Monday, May 08, 2006

How frum are you during these 33 days?

What's very interesting to me is how people in the frum community approach minhagei aveilus (customs of mouning) during the period of Sefirah, the period of time between Pesach and Shavuos in which 24,000 students of R' Akiva died.
  • Do you go to concerts?
  • Do you only listen to recorded music?
  • Do you only listen to acapella?
  • Do you not listen to music at all?
  • Do you object if others listen to music when you're driving with them?
  • Do you shave every day?
  • Do you shave for Shabbos?

These are decisions which all of us are faced with every year; decisions which I am inevitably ambivalent about on a year-to-year basis. At the end of the day, however, I don't view these decisions as life-changing, as these decisions are based not on halacha, but on custom. I'm not one to knock Jewish customs; the concept of passing down customs from generation to generation is a fascinating and important part of the religion - we stand or sit for Kiddush based on what our parents do - how we run a seder is based on how our fathers do it- I don't bentsch because my father doesn't, etc. However, (at least to me) they are not as important as halacha.

What's interesting to me is that everyone, regardless of their position on the "minhagei sefira frumness continuum" seem to associate themselves with a rabbinic position that holds like they do. Those who are machmir min hamachmirim quote positions that say that is what they should do. But even those in the MO world (or even the non-MO world) who are on the lenient side of the continuum seem to attach themselves to opinions of the sort. If you ask someone why they shave on Erev Shabbos they will probably tell you that R' Aharon Lichtenstein says it is imperative to do so. Those who shave every day will probably quote "the Rav" who says that the period of sefira is like the "12 month" period of mourning rather than the normative opinion of "shloshim". I think that these people who are quoting these lenient opinions left and right are likely not, while not wearing tzitztis, quoting you the positions that say that you don't have to wear tzitzis during the day if you are wearing nighttime clothing. They aren't quoting the lenient opinions that say wearing a kippa is only mandatory when indoors while going bare inside. Again, people seem to attach themselves to rabbinic opinions by minhagei sefirah (custom) while not doing so by halachos.

In my mind, halacha trumps minhag any day. I think I figured out why I am so ambivalent about minhgei sefirah every year: I need to put halacha higher in my mind - therefore, I take the minhagei sefirah less seriously. While I believe anything anyone does to take a step up the ladder of Judaism (which observing minhagei sefirah is) is great, I believe it's more important for people to focus on things which are clear-cut halachos than that which is only minhag. It seems to me that during this 33-day period (or 49 days, depending on how you hold) how frum you are is based on what you do or don't do during this time, and not how frum you are with the real clear-cut halachos. Oh yeah, by the way, just joking about the not bentsching thing (I really do).


Blogger aishel said...

And then there are those who would keep the minhagim/halachos (You're not going to see me get married now) but have to shave due to work. At home I listen to acapella, but I won't turn off the radio at work, as the non-Jews would prefer to have it on.

11:05 PM, May 08, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...


I am on 4 hours of sleep here, but I am pretty sure that was a fairy incoherent comment.

"You cite a specfic Rabbinic enactment which entire point is to permit something and are then comparing it to a case where there is absolutly NO support for."

Please explain this entire sentence. Which Rabbinic enactment? Not listening to music? That's not a rabbinic enactment - it's a minhag. Maybe you're referring to something else - either way, you're way too vague.

I may be wrong, but I am pretty sure that codifiers codify law, not minhag. Also, you're assuming you know the intentions of those that felt it was important to refrain from instrumental music. It very may well be that you're right that acapella creates the same euphoria (please look that word up), but if Rabbis say that the minhag is to refrain from instrumental music, there is not necessarily a requirement to extend their reasons for doing so to other situations.

Finally, these minhagim were instituted due to the death of 24,000 talmidim, NOT because of crusades. I appreciate the mussar for listening to music during sefirah (not), but again, let's keep in mind that these are customs, not laws.

7:16 AM, May 09, 2006

Anonymous alonzo Mourning said...

Does anyone else get frustrated that although there has probably been a tragedy on every single day of the jewish calendar, the rabbis institute the mourning periods just as the weather gets nice. Can't we just mourn in December and go to the pool and have bbqs in July?

10:55 AM, May 09, 2006

Blogger aishel said...

BTW, Rabbi Gottlieb mentioned in his last shiur for young couples that the original 'sign of mourning' was just to not have weddings during this time. Not shaving and not listening to music was instituted later in history.

4:14 PM, May 09, 2006

Blogger Tamar said...

"Finally, these minhagim were instituted due to the death of 24,000 talmidim, NOT because of crusades."

See Aruch HaShulchan 493:1 which connects the mourning rituals to crusades, pogroms, and other trajedies which befell Am Yisrael in the Middle Ages. To quote R. Ari Kahn's analysis: "...the reason that the Omer has become a time of mourning is the death of the students of Rabbi Akiva, but the specific impetus for instituting customs of mourning was the blood libels of the Middle Ages" (considering that mourning rites were not instituted until at least tekufat haGeonim)

4:38 PM, May 09, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Tamar, Thanks for the source - very informative. It still sounds to me, even according to these 2 sources, that the reason there is mourning during this period is due to the deaths of R' Akiva's talmidim - it doesn't sound like that without their deaths (and only the blood libels, etc.) we would have mourning, but who knows. Either way, it's still minhag.

5:20 PM, May 09, 2006

Blogger SephardiLady said...

We are "Modern" and refrain from listening to music (even acapello) and don't wear new clothing or schedule weddings.

9:01 PM, May 09, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm I love the idea behind this website, very unique.

7:20 PM, June 10, 2006


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