Anatomy of a Chumra Society

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33 Responses

  1. Micah Segelman says:

    I agree with many of the points made but point out that Mishpacha and Ami etc. are made for the hamon am – not exclusively (or even primarily) for “true bnei Torah”. Publications for the hamon am which insist on standards appropriate only for “true bnei Torah” engender the sort of lack of daas and distorted religious development that all 3 the authors agree are problematic. Marketing oneself as the “go-to option for Bnei Torah” may be a good marketing strategy but whether it is a good choice religiously is a different question.

    And I think at least some of the women in the intended audience “are offended by having their pictures omitted.”

  2. leah y says:

    Why do writers keep saying women aren’t offended? Kollel wives and chassidishe women I have spoken to ARE DEEPLY OFFENDED that a magazine specifically for WOMEN full of recipes and women’s insights omits women’s pictures (is this because the men in the house can’t control themselves from picking up the magazine?) We’re sickened by the fact that coloring books – COLORING BOOKS!!! (generally intended for young children, always utilizing outlines and not photos, omit women and girls…) and on and on. First do a poll/survey in these communities, and then report back to us how many women are offended. Because I live in a yeshivish community and have Chassidishe friends – and while of course some are not offended – MANY of us are, and it is incorrect to keep saying we aren’t.

    • Raymond says:

      It is nice, and important, to see that finally a woman is on here, defending the right of women to appear in Jewish magazines. That gives our side of the argument far more credibility. So thank you for posting your comments.

    • Doron Beckerman says:

      No pictures of women in magazines geared for women, and in coloring books, is takeh ridiculous.

    • Ori Pomerantz says:

      This brings an important point. Is there a Halachic rule about hurting people’s feelings needlessly? If some people’s feelings are likely to be hurt by a Chumrah, for example not having women’s pictures, wouldn’t it be an equally valid Chumrah to be careful about not hurting them?

      [DB: It is not an equally valid chumra. Halachah would demand that one avoid hurting people’s feelings when it is only a chumra on the other side of the equation.]

  3. MK says:

    Regarding Rav Moshe and Rav Yaakov ZTL, both of their Art Scroll biographies have pictures of women, indicating that their respective families knew that they would not object.
    The Art Scroll biography of Rav Gifter ZTL is filled with pictures of women, even when it doesn’t seem “necessary”. It includes pictures of the Hanhala of Telshe in Lita, with their wives!
    Anyone who was privileged to know Gedolei Yisroel like these three, knows that had they seen a picture of a couple being honored at a dinner it would have not, in any way, struck them as inappropriate, but had they seen the ads in Mishpacha guaranteeing “yeshuous”, they would have hit the roof!

  4. Steve Brizel says:

    We tend to forget that Chumros have been part of what we call Halacha LMaaseh in many areas of Halacha ranging from Tekias Shofar to Birkas HaMazon to Basar VChalav to Hilcos Nidah. The notion that many chumros are a 20th Century invention ignores many well rooted chumros that we follow as a means of showing our Ahavas HaShem by fulfilling either as many shitos as possible as opposed to merely seeing us as observing Mitzvos Anasham Mlumadah. We also tend to forget a basic rule-Safek DOraissa Lchumra as well as whether the person undertaking a certain Midas Chasidus, as opposed to a chumra that is well accepted by Rov Poskim, should be so doing.

  5. Raymond says:

    If a man cannot tolerate seeing a picture of a woman’s face in any given magazine, that man has deep, psychological problems that cannot be cured by applying unnecessary, masochistic rules to his own life. Even worse is when such a man demands that public policy be determined by his total inability to control his passions. Rather than imposing his twisted will on others, perhaps part of spiritual growth for such individuals, should include getting psychological assistance, when such assistance clearly becomes necessary. Meanwhile, please let us not exclude the better half of our population from our magazines or anything else.

    • Doron Beckerman says:

      I think you may have to recalibrate the definition of what constitutes forbidden gazing at a woman. It is NOT necessarily that one’s passions are incited. Do you enjoy beauty in general? A person who does not has deep psychological issues. Gazing at a woman while appreciating her beauty – irrespective of whether it is actually stimulative – is forbidden (see Shulchan Aruch Even Haezer 21:1 with Beis Shmuel). Of course, if you are a big tzaddik and to you looking at a woman and looking at a white goose is just the same, this would not apply to you.

