Can Chumros Be Bad For Your Neshamah?

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23 Responses

  1. Shades of Gray says:

    This is a link to the “Frumkeit” essay in Alei Shur:

  2. Raymond says:

    It seems to me that both Jewish law and life itself, makes more than enough demands on us, without us adding to it with extra stringencies. How much more is this the case if one really is adding such stringencies just to feel spiritually superior to one’s fellow Jews, or to compensate for not following Jewish law properly in other areas. I would say that if one feels the need to add such burdens to one’s life, that one should do it in the realm of how one treats one’s fellow human beings. Going out of one’s way to be kind and considerate toward others, strikes me as being a laudable goal, as our world is so deficient in kindness and compassion and there are many sad, lonely people out there. In contrast, having such stringencies when it comes to laws between Man and G-d, strikes me as being unnecessary, since G-d really is not affected by our actions toward Him anyway. I suspect that many religious people tend to emphasize the commandments between Man and G-d more than the kind between people, simply because too many of us find it easier to relate to G-d, then to be truly kind to our fellow human beings.

  3. Eli Julian says:

    Reminds me of the pithy Yiddish aphorism – “Frum is a galach, a Yid is ehrlich”. Loosely translated (with a lot of wit lost in the translation): A priest is religious (frum), a Jew is earnest.

  4. Tz says:

    A great person once asked the following question:

    The Gemara tells us that during the Second Temple period, Jews were “osek b’ torah, mitzvot, and gemilut hasidim”. We know that doing hesed – giving to others – engenders love, not animosity. So, how did it come that they were constantly doing hasidim for each other but they hated each other?

    Then answer is to be found in the Talmud Yerushalmi, where the braitha states that, “During the Second Temple times the Jews were diligent in Torah, careful in mitzvot observance and tithing, and they had every good custom, but they loved money and hated each other for no reason.”

    The Yerushalmi here (actually an older source than the Bavli in that it is a braitha, not an amoric statement) adds that love of money and sinat hinam caused the destruction. So, today, a very frum person would ask, “But look how many people are living in poverty for the sake of Torah? How can you say they love money?”

    The answer is that they’ve just exchanged one currency for another. Instead of the currency that buys the pleasures of this world, they are working to gain currency that buys pleasures of the next (e.g. zchussim). Thus, Torah observance – learning, mitvot, and doing hesed – became selfish endeavors.

    And once that happens, all is lost.

  5. ChanaRachel says:

    It’s worse than that– Just about every chumra causes one to be lax about some other Mitzva. Some examples- excessive chumrot on pesach can ruin simchat chag; all sorts of chumrot can cause shalom bayit issues; excessive kashrut chumrot can add to the economic distress of families that can least afford it. I would suggest that very few chumrot are neutral. Thus, it is not only that “what does it hurt to be machnir?” may reflect wrong motivations..the fact is that many chumrot have direct and negative consequences.

  6. dena frenkel says:

    i am wondering if chumras arent related to the extreme materialism of our age? which i think is the direct result of our difficulty in feeling connected to G-d. so people instead turn to the material world and external trappings as an outside display of the connection they no longer feel inside.

  7. Michael Mirsky says:

    Those who hold by the need to erase pictures of women are not going to be swayed by this because to them it isn’t a chumra – it’s halacha!

    • Gary says:

      Spot on. Tosofos in Sanhedrin (20a) cites a Yerushalmi that states it’s a disgrace for B’nos Yisroel to be in a position where men can stare at them. It seems that the other opinion agrees to the “g’nai” but holds that funerals are an exception. This is unrelated to the injunction on men against staring. It reasonably follows that a close up photograph in a general magazine or paper is an instance that invites staring and, following this Yerushalmi, B’nos Yisroel find it demeaning to be featured in such a forum. As with other assessments of Chazal, this g’nai should be assumed to be the default assumption even in modern times. It’s not a matter of permitted / prohibited, but one of “g’nai” which results in halachic application. If there is an alternate approach, I would appreciate hearing hearing it.

    • Yehudah Posnick says:

      But is it really halachah? If a woman is dressed properly, to the extent that it is permitted to say Shma or Shemone Esrei with her in view, is it still forbidden to have her picture in a newspaper?

  8. Rafael Falafelawful says:

    Here is an articles published by R’ Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer in the Jewish Observer many years ago about Chumros:

  9. Eli Blum says:

    When chumros are simply a matter of group identification, “top down” commands (for those with a “Rebbe”, both chassidish and Rosh Yeshivish) with the alternative of shunning, and not wanting to look less “frum” than the next group, where does that leave the followers?

