web analytics
November 23, 2014 / 1 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.



JEWISH BOOK

For God’s Sake!?

You don't have to be 'right' – to be correct.

For Gods Sake Cover 477x292

The Jewish Press Online is proud to launch our Bookshelf series, offering our readers selected chapters from recently published, quality Jewish books. We plan to introduce relatively unknown Jewish authors, and encourage our readers to purchase their books online. To inquire about having your book included in our new project, please contact us via the Jewish Press Contact Form.

Introduction

Haim Burg

Chaim Burg

Over the past three thousand five hundred years, the Jewish people have gone through a tumultuous history and radical changes.

The Jews went from wanderers in the desert to an agricultural society. From a band of 12 tribes to a unified kingdom and then a divided country. From living in their own land to a dispersed nation to once again a nation living in their land. From a semi-literate population to world class geniuses.

The major thread found throughout this rollercoaster saga is the important role the Torah played in the lives of the Jews. No matter where or what their circumstances were – Torah was their master blue print, their day-to-day guide of every aspect of living.

At Mt. Sinai the Jews received the written Torah as well as parts of the Oral Law. The two form a single unit – because the written Torah can not possibly be understood or practiced correctly without the definitions and explanations found in the Oral Law.

While the written Torah always remained with the Jews, at various times parts of the Oral Law were lost and had to be retrieved. The discussions and arguments that led to its retrieval (as well as other material), were committed to writing and are found in the Talmud.

The laws given at Mount Sinai are the law – the practice and application is halachah. The laws don’t change-halachah can.

To remain viable in the varied history of the Jewish people, practices of Jewish law had to go through changes, adaptations and variations. These are reflected in the multitude of customs, practices and rabbinic decisions over the years.

Elements of the actual practice could be changed because of halachah’s (Jewish law’s) internal, built-in flexibility. While it is true that the actual practice might be flexible and that the ruling may be more stringent or more lenient, they all must fall within the framework and bounds of Torah.

Frequently the changes were introduced to protect Torah- (the Law) true Judaism. Other times to protect the population. Often to placate the surrounding non-Jewish population. And occasionally to protect Jews from other Jews.

The totally observant life of the Jews in the time of the Temples was not exactly the same as for those who lived in the shteitle (European Jewish villages). And the lives of Jews in the era of the Rishonim (Jewish scholars c.1000-1600) are not precisely like ours today.

This doesn’t refer to the march of time and science – but to actual practices – whether in the area of rearing children or observing the Shabbat – the matzah (unleavened bread) eaten on Pessach or the relationship between Jews and non-Jews.

Halachic decisions by both well-known and not so famous rabbis have been shown to vary from very strict to extremely lenient. And so the concept of not necessarily taking the stringent route is, and always has been, an integral and familiar facet of Jewish law.

Yet, when we look at so many of the practices and rulings of the current era we see that leniency (kulah) is out – stringency (chumrah) is in.

Elements of the practice have changed because of halachah’s internal, built-in flexibility. Halachah is flexible – but the Torah remains constant. In fact, the Torah’s diligence and eternity was made possible due to the elasticity and resiliency of halachah.

This book presents a series of ideas, thoughts, facts and ways of thinking that play an important role in Jewish life. It can be considered food for thought or ‘I never thought of it in this light’.

The book refers to stringencies in practices that various individuals or groups take upon themselves that exceed halachic requirements.

Today, the tendency is to go the chumrah route. Chumrah is a technical word with many legal implications. I use the word chumrah to specifically denote partaking in a more stringent practice.

The passionate desire to serve God represents a type of religious zeal. Its practice often includes acts which go above and beyond the demands of the law. While at first glance this might seem commendable, there is also a downside.

For some, this can lead to religious excess, fanaticism or elitism and thus on numerous occasions one will find in Talmudic literature that our sages strongly criticize these practices. (See: Quotes About Chumrot at end of book)

If one sees the Talmud as a source (or the source) for helping define how one should best serve God – then the current tendency to go to the more stringent and more ascetic routes would appear to be misdirected.

What is the intent (kavanah) of the person who practices stringencies above and beyond? And why was this specific stringency chosen? Is it to better serve God? Is it better to serve himself? How does this fit into the concept of Clal Yisrael (the unity of the Jewish people)? What about becoming an elitist?

If proper intent is a requisite for the fulfillment of certain laws (i.e., prayer, Shabbat), then improper intent (for example, one upsmanship) might invalidate any stringent act being practiced.

Stringencies can be admirable – IF one undertakes them in private. IF one doesn’t mention or point out his practice to others making himself a paragon of virtue. IF the chumrah is practiced out of deep commitment – not simply flowing with the local fashion – to be one of the ‘in’ crowd. IF practicing this chumrah is consistent with one’s total religious behavior – both in terms of fulfilling the commandments between man and God and man and man.

