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May 17, 2007

Halachic ambiguity

I have a list of halachic terms that disturb me by their vagueness and ambiguity, and lack of clear definitions. They are sometimes liberally applied, and sometimes not applied when it looks like they should be.

I added a term to the list last night...I actually never compiled a formal list, but when I stumble across such a term I think about it.

The newest word to make it to my list is "Yohara". This term is used in halacha in the sense that there might be a certain action or opinion that when followed, one would be accused of acting with "yohara" meaning haughtiness.

The context it was used in last night was in regards to tzitzis. The Mishna Berura quotes a Beis Yosef that says that one who makes two holes in the corner of his garment is guilty of yohara. Ostensibly, this would be because he is trying to fulfill even the opinion of a minority view when it is not necessary. But nowadays we do that all the time (try to fulfill all opinions, even thos eof minority viewpoints), so why is that a big deal or why are we not guilty of yohara all the time?

Another time this term is used is when covering the head with a tallis for davening. If I remember correctly, the shulchan aruch says that talmidei chachomim cover their heads with the tallis during tefilla. Others who do so are guilty of yohara. Yet nowadays almost everybody in religious circles (and for sure in chareidi circles) does so. Are they not all guilty of yohara because they consider themselves talmidei chachomim when that is not necessarily the case?

When do we apply this? when do we not? why is this ever an issue?

this can be added to another term: "tircha d'tzibbura"

I know I have more, but off the top of my head I cannot think of any...

What halachic terms do you know of that bother you like this?

27 comments:

  1. Doesn't this belong in Torah thoughts?
    How about: "poresh min hatzibur"?
    At what point is one poresh? If one davens a different nusach, are they poresh? If a sfardi says "v'yitzmach porkudai" in kaddish, is that poresh?

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  2. "Doesn't this belong in Torah Thoughts"
    Is that a question or something you sometimes wonder about? :-)

    the answer is no. That blog is for parsha thoughts....
    this might not be the best place for it. maybe I should open a new blog for these types of issues.

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  3. oh yeah. that is a good question also... poresh min hatzibur. I thought of that one recently also, specifically on yom ha'atzmaut...

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  4. I haven't looked up the references, but often the phrase is "mechzi k'yuhora", i.e., it looks like haughtiness, but may not necessarily be pure yuhora.

    In terms of davening with the tallis over one's head, the shulchan aruch does indeed say that a talmid chacham (or some other similar language) davens with his tallis over his head. However, this is in hilchot tfillah. In hilchot tzitzit, one of the nosei keilim on the shulchan aruch (I forget who, maybe it's one of the nosei keilim on the Tur) says that one should cover his head during davening. I used to jokingly reconcile the two by saying that someone who knows the halacha brought down by hilchot tzitzit is a talmid chacham.

    (Rafi - You may have wondered why I cover my head with a tallis during all of davening - now you know.)

    In connection with your basic point, these terms seem to be fluid enough to change along with social mores. For example, since we’re only concerned about someone looking as if he's acting haughtily, if he’s in a situation where such behavior is, if not the norm, at least within "acceptable boundaries," it may not be mechzi k'yuhora. Just my (relatively uninformed) two cents.

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  5. right. I think also it generally says michzi k'yohara. not sure if that makes a difference in my point.

    about the difference you suggested from hilchot tzitzis to tefilla, why would it say in one place it is lik eyohara and in one place tell you to do it anyway?

    Aside from that, whenever the mb/sa says "tefilla" it always means shmoneh esrei, afaik. So why do you wear the tallis the whole davening (though I have seen ti done often by many people).

    The yohara is why I stopped wearing the tallis on my head. I still sometimes do, but usually not. There are two times where I will almost never wear it on my head.
    1. When I am in a shul with many people who I consider to be talmidei chachomim, because I am not one compared to them and
    2.When I am in a shul with people many of whom I do not consider talmidei chachomim but wear the tallisover the head anyway. I figure then that if they do, it is not for me because it must be yohara.
    When I am in a shul with a mixed crowd or one I am not familiar with, then I will sometimes wear it on my head.

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  6. "geder lifnay hadin" and "minhag k'din"

    these two terms have been a) created out of thin air and b0 used to justify any and every possible chumrah no matter how far a cry or stretch from what was in the torah. But these terms are loved by those who wear their tallis over their head.

