Wednesday, May 17, 2006

No Time to Digest

I was recently reviewing the laws of Bentching with a chavrusa, and reviewed the opinion that the Mishna Berura quotes as saying that for someone who fears G-d, a kippa is not enough, and that one should wear a hat and jacket while bentsching. I realized when reading this that this is the makor for the commonplace custom to put on a hat and jacket when bentsching. However, I was a bit taken aback when I was asked by my chavrusa, "So, are you going to wear a hat now?" It turns out I misunderstood his question, but it made me realize that some people really do read something once and completely change the way they've been doing things for X number of years based on one source.

I believe this phenonenon happens more in Baalei Teshuva than in mainstreamers. This is understandable, as BT's are in a process of changing the way they lived their lives. So, when they see a reputable source, such as the Mishna Berura, telling them that G-d fearing people wear a hat and jacket during bentsching (note: this is just an example - I can think of others as well), they will be more prone to going out to the Hattery and getting a new Borsalino (with a short brim, of course). However, there are a few things they forget to consider:
  • There may be dissenting opinions
  • Something about the "change in the times" may effect practicality
  • There is a bit of a hock whether or not the MB is actually a "halacha" sefer

Without taking a look at what Rishonim, Achronim, and contemporaries say, one may change the way they do things, when it is actually not appropriate and/or necessary.

But let's just pretend that there are no dissenting opinions, it still applies today, and you view the MB exclusively as a halachic work. That's still not enough for me to change the way I do things. I would never change the way I live or act after reading something in a 45-minute chavrusa. OK - it's one thing if you didn't know that eating pig was forbidden, and then you read the Torah saying that it is - I understand. But for me to read the MB quote a source giving advice (and not obliging us to) to wear a hat/jacket and then go ahead and do it? I think it shows instability. I believe that if there were major, glaring flaws in the way that I practice yiddishkeit, someone would've told me by now. And sure, I have my religious quirks, but all minhagim that I have are shared by others.

As I have said time and time again, the purpose of Kiruv and the goal of BT's should be to mainstream people. Institutions need to speak out against the "read it once, gotta do it!" phenonmenon, or BT's will continue to be a sect within Judaism instead of part of the Klal.


Blogger Jack Davidov said...

True, we need to do research and find out all the background about a Halacha. However, Torah needs to make a roshem (impression) on us. If it is just an intellectual activity and not something that affects our lives, then why do it?

On a side note: I always knew when guys first started learning Mishnah Brurah when they started lecturing me about how I should cut my finger-nails. Classic :-)

7:43 PM, May 17, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Jack, I think you know I'm the last person you need to convince that halacha needs to be lemaisa.

That being said, blindly doing things without a deeper understanding leads to superficial Judaism, which for BT's, can lead to reverting to their old ways.

8:16 AM, May 18, 2006

Blogger nircgrad said...

Many hold that a velvet which is 2-ply suffices for bentching.

9:04 AM, May 19, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Nirc, I have never heard "2-ply" by anything other than toilet paper. Would 2-ply TP work as well?

9:07 AM, May 19, 2006

Blogger nircgrad said...

what a comedian!!!
the point is since it the yarmulkah has 2 layers it acts as a double covering.

11:05 AM, May 19, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Nirc, thanks for the explanation. I appreciate the hasbarah. However, I do have a brain and was able to deduce that for myself.

11:08 AM, May 19, 2006

Blogger nircgrad said...

sorry, I wasn't sure :)

12:19 PM, May 19, 2006

Blogger Jack Davidov said...

Nircgrad - The idea that wearing a hat is because you need to have a double covering is one of the most absurd theories that I ever heard. One of the bachurim in yeshiva asked if you need to wear a "double covering" to Rav Nebenzahl Shlita and he said (and I quote) "only if you have two heads." I would often see Rav Nebenzahl remove his yarmulke before putting his hat on.

Besides the sheer absurdity of this idea, I have trouble seeing how wearing two layers of yarmulke equates to the idea of wearing a hat. One is a sign of chashivus, the other is just plain silly. Do you think that the Chafetz Chaim would expect you to wear two yarmulkes if you don't have a velvet yarmulke or a hat?

10:50 PM, May 20, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Jack, Obviously I'm not a big hat and jacket guy, but regarding your comments: the yeshivishe olam doesn't necessarily hold like Rav Nebenzahl.

11:49 PM, May 20, 2006

Blogger Jack Davidov said...

alanlaz - Let me weight this one... a Gadol vs. the hamon am. Hmm... which do I pick?

2:35 PM, May 21, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

"Gadol" is a very subjective word - in my opinion, it is used way too often.

For the record, I have no idea as to the "gadlus" of Rav Nebenzahl.

A gadol to one group of people may not be a gadol to others. To many YU guys, R' Shachter is a gadol. Obviously, I don't think R'Aharon Feldman would consider R' Shachter a "gadol".

2:46 PM, May 21, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

alanlaz - Rav Nebenzahl was the talmid muvak of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and is the Rav of the Old City of Yerushalayim. He wrote a perush on the Mishnah Brurah. If you ever met him you wouldn't even have the shadow of a doubt that he is a Gadol. He is probably the biggest tzaddik I have ever met. When I daven, and I say "ukidoshim b'chal yom y'halilucha sela" I think of him. Maybe the status of Gadol is debatable for some people, but not for him.

9:39 AM, May 22, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Thanks for the history lesson, but I was aware of all of that information and have been meaning to get the new MB with his perush.

For whatever reason, you just don't hear his name as often as some of the great Rabbeim that are alive. I am not suggesting that this means he is not a gadol, I honestly don't know.

9:46 AM, May 22, 2006


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