Sunday, April 01, 2007

When are Chumrot appropriate?

Pessach there are a slew of Chumrot that people feel the need to adhere to; that is because of the perceived seriousness of the issur of Chametz on Pessach and the fear that one may transgress. There is though a deeper understanding of how one relates to chumrot. They are not necessarily prescribed rules but rather those that come from within a person.

There are two parallel processes that one needs to engage in during the search for God. The intellectual understanding of existence and its cause needs to be complemented with actions to transit from the transcendental and theoretical to reality. Those actions are the Mitzvot. They are God’s commandments that give us a sense of what is right and wrong. They are our compass for what is considered proper or improper behavior. As we intellectually apprehend God, or to be more exact, what God is not, we develop a sense of His constant presence in us, in our minds. We develop a feeling of being always in His presence as we have brought Him into our minds. We therefore act in ways that are in harmony with that feeling. Using the Mitzvot as a guide to what is appropriate when in His presence we instinctively know when we are inappropriate even when it is not ordered. It is not a sense of guilt but rather positive respect and reverence to that Entity that is always present in our minds.

Know that when the perfect understand this, they achieve such humility, such awe and fear of God, such reverence and such shame before him, may he be exalted – and this in ways pertaining to true reality not imagination – that their secret conduct with their wives and in latrines is like their public conduct with other people. Thus it is related of our renowned Sages that even in their sexual intercourse with their wives they behaved with great modesty. They also said, "Who is modest? He whose conduct in the dark night is the same as in the day." You know also how much they warned us not to walk proudly, since "the fullness of the whole earth is His glory" (Isa. vi. 3). They thought that by these rules the above-mentioned idea will be firmly established in the hearts of men, viz., that we are always before God, and it is in the presence of His glory that we go to and fro. The great men among our Sages would not uncover their heads because they believed that God's glory was round them”. (MN 3:52)

What I described above is what is referred to as Yra’at Hashem – fear of God. The purpose of the rituals is to train us to translate the intellectual into our daily life. The Mitzvot have no meaning other than that. It is only after having internalized this fear and awe of God that our keeping the Mitzvot become real service of God, having Him in us and being aware of His presence. A person that is in such a state and feels the imperative to act in a certain way beyond the prescribed, that act becomes a true Chumra and not just a mechanical reaction to guilt.

I believe that this is what the meaning is when we find in Halacha that certain chumrot are considered inappropriate for everyone because of “Yuhara” - conceit. Those are not to be kept mechanically but only when a person feels an internal compulsion to adhere to them. One who is obviously not up to that level comes across as a fake.

Chag Kasher Vesameach. May we all perform Mitzvot and chumrot as true servants of God.


  1. Did you look at my Guide to Pesah PDF file? It is guaranteed to be 100% chumra-free.

    I would add to your observation one further point - if a person plans on adding humrot to the practice of mitsvot bein adam lamaqom, then we should expect an equal level of stringency in matters bein adam lehavero.

    This is oftentimes the best test of the "genuineness" of an individual's religiosity. Truly perfected people are equally stringent about all areas of mitsvah observance, and do not pick and choose, opting for humra in one area at the expense of others.

  2. I certainly did look at it. It is similar to Rav Abadi's approach.

    My son in Israel has adopted years ago all Sefardi minhagim. He has the "neshama" of a sefaradi and now he is married to a Yemmenite woman. This is the first year they will be conducting their own Seder at home. so I directed them to Rav Abadi's site before I saw yours. Chag Kasher vesameach and may you continue lead your kehillah with hatzlacha.

  3. just wanted to wish you a good pesach!

  4. chag kasher v'sameach! tafkaa

  5. Thank you Chaim B. and Tafkaa.

  6. Hi,

    I know this question does not belong here but I don't have anyone available to me to ask this question and it is urgent and important.

    I take the medication called niaspan for cholesterol problems. is this medication kosher for passover and can I take it over Pesach?

  7. CRC allows all medication in pill form. I imagine that controlling chloresterol is important enough for that.

  8. thanks alot because i believe niaspan has vitamin b3 which may be chometz but it wouldn't mater because its in pill form and its to prevent cholesterol problems, correct?

  9. Sorry I am not a possek. Ask your Rabbi all I can do is tell you what the CRC says. You can check it on their website or at

  10. Many of those who are against chumrot all year round are still in favor, or at least tolerant, of chumrot for Pesach.

    I wonder if all these chumrot cause people to be overwhelmed by Pesach and thus decide to go away to some hotel for Pesach.

    People claim that going away for Pesach costs the Jewish community 2 billion dollars. Perhaps this figure is exaggerated and the real cost is only a few hundred million.

    There are so many problems in our communty that could be fixed with a few hundred milllion dollars.

    Are our Pesach chomrot worth it?

  11. Nesher Light4/05/2007 7:24 PM

    "What I described above is what is referred to as Yra’at Hashem – fear of God. The purpose of the rituals is to train us to translate the intellectual into our daily life. The Mitzvot have no meaning other than that."

    Surely there are more to the commandments than "only" that. No?In the Guide, the Rambam is fond of pointing out benefits, that come from proper observance of the commandments. Discipline is one such outcome. However, I believe you are right, in that fear of G-D is also one of the benefits.

