Rabbi Shlomo Cohen
There was a Dor of Tannaim, of Amoraim, Rishonim, and Achronim. We’re going to be remembered as the generation of the Machmirim.
Previous generations were not Machmir on everything. Some individuals, usually big Talmidei Chachomim, would take upon themselves various Chumrose which they felt enhanced their Avodas HaShem. Their stature alone prevented charges of גאווה or יוהרה (Vanity and arrogance).
Historically, the Poskim in each Kehilla would answer Sheilos in the most lenient manner possible relying on the Gemora’s admonition כחה דהתירא עדיף. (The power of leniency takes precedence.)
Chazal determined that Hillel’s leniencies were to be preferred over Shammai’s stricter approach. In addition, Yiddishkeit is in danger of maxxing out on Chumros. Where do we go to from that point? We believe it is time to take a step back and carefully analyze what steps are necessary. Is there a rule book? Why yes there is. The Shulchan Aruch has filled that role for the past 500 years. Today, if you are not Machmir you are somehow less ‘Frum’.How is it that normative Halacha is no longer sufficient? Is Chumra really better in some way?
The very word Chumra is overused, often misused. Allow us to analyze Halachic decision making.
There are three “levels” of Halacha.
The baseline Halacha,
A lenient understanding,
Or a stricter viewpoint.
Halacha is based on Mesorah. The transmitted information tracing back to Har Sinai. The oral Torah actually preceded the Written Torah and was passed down through the generations from teacher to student, by word of mouth, until, due to outside pressures, it started to be forgotten. R’ Yehuda HaNasi codified the data into our Mishna. Future generations continued discussions until the Gemora was codified by Ravina and Rav Ashi. This constitutes our Mesora. The term Chazal used refers specifically to the Tannaim and Amoraim. The Geonim and Rishonim who followed based their decisions on the Gemora. The Achronim who came after based their decisions on the Rishonim. We no longer rely solely on our limited understanding of Talmud.
Hence, any P’sak today must have a direct connection to a Rishon to be authoritative. New technology requires a Posek to be very well-informed. Microwave ovens are relatively new. The manner of cooking is one which is apparently not mentioned in Maseches Shabbos. Rav Feinstein zt”l recognized that microwaves are part of the electro-magnetic spectrum, thus, being rays similar to light and heat. He therefor decided that microwaves are תולדה דאור(a variant of light) and really do fit the Gemora’s definition of cooking.
Normative Halacha is not a Kulla.
So, one who keeps Cholov Yisroel is not being Machmir. Cholov Yisroel is baseline, normative Halacha! Back in the 1950’s, when it was available from only one dairy in Williamsburg, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l developed a leniency, based upon the fear of government inspectors, creating a new category of milk called Cholov Stam, thus saving millions of Jews from simply ignoring a basic, obligatory Halacha.
Similarly, those who do not utilize the city-wide or neighborhood-wide Eruv are also not being Machmir. Virtually all Poskim rely on Rambam’s P’sak that these Eruvin are not Kosher! Those who do use these Eruvin are relying on the leniency of one Rishon whose Psak was that they are Kosher.
Yiddishkeit in America has undergone several huge changes. Early immigrants tended to be simple, unlearned Baalei-Battim. The freedoms available tempted them to loosen many restrictions. The workplace demanded a 6-day work week. Economic and social pressures were enough to cause many to water down, if not totally forsake, their Yiddishkeit. Haskala, Conservative and Reform offered attractive alternatives. This state of affairs lasted from the large wave of immigration in the late 1800’s until the wave of Hungarian Jews in the 1950’s after the Hungarian Revolution. Generally following the P’sak of the Chasam Sofer, Hungarian Jewry tended to be Machmir in many areas. They brought Glatt Kosher with them. Tzais HaKochvim was 42 minutes in most of Europe, 72 in most of Hungary. There were few Chasidim or Rebbes in America until the Hungarisher got here. Streimels were almost unheard of, black hats were worn by a few Rabbis (and a lot of priests), few men wore beards or Payos, Tzitzis were tucked in, etc.etc. Most women didn’t cover their hair, wore pants , and Taharas HaMishpacha was rarely observed.
