Friday, April 10, 2009

Truth in Harrassment: A World of Kulos

This world is a world of sheker. Sheker is the most plentiful commodity around and thus it is the cheapest thing on the market. I will not cease to be amazed at how many people are in the business of selling sheker but I am more amazed at how many people are buying it.

Why do they buy it? Like most of our made-in-China goods, the price is low and it is made to look like it is worth something. People think they are getting their money's worth. Truth is also available, but you have to know where to find it and it is not cheap. Truth always carries a steep price.

I will not sell any sheker. My book is cover to cover truth (Okay, let's forget about the opening of the Preface). That is why nobody is buying it. Also, Amazon has not discounted the price below $20 in about a year. Like I said, truth carries a steep price.

My book is a consumer's guide. It is meant to help people spot the truth in a sea of sheker. And this is what I have found myself doing in my most recent blog posts. Most shakranim do not really lie - they just bend the truth. And they do it by mischaracterizing concepts and using exaggerated terminology. I struggle to help people see through the mischaracterizations, distortions, and exaggerations.

There is a serious issue when one mischaracterizes concepts and then uses them as ammunition to make the innocent look guilty and the guilty look innocent. Thus, to call Jewish people thugs who do not meet the definition of thugs and people victims who do not meet the definition of victims and to call an event an attack that does not meet the definition of an attack is blatant mischaracterization and has no claim to emes (or to emunah). This was the subject of 2 recent posts (HERE and HERE).

Likewise, in another recent post (HERE), I took issue with somebody who called Bituach Leumi child allowance payments "welfare". This writer wrote that the scale that gives a bit extra to larger families - quite a logical phenomenon - is "punishing" those who do not yet qualify for the increase. A typical distortion: not yet qualifying for a bonus equals punishment!

It's not what you say, it's how you say it.

One of the most commonly used mischaracterizations is the term chumra. It is almost always used to connote an activity that goes beyond the letter of the law and is technically unnecessary. For if it meets the letter of the law, how can it be a chumra?

So, how do we determine what is a chumra or not? The answer is we check what it says in the "law". If the law mandates it, or even if it merely "advocates" it, then it is following "law" and not a chumra. Our law is the Shulchan Aruch. So clearly, anything that the Shulchan Aruch tells us we must do or refrain from doing is basic "law". Moreover, even things that the Shulchan Aruch says that we should do or not do, even when there are grounds to circumvent it, is definitely not beyond the letter of the law.

This law is what we call "Halacha". If one is Orthodox and a proponent of emes and emunah, he follows Halacha. An Orthodox Jew who has smicha gets his smicha from studying and taking tests in Shulchan Aruch. It is his job to follow Shulchan Aruch and to teach it to others. It is an undefensible travesty to call anything in Shulchan Aruch a chumra (unless the SA iteself calls it a chumra).

Actually, the opposite is true. Often, the Shulchan Aruch or qualified authorities tell us that we can come up short of the letter of the law when meeting the letter of the law entails difficdulties. What we call shaas hadchak, hefsed merubah, tirchah yeseira, and the like. These are what is known as kulos.

It is a sad day in Israel as well as a distortion of the truth (i.e., sheker) when not relying on kulos are termed as chumros!!

For the past few decades we have been blessed with an extraordinary measure of affluence and religious freedom coupled with substantial technological advances. These have enabled us to become more learned on a general scale, to be better acquainted with the laws of Shulchan Aruch, and in a better position to observe these laws the way that the Shulchan Aruch recommends. This is not called being machmir this is called being medakdek b'mitzvos.

This luxory is a gift from Heaven. It is also a nisayon - a test. Many of our parents and grandparents did not have this luxory of affluence, learnedness, technological conveniences, and communal support. And so, they had to rely on kulos. They were necessary but they were nevertheless kulos.

How do we know?

Because their parents did not rely on them.

Thus, I must take exception to a recent blog post that has the temerity to call itself Emes Ve-Emunah for distorting the truth and terming what is medakdek b'mitzvos as chumros. Here is what he writes:

We now live in the era of the Chumra. I have discussed this phenomenon in the
past. It is not my intention to discuss the reasons. But I do think it is
imortant to look at some of the fallout – particularly as it pertains to parents.

"The era of the Chumra". Is that so? And what, pray tell may be the chumros that he refers to? Let's skip a paragraph:

What about the grandchildren? Grandparents might have a TV in their home. Can
a grandchild be allowed to visit a grandparent lest he be exposed? What about a
newspaper? There are inappropriate advertisements contained even in a
respectable newspaper like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal? Should
a parent risk exposure to such material by allowing a child to visit a
grandparent? What about the food? Should a child be exposed to a grandparent who
does not keep ChalavYisroel? What if he is finds a Hershey Bar in the cupboard
and asks if he can have it? Is it worth the chance?

Two issues of note are mentioned here. One is having a TV in the house. The other is Chalav Yisroel. The impression given by the poster is that observing (against and for, respectively) on these 2 issues are to be considered chumras! Of course, it does not say in Shulchan Aruch "Thou shalt not watch TV" but I would assume that the Torah's admonitions of קדושים תהיו and ונשמרתם מכל דבר רע are pretty fundamental. And Cholov Yisroel is mandated in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 115. Yes, we all know that Rav Moshe Feinstein has presented "solid grounds" (his words) to permit American milk, but he himself calls it a "kula". How can anybody with semicha in Yoreh Deah even insinuate that to adhere to Shulchan Aruch פשוטו כמשמעו is a chumra??!!

It is sad that we have come to this – and does not speak well of children
who have these questions. Many of these parents have sacrificed great amounts of
time and money into educating their children to be religious Jews. They have
been sent to some of the finest day schools and Yeshivos. The result is an Olam
HaChumros - a world of religious stringencies that parents never dreamed their
children would become a part of.

If one follows this progression to its logical end, the grandchildren will be even more Machmir. Either that or they will go off the track and become irreligious (The pendulum does swing back).

Olam HaChumros? Our parents and grandparents, through want and through need, created a world of kulos. The kulos were necessary for them and possibly even for us. But when a kula becomes Halacha p'suka, we are in trouble. Thus, I am not worthy to judge the Jews who in 1910 and 1917 had to implement a Hetter Mechira on Shmitta. Yet, as the name indicates, it is a kula - a hetter for what should, in normal circumstances, truly be assur. We know that it is not necessary today. But when somebody who wants to keep Hilchos Shmitta k'dikduko and does not want to rely on this controversial Hetter is called "a machmir" we have truly lost our Halachic compass.

It is a sad day in Israel when being medakdek b'mitzvos and not following kulos are called Chumras! And since the issue at hand is a the opportunity to be medakdek b'mitzvos, what is he talking about that grandchildren will be even more machmir? Shulchan Aruch hasn't gotten a bit more "machmir" in 450 years!!

To be sure, Kibud Av V'Em is a very serious and sensitive topic. The Torah knows in advance that there are going to be conflicts between Kibud Av V'Em and proper observance of mitzvos. This is why the Torah says (Vayikra 19:3):

אִישׁ אִמּוֹ וְאָבִיו תִּירָאוּ וְאֶת-שַׁבְּתֹתַי תִּשְׁמֹרוּ

Each man must revere his mother and his father; and he must observe my Shabbos.

On which Rashi says:

ואת שבתותי תשמרו. סמך שמירת שבת למורא אב לומר אע"פ שהזהרתיך על מורא אב אם יאמר לך חלל את השבת אל תשמע לו וכן בשאר כל המצות:

He must observe my Shabbos: It juxtaposes Shabbos observance to reverence of parents to tell us that even though I cautioned you on revering your parents, if they tell you to violate the shabbos do not obey them, and so with all mitzvos.

It is a very sensitive and complex task to understand when this limitation applies and how to apply it. Every case must be evaluated on its individual merit. In most cases, there are middle-of-the-road solutions where Kibud Av V'Em will not be readily compromised and dikdukei mitzvos can still be upheld. In some cases, one may be advised to accept a reasonable kula for the sake of Kibud Av V'Em. Halachic guidance is indispensible.

Nevertheless, glossing over the subject by declaring the dikduk in mitzvos that is available to us today as chumros is misleading and dishonest. It makes it look as if there are no grounds at all for challenging the applicability of Kibud Av V'Em.


But I do think a lot of children end up only tolerating their parents and looking down at their Judaism. That sometimes causes them to minimize contact. I’ve seen it happen. I know of one case where a Frum parent is not invited to any of his children’s homes for the Pesach Seder. How sad is that?! What kind of values have his children really learned? What happened to Kibud Av V’Em?

I realize that there might be other factors involved –

No. There must be other factors involved. We all know scores of people who are more medakdek b'mitzvos than their elders and they have no problems interacting with them. These extreme cases are definitely the exception rather than the rule and clearly bespeak mitigating circumstances. Accordingly, I think it is very irresponsible to build any points from case examples where so much is left to the imagination. I honestly don't know where the author gets off on blanket indictments where he admits he does not know the dynamics.

like a parent who constantly criticizes his children’s Chumra filled lifestyles.

There's that dirty word again. Of course he can't say "Halacha filled" lifestyles because that would nullify his entire point.

But honoring one’s parents means biting that bullet.

Sometimes yes and sometimes not (see VaYikra 19:3 and Rashi). How do you know whether this is Yes or Not? There have been buckets of ink spilled on the issues of Kibud Av V"Em and what to do when parents and grandparents are lax in Halacha or accept kulos.

Our parents created a world of kulos. Kulos that their parents never observed. They did it because they had to. And it can be said that without these kulos, so many of us would not be religious today. We needed them. But they were kulos, nonetheless. In today's generation, we do not need many of these kulos any more. We have outgrown them and we can go back to living the lives of our great-grandparents.

If only Rabbi Harry would allow us.


Anonymous said...

I happen to agree with much of your post, but I think that you in fact don't believe much of what you write.

For example, you wrote:
> An Orthodox Jew who has smicha
> gets his smicha from studying and
> taking tests in Shulchan Aruch. It
> is his job to follow Shulchan
> Aruch and to teach it to others.

and yet you think it's a valid defense of a practice as "halacha" to say:

> Of course, it does not say in
> Shulchan Aruch "Thou shalt not
> watch TV" but I would assume
> that the Torah's admonitions
> of קדושים תהיו
> and ונשמרתם מכל דבר רע are
> pretty fundamental.

Bah humbug! Any serious analysis has to look at halacha psuka in rishonim and achronim. For example, let's look at the conditions under which it's mutar to walk by a river where women are bathing. Or the discussions in rishonim of jousting (yes, on horses) as wedding entertainment. Or the discussion by even the aruch hashulchan about saying kriyas shma in front of women with uncovered hair.

But you don't want to go there anyway, or else you'd have to address the fact that it's blatantly against gemorah and shulchan aruch for a father not to teach his son a trade, and against the kesuba that we all sign for a husband not to support his wife. You come up with all the terutzim that the shulchan aruch would never consider, and then try to claim that the shulchan aruch is the yardstick!

Try reading your own writing. Your writing is, I think, a mesilas yesharim for the modern day Jew. But it certainly leaves the existing chareidi world as lacking as any other constituency.

Ebenezer said...

Apparently I was unclear.

I agree 100% that a Jew should point to Shulchan Aruch as the yardstick for what's halacha, what's a chumra, and what's a kula.

Agreed about chalav stam. Agreed about a lot of other examples, like basar hanisalem min haayin (relates to rabbanut hechsherim).

But if you're a proponent of such an approach, you cannot then defend something as being "halacha" by saying:

> Of course, it does not say in
> Shulchan Aruch "Thou shalt not
> watch TV" but I would assume
> that the Torah's admonitions
> of קדושים תהיו
> and ונשמרתם מכל דבר רע are
> pretty fundamental.

Once you're resorting to things that you happen to believe are clear consequences of some vague psukim, you're moving out of the yardstick of Shulchan Aruch and into the more vague yardstick of personal feelings. Noone sits and learns and then considers something halacha psuka just because it seems to them to be like some psukim. Reform does that.

Moreover, anyone who uses Shulchan Aruch as their yardstick has to consider teaching a son a trade and providing mezonos for a wife to be mainstream halacha. Avoiding these obligations is a kula, even if it's done for the purpose of fulfilling other mitzvos.

Was I more clear?

Yechezkel said...

You are evidently responding to some of what I wrote in my following post before I even posted it.

I am a bit confounded. You must have seen the half-written post as it appeared when I accidentally clicked the "Publish" button instead of the "Save Now" button. I immediately disabled the unfinished post (probably within 2 minutes) so either your timing was incredibly auspicious or you were able to capture it, which indicates that you may be one of my "Followers".

In any case, the completed and edited post is up. עיין שם . Note, that I did not see this second comment of yours until after I posted my new post.

Anyway, as I wrote there, my position remains unchanged. Yes, I do use Shulchan Aruch as a yardstick. No, there is no obligation for a father to teach his son a trade in Shulchan Aruch.

Moreover, pasukim such as Kedoshim Tihiyu and V'nishmartem are invoked based on how they are understood by Chazal. I wish Reform would do that.