17 April 2007

Post Pesach Re-Hash (one week later)

A struggle we all have as halakhically observant Jews is finding the line between halakhah, minhag, and chumrah. I do not claim to even have the first answer on the distinctions, but I do think that it is important for people to learn them. Being frum today involves knowing these boundaries and respecting them. Due to the Shoah, entire communities (and along with it, their m'sorot) are gone. The lines for Ashkenazic Jewry are so blurred. In my understanding, G-d gave us ONE TORAH. From there came Halakhah. This is something we follow since we are Jews. It's what we do and we do not wait for the kavannah to be right in order to do it. Due to our dispersion and relative isolation from each other, the leaders of our communities consulted the halakhah to ensure that the members of THAT community were following halakhah according to their understanding. Along the way people have CHOSEN to take on more than what was required for whatever reason.

In my effort to get healthier, I meet with other frum ladies for the united purpose of losing weight. Essentially, we are all friends but one in particular that I can most talk to, Rivki, said that as long as the conversation does not go into hashkafah, we're all set. This did not present itself so clear as when we started off sharing diet strategies for Pesach and ended up revealing our minhagim. Luckily only one woman seemed to feel (but did not vocalize it) that none of us were "making Pesach" properly.

This woman's family is not yekkishe but her father's father took on the minhagim in Europe. Upon arriving in NYC, he settled, where else, but Washington Heights. Her family has a "minhag/chumra" of only accepting KAJ hechsher for Pesach. I heard this story last year when she was telling me that the year she was engaged to her husband, her father would only allow her to eat by her chattan's family on the eighth day. Why? They willingly accept Manischewitz, which apparently, had a "concern" by the KAJ crowd years back. To her family, Manischewitz was "chametz". After marriage, she insisted to her husband that they continue to only use this hechsher on their Pesach products, including on (which I don't get this marketing ploy) "18 minute matzo". According to my undertanding of the halakhah, isn't kosher l"Pesach matzah BY DEFINITION REQUIRED to be out of the oven WITHIN 18 minutes or else it's chametz? [Please correct me if I am wrong.] I told her happily that I managed to "get by" on "regular" dairy products like specially labelled (but same price) cream cheese and butter. I only had to break down and buy "frummie cheese" when I normally buy other certified cheeses that I can find at Trader Joe's.

Rivki's family does not eat grebrokts because when her mother became frum, the rebbetzin kept the minhag. However, their father also decided to keep it. Her sister married a Farsi this year so immediately proceeded to kitniyot. Finally, a third lady who only knows Sephardi customs as she married a Sephardi after conversion in Israel, was surprised to hear that her house is not "chametz" to us, but to just skip the rice. [Her husband is friends with every Sephardi in town and tends to prefer his friends.]

My first significant frum rabbi experience was with a rabbi who does not eat grebrokts until eighth day. He knows that it is not chametz, but al yad sheni, it has been his family's custom. He instructed CYP and I specifically to NOT take it on.

In several recent posts, Barak has been echoing this theme in regards to the two day yom tov for us outside Israel, chumrot in kashrut that are causing the price of keeping kosher to sky-rocket. Minhagim seem to serve to divide us, but it seems to also cause us to look down on those whose customs seem meikel (leinient) or up to the more machmir (strict). A seminary girl from "the old neighborhood" one time told me that since we don't "keep chalav yisrael" then we don't keep kosher. Ironically, this is the same girl whose mother admitted to have purchased a local brand of ice cream that is chalav stam years earlier. (The entire family has been frum for generations, so it was not a matter of being ba'alei teshuvah.)

For some, grebrokts are presented in the same light. Orginially a chassidishe custom (in the Gemara, it is permitted to dip your matzah into water before eating if it is difficult to eat AT THE SEDER), it has also taken on a similiar air of being more machmir. One time, someone had said that this was the last year for eating matzo ball soup for the sedarim since the following year, they intended to not eat grebrokts, understanding it to be a "more frum" thing to do.

If our desire is to be "more frum" than there also needs to be an understanding of the hows/whys of what we do and not just assume that being frum means excessive hardships.


  1. well,I hope you lose your desire weight.BTW,are you being friend with "frum girls" only?

  2. When friends recently told us that they do not eat gebrokts since it is "more machmir that way", I really cringed. This sounds so ignorant to me! Gebrokts is a minhag, not a chumrah. People I know who are extremely right wing yeshivish, from a litvish background have no qualms about the fact that they eat gebrokts. Changing this is not a goal!

    My grandfather, alav hashalom, once told me how surprised he was to see, in Pesach in Shanghai during the war, the mashgiach of Mir eating gebrokts. Since my grandfather grew up in a home with Chassidish roots, he knew logically that gebrokts is a minhag, but had yet to see someone so 'frum' eat gebrokts, and it was an education that remained with him.

    This is like saying it's more frum to be Chassidish or to pronounce Hebrew words in an Ashkenazi accent even if you're Sephardi. It makes so little sense!

  3. Anonymous24/4/07 23:05

    Kol HaKavod!

    For someone who is descended from a Mayflower passenger and says Shabbat Shalom to one person and Good Shabbos to the next, this was very interesting!

    Lady Who Lunches, from the south ;)


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