Whereas less than 1% of boys stayed in Yeshiva after the age of 15 in Europe, due to universal education, 99% made to 18 in American schools. The Bais Yaakove schools in Europe were very small. Suddenly all girls were given a high school education. The Vietnam war often necessitated that boys remain in Yeshiva after high school giving the Roshei Yeshiva additional time to influence their young impressionable students.
At about the same time the Ba’al Tshuva movement took off and, again, young, impressionable, well-meaning, truth seekers wanted to do things in the “best” way possible and, lo and behold, Chumra became the “new” norm.
As things progressed peer pressure and what became socially acceptable kept moving farther to the right. In the early years of Yeshivose in America the entrance exam was “Is your mother Jewish?”. Now, in some places “Does your father work?” or “Do you wear blue shirts?” is enough to keep a child out.
Language of Halacha
(We will be using only one or two examples of each phrase out of scores of usages simply as a means of seeing how a Posek uses it. This is not meant to be authoritative.)
Poskim use language very carefully. Different phraseology can have very different applications.
(There are those who are strict)
The phrase Yaish L’Hachmir is used to tell us that this is a Chumra B’Alma. (A stringency of the world connoting little, if any, Halachic basis.)
ולכן יש לאסור גם כן להשתמש מן הקדירות של התנורים שבבית החורף, משום דנתזים עליהם לפעמים בשר וחלב מן הקדרות שמבשלים בתנורים (מהרי”ו). ובדיעבד אין לחוש בכל זה. כא ואף לכתחלה אין בזה אלא חומרות בעלמא, והמיקל לא הפסיד
.שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות בשר בחלב סימן פז סעיף ו
The Shulchan Aruch tells us that some people are Machmir to be careful when pots in the oven spatter droplets between meat and milk. He says this is only a Chumra B’Alma. Those who are lenient suffer no loss.
המחמיר תבוא עליו ברכה
(A blessing upon those who are strict)
ויש חולקין על זה ואומרים שריח החמץ בלבד אינו אוסר כלל כיון שלא נקלט בההיתר מטעם החמץ כלום אפילו משהו ולפיכך אף על פי ששני התבשילין הן שמנים והם מגולין בתוך התנור שהוא סתום לגמרי ונשתהו בתוכו כמה ימים ונקלט ריח החמץ בתבשיל או בצלי של היתר מותר לאוכלו בפסח ובמקום הפסד מרובה או בשעת הדחק כגון לצורך שמחת יום טוב שאין לו מאכלים אחרים יש לסמוך על דבריהם וכן נוהגין ומכל מקום המחמיר תבוא עליו ברכה
שולחן ערוך הרב אורח חיים סימן תמז סעיף יא
Shulchan Aruch HaRav refers to leaving Pesachdig and Chometzdig foods in separate pots within the same oven. Even if the foods are fatty, the pots open, and are left for many days, in cases of lack of other food, Simchas Yom Tov, or great necessity we can rely on the lenient view. However, one who is strict will receive a blessing.
בעל נפש יחמיר
(A Ba’al Nefesh would be an individual who wishes to continually improve himself)
אמנם באמת הרבה ראשונים חולקין על הי”א הנ”ל כמו שכתבנו שם בסימן שמ”ה וע”כ אף דאין למחות לאחרים הנוהגין להקל ע”י צורת הפתח שכן נהגו מעולם ע”פ דעת הפוסקים המקילין בזה מ”מ כל בעל נפש יחמיר לעצמו שלא לטלטל ע”י צורת הפתח לבד ועיין בביאור הלכה
משנה ברורה סימן שסד
The Mishna Brura is discussing the use of an Eruv around a city. He tells us not to stop those who do carry inside them as there are Poskim who are lenient. In any event, he says, a Baal Nefesh should be Machmir. He adds the word “for himself”.
D’Orysa / D’Rabanan / Minhag
Chumros have to be weighed based upon the nature of the Halacha involved. Even though we treat D’Rabbanans as extremely important, and a Mitzva D’Rabbanan carries the same weight as a Torah Mitzva, and, as we shall see, a Minhag Yisroel is treated as if it is D’Orysa. Nonetheless, adding an additional level, such as a Chumra, to a D’Orysa is far more acceptable than being Machmir on a D’Rabbanan or Minhag.