    Chumros have been here since the Perushim (AKA Pharisees) looked down at other Jews for not eating their Chulin b’Taharah, and who walked by hurt people on the side of the road in fear that if they helped, they may become tameh (until the Good Samaritan comes along). We have not learned the lesson, and when we do, Moshiach will be here (b’karov).

    • Bob Miller says:

      There is no need here to recycle Christian propaganda of long ago.

      Anyway, the community’s social expectations, regardless of origin, can drive the individual or family into practicing chumros. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to choose among communities, short-term.

      • Eli Blum says:

        Bob: Knowing all of the Chumros created in Tumah V’Taharah to create separations between different Yidden (and how they were magically waived during Yom Tov for fear of those others going elsewhere), the story moves from “propaganda” to “quite likely to have happened to someone”. IMHO, this is part of the “Sinas Chnam” and “Chasid Shoteh” that later Tannaim and Amoraim harp against, and that we are still guilty of today.

        And yes, social expectations certainly is a “motivator” for people to keep “Chumros”, and is yet another unfortunate effect (maybe a “main” effect in those communities) of keeping and enforcing non-halachic chumros. It also changes the discussion from individual motivation to keep a Chumrah (with the idea of being closer to Hashem) to something more sinister.

      • Bob Miller says:

        For some, practicing the local chumros is exactly like wearing the local uniform (when some other mode of dress would be equally acceptable according to halacha). It’s the price of admission or retention.

      • Eli Blum says:

        Knowing all the Chumros of Tumah that were in place at the time (another parallel to the time of Churban Bayis Sheini), I would not dismiss the story as “propaganda”, but believe it to be a realistic outcome of what would of happened in that sort of situation at that time period (whether it happened to “oso haIsh” or not).

  10. David Ohsie says:

    Why do we want to avoid relying on (possibly lenient) opinions that served the Jewish community well for decades?

    This and other parts of the essay imply that the negative effect of Chumros are extrinsic (they excuse ignorance, they draw energy away from more important areas, they support haughtiness, etc).

    I think that there is a more fundamental issue. If something is truly permitted, even if it is subject to dispute, then it is permitted and treating is as forbidden simply has no intrinsic value in many cases *. If a knowledgeable enough person investigates an issue and feels that a more stringent opinion is correct, then they are not being stringent, but doing what they understand to be right. Conversely, if one investigates and the lenient opinion appears correct, then stringency has no inherent value. An person ignorant of the issues simply following a stringency out of “doubt” or “fear” of doing something “wrong” when the leniency is the established opinion is subverting the whole meaning of P’sak. If the P’sak is to be lenient, then one may be lenient and there is no “doubt” or “fear” to be concerned with. P’sak is in the hands of man, not the angels or even God himself.

    *I would exclude most cases of Bein Adam L’Chavero since one person’s gain is another’s loss and Gemilat Chesed always applies.

    [YA – Not so simple. Please look at the beginning of chapter 14 of Mesilas Yesharim, where he speaks of perishus b’dinim. Granted that he is speaking of a madregah (perishus) that that Gra said we no longer reach, but that doesn’t stop people from trying bits and pieces of higher madregos at times in order to spur themselves to reach higher. He describes this kind of perishus as “to always be machmir, taking into account even minority opinions when the reasoning is appealing – even when the halacha is not in accordance with this opinion, but with the proviso that the chumrah does not lead to kulah.” So there is room for chumrah beyond what you describe.]

    • David Ohsie says:

      Dear Rabbi Adlerstein: Thank you for taking the time to respond.

      While Judaism is so diverse that I wouldn’t ever claim to cover every single source, I don’t see this source as a contradiction. As you quote, he explicitly says “אם טעמו נךאה” meaning that if the reasoning of the “minority” opinion appears correct. This is not a case of being stringent simply because a stringent opinion exists, but because the person has understood the area, agrees with the rejected opinion, and has decided that he wants to fulfill the Torah in the way that he personally has received it (so to speak). The proof is that (as far as I know) if you are Machmir for a rejected opinion in the Talmud, then this is not viewed as meritorious; instead it is suspect.

      If this is true, then trying to bootstrap yourself to a higher level to simply take on a stringency is of no value. It has to reflect a deep understanding of the halacha.

