Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hashkafa and Halacha II

Having a beard is considered an honor (Shabbos 152a). There are many Shitos that hold having a beard in Halachicly obligatory. For a collection of advantages of having a beard from a Torah perspective, see Orchos Yoshor, by R. Chaim Kanievsky shlita, Ch. 5. There is also a Sefer called Hadras Panim Zokon that has a lot of information on this.

Trimming the beard is a Machlokes in the poskim. The Tzemach Tzadek and others prohibit even trimming it, but many others permit. There are Kabbalistic reasons for not trimming the beard at all.

Re Payos, there's a machlokes if you can cut them, see Tiferes Yisroel (Makos 3:5) and R. Hillel Kalama (quoted in Shaul Sha'al 98) - who prohibit, and Chasam Sofer (OH 154) and others - who permit.

The Chasam Sofer (Haghos YD 181 quoted by his son Ksav Sofer) says that it is customary to let the payos grow long, down to the jaw. This is unnecessary, says the Chasam Sofer, but those who do it are considered holy.

The Arizal (quoted in Bais Lechem Yehuda YD 1818) says that the payos need not be longer than the bottom of the beard, and he would cut them when they reached there.

Maharasham, however says that he was told by R. Meir Promishlaner that he should never cut his payos, and it will be a segulah for Arichus Yomim.

Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomo Yevamos 12:18) says it is worthwhile not to cut the payos at all, since the exact measure for the payos is uncertain.

Mishna Brura (251:2, Biur Halachah) says that at least the hair from the temple until the bottom of the ear should not be cut, because it is a possible issur d'oraysa.

In any case, it is true that the "shiur" of the payos being able to fit neatly behind the ears and then being cut as they protrude from below the earlobe has no Halachic validity. It is just a style by certain segments of Klall Yisroel. They are using the Halachic shiur of the Mishna Brura (until the bottom of the ears), and the rest of it is for no real Halachic reason.

As far as putting the payos behind the ears, that began as a way to avoid anti-semitism in Europe from goyim who would harass Jews with long payos. Nowadays at least in Eretz Yisroel there's totally no reason for it, and in fact Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita (Orchos Yoshor p.20) writes that it's wrong, since it looks like you’re embarrassed of the Mitvzah. But that's how these customs start.


There is a chumrah of covering your entire head with a bigger yarlmuka than just one that we wear. Gedolim wear hats or big, whole-head Yarlmukas for that reason.

It is a cultural thing, not a Halachic thing; it tells the world what group you identify with and how you want to be recognized, but the fact that it is a black hat (of a certain style, technically called a fedora) is pure coincidence. In Europe, in the main yeshivos, the head covering of choice was a GRAY hat (today it would be considered very unyeshivish); in certain Sefardishe circles, gedolim would wear turban type hats; Rav Moshe Feinstein used to sometimes wear a straw (dark) hat.

When I was a teenager, back hats had small, narrow brims and large, wide bands. Today if you worse such a hat they'd laugh you out of the Bais hamedrash. Some guys used to wear feathers in their hats, or - this was once very popular - imitation pearls. No more. It's a style, this hat thing. The style of Bnei Torah, true, but a style.

I'm not saying not to wear the hat. I'm saying that whatever you do, you should know why you are doing it -- is it a mitzvah, a chumrah, a minhag, a siyag, an aveirah, a davar reshus (neutral), a cultural thing, etc. The black hat is not INTRINSICALLY meaningful; it has become a cultural style of the Yeshiva world.

The concept of following the Rabbonim means either to follow their directions, or to figure out why they do what they do and then take it form there. Sometimes you should do as they do; sometimes you should NOT - some things are appropriate only for people of a certain stature - and sometimes it's in between.

If you don't know WHY the person you are following does what he does, you are likely not following correctly. Example: The Kedushas Yom Tov always always used to specifically eat egg kichels for Kiddush Shabbos morning. Some Chassidim thought there was some significance to that and followed suit. When they asked the Kedushas Yom Tov his reason, he explained that he was Makpid on making an Al haMichyah only if he ate a Kazayis of flour; and since egg kichels do not have much flour in them, he is always safe.

So if a Chosid did not have the Rebbe's chumrah and made an al hamichyah on his kichels, or if he ate so many kichels that he had a kazayis of flour, he may have thought that he was following his rebbe by eating the kichels, but actually he accomplished nothing.


Chumra means being strict in Halachah. This is not that. The black hat is a purely cultural thing. In Europe yeshiva guys all wore hats (grey, usually, not black), and the style, I guess, just continued. Could mean absolutely nothing at all, could mean a statement, depends on the whole picture. No way to judge just by the hat.