    On a side note. I have a question for you folks. Can anyone recommend a good work that describes the status of the responsa (shuvot) of the Rambam, that came out of the Cairo geniza? In particular (#149). For this, I would prefer to read it in English. I am not interested in any of Blau's stuff. Neither am I interested in any of David Novak's commentaries. In recent times, I see many in the reform and conservative community, who use the responsas as a way to contradict the basic and simple meaning of the Mishneh Torah. Seeing as they were found in a genizah (the national trash can for unwanted or damaged holy works), and seeing as the Rambam said one can rely exclusively upon the written Torah and the MT, (not needing any other work), I am anxious to put these responses into some type of context. Over 900 years, everyone was happy with the MT. Now we find fragments in Cairo, and everyone is aching to reinterpret Rambam.

    Tizku l'shanim rabboth u'moadhim tovim.

  12. >Surely there are more to the commandments than "only" that. No?

    God declares in plain words that it is the object of all religious acts to produce in man fear of God and obedience to His word-the state of mind which we have demonstrated in this chapter for those who desire to know the truth, as being our duty to seek(MN3:52)

    The above cannot be clearer. The reason for each mitzva whatever it is, has no meaning unless ultimately it produces a person as described in my post and at greater length in MN 3;52.

    Re the geniza tshuva, I have no idea what you are referring to. You mention number 149 in what edition. I use the Blau one. Can you give me the reference in there?

  13. Nesher light4/05/2007 8:16 PM

    Rav Dave,

    Excuse the spelling. I was merely drawing a distinction between (primary object) as the primary benefit vs. purpose of the all the mitzvot. No where does Rambam assign a single purpose (from what I can read). However, in case you want to argue that this IS indeed what the Rambam is saying, then let's stress the rest of the verse, which identifies the 'perfection of man' (which incorporates so much more than just fear of G-D). Too many times, I've seen heritics using this type of thinking against us. By identifying the purpose, they try twist the truth. But human perfect... that is something we will always try to attain, and is therefore always relevant.

    Regarding the shuvot... what do you do when you see a contradiction between a shuva and what the Rambam writes in the MT. In short, have the shuvot now become the authoratitive way for understanding the Rambam now (in your estimate)? This is my first main question.

    Here is one example. The Mishneh Torah: Hilkoth Avoda Zorah: Chp. 10 says: Presumably after a battle: "We may not draw up a covenant with Idol worshippers which will establish peace between us and them and yet allow them to worship idols, as it says in Deut 7:2: 'Do not establish a covenant with them'. Rather, they must renounce their idol worship or be slain." Thus, there is no stamp of approval or acceptance of their beliefs. Even if one will say this verse is only about battle, the point still stands.

    Later on in 10:4-5 (a non-battle commentary), we are forbidden to have mercy upon them, as Deut says: "Do not be gracious to them." Also: 'Do not look at them graciously, as this will cause you to come close to them'.

    Then we dig up a responsa from the Cairo Geniza (149/Blau) that says the following:

    "It is permitted (muttar) to teach the commandments to Christians (notsrim) and draw them to our faith (datenu). But it is not permitted to teach anything from it to Muslims (yisma’elim) because it is known to you about their belief that this Torah [of ours] is not from God . . . and if one can convince the Christians of the correct interpretation [of Scripture], it is possible (efshar) that they might return to what is good (she-yahzoru la-mutav)."

    For me, I could see this as an exception (to turning AWAY potential converts) that allows us to do KIRUV to gentiles (even those involved in the Avodah Zora or Christianity), ONLY IF they express a genuine interest in the Noahide Laws or Conversion (both of which are found Datenu - in our faith).

    However, from what I am reading in the Conservative writings, they see this as Cart Blanch (hope I spelled that right) to teach Christians, even those who believe (you know who) is L-rd (a thousand separations), and who are only learning to missionize.

  14. Nesher Light4/05/2007 8:22 PM

    IE: as long as they are good little Zionists who dump money into Israel, the Christians are to be taught Talmud and Torah (even as idolaters). After all, the Rambam says we can.... (or so I am questioning the limitations of this shuva.

  15. Nesher, I am not sure where the problem is. In AZ 10:1 he is talking in time of war and we are winning we should not stop unless they accept to leave AZ.

    In 10:4 he is talking about doing them favors without reason. That is forbidden.

    In the Teshuva he is talking about a Goy who wants to learn Torah, that we may teach them under certain conditions. This non Jew already wants to leave AZ and asking for help. That is quite in line with 10:1 where we are forcing them to leave it.

    I don't see the problem these are quite clearly defined cases and as usual Halacha is nuanced according to each case. There are much more difficult situations where the differences are much more difficult to see.

  16. >as long as they are good little Zionists who dump money into Israel, the Christians are to be taught Talmud and Torah (even as idolaters

    Where do you see it in the teshuva?

    BTW I am no Rav Dave. I have no semicha nor do I pretend to be a "Rav". I am just a plain Jew who struggles to make sense of what he practices.

  17. Nesher Light4/05/2007 8:49 PM

    Good. You and I agree, that if this shuva is legit, it only refers to someone willing to chuck their avodah zorah. I was trying to convince someone to stop teaching Torah and Talmud to Christian Zionists, who are clearly using him, even as they cling to their AZ. As Hilkoth AZ 9:4 says (in ancient MSS), "Notsrim" are idolaters. And so all the verses throughout the entire book that refer to how to treat people involved with AZ applies to them, even if they are helping Eretz. Unless they are open to change.


    But seriously, how should these shuvot be regarded? I can only wonder.

  18. Nesher light4/05/2007 9:42 PM

    Regarding the geniza fragments: take, for example, Paul Fenton's dating of a block-print (5:1-2), and its refutation by Shelomo Dov Goitein (6:4); or Avihai Shivtiel's discovery of a Maimonides autograph fragment (44:1), subsequently disputed by Joel Kraemer (45:1-2).