulu and sit thereafter because early in my BT days, I listened to a Rabbi Frand tape on the subject and he said that was the normative Halacha. I also sit for havdalah.
I had always stood for kiddush on friday night, I’m guessing because that’s what I’ve always seen others (including my rebeim) doing.
I was learning the laws of kiddush and saw that thoght there are many different minhagim, the most proper one is to stand for the Vayechulu and sit thereafter. I asked the question and was advised that if you do not have a solid family minhag then you should use the minhag that has a preferential halachic basis (if there is one). So now we stand for vayechulu and sit for the rest. Most of our guests have never sen this mihag and find it strange. We also sit for havdalah for the same reason.
Shayna, great post. Another area where these things come up is in the Pesach preparations. As a BT, my gift to my future FFB children (G-d willing) is that I clean and prepare for Pesach according to the halacha as my rebbeim have taught me, with no stringencies. My husband’s former rosh kollel used to give a shiur on Pesach preparation and he would say, “That’s the halacha. My wife does X, but that’s because every woman in her family has done it forever and she doesn’t care that I tell her that it’s not required.” This is very common for women, especially at Pesach. The Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote in praise of this phenomenon–women (specifically women) passing down customs that have no apparent source. I enjoy going beyond the letter of the law in many areas of my Jewish life. But Pesach is hard enough to keep l’halacha without killing ourselves with questionable stringencies. I have no idea what my foremothers did to prepare for Pesach; there’s no one alive who remembers. In my parents house, we gave our bread to our non-Jewish tenant and only ate tortillas because they were flat. But instead of feeling sad about that, I will use it to my advantage and give my children the legacy of only cleaning, covering and kashering what the halacha requires. A clean slate ;)
Then there’s the old joke about BTs. Sure a BT has minhagim, his father didn’t wear tefillin on shabbos, his father didn’t stand for kiddush…
With the loss of the shtetl’s of Europe, we have a melting pot of minhags. Pick a direction that you and your spouse can live with (that is Halachicly acceptable). I have always tried to follow the rule of thumb, when in doubt follow the minhag of your Rebbi.
Obviously, I ignore his minhag for his choice in clothing and in women..
Have a good Shabbas
Shayna, I always love your posts! They consistently hit “close to home” to me. We really think alike.
There are a lot of unique challenges to not knowing what ones personal minhagim are/were. Sometimes my husband has followed what my FIL z”l did, only to then learn from our Rav that it wasn’t correct, but Poppa didn’t know that himself (frumkeit can be traced back to my great-grandfather-inlaw in that family line, but then skipped 2 generations).
However, he did take on one chumra that used to make me crazy (after 20 years I’m learning to adapt). He’s always eaten gebroks, but he’ll only use the machine matzo or matza meal that has the “18 minute” label. That virtually rules out buying any prepared items unless they’re non-gebroks, because commercial items with gebroks don’t necessarily follow this same stringency. These days it’s much easier to find non-gebroks products, but in the early days of our marriage, in a less frum community, it was a pain! I once asked our Rav about it, and he said it’s a good custom. Well, my sons are stuck with it now! At least our daughters, I”H, will possibly get new minhagim someday when they marry.
Mordechai Y. Scher: Where can I get a copy of ‘Keeping Up With The Katz’s: The Chumra Syndrome-An Halachic Inquiry”? It sounds like a very interesting article.
What always surprises me is when BT’s take on gebrochts, no questions asked. Even if we did not grow up in strictly kosher homes, Pesach was a time of unusual carefulness and attention to detail. If matza brie was cooked, it went back generations.
To go from eating matza brie made by Bubbe or Savta to believing matza brie is questionable seems like a huge leap of faith. I guess I am more of a skeptic and tend to investigate a lot before jumping on the bandwagon.
Ezzie-I’ve heard the same shiur from CC Rebbeim too!
A couple commenters above already discussed why keeping chumros over normative halacha is a problem, so I’ll add to the commenter who discussed gebroks specifically.
When I was in yeshiva in EY, we had a Pesach zman for those guys who stayed for Pesach. Each day, a different rebbe would come in and give a more laid-back shiur on something related to Pesach. Two different rabbeim gave the same shiur going through the history of gebroks vs. non-gebroks, and came to the conclusion that it is basically a “shtus” minhag that was developed in one area because they had matzos that were about half an inch thick, but would clearly have no applicability today. Obviously, you should ask your own rav, but even those who would normally pick up certain chumros would usually not take on non-gebroks, which seems to have no real basis in halacha.
Appropo Mark Frankel’s presentation of Rav Welcher’s position-I often caused a scandal among some of my HS students when it would come out that I oppose to keeping a chumra as a default position. Certainly none of the chachamim I had the privilege of being exposed to advocated ‘chumra by default’. One year I required my entire shiur halacha to read an article called ‘Keeping Up With The Katz’s: The Chumra Syndrome-An Halachic Inquiry” by Rav Moshe Weinberger. It appeared in Jewish Action for Rosh Hashana 5749/1988. I recommend it to help clarify this topic.
Re: YM’s comment quoting the Shulhan Aruch and Mishnah B’rurah about wetting matzah to eat it at the seder, I can attest to having heard Rav Mordechai Eliyahu in more than one shiur on hilchot Pesah advise doing exactly that for anyone whose ‘infirmity’ might prevent them from eating matzah within an acceptable amount of time for the mitzvah during the seder. Clearly, the ‘Sefardi’ communities did not subscribe to the issue of gebrochs.
Finally, I had a funny and painful revelation concerning family custom when I was younger. The influences in Mercaz Harav strongly involved admiration of the Gra, and as need be I tended to adopt Vilna mitnagdic customs. Years later, my father brought my departed grandfather’s tefillin and siddurim to me in Israel. In Stamford, my father’s parents had attended the mainstream Orthodox (Ashkenazi) shul-the only Orthodox shul at the time. Imagine my dismay when I opened the tefillin to check them, and found the parshiot written in k’tav Ari, and chassidic type tagim, etc.! This was compounded when I looked and saw that the older siddurim that grandpa had brought to America from Europe were all nusach s’fard…
May such ‘problems’ always be the sort we are confronted with… :-)
I think you should speak to the person who is your Rav now. It may be that the minhagim you have taken on might not be required, since you didn’t know they were chumros, but were taught that they were halachos.
Interestingly, I attended a halacha class last week and found that there is almost no source for the custom of “no gebrochs”. It is not mentioned in either the Shulchan Aruch or Mishna Bruea. In fact, the halacha in the SA and MB is that you can eat matzoths dipped in water to fulfill the mitzvoth of eating matzoth at the seder itself, which is quite the opposite of not eating any matzoh or matzoh type product dipped in water the entire Pesach (not just the seder) (please don’t take what I have written here as halacha le’maseh – consult your Rav)
Rabbi Welcher is a huge proponent of focusing on the normative Halacha and not the Chumras. He often points out that if we don’t know the difference we can be violating the Halacha in the process of keeping a Chumra.
He recently told a story about the great Brisker Rav who was known to be very machmir (stringent) in his practices. Somebody saw him drinking water outside the Sukkah and asked him why he wasn’t following the chumra of eating and drinking everything in the Sukkah. He replied “I’m not on the madrega (level) of taking on Chumras. Every stringency that I follow is because I have a suffek (question) in the din (normative halacha)”.
This comment should also serve to make a Hekish (a connection) between the holidays of Pesach and Sukkos.
These are great questions!
Here’s where belonging to a community and having a Torah personality to guide you comes in.
If you became observant and have become integrated into a community that is well defined, it would seem logical to adopt the customs of that community. For instance, if all the other girls in our daughter’s class or in shul are dressing one way, it would make sense for your child to do the same.
Of course that’s often not the case. In most communities, there are varying customs and levels of observance. For example, there are many FFBs who wear Tefillin that are Nusach Sefard but daven Nusach Ashkenaz because they come from chassidic backgrounds that became watered down (hey, it even happens to FFBs!) and were then sent to Litvish yeshivos. There are people who’s families eat out of the Sukkah on Shmini Atzeres, but they’ve been taught that it’s not the best thing to do… so they “upgrade” from their families’ customs. There are towns with yeshivish people who only eat cholov Yisroel while other yeshivish people don’t. etc…
Certain questions are halachic and for those, you ask a question to a competent rabbi and then you know what to do. There too though, easier said than done…The rabbi can only answer the question he was asked. Giving the rabbi the necessary background information can yield a completely different answer to what he would say if only the basic question is asked. The rabbi needs to know what you’re comfortable with, what your spouse feels. How long you’ve been frum, within which community….
As for the person who advised you to only eat pas yisroel and cholov Yisroel from the first day you had a kosher kitchen, all I can say is, I wouldn’t have given the same advice. But now that you are doing that, perhaps, if it’s not too hard for you, and you’ve already accepted it, you might be obligated to keep to that standard. – If you feel it was a bit much, there exists the concept of hataras nedarim (releasing one’s self from vows) which you might consider. On the other hand, I’m not even sure you are obligated to some stringencies as you may have accepted it thinking there was only one way to do it, in which case that was an error and not binding.
I know of many who walked before they ran and were happy. I also know of many who started off running and were fine too. A lot of this has to do with personality and environment.
Like I said, get to understand yourself well, then ask a rabbi who has the time for you to explain the necessary background information. Oh, and here’s the real important thing, find a rabbi with the type of nature required to guide you in a way that fits where you and your spouse are at.
Perhaps it ‘comes along with the territory’ that many BTs feel that it’s more beneficial to take on the more rigorous minhagim/chumrim in order to ‘measure up’ to their FFB peers? As if being more machmir makes up for lack of yichus? (Hypothetical questions; just thinking out loud). However, if that is the case, I don’t think that any one minhag is totally more strict or totally more lenient than another. For example, Sephardim are more stringent in regards to eating food prepared by non-Jews, but eat kitinyot on Pesach. Chassidim are more strict in regards to cholav/pas yisrael; but more lenient in regards to how many mitzvot the women partake in (i.e. Chanukah; in my kehilla, a woman living alone lights the menorah – but a Chassidic woman would request her father has her in mind when he lights, etc.). Naturally, I think it is easier to follow the minhag of your Rabbi/mentors; since they will be much more well versed in the “hows” and “whys” – and you can be assured that when you have a question about a particular custom, the answer will be available and that is what is key to pass down to future generations.
I don’t know about the halachic issue, but socially, it is probably easier to conform to common customs in your community. For Pesach, that may not matter much if you live in a community where it’s common for people not to eat outside their own home :-) Or land up not eating outside relatives’ homes (more common nowadays).
One the beautiful things about being a BT is that you have the option of taking on legitimate minhagim. And as you find your derech, you ask and find out reasons why you do things. As we approach yom tovim I always explain to my six year old why I do certain things I do.
Just last week we had our upstair’s neighbor (a FFB, eirlich jew with a passion for halacha and midos tovos) over for havdala and the question of why I hold both the candle and my kiddush cup for the final bracha came up, for example.
When we don’t have relatives who remember what their parents or grandparents did, we must take the bull by the horns. We are our children’s yechus!
I thought this was an excellent posting and your words really resonated with me. I too struggle with the issues of reclaiming an authentic family minhag and have sought out rabbis who are knowledgeable in the minhagim from the area in Ukraine where my family comes from.
Finally, I thought you would appreciate the quote in this posting:
I ran into an interesting situation a few years ago. I read that the proper choice of davening nusach (Ashkenazic vs. Chassidic “Sefard”) depended on my family’s tradition.
So what exactly was this family tradition?
1. From pre-World War I onward, on Staten Island, it was Ashkenaz
2. From some time in the 1700’s ’til the move to the US, in southern Poland (Galicia) and northern Hungary (Slovakia)it was Chassidic
3. Prior to Chassidism it had to have been Ashkenazic
So I asked our Rav, and he recommended Choice 1, the latest that my immediate family had adopted, which I then continued to follow. Other Rabbonim, if Chassidic, might have recommended differently.