Additionally, a Chumra on a D’Orysa carries with it the possibility of בעל תוסיף (adding on to a Mitzva) which is, in itself, may be an Aveira.
Plus, there is a general rule: ספק דאורייתא לחומרה ספק דרבנן לקולה (a doubt on a Torah law should be decided more strictly whereas a doubt on a rabbinic law is decided leniently). Once again, full knowledge of the issue is crucial.
(Beautifying a Mitzva)
כגון באתרוג לקיום מצות ארבעת המינים, אין להסתפק באתרוג בעל שיעור מינימלי שהוא כאגוז (לדעת ר’ מאיר), או כביצה (לדעת ר’ יהודה), אלא יש לרכוש אתרוג הגדול ממנו בשליש.
ועיין במהרש”א (בחידושי אגדות למסכת בבא קמא דף ט, ב) שנתן טעם לשיעור הידור בשליש הגודל, שכן מצינו הידור דומה בשיעור הלולב, שהוא צריך להיות גדול מן ההדס בשליש.
. שאם אחד מהאתרוגים הוא בעל שיעור מצומצם – כאגוז לר’ מאיר או כביצה לר’ יהודה – והשני גדול ממנו, מצוה להוסיף שליש על דמי הראשון ולקנות את הגדול לפי שעד שליש מוזהר הוא להתנאות במצוה, וכך היא חובתו, ונוטל שכרו ביחד עם שאר מצוות, אבל מה שמוסיף יותר, מידה יתירה עושה, כמפרנס עני ומוסיף לו יותר שנמצא חוננו ואין הקדוש ברוך הוא מקפח שכרו, אלא משלם לו שכר התוספת בעולם הזה, ואוכל פירות בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לעולם הבא” (ע”פ ערוך, ר”ח ותוס’ בבא קמא דף ט, ב).
The best-known example is that of Esrog. Note however that Seforim have placed a limit on beautification of 1/3 greater in size and cost. Should you wish to exceed the 1/3 rule we highly recommend asking your Rav.
Years ago, I sold Daled Minim. A young man learning in Kollel came and asked me for my most expensive Esrog. I told him, as he was in Kollel, that I wouldn’t dream of selling him something he really shouldn’t afford. He kept insisting. Finally, I said that if he answered one question correctly, I would give him that Esrog for free. Intrigued, he wanted to know the question. I asked him if had bought his wife 2 dresses for Yom Tov. He was puzzled. What did dresses have to do with Esrogim? The Halacha is that a husband should buy his wife a nice dress for Yom Tov. Since he wanted a Mehudar Esrog it would be proper to do a Hiddur on the dress as well. He got the point!
לפנים משורת הדין
(Going beyond the requirements of Halacha)
השם חסיד נאמר על העושה לפנים משורת הדין וכן אמרו: לאהבה את ה’ אלהיכם ללכת בכל דרכיו וגו’, מה הקדוש ברוך הוא נקרא חסיד, שנאמר: וחסיד בכל מעשיו – שעושה לפנים מן השורה – אף אתה היה חסיד. וכן אמרו בכמה מקומות במשנה ובברייתא: חסידים הראשונים היו עושים כן – שחסידים זריזים הם במצוו ומחמירים על עצמם – או: מעשה בחסיד אחד שהיה עושה כן אף בכמה הלכות שנשנו סתם, פירשו שלא נאמרו על דרך חיוב לכל, אלא מידת חסידות שנו כאן, שאם חסיד הוא, יעשה כן. וכן מצינו שאמרו על דבר שמותר מן הדין, שמכל מקום אין רוח חסידים נוחה הימנו, או שאין זו משנת חסידים, או שבעל נפש – חסיד שירא ופורש מספק איסור – לא יעשה כן, או שהצנועים – בני אדם חסידים שרוצים לסלק ידי כל אדם
אנציקלופדיה תלמודית כרך טז, [חסורה] טור שפה
Here is a wonderful definition of the type of person worthy of doing more than Chazal required. One who avoids any Halachic doubts and fully understands that there is no obligation whatever but is fully committed to going ‘above and beyond’ may do so only if he is worthy.
