Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Keeping Obligations Straight

One of the things that bugs me about some portions of UltraOrthodoxy, especially Chassidus, is how customs, innovations (gasp!) and minor rules are sometimes elevated to a point where they become emphasized more than actual halacha.  Rav Harry Maryles, in his latest post, point this out by referring to the story of a woman who is an ex-Satmar chasid because of her disagreement with head shaving.  As Rav Maryles notes in his post:
Mrs. Goldberger is a former member of Satmar. She says that she left Satmar five years ago based on this issue. The custom (perhaps even the Halacah as they see it) is for a married woman to shave her head. They feel so strongly that a married woman’s hair is Erva, that they do not want to take the chance that a single strand of hair will even be exposed. The safest (and according to Satmar the only) way to assure that is by a woman shaving her head. This is what Mrs. Goldberger did. At first without giving it much thought since that is what all married Satmar women did. This is what the Satmar Rebbe required. Here is how Mrs. Goldberger put it:
The Satmar Rebbe, Yoel Teitelbaum, famously gave emotional, tear-jerking speeches against married women growing their own hair. “Jewish daughters, our mothers and fathers gave up their lives to our Father in Heaven for the sanctity of His name, but you, their daughters, don’t want to give up even a few hairs?” he asked in a speech on Yom Kippur eve in 1951, according to “The Rebbe,” a 2010 biography by Dovid Meisels. “What does Hashem Yisbarach (God) ask of us? A few hairs! Because of a few hairs you are making yourselves lose both worlds. Jewish daughters, shave your hair and give honor to the Torah.”
I am in no position to argue Halacha with the Satmar Rebbe. His Torah knowledge dwarfed that of even many great Rabbonim. It certainly dwarfs mine by a lot. But he is not the only Posek in the Jewish world. Most Poskim do not see it his way. I therefore strongly disagree with him.

These few paragraphs encapsulate for me what is wrong with the frum system today.  No, Rav Maryles is nowhere near the calibre of the Satmar Rebbe, z"l, when it comes to halacha. (As for me, al achas kamah v'kamah).  However, the Talmud is certainly a few notches higher than him and nowhere does it say a woman must cover her hair, much less that she should treat this "obligation" as something God obsesses over in Heaven.  The Shulchan Aruch, which is also a few notches higher than the Satmar, also does not endorse hair shaving in the married woman and actually contains negative opinions about the practice.  The Satmar, based on mystical sources, has gone and trumped the foundational books of halacha and created a requirement for his married female followers that is entirely a later invention, something the Torah, Talmud and major codes of law do not require.  And to top it all off he presented it as something God specifically wants.
We all know what that means.  It means a frum woman who is otherwise scrupulous in her observance of mitzvos including covering her hair but who doesn't shave her scalp is a sinner, defying God's wishes and not making the necessary sacrifice the Satmar believes He requires.  It means that normative halacha is not really what an observant Jew should be following because, despite the endorsement of such minor authorities as the Rambam, the Tur, Rav Yosef Karo and the Rema, it isn't really what God wants!
The problem with fighting against this attitude is the automatic association in Jewish culture between learning and righteousness.  As I've written before, we have a simple formula: extensive learning = righteousness.  After all, if a particular authority wasn't such a big tzadik he wouldn't have been such a knowledgeable man.  And since we wish to follow the righteous then the big learner is automatically an authority figure.
But then we reach the critical difficulty.  It's one thing for an authority to stand up and say "From my learning I believe the following practice is important and those who wish to follow in my system should also do it."  Clearly the Satmar was obsessed with women's appearances, especially the dresses, stockings and hair.  Fine, that was what he believed was a priority to be addressed amongst his followers.  But can we not see a little bit of presumption in stating with such certainty "This is what God wants!" when nowhere in the official literature does it say that?
As observant Jews we sacrifice quite a bit in our daily lives.  It is one thing to insist we hold firmly to our love of God, strength in learning and fealty in mitzvos performance.  It is quite another to invent new requirements and treat them like they're the new minimal baseline for proper Jewish behaviour.  As the Talmud itself asks, "613 mitzvos aren't enough, you have to go and invent more?"
We best fulfill God's will by doing what He asked of us as detailed in our holy books and remembering that basic halacha isn't something to keep us unwashed masses busy while the "real" Jews engage in mystical laws and behaviours.  The basic halacha is what God wants of us and Chazal weren't simply sopping us with the Talmud while keeping the Zohar for the special ones.  It's hard enough to live a decent halachic life, after all and as Rav Maryles' post concludes pushing too hard for things that aren't necessary to the faith winds up causing the opposite problem.


Mr. Cohen said...

Amihai said...

It's worse than that.
Like every humra, it brings up kula in another way.
A woman's hair is supposed to be something beautiful reserved for her husband. This a normal, positive thing which is meant to be ("deracheia darkei noam").
It's like the midrash were the rabbanim banished the Yetzer Harah which killed everything the world need to improve and go on...

Chaim B. said...

Every time Chazal added a seyag derabbanan to the d'oraysa law they risked someone getting upset and being driven off the derech. Sometimes the risk is worth it, sometimes not. Each community and its manhigim comes to its own decisions baed on risk/benefit analysis. How can you judge right/wrong in this area as an outsider based on one person's reaction?

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Chaim, if the Satmar had said "Listen, I think it's important for us as a community" I'd have no objection. To portray something which isn't universally practiced and is actually opposed by many important authorities as something one's Judaism should revolve around is wrong.

SJ said...

If u stop pushing too hard for crap that's not in the official literature u end up with a non liberal version of conservative judaism. No?

SJ said...

Ugh conservative judaism diverged from the biblical requirement to procreate by allowing fags abortion and feminist women and now these retards wonder why they don't have numbers. The answer is because they didn't make any.

Atheodox Jew said...

I'm somewhat hesitant to even comment in the same thread as SJ's last sentiments, but anyway...

Just to be the devil's advocate here: Based on Yoma 47a and Kimchis meriting to have 7 sons who were Kohanim Gedolim from the fact that the four walls of his house never saw a hair on his wife's head, couldn't one come to the conclusion that the best/easiest way to emulate this is simply to shave the hair off? So it's not like there's "zero" basis for coming up with such a custom, and it doesn't necessitate a mystical approach either (or at least any more mystical than the Gemara itself).

Of course I totally agree with the main point, which is that people are FAR AND AWAY more concerned with what people around them do (and would "never do") than the actual Halacha. The main point of Halacha (as it's generally used) is to provide a pseudo-intellectual justification to rationalize people's already existing practices as "sanctioned by God".

SJ said...

You'd be surprised how much Jews bull shit me telling me I'm one of them outside the blogosphere.

Chaim B. said...

>>>To portray something which isn't universally practiced and is actually opposed by many important authorities as something one's Judaism should revolve around is wrong.

Where did the Satmar Rebbe ever say that Judaism revolved around this point? All I see is one quote that sounds like it was taken from a mussary-type speech, not a halachic analysis. You are creating a straw man to knock down.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Tell you what. Find me a mussar-type speech in which the Satmar talked about avoiding theft, not lying or being pleasant to one's fellow Jew even though they had different views on Zionism and/or modernity with the same passion and tear-jerking intonations.