      In addition, one of his examples is Mar Ukvah’s recounting that his father waited 24 hours after meat to each cheese. Yet Mar Ukvah himself did not take this on! As you mention, he’s talking about individualistic efforts in select areas (and where he thinks the rejected opinion is correct as I mentioned above).

      But I agree that it is not so simple :).

  11. david rubin says:

    I think it is important to firstly define what is a “Chumrah” as this term is thrown around and used in many areas of religious observance. I believe the true chumrah is that which is based on a machloket in the gemorrah. When there is a machloket and the halachah follows the majority opinion, an individual has the right to be stringent with himself and follow the minority opinion if he wishes. He knows that this action at least has a basis in the gemorrah and this is a true chumrah. Other forms of stringency may simply be “frumkeit” is the worst understanding of this expression.

    • David Ohsie says:

      I believe the true chumrah is that which is based on a machloket in the gemorrah. When there is a machloket and the halachah follows the majority opinion, an individual has the right to be stringent with himself and follow the minority opinion if he wishes.

      I make no judgement here as to whether this is a good idea or not. However, such a Chumra would likely be regarded as a form for Kefirah. If the Talmud has paskened, it is not regarded as legitimate to go against that P’sak whether or not it is a stringency or leniency. For example, suppose that someone says that on Shabbos that he is Machmir like the position of R Yehudah with regard to Muktzeh and therefore will not move an “dirty” object (Muktzeh Machamas Mius) despite the fact that the Talmud says that we pasken like R Shimon and it is permitted to move such an object. Such a practice would be regarded as improper, I believe, at least if done for that reason.

      What you say would be permitted with regard to an argument among the Rishonim on the interpretation of a Gemara, since there is no final p’sak in such areas.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Ask yourself the following questions-how many Tekios will you hear in total on either day of RH? What is the shiur that Klal Yisrael accepted to obligate themselves in Birkas HaMazon? Why is a Nidah considered as a Zavah with respect to many halachos? There are many so-called “chumros” in the Talmud that are normative Halacha. Moreoever, the fact is that Safek DOraisa LChumra in any such situation.

  12. Sholom S says:

    These words are beautifully written and should be taken to heart by the affected communities. But unfortunately Chumras are born of and sustained by societal and economic factors and have very little to do with fear or love of God.

    Chumras can be economically profitable by exploiting communities prone to behaving with a herd mentality. And they are also an easy(er) way for parents to gain leverage in a skewed shidduch market; to “show status” so to speak.

    Only once the underlying factors are addressed and resolved will the Chumra spell be broken.

  13. dr. bill says:

    I would suggest the Ph.D. thesis of a frum woman: “Piety and Fanaticism: Rabbinic Criticism of Religious Stringency [An Open Discussion of the Talmudic Rabbis’ Views on Self-imposed Religious Stringency].” it was written almost 2 decades ago, and some new ideas have emerged.

    One story: a classmate of mine did something publicly that was both halakhically supported/required and different from the rest of the shul. he asked the Rav ztl about his behavior. The Rav smiled and said: For me that would be yuharah, but perhaps for you…. I never forgot that lesson.

  14. Tz says:

    The Kuzari makes clear that excessive ascetic practices in “his days” were harmful because the “spirituality” people seek was, even then, unattainable. So, when people engage in the those practices with no fruit – no objective spiritual transcendence – the people become miserable and upset. Consequently, they reach for the next “thing” – a limud, a tefilla, a practice – that promises to get them “there.”

    Let’s be honest – books promising “ruach ha-kodesh” or some type of spiritual enlightenment or feeling of “kedusha” at the end of the “humra rainbow” are creating a lot of the problem. I opine that that buying into this alchemic quest is the reason the Litvish world is increasingly trending Hasidic in thought and mode – we live in dark times and people are desperate to feel any type of so-called spiritual enlightenment.

    But the premise – that a real, palpable enlightenment (as opposed to a self induced, temporary and subjective elation) may be obtained, when, because of our sins, the real thing just not available to us today; just as it was not available in the Kuzari’s day.

    Chasing pots of spiritual gold at the end of the chumrah rainbow is creating lots of unhappy people. These unhappy people are bewildered, but don’t realize they are on an infinite journey to nowhere.

    Jewish gold is in the golden mean – the middle path advocated by all of the classic, early Rishonim. The middle way promises no spiritual fireworks, but its all we have until true prophecy is restored.

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