Clearly, there are some Mitzvose, as Tzedaka, where one can give more than required as long as he can afford to do so.
יוצא לכל הדעות והספקות
(Doing a Mitzva in a manner taking in all opinions or doubts)
מז. בענין ברכת המוציא ואכילת מצה. וזה לשון האגור (הל’ ליל פסח, סוף סי’ תת”ח): ואני המחבר אכתוב מנהג של מורי אבי ז”ל, שהיה לוקח שלש המצות, כלומר גם הפרוסה באמצע, ומברך על שלשתן ‘המוציא’, כדי לקיים לחם משנה בשתי שלמות (שבת קיז ב), וגם לקיים ‘מה דרכו של עני בפרוסה’ (פסחים קטו ב), ואחר כך מניח השלישית ומחזיק בידו הראשונה והשניה הפרוסה, ומברך על שתיהן יחד ‘על אכילת מצה’, ובוצע משתיהן יחד, כזית מכל אחת, ובזה יוצא לכל הדעות והספקות, עד כאן (האגור)
. של”ה מסכת פסחים פרק נר מצוה
The Shelah HaKodesh tells us how his father made the Brachos on 3 Matzos at the Seder. He did so in order to satisfy all the various opinions. In fact, most everyone follows this method today.
Similarly, many who follow the Chazon Ish’s larger measurements do so to accomplish all opinions.
Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin, on the other hand, does not satisfy all opinions at all. There are 4 different opinions on the order of the Parshios alone. The Vilna Gaon made a Cheshbon that one would need to put on 64 pair of Tefillin daily to meet all the opinions of the Rishonim.
רב חיים בנימין פונטרימילי in a rather long, fascinating Tshuva in שו”ת פתח דביר א”ח סימן קמ”ו discusses the issue of one who stands for Krias HaTorah while the rest of the congregation remains seated. He also discusses Rabbeinu Tam Tefilin. He writes that a יראי שמים who is מוחזק ומפורסם בחסידות would not be guilty of Yuhara unlike one who is not known for his Chasiddus. Ultimately, he decides that neither is guilty of Yuhara only if they have the proper Kavana.
He continues by mentioning that if there is a מחלוקת (disagreement between Poskim) one who wishes to follow the stricter opinion may do so. Yuhara attaches only when one does something not in accordance with Halacha unless it is recognizable that he is acting differently from those around him, which remains Yuhara.
Chumra versus Kula
Often holding a Chumra, on the one hand, will have a concomitant Kula on the other. For instance, holding a Chumra in Hilchos Nidda will result in lessening Mitzvas Onah. Or being Machmir in Hilchos Shabbos will mitigate the proper response to Pikuach Nefesh.
Thus, we see that Chumros carry a responsibility requiring full knowledge of the topics involved as well as consistency and balance.
The ability to be lenient takes knowledge and understanding. Any fool can decide to simply always be strict in an attempt to avoid problems. Without a total mastery of all the issues that decision is intellectually dishonest and perhaps even morally wrong. Ask yourself the following question. “How does this make me a better person?”, “Is this actually making me ‘more Frum’”? Be honest with yourself.
By the way, being lenient is following the Halacha.
Another area colliding with Chumros is that of Minhag. There are 5 types of Minhag.
מנהג ישראל תורה היא
מנהג ישראל תורה היא
(Jewish customs have the force of Torah law.)
This is a general rule. That which a large portion of the Jewish people has accepted as a Minhag has the status of a Torah obligation. For instance, Ashkenazic Jewry has accepted avoiding eating locusts due to lack of Mesora, even though Sefaradim have a clear Mesora.
(The customs of a particular Shul, town, city or country.)
The Minhagim of a community apply to the entire community, The rules here are somewhat different. One who is lenient and moves to a place that is strict should take on the stricter view. When one is strict and moves to a lenient place, he may keep the stricter stance. In America today, however, it is a rare Kehilla that is standardized and uniform. New Square comes to mind. Otherwise, the principle would certainly apply to that of a Shul.
