Saturday, January 10, 2009

R' Yair Chaim Bachrach and Prof. Haym Soloveitchik on the origin of Chumrot

In his landmark essay, Rupture and Reconstruction, H. Soloveitchik suggests that the increase in Chumrot in post--war Orthodoxy is because:

It is this rupture in the traditional religious sensibilities that underlies much of the transformation of contemporary Orthodoxy. Zealous to continue traditional Judaism unimpaired, religious Jews seek to ground their new emerging spirituality less on a now unattainable intimacy with Him, than on an intimacy with His Will, avidly eliciting Its intricate demands and saturating their daily lives with Its exactions. Having lost the touch of His presence, they seek now solace in the pressure of His yoke.

Although he couldn't have known it (as the sefer had not yet been published at the time of the writing of the article), this same theory was suggested close to 300 years ago by R' Yair Chaim Bachrach in his Mekor Chaim. In Siman 215, as part of a discussion of such Chumros as the 100 Berachos every day, or to say a certain amount of times Kaddish and Kedusha is because (as I understand him) people feel a lack of a real spiritual conection in their prayers and attempt to fill this void with added Chumrot. (I would have liked to add a scan but the OC is no longer free.)

A recent BA thesis on Chavos Yair that I'm quite interested in reading has the rather provocative title - Joseph Scherban, "Rabbi Yair Chaim Bachrach: The Life and Thought of a 17th century Jewish Skeptic," (BA thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 2008) - mentioned here. If anyone has it, please do drop me a note.


Anonymous said...

Or it's because they're a bunch of amei haaretz.

Anonymous said...

Even assuming that the MC says what you write (and you seem a bit unsure), this is not at all the same thing as what HS said.

The idea that a person might be motivated to find added chumros in order to feel more religious is not a big deal.

It's also possible to be more machmir because in fact the grounds for leniency are dubious in a given instance.

What HS brought to the table is the assertion that the specific incidence of people becoming more machmir after the War is due to this reason. That is something about which the MC obviously did not comment. And to the extent that one disagrees with HS, it's about this specific instance of becoming more machmir, not about the general phenomenon in theoretical cases.

As HS himself repeatedly acknowledged, in many (most?) cases of "new" chumros being adopted after the War, these "chumros" were not really chumros at all, but are normative halacha. His position was nonetheless that for whatever reason, these halachos were not followed at one point and were subsequently adopted. So he felt justified in coming up with theories to account for the change in practice.

But it's not hard to imagine where there's room for alternative theories.

In any event, nothing at all to do with the MC.

Anonymous said...

FP, I value your comments but it would be infinitely apprecated if you would check the sources before disagreeing. Mekor Chaim is not hard to find, its in the back of all the Friedman Shlchan Aruch's.

What he writes parallels the statemnt of HS almost exactly, the idea that Chumros can be a symptom of a lesser rather then greater feeling of religiosity is to my mind a Chiddush.

I was not referring to the rest of HS's article.

Anonymous said...

I didn't disagree about anything that would change by looking up the MC itself. I noted that you yourself "seemed a bit unsure". You had written "as I understand him", which suggests some uncertainty.

I have no indication that the MC might have meant something else other than your own words. But I can't fathom why you would get uptight about my noting something that you yourself wrote.

In any event, that was a parenthetical remark. The gist of my disagreement was that the main chiddush of HS was about the specific instance of post-War OJ, not about the general phenomenon.

Seeve said...

Reb Yaakov Kaminetsky was asked about strictures (possibly unnecessary) that people were trying to introduce to a Bais Yaakov school. Reb Yaakov, quoted by Dr.Aharon Hersh Fried in Hakirah, attributed the trend to a 'geirim' mentality (as opposed to "normal yiddishkeit").
See page 29 of the article:

Anonymous said...

I looked up the MC over the weekend, and it would appear that you've indeed misunderstood it.

The MC does not say that people are on their own adding unnecessary chumros because they need to feel something religious. He says that chumros became necessary in times when people are not feeling such exalted spirituality.

IOW, the MC is saying exactly what the most RW yeshiva guy might say if you confronted him with evidence that this or that chumra was not practiced in ancient times and/or by some holy individual: "they didn't need it - we do".

[In the specific example he discusses with, there is not the slightest hint of a suggestion that as a practical matter, making 100 brachos is an added chumra that people do based on a shaky rationale. All he says is that for someone is such an exalted spiritual state as the Cohen Gadol on YHK, it was unnecessary.]

The only thing you can quibble with is if you want to claim that HS meant the same thing. I don't recall the HS article precisely enough to say definitely that he didn't, but that's not how I recall it, and it's certainly not how that article is spun and used by the people who are so fond of citing it.

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