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  7. Not that this is entirely on topic, but I'm not the biggest fan of "lo plug"

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  8. What about Yirai Shomayim or Tavo Alav Bracha when it comes to be machmir. You have these words in all halachic texts old and new.

    Does it say these things with just optional chumras that don't have to be done? If I don't do them, do I not have Yiras Shamayim?

    This gray area always puzzled me.

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  9. dan - minhag k'din is a good one. I am not familiar with the first one you mention. maybe you mean lifnim meshuras ha'din?

    tnspr - lo plug is less of a halcha term and more of a gemara term... but it works too

    v - tavo alav bracha is a good one also. that is used liberally. T your question, aren't all chmros optional? :-)

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  10. Chumras are optionl. That's my point. When it says that machmir tavo alav bracha or yirei shamayam should be machmir... sounds like it's optional, but it doesn't leave you much of a choice.

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  11. 1. "lo sisgodidu" - when we were all the same in one shtetl - maybe. bt now, with mixed communities - how do we apply this?

    2. talk to yaak about the MB and tzitzit. His father told us that there's a ksav yad from the grandson of the MB that regarding wearig your tzitzit out, what is written was added later by others. the Mb, goes off in his loshon about how important it is to wear your tzitzit out and if you don't.... But this is not the way of the MB to offer such strong loshon and hochacha. So, Yaaks pops says it was not from the MB and added later by others.

    This story goes to the many times a meforash says "i have a dif girsah". Now there's a good one.

    3. "lihistakel" means to stare or gaze, yet we translate it the same as "lir'ot" - to see, they ARE not the same.

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  12. I do not wear my talis over my head, ever. a) because of mechzi - although now I can be accused of being "over lo sisgodidu" since so many people wear it over their heads. B) personally, I don't feel it adds to my (lack of )kavanah.

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  13. BTW,

    b4 anyone makes this comment, I did not know that lo sisgodidu is discussed dafka today on another blog. I picked that one simply b/c it has made me nuts for years in how we apply it.

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  14. it's not a halachic term, but I don't like "it's not shayach!"

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  15. I heard for a very reliable source that in Slabodka only the Rosh Yeshiva wore a tallis over his head. It was looked upon as guyvadig if anyone did it.

    I happen to do it for kavana reasons.

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  16. Shaya - lo sisgodedu is a good example. It is funny because the last few days, lo sisgodedu has bene the topic of daf yomi.We have fallen very behind in the daf because we spend a lot of time arguing about daf yomi.
    On that note I will add that I have found the applicatuion of lo sisgodedu to be such:
    When you do not keep my minhag, you are over on lo sisgodedu. when I do not keep your minhag, I have a valid reason and am not over on lo sisgodedu.. :-)

    ed - not shayach is not bad... but that is usually said when a person does not want to put himself out to doing something that might take more effort and energy than he is willing to put out...

    Neil - kavanah is a good reason to do it,. It makes like a blinder so you get less distracted by your surroundings... I have yet to find that as a source for doing it though, though many people have told me that that is a (or the) reason to wear the tallis on the head...

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  17. To answer your questions:

    - As to your question of why would the SA say in one place that only talmidei chachamim cover their heads, and in a different place say to wear it for all of davening, well, it wasn't the SA who said to wear it over the head for all of davening, it was one of the nosei keilim, and different shitot are allowed (unless someone objects to the overuse of the word "shitot" or "shitas," in which case amend to read "opinions"). :-)

    - As to "tfilah" refering to the amida, I asked a rav (or a "learned torah scholar", if that's a better term), and he said that it's a machloket as to how broad this term is to be understood in this case. He did point out, however, that Rav Y.D. Soleveitchik held that anything that would apply to the silent amida would apply to someone listening to chazarat hasha"tz as well.

    As an aside, I was once davening during the week in a shul where only the rav wears his tallis over his head for any part of davening, and someone (not a member of the shul) said I should take my tallis off since they will ask me to anyway. I said I'll wait until they ask (they didn't). After the fact, I asked my rav if I would need to do hatarat nedarim in such a case, and he said, quite possibly.

    As another aside, there is an "obscure" (meaning I don't remember who) acharon commenting on the SA, and says that since people wear the tallis over the head, if someone has a silver atarah (and no significant other silver on the beged), it may be problematic to say a bracha on the tallis, since the most valuable (and therefore important) part of the beged goes on the head, making it a "kisui rosh", and therefore not chayav in tzitzit. While this seems to be a da'as yachid, noone seems to argue, and I have never seen a rabbi with a silver atarah (not that no rabbi has one, I just have never personally seen one).

