by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
Occasionally, and recently more than occasionally, chumrot (extra religious stringencies) and minchagim (religious communal customs) get out of hand.
Before World War II and further back, Jewish religious communities were relatively isolated. Oh there were the traveling merchants, and Torah students or scholars or maggadim, and charity collectors who all moved between communities across towns, cities and countries. But these were not large numbers and they didn’t affect different communities customs or Torah approach much. This is one of the reasons why the chassidic movement was so revolutionary and frightening at the time, it brought rather major changes directly into communities.
Post World War II the religious Jewish world was completely geographically restructured. The survivors and the unaffected ended up together in New York and Tel Aviv, later in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak. All the communities, yeshivot, chassidic groups were living side by side – a street away or a neighborhood away at most.
In the normal community situation before World War II, a community might add a series of appropriate restrictions for local conditions and a few extra stringencies also appropriate for elevating those seeking extra piety in the local community. Post World War II, those looking for ‘extra protection’ and/or ‘extra piety’ became able to shop across every community to always find extra’s to add.
In our time as many Jewish ultra-orthodox religious communities are struggling with the pace of change and impact of the outside world, grabbing for yet another ‘extra’ is seen as a possible way to find a counter-agent for the worldly impact. Unfortunately this results in some extremes that aren’t appropriate for the general religious public being perpetrated and pushed upon them.
One of these that annoys me is the chumra (extra stringency) of not publishing a woman’s picture in any publication of any sort at any time for any reason. This may have started as a response to inappropriate advertising making inroads with classy (not sexy) pictures in store windows and publications in religious neighborhoods. Somehow it turned into a blanket ban where even major news stories involving the female of the species must avoid showing them.
This past week a tzadekes left this world. Rebbitzen Kanviesky, wife of the litvish posek hador Rabbi Chaim Kanviesky of Bnei Brak left us. Mishpacha Magazine wrote an extensive article on her.
Bnei Brak is not a place I frequent, nor are the litvish poskim my gedolim. Regardless, the passing of a tzadik or tzadekes is a matter of note, and it has become a custom of our generation to display photos of the gedolim and tzadikim – so we should see the visage of those crowned with Torah and strive for a bit of that Torah merit ourselves.
Yet with the passing of this holy woman, I could find no image to have any idea who they were talking about. Someone described as the Bubbe of Klal Yisroel, who’s brachot came true, who was raised in the home of a gadol hador and married a gadol hador, this is an image which should be avoided because??? (Because of an extra stringency for a particular community that was worried about a particular problem which definitely would NOT apply to this special woman.)
I find this disturbing. I find it worrisome that I can find no holy role models to SHOW my daughters. I find problems being addressed with generalities that are hurting more than they are helping. I find every extra of every community being extended across all communities in a competition for ‘holiness’ that doesn’t work and isn’t appropriate (nor was ever intended to operate this way).
We definitely NEED Moshiach now, because someone's got to start straightening up this mess.