Chumras used to be like the weather; everybody complained about them but nobody did anything. Rabbi Karp’s salmon ban finally generated an angry backlash by young sushi gourmands, old lox mavensand middle aged health foodies. The reaction started in Teaneck where it displaced the yeshiva tuition crisis. From there it spread to Riverdale and eventually took over most of the orthodox world.
Rabbi Nosson Heter of Kahal Volvosaab in Cambridge announced the formation of a true-torah™ movement to generate chumras to limit chumrahs. He even trademarked the name to retain control of the term. In his inaugural speech he declared:
So called “torah true” Jews regularly violate “bal tosif.” We are biblically commanded not to add to the torah (Deuteronomy 13:1). I know, nobody else talks about this, but I am a machmir on bal tosif. “Daas torah doesn’t know left from right; it is a posul modern invention and no match for torah itself.”
Beleagured modern orthodox Jews rallied to Rabbi Heter’s true-torah™ movement. People are now more obsessed with Bal tosif then they used to be about lashon horah. When a yeshiva guy on vacation chastises someone’s “laxity” he gets enveloped in embarrassed silence until one of the gentler souls takes him aside and explains.
I want to be dan l’kaf zchus so I explained to others that this is some hiddur you adopted as a personal practice. You don’t chas v’challilah want to distort the shulchan aruch. People can misunderstand and your sisterwon’t get a shidduch. I am sure you want your family to have a reputation as true-torah™ Jews. I told them this is just a phase and I don’t think you are at-risk of frumming-out.
Rabbi Heter’s Sefer Shmiras Halashon Shel Bal Tosif which is in its 13th printing has been translated into five other languages. It includes some of these widely accepted rulings:
- You cannot make chumras which hurt the poor. Mehadrin champagne is OK but not mehadrin milk.
- Someone with OCD may persist in his mehadrin habits during treatment but because of maras hayin he should explain he has a bal tosif heter because he is OCD.
- You can only support yungerleit in kollel if the cost does not exceed the shir for income, savings and indebtedness. Consult your true-torah™ posek to determine these amounts for your family.
- A rosh yeshiva cannot encourage a young man to believe he can develop into a talmid chochom when he doesn’t have a Golem’s chance in Prague of making it out of the attic because he has the charifas of a butter knife, the hasmadah of a civil servant, the recall of a broken tape recorder, and the potential for oker harim of a plastic Mattel bulldozer. Such people are better off being started early on training for parnassah because they will need the extra lead time in life. If instead, they hang around a beis medrish they end up spouting forbidden chumras.
Because of the movement, Borsalino is bankrupt, kosher club soda prices have dropped and chassidishe streimlach are back to five inches. Yeshiva University’s black hat contingent complains that “everybody at YU keeps looking over their left shoulder.” Most dramatically, families are having 2-4 children and bragging about grandparents with small families when “it wasn’t fashionable.”
Lakewood has been especially hard hit. Parents already struggling with the recession have been asking hard questions about the learning prospects of their kollel yungerleit. Shalom bayis issues have mushroomed amog kollel wives quoting true-torah™ phamplets. Realtors cannot unload large houses with extra kitchens. They are now derisively called “Hummer houses.” On the positive side, many “at-risk” kids are discovering that they are just true-torah Jews and are flocking back into the fold. Naturally, they are insisting on reinstatement of broadband Internet which they are using to propagandize for torah-true Judaism. Things have swung so far the other way that Rabbi Heter had to intervene in Lakewood to convince yeshivas to admit students from homes without the Internet.
Lakewood is fighting back. Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon delivered a tirade about the avodah zorah of using Rabbi Heter’s picture as screen savers, but he did not issue any bans. His speech had little impact because it was delivered to a nearly empty beit midrash. Rabbi Gadol Posul recently published his Shir Shel Bal Tosif in which he argues that something is only a violation of bal tosif when the additional burden is intolerable. He claims “all our chumras were embraced by thousands of people for decades and do not violate bal tosif.
While Rabbi Posul is popular among modern machmirim, the larger oylem does not take his arguments seriously. Rabbi Posul was whooped by Rabbi Heter in a debate held at YU. The audience applauded his familiar line “daas torah doesn’t know left from right; it is a posul modern invention and no match for torah itself.”
In an interview with the YU student newspaper the Commentator, Rabbi Posul was gracious in defeat.
I respect the sincerity with which they embrace bal tosif. Even if they are extremists it is all lashem shomayim. I think it is a great step forward that their Family Magazine recently published a favorable profile of Rabbi Elya Ber Wachtfogel, an important Modern Machmir. However, I wish they would honestly show that he holds that Judaism has always evolved by adding chumrahs and opposing Zionism. I suppose they thought that would be pushing their readers too far.
Not everything is rosy for the Bal Tosif movement. Rabbi Heter opposes heavy drinking on Purim. This is very unpopular with the True Torah Mens Club League. Its President, Harvey Shicker, insists his kiddush club members have a high tolerance for single malt scotch which justifies heavier drinking on Purim. “We stagger on shabbos, so how can we fulfill the mitzvah on Purim just by staggering.” As we go to press we are not sure how this will be straightened out.