Tuesday, August 30, 2016

You Can’t be Too Frum, Can You?

Rav Chaim Kanievsky
Someone sent me a link to a story on Yeshiva World News. It was about R’Chaim Kaneievsky’s Kuntres - published notes on dealing with a  Choson and Kallah – a groom and a bride.

One of the more salient points he made is that when seeking a bride - the seminary she attended is not important. It is far more important that she follow the Hashkafa of her husband… even if it differed from the Hashkaka of her home.

It is always a good idea that the husband and wife be on the same page Hashkaficly. For me, it is immaterial whose Hashkfa is followed – or whether there is some sort of melding of the two. The important thing is to be on the same page when raising children. Serious differences in Hashkafa can create hyper arguments to the point of dysfunction. Which can easily undermine a child’s observance and emotional welfare.

Another point he made was that it doesn’t really matter whether the parents were on board with his or her marriage choice. Their disapproval does not mean that they were not Bashert (intended for each other). While I agree in theory, in practice if the parents do not approve of the marriage, that is a prescription for trouble down the road. I have seen too many marriages destroyed when one or both sets of parents are constantly meddling - bashing their child’s mate.

But somewhat more surprising was his advice that a father in law should not speak to the Kallah at all except when absolutely necessary, other than offering a typical greeting like ‘Good Shabbos’ or ‘How are you’. My correspondent made the following observation about this: 
 (T)his is ridiculous and an example of gender separation taken to its absurd conclusion.  While some will stipulate that this was not meant as Halacha Lemaaseh, (practical law) the tendency for hero worship of Torah luminaries, will invariably be followed by some at least to some extent. 
I too have to wonder whether this takes gender separation too far. I cannot imagine what it would be like to never have spoken to my daughter in law prior to her marrying my son. Or my daughters never to have spoken to their fathers in law prior to their marriage.

That said, the great Poskim of the world certainly have the right to see things in their own way. But to make blanket statements about the propriety of such an interaction when it is clearly not mainstream Halacha (which R’Kanievsky admitted to in a disclaimer prefacing his Kuntres) is to add further Chumros to the lives of people even outside of his own community in Bnei Brak. Because as my correspondent indicated,  it will invariably be followed by some at least to some extent.

One of the characteristics of the Charedi world is that many among them will follow the customs or suggestions of the people they see as great leaders. It would not therefore surprise me that at some point in the not too distant future, this becomes the norm and quite mainstream among Charedim.

It would not be the first time in this has happened. For example it used to be the norm for a Kallah to come over to the men’s side of the dance floor during the wedding, sit next to her new husband and watch the men dance. This has becomes far less frequent in recent years. Why? Because it’ s Frummer for a woman not to go where the men are. What about the Mitzvah of dancing in front of the Kallah? Small sacrifice for the increased Fumkeit they now embrace.

Now Charedim can obviously do as they please. If they feel that taking upon themselves this new Chumra will somehow advance their Avodas HaShem, God bless them. They have that right. Except that it creates yet another Frumkeit target goal for the rest of the world to achieve. A Fumkeit that already has incorporated many other Chumors that are unreasonable in the greater Orthodox world. It will become yet another cog in the wheel of Frumkeit that already has too many cogs. Like the one (besides the above-mentioned one) that refuses to publish a picture of even the most modestly dressed woman. Why? Because it may cause a temptation in men to sin.

As in all things there has to be common sense at play. In this case common sense depends on the kind of society in which we live. If one segment of Orthodoxy is extremely sensitive to the sight of a woman, that does not mean it should become the standard for the rest of us. That a particular segment is so sensitive can easily be based on how isolated they choose to be from the rest of world. They may live in a closed society where men and women rarely see each other in public. Whereas the rest of us live in an integrated world where men and women are frequently in the same place at the same time. Whether in a job, in public transportation, or in the market place.

If one is on constant contact with members of the opposite sex, it would be absurd to tell a father in law to refrain from talking to a future daughter in law for reasons of modesty. And yet it would not surprise me if this kind of thing catches on by those whose eyes are always chasing Frumkeit by looking eastward for religious guidance.

It  is in effect why certain publications that will not publish pictures of women. Publishers look to their right and see it as the Frum thing to do, despite the fact that they see women on the job every day of the work week. Not to mention walking in an American street where women walk around in all manner of undress in the summer. And where one finds billboards filled with ads featuring women in suggestive poses wearing very immodest clothing.

It boggles the mind to see how they can justify not publishing a picture of a modestly dressed woman so as not to entice their male readers who see much worse every day. And yet that has become the new standard for the right.  

New York and Chicago are not Bnei Brak. You are going to encounter women - both real and in images - that are not dressed modestly all over the place. You are going to be in social or business situations where you will have to speak with women that sometimes look like that.

It seems almost hypocritical for someone to say he will not look at a picture of a modestly dressed woman in a magazine when he encounters immodestly dressed woman every day just by walking in the street!  And it is just ridiculous for someone to not talk to his future daughter in law when conversations with women take place all the time and are a natural part of living in America.

I am therefore disappointed with this Kuntres. Even if R’ Kanievsky only intended it for his own community. Because we all know that  such things don’t stop there but spread to the rest of the world in the never ending chase for Frumkeit.