      • m5fKg says:

        I can just imagine a gentile, or an unaffiliated Jew, reading this discussion, and thinking that Orthodox Jews have lost their collective minds, to censor out half of our population apparently due to extreme lack of impulse control. And yes, what the world thinks of us does matter, and what Jews exploring their Jewish roots do think of us, does matter. To not picture any women in our Jewish magazines, is a form of desecration to G-d’s Name, a crime far, far worse than appreciating the beauty of a woman. In the quest to be so self-righteous, one may be losing the whole point of being religious in the first place.

        [DB: First of all, they should be pictured in women’s magazines. But aside from that, as I stated at the end of my post, it is possible that, in the big picture (while I disagree with some of your formulations here) you are correct. Maybe the price vis-à-vis others looking in is not worth it. That is not my decision to make. But I imagine that the great majority of those people would react that way with respect to a handshake as well. And very many great Rabbanim have done somersaults to avoid handshakes. Every single time I’ve been confronted with that situation(and they have been numerous) I’ve explained politely that my religion allows physical contact with no one other than my spouse, and it was treated with the utmost respect. If it were made clear that our religion permits appreciation of feminine beauty only of spouses (or potential ones for the sake of determining whether one wishes to marry them), that would be respected by the morally upright as well. And, coincidentally, I think it might improve marriages as well.]

      • Raymond says:

        Interesting that you found the need to switch from having a woman’s face shown in Jewish magazines, to actually shaking hands with a woman. It is as if even you are acknowledging on some level how utterly absurd it is to ban pictures of women’s faces in Jewish magazines.

        [DB: No. I’m saying that if we are to set up the reaction of the outside world as the final arbiter then avoiding handshakes would be rejected. And very many great Rabbanim didn’t feel that way.]

      • Dov says:

        The key term here is ‘gazing’ – looking with intention or scrutiny for the purpose of benefit or enjoyment, as opposed to just ‘seeing’.

        [DB: We’re on the same page in terms of the baseline halachah. But please see the Mishnah Berurah and Igros Moshe I cited in the post.]

  6. Aviva says:

    Now it would be interesting to see if our Gedoleim read Mishpacha magazine . And Binah. With special attention focused on advertising.
    The omission of women is ridiculous. I have recently children’s Haggadah with only men and boys depicted in the illustrations. Clearly there were no women in Mitzrayim. What a warped message .

  7. Leah y says:

    When you agreed that omitting photos of women and girls from women’s magazines and coloring books is not appropriate, you said it is ridiculous. Does that mean silly (yet you see it as essentially harmless) or do you mean crazy (and harmful?) Sounds like you are in the camp of “who does it hurt if we are more machmir?” Is that an accurate reading of your opinion? Do you see any harm in giving childen coloring books with no mommies and sisters at the Pesach seder?

    [DB: I think we’re talking in two different arenas. From the halachic perspective, a chumra is concern for a certain opinion or (loosely) a personal measure of keeping away from things that are likely to cause michshol. Being that I cannot fathom what concern may exist in the publications you mention, it transcends “What does it hurt to be machmir” because it is about as much a “chumra” as not eating peas and carrots on alternate Wednesdays. I claim no insight into the social impact of such ridiculous notions, but common sense dictates that it creates quite unhealthy attitudes.]

  8. DF says:

    The real problem with machmirim is that the ones and the communities so concerned with chumrah within Orach Chaim, are usually the ones least concerned with it when it comes to Choshen Mishpat. You can call that a stereotype, but, just between us, we know its more than that. But I think that’s the point you were trying to make.

    The better question, then, first presumes someone scrupulously meticulous in all volumes of the Shulchan Aruch, including and even focusing on Volume V. The question only then begins of whether or not should a creature should be a machmir. The only way to analyze it, I think, is by considering what, really, is the benefit of chumrah? If my tax bracket is (e.g.) 39%, and I make $100k after deductions, does it make any sense in the world to pay extra, like $45k? It would be absurd. I wont get any bonus points for that. The only reason I would even think of doing that is because of uncertainty, and the fear that the IRS will come down on me if gave $39k, but had inadvertently made an error in my calculations.

    So apply it to halacha. Presumably the only reason one keeps halacha is because he accepts that he is under divine command to do so. If so, the question that must be asked is: Will the machmir get any extra credit (schar, if you prefer) in heaven? To use your example, will the one who refrains from opening bottles on Shabbos be treated any better than the one who doesn’t believe it necessary? What about from the negative – will someone be punished if he concluded it was permissible to open caps, and he turned out to be wrong? Is it even possible, in the אלו ואלו world of halacha, to be “wrong”?