(the customs of your father and family)
Family customs are of supreme importance. Every individual should make a point of speaking with their father and paternal grandfather concerning family Minhagim.
Ba’alei Tshuva might attempt to find out where the family originated and get some idea of what their Minhag might be. Otherwise, they can adopt the Minhagim of the wife’s family if they are known. If not, they can choose to follow the Minhagim of their Rebbe or the Frum family that ‘adopted’ them.
(The custom(s) of an individual)
An individual can, of course, choose to adopt Minhagim that are not standard in his community or weren’t those of his father. One who chooses to do so should make it his business to research the underlying Halacha carefully, determine his real reasons for wanting to do so, and probably most importantly, discuss the issue with his Rav.
We don’t believe that a father’s individual Minhag is incumbent on a son. Ask a Rav.
Sometimes Sifrei Halacha label things that people do as Minhag Shtus (foolish or ridiculous customs).
בעה”י. על דבר אשר נשאלתי מאת מעלתו הרמה מה ענין מנהג איסור תלמוד תורה בליל חגם, לא שמעתי טעם מקובל בזה. גם מה ששמעתי מאמ”ו נ”י לא נהירא, הגם כי יש סייעתא לזה ממנהג העולם שאוסרים גם תשמיש וסוגרים שערי טבילה, ולדעתי מנהג שטות הוא ויש למחות ביד הנוהגים כן דאלו לטעם אמ”ו נ”י קשה מה חילוק בין קודם חצות לילה לאחריה שנוהגין היתר אחר חצות, והיכן מצינו דפלגי רבנן בתקנתא דידהו בין פלגא דליליא לפלגא, ועיין גמ’ פסחים ב’ ע”ב.
שו”ת חתם סופר קובץ תשובות סימן לא
The Chasam Sofer calls the Minhag of not learning Torah on Xmas eve a Minhag Shtus and informs us to stop people from doing so.
Okay. As any knowledgeable person has experienced, the level of ignorance seems to deepen every year. We are reminded of an incident when a fellow told me that he is so Frum he is very careful about kashrus to the extent that he doesn’t trust the OU, OK or Chaf K. After calling him an ignorant fool, I picked up a package of “moishie’s heimeshe cookies”. The first ingredient was flour. “Did moishie grow his own wheat and grind it himself?’. No! The flour was either OU, OK, or Chaf K. The next ingredient was the same as was the third, fourth, and fifth. In other words, all he was relying on was OU, OK, or Chaf K. Be careful of your statements!!!
Things are slowly changing, but for many years I would simply stand up in the back the entire wedding ceremony to avoid doing everything the opposite of what everyone was doing. They stood when the Choson walked down the aisle. He isn’t דומה למלך (comparable to a king) until after the Chuppa. They would also unnecessarily stand for the Kalla. But nobody ever stood for the grandparents, which is D’Orysa! מפני סיבה תקום (stand up for the elderly. Anyone over 70, or 60 according to the Ari Z”l)
We have asked any number of people “What is the proper Kavana when putting on Rabbeinu Tam Tefilin?” We have yet to hear the correct response. One or the other is Retzuose B’Alma, simply straps. No Mitzva. In fact, the way we Poskin today, if you only have Rabbeinu Tam, no Rashi, you should wear them for Davening, but without any Bracha. Without the proper Kavana, thinking that one is Yotzei the Mitzva of Tefilin with either pair may be guilty of בעל תוסיף (adding a Mitzva) which is an איסור דאורייתא.
I would like to give HaRav Simcha Berman a bigיישר כחך for giving me feedback after reading this article and taking the time for several long discussions clarifying this issue.
Actually, the proper Kavana is more complicated. The entire issue is very complex. There is simply no other Chumra like Rabbeinu Tam Tefilin. In almost every other situation the Chumra is a matter of adding on to either quantity or time. Should one hold Chazone Ish’s Shiurim he will have fulfilled all the lesser Shiurim as a matter of course. So too, if you say Krias Shema according to the Mogen Avrohom you will have automatically Davened within the Zman of the Gra. Rabbeinu Tam Tefilin, on the other hand, is an issue of either/or. Only one can be Kosher, hence, the other must be Pasul.