In today’s materialistic society there is a tendency not only to compensate but to overcompensate. I’m not referring to salary and perks but rather to the realm of relationships.

Today’s busy parents have found that it is easier and quicker to buy the child a toy than to spend an hour or two walking together in the park. Or to put it another way – there is a prevalent thought that you can ‘buy love’.

So it is in religion.

To reach a spiritual connection with God is both difficult and time consuming. But what if I do something else? What if I start to take upon myself a more stringent practice? Won’t that show God that I love Him and connect with Him.

Instead of delving more deeply into my true relationship with God, I take the easier, quicker way and forbid myself this, or lengthen the time for that.

Does a box of candy or a piece of jewelry given to your spouse really equal an honest declaration of ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I love you’?

I have tried not to mention specific chumrot (plural of chumrah) that are being practiced. Rather I present the history, evolution and reasons for the phenomenal growth of this tendency – particularly in the past decade or two.

This book will deal with practices – not in debates over halachah where one rabbi is lenient and the other stringent. I will try to avoid taking stands on specific halachic decisions and treat the subject on a general level.

As you can see by the title of this book I spelled out the word God without the use of the almost ubiquitous hyphen in place of the ‘O’. It wasn’t to provoke anyone or heaven forbid to insult God’s name. Many people question writing our God’s name in full, in any form or language. I am simply following the precepts laid down by many Gedolim * (super sages) who say that the special treatment is exclusively for the Hebrew version of His name.

Others rule even further that this concept should be followed in pronunciation as well.

If this is carried to the extreme, one would limit the pronunciation of the name of the prophet Elijah (Eli-ya-hu) as Keli-ka-ku – because it involves verbalization of elements that form of God’s name.

For God’s Sake!? is available for purchase at CreateSpace eStore ($18.), and at Amazon.com ($18.)

About the Author: Chaim Burg was born in New York and was strongly influence by the teachings of Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik and Rabbi Z.D. Kanotopsky. A graduate of Cooper Union, Burg spent most of his active business career as a communications consultant for major U.S. and international corporations. A well regarded author and lecturer, he mainly deals with thought provoking views on the evolution of Halacha. Burg made aliya in 1975.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “For God’s Sake!?”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
What, me incite terror? Abba: "The Jews must be barred by any means possible."
Ex-Senior Justice Official Asks Homeland Security to Ban Abbas from US
Latest Sections Stories
Kupfer-112114

Divorce from a vindictive, cruel spouse can be a lifelong nightmare when there are offspring.

Astaire-112114-Horse

There were many French Jews who jumped at the chance to shed their ancient identity and assimilate.

L to R: Sheldon Adelson, Shawn Evenhaim, Haim Saban

As Rabbi Shemtov stood on the stage and looked out at the attendees, he told them that “Rather than take photos with your cellphones, take a mental photo and keep this Shabbat in your mind and take it with you throughout your life.”

South-Florida-logo

Yeshiva v’Kollel Bais Moshe Chaim will be holding a grand celebration on the occasion of the institution’s 40th anniversary on Sunday evening, December 7. Alumni, students, friends and faculty of the yeshiva, also known as Talmudic University of Florida, will celebrate the achievement and vision of its founders and the spiritual guidance of its educational […]

The yeshiva night accommodates all levels of Jewish education.

Recently, Fort Lauderdale has been the focus of international news, and it has not been about the wonderful weather.

Rabbi Sacks held the position of chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth for 22 years until September 2013.

The event included a dvar Torah by student Pesach Bixon, an overview of courses, information about student life and a student panel that answered frequently asked questions from a student perspective.

It is difficult to write about such a holy person, for I fear I will not accurately portray his greatness…

“Grandpa,” I wondered, as the swing began to slow down, “why are there numbers on your arm?”

So the real question is, “How can we, as hosts, make sure our guest beds are comfortable?” Because your guests will never say anything.

It was a land of opportunity, a place where someone who wasn’t afraid of a little hard work, or the challenges of adapting to a different climate and culture, could prosper.

Rule #1: A wife should never accompany her husband to hang out with his buddies at a fantasy football draft. Unless beer and cigars are her thing, that is.

There are many people today with very little training who put out shingles and proclaim themselves to be marital coaches, shalom bayis helpers, advisers etc.

The two World Series combatants, the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants, were Wild Card teams (meaning they didn’t win their respective divisions) that got hot at the right time.

More Articles from Chaim Burg
God-and the world

For God’s Sake!?, Chapter 3

Our Glorious Gutsy Past

For God’s Sake!?, Chapter 3

You don’t have to be ‘right’ – to be correct.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books/the-book-shelf/for-gods-sake/2013/04/15/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: