Monday, November 07, 2016

When Will the Chumra Chase End?

The Agudah Moetzes -  not Frum enough? (Wikipedia)
I am so tired of Chumros being touted as Jewish Law. And once again this is exactly what has happened with Hamodia. While not saying so explicitly, they implied that publishing a picture of a woman in any fashion is a violation of those laws. From Arutz Sheva
(T)he fact (that) we won't publish a picture of the Democratic candidate on the front page of haredi newspapers does not mean we don't support her, but rather stems from the fact we keep Jewish law," said Hamodia. 
With that, Hamodia criticized Mishpacha for putting Hillary Clinton on the cover of its latest edition.

The fact is that there is no such violation. Because if there is, then everyone on the Agudah Moetzes is guilty of it. How - one might ask - are people like Rabbis Perlow and Kamentesky in such violation? Very simple. Not long ago, Agudah published - for wide distribution- a publicity photo of its team sent to Washington for some sort of lobbying initiative. Women were part of that team and thus part of that photo. 

They also distributed a version of it that photo-shopped those women out of the picture. They did so out of respect for that segment of Orthodox Jewry who feel that it is immodest to publish any pictures of women. But the fact that is they had no Halachic – or even Hashkafic issue with distributing a picture with women in it. One must remember that nothing happens in Agudah without the approval of the Moetzes. Certainly not something as serious as a modesty issue.

Why do I care what a right wing publication says about what is and isn’t Halacha? Because it affects all of us. Charedi leadership it seems never saw a Chumra (stringency) they didn’t like. If there is a segment of the Charedi world that has a Chumra, other segments that did not have that Chumra will soon follow suit. They will not allow  themselves to be ‘out-frummed’ by other Charedim. So they will adopt the new Chumra as their own - as though it had always been that way.

Telshe RY, Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch
In this case - even though pictures of modestly dressed women have never been banned from all Charedi publications, it will not be too long before it becomes de-rigueur. Those who don’t follow suit will be looked down upon as ‘modern’. Which in Charedi-speak is a euphemism for not being Frum enough. How do I know this will happen? Because it’s already happening with other issues in their circles.  And has been for some time.

To illustrate, Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, the founding Rosh HaYeshiva of Telshe in North America did not have Peyos.When I was in Telshe Yeshiva back in the early 60s, not a single Rosh Yeshiva or Rebbe had Peyos. Not one. Not Rav Motel Katz. Not Rav Mordechai Gifter. Not Rav Baruch Sorotzkin, Not Rav Chaim Stein... and not one Rebbe.

My “older’ Chavrusa in Telshe was the brilliant Rav Yitzchak Sorotzkin (R’ Baruch’s son). He was in the post high school Beis Hamedrash program at the time and I was in 10th grade. He did not have a beard or Peyos. He was clean shaven. Today he has bucked the tradition of his father and has Peyos. 

Charedim are just not going to allow themselves to be ‘outfrummed’ by Chasidim who have and always have had Peyos! And of course this custom has trickled down to virtually all Charedi Bachurim ( young unmarried students) these days.

Rav Yitzchok Sorotzkin
Now I have no issue with Peyos per se. If that is your tradition, God bless you. But if it’s not and you grow them because you are chasing an image, then yes I do have a problem with it. Because you are raising a false standard for the rest of us. One that is merely a Chumra rarely followed in the past by the non Chasidic Yeshiva world (other than a few Roshei Yeshiva who never expected their Bachurim to do the same).

Today, you will be hard pressed to find any Charedi Roshei Yeshiva without Peyos. Nor any Charedi Bachurim.

So for me this is not a case of live and let live. Which is normally the way I feel about these things. For me this is preventing unnecessary moves to the right by the rest of us based on copying the people to our right.

Chasing Chumras that enhance their Hashkafic outlook is not something Modern Orthodoxy ought to emulate. They seek to isolate themselves from the general culture. Modern Orthodoxy participates willingly in it (...that is – in that part of the culture which is in concert with our values). They look down on that. This is one of the primary differences between us.

I often call for unity which calls for respecting our differences. But unity does mean chasing down Chumros because the other guy does. It is difficult to be united when one segment sees the other as not Frum enough. Because that prevents respect. The more they chase down Chumros, the more they will look down on those who don’t unless we join the fray.

We should not be complacent. Live and let live is not always the best option – if it increases the divide. For me it is about not letting the right go too far to whatever extent we can... trying to get them to maintain the status quo by making the case against chasing Chumros that will divide us.

That said, I will admit that I am spitting in the wind. I don’t see what we can do to change things. The right is not going to listen to people like me. But at least we can talk about it. Which is why I mention Hamodia’s reaction to Mishpacha. Let us make our concerns to Charedi world public. And try to prevent something like this from becoming yet another difference between us. Which will further divide. One might say that this issue is insignificant. That there are so many more important issues to talk about. That is true. But every step in that direction is a step away from unity if Modern Orthodoxy doesn’t follow suit.

Where will this move to the right end? How far off the reservation must we go before it stops? What will it take to restore normalcy to our people? Why does there have to be a pull from both the right and the left to the point of breaking with tradition? Can’t we all just stay normal and   follow traditional paths? Is that too much to ask?