    These are theological questions to which, by definition, no one truly knows the answer. In the long history of Judaism, with its rationalists and mystics למיניהם, people have different answers. But at minimum, I don’t see any other way to approach the question.

    • Doron Beckerman says:

      (1) I happen to have some inside info on a certain Charedi institution in the US. I want to tell you that while not all of the staff members are meticulous, there are some who are more meticulous than you imagine regarding the issue to which you are alluding. They absolutely insist on every last minute issue being straight as a ruler. But let’s think more broadly for a moment. I think a true-blooded Machmir-type is actually more likely to steer clear of borrowing small things without permission, to properly fulfill Hashavas Aveidah, to avoid Hasagas Gevul, to properly fulfill the laws of Sechirus Poalim, and maybe some other things I’ve failed to mention.

      (2) The cold analysis misses the point. It is not true that the only reason one keeps halacha is because he accepts that he is under divine command to do so. That is part of the reason, to be sure. But even within that reason, the purpose is not the sechar. The purpose is that we are servants to a great King whom we are privileged to serve even if we were not paid. Any service that shows that I care about fulfilling His wishes, even if it is beyond what He had in mind, is worthwhile for its own sake. But far beyond that reason, it is because one loves Hashem. How can one view the relationship that coldly? I once had the privilege of taking a great Rav whom I know in my car, I cleaned it spotless. I made sure he was comfortable. Can I adjust the seat a bit? Is the A/C okay? The idea of the Rav paying me for this would make me sick. It is such a PLEASURE to do as much as one can for Hashem. The neshamah sings with happiness. Kirvas Elokim is the essence of life itself.

      • DF says:

        Re point 2 – I hear your point. If someone views chumrah in halacha as an expression of love for God, without regard to reward & punishment, then I think no one can fault someone for being machmir. And I do understand that this is the “Halachic Man” type of viewpoint. Speaking for the loyal oposition, however, or perhaps the majority, I find that mindset difficult to fathom. Expressing love by writing poems or music is one thing; but by stringency in halacha? How does that express love? Seems to me its like paying extra taxes as an expression of patriotism.

        Re point 1 – I think you are hiding your head in the sand to avoid the real problems in those communities, but do not wish to belabor the point today. Certainly, we can agree, there are many people who are truly honorable people and machmir in every respect.

        [DB: Re point 2 – Imagine your newlywed wife asked you to do something. You ask various people who know her well as to her intent, and there are differing viewpoints. all logically compelling. Something along those lines. See Mesillas Yesharim chapters 13-14.

        Re point 1: I hereby acknowledge the real problems.]

    • Steve Brizel says:

      I think that the above comment is an example of an ruban myth and stereotype. Walk into any Beis Medrash or see any list server for any frum community-the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveidah is adhered to quite stringently. Moreover, the notion of Chumros as a means of expressing Ahavas HaShem has antecedents in the Gemara which we practice in many different contexts, both with Halachos of a Torah and Rabbinic basis.

  9. Eli nadoff says:

    A large part of the discussion must be the “cost” of the Chumra? Nothing happens in a vacuum. Someone who davens vasikin when his son is off of school doesn’t take the opportunity to bring his son to shul and show him how one acts during tefilla. Someone who buys only hand shmura matzah and thereby can’t afford meat for (some of) the yom tov meals. A couple being supported in Kollel being makpid on stricter (more expensive) hechsherim.

    These are few off the top of my head. There are countless other examples.

    • Doron Beckerman says:

      That is exactly where Daas (coupled with a firm grasp of halachah) plays its role.

      • Eli nadoff says:

        I agree, but then you have just narrowed down the group of people who are justifiably engaged in Chumra to a select group, yet you maintain we should not critique (read: educate) rather encourage such practice.

        The reason why stories of the mussar giants are so powerful is because they run counter to what we generally experience and jolt us into thinking correctly.

      • Doron Beckerman says:

        I haven’t narrowed it down beyond people who utilize their Daas. The same Da’as dictates to ask a cost/benefit question of a Bar Daas with a firm grasp of halachah. Some of the greatest people I know ask their Rabbeim questions of that sort (or at least consult) as matters get more subtle and/or life-changing.

  10. dr.bill says:

    To balance things out, we should also consider issues like practicing beyond what our ancestors did and yuharah, among others. When a Kiddush cup used by the the Chofetz Chaim is of inadequate size, we have a problem, even if that is the shittah of some gedolim. Many forget that the chatam sofer ALSO applied chadash assur min hatorah to what is now a WIDELY practiced chumrah, a chumrah that, in fact, he himself (and a few of his close talmidim privately) practiced, when suggested in an area (negatively) affecting the general community.
    The ability to judge the potential downside consequences of chumrot is sadly missing; there are too many examples of not just individuals but communities whose judgement is questionable. Unfortunately, one person’s downside from a chumrah is another’s commendable sacrifice to the rigors of their religious beliefs.

    [DB: The first example you cite is actually indicative of the linear thinking you are maligning. The Chofetz Chaim used that cup precisely because, in his specific situation, using a bigger one had certain downsides that were not worth it!]

    • Brooklyn Refugee Sheygitz says:

      “[DB: The first example you cite is actually indicative of the linear thinking you are maligning. The Chofetz Chaim used that cup precisely because, in his specific situation, using a bigger one had certain downsides that were not worth it!]”
      How do you know that? I believe that the Chofetz Chaim used that kiddush cup because it was his kiddush cup – period. And that his family members who inherited it never claimed that there mitigating circumstances which led him to use it.

      [DB: See “Reb Yaakov” – bio of R’ Yaakov Kamenetzky, page 100:

      The poverty of Lithuania, Reb Yaakov recalled, was something totally beyond the comprehension of a Jew growing up in America today. For that reason, he agreed that the Chafetz Chaim’s family was quite right not to let anyone see his Kiddush cup, which is said to hold a smaller measure than is standard today. “The poverty was so overwhelming that every effort was made to find a way to permit a smaller measure,” he said. “It was a mitzvah to sanction the use of a smaller cup to lighten the burden on people, and the entire trend in psak halachah was to rely on lenient opinions in the poskim with respect to the requisite measures.” By the same token, Reb Yaakov said, today, when such poverty is unknown, it is forbidden to tell people that they can rely on the fact that the Chafetz Chaim used a small cup.]

      • dr.bill says:

        The shiur (of a beitzah) the Chofetz Chaim promoted (now associated with the Chazon Ish, but unheard of throughout the period of the rishonim until after the SA) was practiced by Yechidai segulah like the Nodah beyehudah, the Gaon, the Chatam Sofer, various Litvishe gedolim and some of their close talmidim, but not the vast majority of general klal. In fact the combination of chumrot wrt various shiurim that the Mishnah Berurah is choshaish for is beyond the practice of even the vast majority of the gedolim mentioned. Despite what the MB said, the klal used a shiur similar to what the Chofetz Chaim relied on beshaat hadechak given the level of poverty; for someone not wanting to make Kiddush for his daughter using that cup is beyond yuharah.

      • Brooklyn Refugee Sheygitz says:

        Unfortunately, I do not rely on any facts presented in that particular biography. What is the source to ascertain whether or not Rav Yaakov actually said that about the Chafetz Chaim’s kiddush cup and/or whether or not he actually said that it is forbidden to rely on the fact that the Chafetz Chaim used a small cup?
        I know too many reliable alumni of Torah Vodaas who have issues with too many “facts” that book and also with many elements of Reb Yaakov’s tenure at MTV that were not included in the book, so as to render the entire book questionable as historically accurate rather than a simple hagiography. Much more so than the usual questions one has in general on “standard” artscroll gadol “biographies”

        [DB: On the contrary. I am a great-grandson (through marriage) of R’ Yaakov, and I can tell you that that biography is one of the most authentic ones around; it was done in close collaboration with Reb Yaakov’s son, Reb Nosson Shlita, and benefited tremendously from input on every detail from other close family members, many of whom were and are exceedingly meticulous on details. Read the Acknowledgment section by R’ Jonathan Rosenblum. Omission is of a different feather altogether.]

  11. Tz says:

    The obsession with “levels” as manifest in chumrot is killing us because it causes people who consider themselves on one level to separate themselves from other people. The Netziv writes that “levels” caused the Churban – first groups see themselves on a higher level than others. Soon this group starts seeing others as “sinners” (this is the start of sinat hinam). Finally, the other group is viewed as apikorsim (this is the depth of sinat hinam).

    Levels are dangerous, slippery slope game, and are the cause of exile. True, there may be a small fraction of special Jews who can handle the game, but their benefit is not worth the cost to k’lal Yisrael. Time for the Gedolim to spread the message that chumrot are out, and simplicity and baseline observance is in. This is precisely the fence to sinat hinam that we need.

    [DB: I think that education as to proper attitudes is the better alternative.]

    • Tz says:

      Education won’t work. The inclination to feel superior is too strong – stronger than the inclination for man to be with a beautiful woman. How ironic – we need the biggest fence of all to protect us from all of the other fences!

