Chumra and Kula – Part 2

Previously we had learned that one should not take on a chumra – an halachik stringency – unless it was practical for the entire Jewish people to adopt it as well, including poor people; or stated in the negative: if a stringent halachik practice will preclude the poor from participation by imposing an unneccessary financial burden, then it is not permitted.  Now we will learn a second principle to help guide us when and when not to add a chumra.

The Da’at Torah(סימן סג סעיף ב) rules that it is “forbidden to sit at a celebratory meal, such as a wedding, with others and in a public fashion be stringent on oneself and say that he/she does not eat from the particular kosher supervision of the meal.  Doing so is disrespectful of the Rabbis responsible for this supervision and is likely to cause discord between them.  And if there are great Jewish leaders at the meal as well, and they are eating from the food available, then the person being stringent should be excommunicated.  He may be strict in his own house, and he can refrain from going to the celebratory meal in the first place, but once he is there he may not be ‘machmir’ in front of others.  [All this is with the caveat that he has a doubt over whether or not the food is kosher; obviously, if he has certain evidence that it is not kosher, then he should be strict]”

A related text can be found in the Talmud, Tractate Gittin 5b: “Rav Ami and Rav Asi forbade adding any stringencies in writing a get (bill of divorce), for doing so mocks those that came before.”*  Here, the Rabbis are referring to a case when someone wants to add something to the get that did not exist previously.  Doing so, argue Rav Ami and Rav Asi, casts aspersion on the earlier Rabbis that didn’t find the addition/stringency necessary, perhaps even suggesting their gittin were not appropriate … which in turn casts aspersion on the halachik status of the people who relied on the get for their divorce and subsequent marriages to other people … and raises the spectre of mamzerim.

Both of the above texts make a similar point.  Being strict may be appropriate in private, but when made public it might reflect negatively on upstanding Jews who chose not to be strict — whether Rabbis currently alive or those that ruled differently in the past.  And calling into question the ‘kashrut’ of such a person is simply too high a cost for one’s desire to appear more strict than others.

*At this point in the class Rabbi Fink offered an interesting example.  In Helsinki the Jewish population is closer to the Swedish minority than the Finnish majority, and as a consequence many of them refer to Helskinki in the Swedish way, which constitutes a different place name.  Following the war the Chief Rabbi was asked to write a get for a divorcing couple — and the question arose “what should the name of the city be for the purpose of the get – the Finish name or the Swedish name?”  Of course he could have just written both names — but that would have involved a violation of the rule presented in the Talmud of not adding anything not previously required (two names instead of one would eventually become a stringency, for if a future get was written without the second name perhaps it would not be kosher).  The Rabbi looked to see how gittim used to be written before the war but all records had been destroyed and no one had memory of the policy.  What to do?  In the end, Rabbi Chaim Ozer permitted the writing of both names, but only because there appeared to be no other choice.  The fact that he had to be called in – and had to justify his decision with significant effort – makes this the exception that proves the rule: even adding a minor stringency such as adding a second name for a city must be done with great sensitivity and trepidation.

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