Monday, June 25, 2018

When Chumra Leads to a Chilul HaShem

Image for illustration purposes only (Ynet)
One of the ideals of the Charedi Hashkafa is ‘being Choshesh for the Daas HaMachmir’ (stringent view). In essence this explains their identity as Charedim being Chareid L’Dvar HaShem. People that adhere to this Hashkafa. They ‘tremble’ at the word of God seeking to live their lives in ways that will best fulfill His will. They want to get it right!

This is of course something we should all strive to do. Charedim have the distinct characteristic of making sure that as much as possible - the most stringent interpretation of Halacha should be followed when there is disagreement between Poskim.

Centrists  obviously agree with following the will of God. But will often rely on the Daas HaMekil (lenient view). Meaning that when a legitimate Posek permits something that another Posek forbids, they will often rely on it. The best example I can think of at the moment is Chalav Yisroel.

To briefly explain this Halacha, there is a rabbinic decree that Jews only buy milk produced by an observant Jew. The reason stated in the Gemarah is that we are afraid that milk from a non Kosher animal might be added to cow’s milk without informing the consumer. 

In perhaps one of the most famous Teshuvos (responsa) ever written by R’ Moshe Feinstein he permitted buying milk for dairy companies in America because of the FDA’s strict supervision that prohibits dairy companies from mixing cow’s milk with milk from any other source. R’ Moshe held that this is tantamount to Jewish supervision and permitted buying milk from non Jewish dairy companies. Other Poskim disagreed with R’ Moshe and still forbade it. 

Most Centrists rely on R’Moshe’s heter (permit).  Most of the Charedi world does not and buys only Chalav Yisroel - milk that is produced by observant Jews (or under a Jew’s supervison while the cow is being milked). This is a bit of a oversimplification but pretty much describes one of the main differences between Charedim and other observant Jews.

I am not here to disparage those who choose to be Machmir on Chalav Yisroel. They want to be sure that they observe this Halacha even according to those that are Machmir – since they might be right. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. No matter what Halacha we are talking about. Unless it inconveniences others. When that happens your Chumra can end up as  a Chilul HaShem. 

It is one thing to insist on not violating clear Halacha that no one disputes. Then we must stand up for our principles and fight for them if necessary. Fighting for a Chumra is not such a circumstance.

I mention this in light of a continual Chilul HaShem on the part of some of the more extreme segments of the Charedi world – usually done by the more extreme Chasidic sects. One that just happened recently again on an El Al flight. Described by both Arutz Sheva and Ynet
The planned takeoff time: Six in the evening. Everyone boards, sits down, waits. Then the commotion starts. Four Haredim who boarded the flight refuse to sit next to women… 
(O)ne of the Haredi men, "particularly zealot and ascetic, boarded the plane with his eyes shut tight, led by the hand by his friend, and remained that way throughout the entire flight."
 The Haredim were unwilling to speak with—or look at—the female flight attendants. All of the men on the flight crew, apart from the captain, were now focused solely on this, instead of preparing for takeoff and serving the passengers…
 And then a prolonged diplomatic process began of moving female passengers from their seats to clear a row of seats for the four Haredim.

"After a lot of twists and turns, shouting and maneuvering, two women (one American around 70 years old and the other a young Israeli woman) agreed—because of time constraints among other things—to switch seats, and the crisis was resolved."
At the end of the ordeal, "the flight crew, which ran up and down the aisles for over an hour, appeared exhausted even before takeoff, though I assume they're used to such scenes."

He also noted that "for there to be no doubt: The women were not upgraded to better seats, only moved to different seats in economy. Not that it's relevant to the principle of the matter, of course."

According to the passenger, other religious Jews aboard the plane "expressed surprise and disgust at the Haredim's behavior."

The scene caused by the Haredi passengers delayed the flight by an hour and 15 minutes. 
I understand the concern of a religious Jew not wanting to sit next to a woman on a long flight. The fear is that there will be inadvertent physical contact. As well as the fear that  sitting next to a woman might cause ‘impure thoughts’. Especially men from a community that goes out of its way to separate the sexes in the extreme. I don’t seen anything wrong with their having those kinds of fears. For them, it is a real issue. Besides, it’s always a good idea to avoid situations that tempt people to sin if possible. But not at the expense of others. 

If they want to avoid any contact with women in their own communities, that’s fine with me – as long as they don’t force their views on anyone else. But when outside of their community – all bets are off. By insisting on their standards at the expense of everyone else, they have caused the observant world great harm, Which is why I am in complete sympathy with the religious Jews on board that were disgusted by this. Because I am too.

People like this who close their eyes when passing a woman in the street should not be flying commercial airlines – unless they agree to be civilized. Which these four Charedi men and all those others who in did this in the past - are not! 

It is OK for them to ask f they can switch to a seat that is not not to a woman. If such a seat exists and is available to them, God bells them. Give it to them. 

But to do what these four ‘gentleman’ did is inexcusable’ in the extreme and created a huge Chilul HaShem. It is not good enough for the rest of us to say that these people do not represent us. That may be true. But that may be a distinction most non Jews or non observant Jews is lost upon. What it says is that the more observant one is, the more he is likely to behave like this. This chases people away from observant Judaism. Who in their right mind wants to part of a religion whose most observant segment behaves this way?

Observant Jews who do this kind of thing must be ignorant of the Poskim that permit sitting next to a woman – which include the abovementioned R’ Moshe Feinstein. Perhaps they believe that sitting next to woman is comparable to violating Shabbos or eating Treif! They may not even realized that sitting next to a woman on a flight is not forbidden according to the strict letter of the law. 

Either that or they don’t care about anyone but themselves – let the entire rest of the world be damned. Including other observant Jews.

The first explanation means that there is a major flaw in their Hashkafa which refuses to distinguish between Chumra and Halacha. The second explanation is one that is the outcome of people that are over focused on being Choshesh for the Daas HaMachimr. Because in this case insisting on that is by far the greater evil.

I only wish rabbinic leaders would storngly condemn such behavior and make that clear to the leaders of those communities that it will not be tolerated by mainstream Charedim. They need to be told in no uncertain terms that they have produced monsters by virtue of their Chinuch in this regard. 

Unfortunately, this will probably never happen. But it still needs to be said.