      [DB: I can’t agree. We are expected to curb Taavah but eradicate Gaavah. With respect to the narrow issue at hand, all it takes is internalization of the proper perspective. It really isn’t that difficult. That’s not to say that Sinas Chinam can’t find other ways of expression, which, unfortunately, run in all directions between all groups.

      Anyhow, I don’t think anyone ever suggested eradicating all personal stringencies and strictures because all run the risk of feelings of superiority and it is therefore never worth it.]

      • Eli Blum says:

        BS”D

        DB: The idea would certainly NOT be to eliminate all Chumros (which are certainly appropriate for many people). It is rather the public identification of Chumros with “segments” of Jewish society (i.e. the “Chumra Society”) that makes it so disturbing, and creates the group mentality that then looks down on other Torah Yidden.

        For example, let’s say Modern Orthodox Jews (or Reform Jews for that matter) are identified as Machmir on a specific aspect of Halacha, whether it be learning Navi, paying workers on time, or not borrowing money that you can’t pay back. Other “Segments” (ex. Conservative, Belz or Lubavitcher (no connection intended)) may specifically shun that Mitzva because they feel it has been co-opted and perverted (in their opinion) by that segment, to the point where no one knows what the true Halacha really is!

        However, if only the appropriate members of that group would be Machmir (and quietly, without showing off), while others of that group could still remain with basic Halacha, Mitzvos would not be identified to a specific group (eg. the “frummy” Reform who care so much about Tikkun Olam, or the “ridiculous” (your term) Yerushalmis who won’t allow girl outlines in coloring books). There would be no group pride (and therefore declaring others as “sinners”) in an unneeded standard, and no backlash by the rest of Klal Yisroel. There would be no reason to kick out (depriving them of friends, family and the only life they have ever known) those who don’t stick to the Chumrah of the month but still follow Halacha and ARE Benei Aliyah, but would rather work on Mogen Avraham Shema and fulfilling “Lo Lidei Matnas Basar V’dam” over separate sidewalks.

        With hopes of Yeshuos for all of Klal Yisroel and the end of our Availus.

        [DB: I’m in agreement here too (on the broad issue, if not necessarily some the finer paint strokes). There is a sociological dynamic that could use improvement.]

  12. Allan Katz says:

    The problem is that the chumras focus on chitzoniyus and not on menschlichkeit, derech eretz , monetary matters , communication and speech. Tzniyus is a midah and the problem is that like with all midos we need to get the ‘ balance’ right. So what happens is that because of tzniyus a woman is left barely managing to get onto a bus with her parcels and kids or go down stairs with a pram. As far as pictures go – I saw a chupa without the kalah. Blurring out the picture of Merkel in a group foto is not normal and certainly the ‘ goyim ‘ won’t stand in wonder about how wise and intelligent we are. And one final point , if you have a problem with Merkel , instead of offending her , don’t publish that picture at all. That is the problem with chumras – you don’t get the full picture – because you are machmir in one area , you are inevitably being maikel in another area. So my advice to R’ DB is not to publish pictures at all and stop defending behavior which is not ‘ normal’.

    [DB: I agree with everything you wrote. Photoshopping is the wrong way to go. Women should be helped onto the bus. And if I had my way, there would be no publishing of pictures of either men or women (unless it is necessary in order to convey a certain point or poignancy).]

  13. lacosta says:

    i wonder if complaints about uber-chumras are only from jews to their left [ie MO,DL and leftward], and therefore not worthy of even reacting to criticism , as it comes from quarters that haredi judaism doesnt answer to.

    and maybe the attitude of non-haredi jews should be , if we aren’t paying for it , they can do whatever they want.

    and as rabbi DB points out , it’s up to the kiruv people to figure out how to make the extremism palatable — and there must be a market for just about anything , no matter how extreme….

  14. Cvmay says:

    Communities, people & individuals do not live on private islands. We function, relate, communicate & behave as groups & within groups.
    Therefore choosing a chumrah as the rite/right fulfillment of a mitzvah (whether ben Adam l’makom or ben Adom lechavero ) places an obstacle in the eyes of others – since he/she concludes that that is the ONE & ONLY way the mitzvah should be practiced. That defines “לפני עיור״ )an obstacle placed in front of a blind man”.
    Chumrah clubs are best when preformed secretly & privately.

    [DB: I agree with the general approach that chumros are best practiced in private, but I’m a bit baffled as to your application of Lifnei Iver. Are you suggesting there should be no Minyan that makes the earlier Zman Kerias Shema?]

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