Those who are מוחזק ומפורסם בחסידות are most likely familiar with the entire Sugya and are aware of the Kavanose necessary for each of the 3 ways of putting on both pair and are knowledgeable regarding placing the Tefilin in their respective bags. There is reason to be concerned regarding the Bar-Mitzva boys and young Chasanim who have the custom of putting on 2 pairs of Tefilin daily. There is no longer a problem of מחזי כיוהרה as they are all doing it. However, every father of these boys is put on notice to have someone familiar with all the ramifications speak to their sons beforehand.
There is one other Mitzva with a possible either/or choice. That would be Tekias Shofar. We will discuss this separately at the end of this article.
By far and away, most people are doing things without the requisite knowledge or without asking a Rav. We saw a woman shopping using two shopping carts. In one she had all her Milchigs and the other cart was reserved for Fleishig. (We wonder if she has separate garbage pails at home?)
Middas Chassidus has nothing to do with the followers of the Besht or the current groups known as Chassidim. It is a term used in the Sifrei Halacha and Sifrei Mussar to refer to those who chose a life of פרישות (separation) and total dedication to a life of Torah.
Middas Chassidus means taking on some additional aspect of Halacha, often a Chumra. The dictum לא עם הארץ חסיד (an ignoramus cannot be righteous) applies. Our’s is not a do-it-yourself, make-it-up-as-you-go-along kind of religion. If it is not a Mesora can it be called Yiddishkeit? Middas Chassidus is best left to the cognoscenti.
The Besht (1698 – 1760) appeared at a time when World Jewry was still reeling from a drawn-out series of tragedies. First the Crusades (1095 -1291) followed by the Inquisition and expulsion from Spain (1492). The Khemelnytsky massacres (1648 – 1657) and the depredations of Shabsai Tzvi (1626 – 1676) occurred just before and during the Besht’s lifetime. His approach, based upon Lurianic Kabala, appealed to two different groups. His close Talmidim, who were all big Talmidei Chachmim, and large group of the uneducated. Each group responded in very different ways. The Chachomim delved into Kabala on a solid foundation of Torah knowledge. All the others picked up a smattering of populist “Kabala” with little, if any, real understanding of the esoteric and sublime concepts involved.
This, of course, led to them adopting all sorts of, often zany, ways of expressing what they thought was דביקות (clinging to HaShem).
When and how to follow the dictates of Kabala, when it is in conflict with the Talmud, is an area of expertise decided on by Gedolei HaPoskim. There are rules governing these decisions. Admit that you don’t know the rules.
Very Often Chumra is not Yiddishkeit
Naturally, what transpired had little to do with Torah and Mitzvos. Much of the crazier stuff has thankfully been left behind. Today, there has been something of a synthesis between the Chasidic world, the “Litvish” Yeshivos, and the Modern Orthodox. Eventually, one hopes that these streams will be able to meet and agree on what Yiddishkeit actually is. Regretfully, that may have to wait for Eliyahu HaNavi to Posken on the myriad Sheilos followed by Moshiach who should come במהרה בימינו -אמן סלה.
Today we see communities with separate sidewalks. (Look what happened to the concept of Mechitza, Ma). The whole idea of Chassidic Levush (mode of dress) is simply mimicking the Rebbes who, originally, copied the dress of the aristocratic class in the Middle Ages. Nothing to do with Torah or Mitzvos.
Yeshiva boys in black hats and dark suits are merely copying their Roshei Yeshiva. Young men in European Yeshivos did not dress like this. Not Yiddishkeit.
A young man decided to sit directly behind me in shul. Twice daily he would loudly say Shema like this: Shema Yisroel H’ Elokeinu H’ EchaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaT.
It actually ran even longer. I had to wait until he finished before I could start my Shema I found it so disconcerting. After several weeks I showed him the Mishna Brura.
