כי לא מחשבותי מחשבותיכם

כִּי לֹא מַחְשְׁבוֹתַי מַחְשְׁבוֹתֵיכֶם, וְלֹא דַרְכֵיכֶם דְּרָכָי

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Orthodox Judaism's Evolutionary Features

Disappearing Minhagim
The Hirhurim blog (nowadays called Torah Musings, as if that sounds better) featured an article called The Disappearing Melaveh Malkah about the meal after Shabbos that "has long suffered widespread abandonment", despite it being codified in the Shulchan Oruch.

I can't blame the people. After all, they have been busy stuffing themselves with challah, cholent and meat all day. In addition, sometimes Shabbos is out late and people just can't stomach any food anymore (seudah shelishit is difficult enough!). I mean, where I grew up Shabbos finishes after 11 PM in summer and to even think about a Melaveh Malkah then...

New features of Orthodox Judaism
However, I did not want to discuss disappearing minhagim as much as I want to address the new ones that have 'creeped into the system'. Let's forget for a minute about the shtreimelach and the black hats. Over my short lifespan, I have seen some new features of Judaism that have quickly become mainstream.

Upsherin
For starters, the outlandish minhag of Upsherin (or 'Chalakah') or waiting with cutting a boy's hair until he is three, and then having a party when cutting the boy's hair (preferably on Lag baOmer). (Now, try to explain to anyone that your son has to look like a girl because...)

I do not remember having seen this minhag at all when I grew up (except for at the Lubavitchers about whom we always said they were the closest thing to Judaism). But nowadays, it is kind of a 'in' thing to do. Personally, I had several times that people asked me if I let my boys' hair grow or not. As if that should come into consideration! And when I tell people I don't do it because it is not my minhag and I don't think it is authentic, they seem to be perturbed.

Shalom Zachor
There is no sillier strain on a couple that just had a boy born to them than to have to organize a Shalom Zachor (sholem zocher / shulem zucher) on the Friday night following the birth. Wouldn't that be a beautiful time for the family to be together? The original idea is to comfort the boy that just had forgotten the Torah by coming by and by 'comforting him'. Bet some of you didn't know that. Nowadays it's just an opportunity to say mazzeltov and 'snack until you crack'.

I have never seen this in my youth. And when my turn came, the fact that people would turn up anyway forced me to organize one. Why can't a kiddush in the babie's honor be enough? Why these unnecessary expenses? And who really believes that the boy, who is totally unaware of the whole ceremony since he usually is in the hospital with the mother at that time, is at all aware of having forgotten his learning?

Yehi Ratzon in Bentshing
Although the custom is mentioned in the Gemora already, still, the whole thing about saying the Yehi Ratzon for the baal habayis is something that was 'reintroduced' only in the last two decades or so. Until  then, bentshers didn't even feature this prayer (think about the standard Artscroll small-sized birkon that still doesn't have it!). Nowadays, it is hard to find a bentsher without it.

Not that I think that it is a bad custom, I am just saying that this stuff didn't exist during my upbringing.

White shirts during the week
Bochrim from outside of Israel (the so-called 'chutznikkim') who learnt in the big yeshivos (I know the example of Kol Torah) mostly wore normal, striped and colored shirts and a cap. Nowadays, you will only find people wearing white shirts and dark suits and a black hat of course, in mainstream charedi yeshivos. (Only bale batim - nebbech! - wear blue shirts in frum circles.)

I remember distinctly the disgust I felt by people wearing almost the same clothes during the week as on Shabbos, even while frum. There was something disrespectful to Shabbos about it. And now, this dress code has become quite common in my home town.

Other changes
Other chumras and new customs include: not relying on cholov stam (despite stringent government regulations!), the issur of chodosh, mechitzahs during public lectures, mehadrin hechsherim, Avos uBonim, perek shira segulos, mehadrin buses and, believe it or not: washing strawberries with soap!

Evolution?
Orthodox Judaism (at least as I experienced it over only the last few decades!) still is work-in-progress and that it has grown organically over time. And unfortunately, the new chumras and superstitions appear to outweigh the disappearing customs.

Increasing the likelihood of me coming out of that kofer closet...

14 comments:

  1. If judaism would condone porn, most of the kefira would dry up.

    ReplyDelete
  2. In many ways, orthodoxy is more 'reform' than Reform.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Upshern, shalom zachor, and chalav yisroel have been in Chabad since at least my grandparents' youth. Some of these "minhagim" are genuinely new (e.g. white shirts during the week and washing strawberries with soap) but some of them seem only to have migrated into new communities.

    ReplyDelete
  4. r.w.: really? *More* reform than Reform? that's quite a strong statement

    ReplyDelete
  5. UK: I recall a rabbi explaining that there's a historical reason and a shtus reason for almost every minhag. He stated that the historical reason for the upsherin was to avoid mandatory military draft in Russia by claiming the child was a girl. After age three, census was no longer taken by the Czarist functionaries.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yeah, that whole "adam etz hasadeh" thing makes no sense.

    ReplyDelete
  7. SY: Interesting. Why was this not on Wikipedia? :P

    ReplyDelete
  8. UK: maybe you can create a new reference site... Shtussepedia 8-)

    ReplyDelete
  9. since when did people say lubavitchers are the closest thing to judaism?
    pretty sure there were jews for a few millenia before the first lubavitcher rebbe.....

    ReplyDelete
  10. "The closest thing" means that they aren't really practicing Judaism.

    ReplyDelete
  11. How about all the aveilos chumros during sefira and bein hametzarim. People are more meikel during shiva!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Farshtelter: Do you have an example of that?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Shabbos ending at 11 pm? Where's that, Alaska? Winnipeg?

    ReplyDelete