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  18. anonymous- with all due respect, and no criticism intended, I am curious to ask why you insisted on wearing the tallis over the head in such a situation? where clearly the local custom is not to (ignoring the fact that it is in accordance with the halacha) and only the Rav does, is not that the ultimate yohara for a guest to coome in and be the only person along with the Rav to wear the tallis over the head?

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  19. Sorry, I forgot to change the setting. I was the previous "anonymous" post.

    In any decision, there are many factors at play. In your example, on the one hand there is the fact that it may be perceived as yuhora to put a tallis over my head where noone else but the rav does, and possibly not following minhag hamakom (if it even applies on a shul-by-shul, as opposed to a town-wide, scale), and on the other hand there is the fact that since it is a "positive act" that I've been doing for so long (many more than three times), and may possibly require a hatarat nedarim to stop doing. So it's not so cut and dry simply decide to stop.

    At the same time, we must consider the observer (i.e., a member of the shul), since "mechzi k'yuhora" implies that there is someone to consider a certain act to be one of haughtiness. In order for him to see my act and believe that I am being haughty, and not just simply following my personal minhag, he is automatically not being "dan l'kaf z'chus". More significantly, he is denying that there are any valid minhaging but his own. This is the ultimate yuhora.

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  20. the first reason I understand, though one time not doing it is not exactly "stopping".

    The second reason I do not like. If there is a concept of mechzi k'yohara in halacha it means it does not take your concern into account. Every case of yohara could be answered by saying it is yohara to not to do it because it means they are not accepting your minhag, but the halacha still calls it yohara on the doers part, not the viewers part.

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  21. B"H Benefiting from the Hafetz Hayim's wisdom aside, I think there's a greater question here: What is the binding nature of Mishnah Brurah on Ashkinazim? I defy anyone to come up with a halachic (Read: not hashqafic) source for this.

    Regarding tzitzith, Sifri uses lashon "tefirah." Some hold that threading the pthilim through two holes is a more accurate representation of this halachah than one hole. The fact that it's the opinion of a minority is irrelevant, as it does not affect pthil making, number, nor method of tying.

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  22. ben-yehuda - that is an interesting suggestion. But in this specific case it was not the mishna brura that declared it as yohara. As a matter of fact, if I remember correctly (I do not have one with me right now so I cannot check), the mishna brura paskens it is ok if you follow that custom. It was the Beit Yosef who declared it as Yohara.
    But in general the question is not specific to the mishna brura. The term is used by the mechaber sometimes as well, not just the MB.

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  23. B"H

    Um,...yes, Rafi, I see that the MB brings in the Beth Yosef, and yes, Rafi, I see from even your post that it is the Beth Yosef that suggests this label. (sigh) My point was partly related to why you had to mention the MB at all? Why not go straight to the source of the contention,...the Beth Yosef?

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  24. In regard to covering one's head with a tallis:

    First of all, if you are in a place which really has its own minhagim and is makpid on them, something which is rare in America, it is a big chutza to poreish midarkei hatsibbur and continue doing whatever you like.

    For instance, in Breuer's shul, a shul with definite minhagim and rules about everything, only certain named individuals are allowed to cover their heads with their tallis's (tallithoth). They may no longer come over to tell you not to, because they are trying hard to make people feel at home, but that doesn't mean that you should violate minhag hamakom. In the same way a bachur who normally doesn't wear a tallis gadol, when he goes there, he should. If you can't deal with that, don't go. A nonrelated example: the halacha is that only one person at a time says kaddish. The fact that in most places this halacha has been supplanted by a bad minhag is irrelevent. In Breuer's, you may not say kaddish unless you have been assigned that kaddish by the gabbai. In that case, you go to the front, stand next to the shliach tsibbur and say kaddish loud enough for everyone to hear. The fact that you might be an aveil or even a professional kaddish sayer will not help you. if you say a kaddish unassigned, you rightly will be shushed.

    As fot the etsem inyan, there are two or possibly three separate aspects. One is a tsitsis issue, one is a "tsniuth" issue, and one is a tephillah issue.