האריך בחי”ת – כתב המ”א בשם המ”ע שיאריך בחי”ת כשיעור שליש ובד’ כשיעור ב’ שלישים. וי”א שלא יאריך בחי”ת כלל רק יכוין הכל בדלי”ת וכ”כ הגר”א בביאורו
: משנה ברורה סימן סא ס”ק יח
He told me that he liked doing it his way and continued even after I mentioned that he wasn’t Yotzei Krias Shema as he wasn’t lengthening the Ches by 1/3, just the Kamatz by way too much and it’s a Daled at the end not a T and he didn’t even know how to lengthen that.
Impinging On Another Person
We would like to state an important rule for those wishing to adopt a Chumra. Be very careful not to adopt a Chumra which will affect another person. Certainly not without their permission.
A case in point. A Bochur once told me he was thinking about taking on no Gebrucht. We asked him why he thought so little of his wife. He laughed and told us he wasn’t even married yet. We then asked why he disliked someone he hadn’t even met. He wanted to know what we were talking about. “You want to sit at the Seder like a king. You didn’t stop to think that your future wife is expected to cook delicious meals without key ingredients and now you want to remove just about everything else. This wouldn’t be your Chumra. It would be an unnecessary hardship on your wife”. If this was your family Minhag, you wouldn’t have a choice. If it’s not – beware.
On the other end of the spectrum isיצא שכרו משום הפסידו.( Losing the benefit as the downside is greater.) There is a Halacha to eat Afikomen before Chatzos. Unfortunately, as the man of the house wishes to show off his erudition with a Dvar Torah on every paragraph of the Hagada, and naturally all the kids also need to share the things they brought home from yeshiva. We reach Shulchan Orech (the meal) and hubby realizes there’s only 15 minutes to Chatzos, so he tells his dear wife “Skip the fish and the salad, the soup and the main dish with all the sides, just give me a little dessert so we can eat Afikomen on time”. He wanted to show off. How about his Ayshis Chayil who worked herself into frazzle preparing Pesach. She gets to “show off” by serving a beautiful meal and hubby just stole her show. Afikomen by Chatzos is certainly important. So is Bein Adam L’Chavero. It applies to your spouse. There are ways to accomplish both. Use your head.
Here are several Chumros which will not impinge on anyone else.
-Daven Vasikin (sunrise). Be sure not to wake up your wife.
-Rav Moshe Zt”l recommends a Ba’al Nefesh not wear a watch on Shabbos.
-Fast for תענית בה”ב
Or how about simply doing the many things which are normative Halacha and are mostly forgotten.
שנים מקרא ואחד תרגום
Saying every Bracha slowly, clearly, and out loud
Positive Reasons for Being Machmir
As long as the Chumra is done לשמה (L’Shma Lit. for the sake of heaven) there is little to be said. Personal growth is a good thing within proper guidelines.
Yet another good reason for Chumra is מדת חסידות. However, this is reserved for those on a sufficiently high .מדרגה
There are another 2 good reasons for keeping certain Chumros; Belonging to a group being one. The other would have to do with where you live.
Being Chasiddish, depending upon which group, means keeping to the customs of that particular Rebbe. Being Chassidish without a Rebbe is not being Chassidish.
Living in Lakewood, for example, requires remaining in step with the customs of the Yeshiva community.
Negative Reasons for Avoiding Chumra
When done שלא לשמה (Shelo Lishma, not for the sake of a Mitzva) גאווה (vanity) and מחזי כיוהרה (appearance of arrogance) come into play and the Chumra becomes detrimental. Then it may actually result in spiritual shrinkage.
Another major problem is that of rejecting previous generations levels of kashrus, tefillin, etc. Saying, or even thinking, that only your standards are Kosher isמוציא לעז (slander) on all prior Yidden.
Deciding on someone else’s level of Frumkeit based on one’s own perceived “better”, “more Frum” approach is the height of arrogance.
Chumra has also created a large element of divisiveness between various groups, with a big dash of elitism thrown in. Seeing others as less than Frum as you are is harmful and just plain wrong!
One also needs to carefully analyze when and how to push young children into Chumra, especially when living “out-of-town”.
In a situation where one person holds Chumros and the other party doesn’t could very well destroy a possible Shidduch. Not a great idea.