It's not nearly frowned upon if you don't wear one as much as you may think. Especially if for business dress or the like. But since in "dress mode" such as Shabbos or formal weekday wear what people wear on their heads - black hat, knitted yarlmuka, colored giant Tzefas-type Yarlmuka etc. - happened to have become very statistically equitable with the different segments of Judaism, it will naturally raise an eyebrow if it's incongruous with the segment that observers would expect you to identify with.

It's like let's say you're having lunch in a wall street eatery where everyone is wearing horn-rimmed glasses, suits, yellow ties, and reading the wall street journal, and in walks a guy with pink hair, 6 piercings, leather pants and a copy of "High Times". Of course, this person may well be the most savvy broker in the group, but people are going to ask themselves what's up with him. True that, even though there is nothing intrinsically investment-oriented with gray suits or thin ties. It's just a cultural thing.

In Yeshiva, if a bochur suddenly stops wearing his hat, the question would be more than the removal of the hat itself, the question would be 'why did he do it?'. Is he trying to make a statement, or what? Since the fact is that teenagers (and adults) generally do dress according to the style that the group they identify with does (regardless of personal taste), if a person who identifies with the Yeshiva world dressed differently it will raise questions.

So it's not a chumra thing, it's a style thing. but instead of the style of Calvin Klein, it's the style of the Yeshiva world. Intrinsically, it has zero significance (except during davening, where there is Halachic discussion about wearing a hat over your Yarlmuka). It is purely social, and nonconformity here has the same connotations as nonconformity with the dress norms of any social group.


Rabbis, in paskening, are kind of like doctors. They're all trying to give the right diagnosis but just because one says one thing doesn’t mean the whole medical world's going to listen to him, unless he’s such a big doctor that everyone respects him too much to disagree. Of course, each doctor has to be honest with himself - and his patients - and know his place, how big or small he really is.

When a Rabbi has an opinion and he knows others disagree, it means one of two things. The Rav can recognize that there is an opposing opinion, or he can hold that the opposing opinion is just simply a mistake. How to look at the opposing opinion is part of his psak.

There are differences in halachah between an opinions you disagree with versus an opinion that you hold has no basis, so to speak.

The school is only obligated to teach the opinions that they consider legitimate, but they should mention the variations within that range, unless the school is a monolithic school with a monolithic student body, such as, for example, Pupa Bais Yaakov where it is clearly designed to teach the policies of the Pupa Kehilla.

As far as one ultimate truth in halachah, while it is true that sometimes the halachah applies differently in different circumstances, that doesn’t make it any less of a "one single truth", since the variations in circumstance are part of the one, single version of halachah.

It’s like a computer program. It may read:

If A = 5 then B is Bold.
Else, if A < 5 then B is Italic.
Else, if A > 5 then B is Normal.

B can have 3 different instructions depending on the circumstances, but there is one set of instructions.

Same thing for Halachah. its not that the Halacha applies differently but rather the halachah pre-empted the different circumstances and gave instructions using "If" arguments. Such as:

Q: You cooked meat in a milk pot.
IF the milk pot was used for milk in the past 24 hours, THEN
IF that milk-usage involved hot milk, OR
the milk was soaking in the pot for 24 hours, the last second of which was less than 24 hours before you cooked meat in it,
IF the volume of the milk cooked in the pot was more than 1.66% of the volume of the meat cooked in the pot AND
the volume of the pot itself was more than 1.66% of the volume of the meat cooked in it, THEN
your meat is kosher BUT
IF the volume of the milk cooked in the pot was more than 1.66% the volume of the meat AND
the volume of the pot was more than 1.66% the volume of the meat, THEN

The Rabbi you ask a sheaila to, though, will not bother to explain all the "If"s, but rather just tell you if your B is bold, italic, or normal, based on your circumstances. That’s why it’s so important to make sure a Rabbi who is answering a question has all the info, since the halachic instructions can change based on small differences in circumstances.

The ability to recognize which groups are "legitimate" is also a Halachic ruling. You cannot do it just based on what you like better. And you are correct, de-legitimizing Modern Orthodoxy is not more an achdus problem than de-legitimizing Conservative or Reform. Everyone holds there are legitimate and illegitimate groups in Judaism - the only question is who is which. So it makes no sense to say that people have to recognize any given group as legitimate because achdus demands that you cannot deligitimitize Jewish groups. That’s just not so. In Korach's days, that was Korach's attack - "The entire congregation is holy" and you cannot say we are illegitimate. Korach of course was wrong. And so are many groups today.

Regarding who to follow, Rav Shach writes that if your family follows a certain psak, you should follow it too. If not, then you should follow whichever posek is greater. It makes no difference that one Rav wrote a book and another didn’t.




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