    There is a machlokes (see Tur at the beginning of siman 8 and Beith Yoseph and Bach there) whether to fulfill the mitsvah of tsitsith you need 'ittuph or not. We basically posken that you don't but most people are concerned about it enough that they do some kind of 'ittuph right after the bracha. You should be careful how you do this 'ittuph (must also cover body) or you have just interrupted between the b'racha and the mitsvah, since while there is a machlokes whether you need 'ittuph to fulfill the mitsvah, there is no machlokes about covering the body (the nonhead part) - you definitely need it.

    The Tur continues that you should cover your head with the tallis. The Bach and B"Y explain that this is an added level of tsniuth. This may only be required for talmidei chachomim.

    The Mishnah Brurah understands this as a din in Tephillah (siman 8, MB daledh) and understands the Bach that way, and from this understands that the Bach requires you to cover your head from the beginning to the end of tephillah. It is somewhat ludicrous that he was suggesting that someone might start shemoneh esrei with his tallis over his head and in the middle of the shemoneh esrei remove it, it is clear that he means until aleinu or shir shel yom, and starting presumably with berachoth or at least baruch sheamar.

    In today's society, wearing a tallis over the head is somewhat equivalent to a hareidi wearing a hat.

    In siman tsadi aleph, s'iph wow (i.e. vov) the Shulchan Aruch says "the way of chachomim and their students is that they don't pray except when they are 'atuphim" which generally means with tallis over the head, though some use the term in regard to wearing a hat (as opposed to a regular low yarmulke). The Mishnah Berurah does not comment there, and I would like to know where he says it is yohara for a nontalmid chachom to do so.

    By the way, in regard to the yarmulke, hat or whatever, I once discussed the now seldom seen high Litvishe yarmulkes (seen in pictures of Rav Shach, Rav Moshe, etc.) with Rav Nissan Alpert z"l (former rebbe at YU, son in law of Rav Pinchas Scheinberg, shlit"a and talmid muvhak of Rav Moshe Feinstein z'l. He said that most people misunderstand Rav Moshe's first teshuva in Igros Moshe (in which he says that for regular berachos a small yarmulke is sufficient and for davening and benching you need a large yarmulke). He said that when Rav Moshe said small yarmulke, he meant the size yarmulke typically worn at a hareidi yeshiva, and when he said large yarmulke, he meant the high Litvishe kind of yarmulke.

    B'kitsur, it is preferable to cover the head during the entire davening, and certainly for shemoneh esrei. In YU or even Young Israel society in America it is not mechzei c'yohara, but in a place where only the Rav does, wear your hat instead of your tallis over your head. (And if you don't have one, get one, if only to wear in a place that the minhag is that everyone wears a hat).

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  25. Regarding tsitsis out and polemic from Mishnah Berurah or not, there is no need for a c'sav yad from his grandson, and it would be irrelevent anyway. When the Chofeitz Chaim sold a sepher, it was checked through page by page, either by him or by someone whom he trusted to do the job correctly. The word mugeh (checked) was then written by hand on the inside book cover. Plenty of mugeh Mishnah B'rurahs are still around, so take a look what it says in there and ignore anyone's later opinions about what the Chofeitz Chaim wrote or did not write.

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  26. Binding nature of Mishnah Berurah:

    The Rambam clearly states in the hakdamah to the Misheneh Torah, that after the siyum haShas, nothing is binding on all of c'lal Yisroel. A local rabbinate can make local takkanos, but they are not binding elsewhere. Later chachomim can posken ifferently than earlier chachomim.

    The Mishnah Berurah is an xcellent guide if you don't know the din, and should give plenty of food for thought even if you think that you do know the din, but a) it is no substitute for thoughoughly learning the din in the gemorra, rishonim and acharonim and b) it is not a binding authority on anyone.

    I challenge anyone to find me someone who follows the Mishnah Berurah in everything.

    An excellent example is eating lettuce or cucumbers in the middle of a seudah (i.e. you washed and had bread). The Mishnah berurah is clear, the greens have nothing to do with the bread and you have to make a separate beracha. i do, but almost no one else does, and many people think that I am crazy for doing so.

    In the same way that people look something up in Mishnah Berurah today to find or show someone a quick answer, my rebbe Rav Dovid Lifshitz z'l would look it up in the Kitsur Shulchan Aruch.

    To make such a sepher binding on c'lal Yisroel or even a segment would require the rabbonim getting to gether and making a takkanah. First of all it is hard enough getting the rabbonim together for anything. Second of all, most of them will tell you that we can't or we don't make binding takkanos bizman hazeh. Therefore there is no such takkanah.

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  27. thank you for that well detailed and thouroughly written explanation

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