When one group keeps a Chumra and other groups don’t the potential for Loshon Ha’Ra is a real and present danger.
One of the biggest charges often leveled in Seforim against those who are Machmir is that ofמחזי כיוהרה (Mechzei K’Yuhara means giving the appearance of arrogance: note that it only has to be the appearance of). In other words, even if your intentions are solid you must take into account how others may react to whatever you are doing.
Other times Poskim may call him a בעל גאוה (arrogant) or a גס רוח (a coarse or vulgar person) dependent on the particular Chumra, the given situation, and the nature of the person involved.
Are there really going to be rewards for doing this? Do you think you will be getting a better seat in Olam HaBa? Ask yourself,” Is this Yiddishkeit or am I simply conforming like a sheep?” Each group’s uniform is nothing more than a form of identification and is worn as protective camouflage. No uniform, outside of Tzitzis, has the least connection to authentic Torah Judaism. Take to heart the maxim אל תתתקל בקנקן אלה מה שיש בו (Don’t look at the vessel, rather determine what it contains.)
Today, it can mean the difference between a child being accepted in a proper school or not.
Whose house will you eat from? Whose invitations won’t you accept on the alleged basis of their “lower standard” of Kashrus? Are you saying that they aren’t keeping Kosher at all, or simply not Kosher enough?
Asay Lecha Rav
Perhaps the single, most important thing to remember is the dictum עשה לך רב(select a Rav for yourself). This is an obligation. Without a Rav who knows you well and understands your unique situation, any decisions you make may very well be ill-defined and not objectively thought out.
A Rav is somebody who has spent the requisite time in learning. Knows, and understands, the complexities of Shas and Poskim, and is qualified to decide matters of Halacha as well as Hashkafa.
Just as you would no more make all your own medical or legal decisions without professional guidance, Jewish law is best left to the experts. There is no substitute for דעת תורה
As we stated above, the Mitzva of Tekias Shofar may be a Chumra with an either/or choice involved. Is this the same as Rabbeinu Tam Tefilin? The Torah requires 2 sounds. A Tekiah and a Teruah. A total of six Tekios with a Teruah between each set of Tekios. That comes to 9 Kolos.
There is a question about the sound of the Teruah. It must emulate the sounds of crying. There are 2 possibilities. ילולי יליל or ננוחי גנח. Either 9 very short sounds, what we now call a Teruah, or 3 intermediate ones, which are called Shevorim.
At some point, seemingly prior to the Z’man of the Gemora, there perhaps was some confusion regarding which sound was proper. This gives us 3 possibilities:
In the Bais HaMikdash they blew
- Only what we call Teruose
- Only what we call Shevorim
- Or perhaps they could have blown either.
In any event, at some point after the חורבן, some places blew Shevorim while in other places Teruose were blown. Reb Abahu, to prevent people thinking that we didn’t have our act together, decreed that both Kolose should be blown. This increased the number from 9 to 30. Once we added Tekios to the Shemona Esray (silent and/or repetition) the number jumped to 60. The Shelah HaKodesh added 40 more at the end for a total of 100.
There is no opinion that we must announce the Kavana that since only one of these Kolose is correct the other must be considered Kolose B’Alma. Furthermore, there is also no opinion that either one is a Hefsek between the proper Kol and it’s Tekiah before or after.
We must conclude that this Chumra differs from that of the Tefilin in that either Kol must be kosher whereas by Tefilin only one can be Kosher. Also, the decision regarding the Kolose was made during the Z’man of the Gemora, binding on all Klal Yisroel, whereas the Tefilin question seems to have cropped up later in the Z’man of the Gaonim.
Several other either/or Choices include:
Tefilin or not on Chol HaMoed.
Nusach of Davening. Ashkenaz, S’fard, Eidus HaMizrach, Roma.
Ksav Ashuris, Velish, or Ari z’l fot Sefer Torah, Mezuzos, or Tefilin.
Sitting or standing for Kiddush and Havdala.
Several differering Haftoros.
Differing knots and windings on Tzitzis and/ or Techailes.
However, these seem to be Minhagim rather than Chumros.