Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Stupid Chumra Alert

Last week I went to a friend who was sitting shiva. For those who aren't familiar with it, shiva is the week-long period of grief and mourning in Jewish law. Traditionally, the close family members of the person who died (children, sblings, etc.) stay together at someone's home throughout the week and visitors and family members stop by to talk to them and comfort them through the difficult period. There are a lot of laws and customs regarding this period - how the mourners have to sit, how visitor's should behave, who can initiate the discussion, what to say when you leave, etc. Whole books have been written on this topic. One of the more unusual customs that I've seen practiced in many religious homes is that all the mirrors in the house are covered up. I think this is due to the idea that people shouldn't be too materialistically focused during this period. Ok, it's not something that I'd care to follow, but I can respect the motive behind it. It's an appropriate sentiment for a house of mourning. Anyway, while at the shiva house, I happened to walk through the kitchen, and I noticed that there were some paper towels taped up over the microwave door. That's weird, I thought to myself. Why would anyone do that? I turned to a family member and asked about it. They helpfully explained that because the microwave door is somewhat reflective it might be considered a mirror so they felt it better to cover it up!

Oh, you chumra-chasing frummies! Is there no custom in Jewish tradition that you can't take to a crazy extreme, making Judaism look idiotic in the process?

(Oh, just for a little context - this is a family that is mainstream chareidi, but most people would not typically consider them crazy frum. Some of their kids even attended college.)

28 comments:

Acher said...

What kind of imbecile are you? Don't you realize that it's of extreme importance to God whether the microwave oven is covered or not. You should realize by now that he must be very bored. He seems not to be interested in figuring out the situation in Israel, the latest flu outbreak, or the rotten economy. So he obviously needs something to occupy his time. What better than scrutinizing the reflectiveness of microwave doors. What, you've never played a video game? So why should God be left out. Shivah-window-reflectiveness is the cosmological version of Far-Cry. Shoyn, now you have yourself a bit of theological know-how.

JewishRebel said...

This is a nice variation on the story about the child being sent away from school because his parents had a television (by it self stupid enough, but aggravated by the fact that the alleged tv was nothing more than a microwave)...

Baal Habos said...

Which has more Chumra's? "Mourning in Halacha" or "Morning in Halacha"?

alex said...

"He [Rabban Yochanan] said to them [his students]: Go out and see what is a good way to which a person should cleave. R. Eliezer said: A good eye."

Give it a try. You'll be a happier man for it.

fakewood inc. said...

you cant understand that when people mourn they do crazy things?

The Hedyot said...

Sure I understand it, and maybe that explains why there's so much stupidity in the frum world. They're always mourning the beis hamikdash, right? Makes sense.

Ezzie said...

That one's odd.

Though I think there's more to the mirror thing than that, including seeing themselves in mourning, etc.

Of course, shiva itself is a brilliant set of laws and customs that help tremendously in the mourning process. That some people twist it just shows that people can ruin anything; but it doesn't take away from shiva or the religion whatsoever.

G*3 said...

This is taking a reasonable custom to its logical and ridiculous extreme - cover all reflective sufaces. It seperates the action from its purpose and supposes the action has value in itself. This seems to be an ongoing trend.

The Hedyot said...

G*3 -
I could not have said it better!

alex said...

"Is there no custom in Jewish tradition that you can't take to a crazy extreme, making Judaism look idiotic in the process?" "That some people twist it just shows that people can ruin anything; but it doesn't take away from shiva or the religion whatsoever."

It does if you /want/ it to, right DaasHedyot?

The Hedyot said...

Alex,

If I was was trying to demolish your whole religion, I'd use something a bit more substantive than a chumra gone bad.

But please, assume whatever you'd like to about me.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

That's the problem with the Artscroll Generation.

Previous generations just covered up the mirrors because that's what you do. But then someone wrote in a book that you have to find every reflective surface...

The Hedyot said...

Yeah, but just because people misuse ArtScroll, doesn't take away from Artscroll or the religion whatsoever.

m-n said...

"I think this is due to the idea that people shouldn't be too materialistically focused during this period."Its actual origin is in superstition:


The custom of covering mirrors or turning them to the wall, which prevails among Jews nowadays, is not mentioned in the medieval sources, and is evidently a late borrowing. It is observed almost universally, arising, according to Frazer (The Golden Bough, I, 146), from the fear "that the soul projected out of the person in the shape of his reflection in the mirror, might be carried off by the ghost of the departed, which is commonly supposed to linger about the house till the burial." Cf. Bender, 117; Ta‘ame HaMinhagim, III, 93b; Von Negelein, AR, V (1902), 22; Samter, 134.

JB said...

And now for my take on the situation. We're just a buch of chevra who are no longer really frum but have chosen to remain living in their world. Believe me -this don't mean a hill of beans to 95% of the Jewish population

chanief said...

"Sure I understand it, and maybe that explains why there's so much stupidity in the frum world. They're always mourning the beis hamikdash, right? Makes sense."

LOL!!

alex said...

m-n,
Are you saying that Taamei Minhagim corroborates what the Golden Bough said??

evanstonjew said...

When someone close dies there is frequently an initial strong feeling of guilt. People beat up on themselves for not having done enough, for how they handled the doctors, the hopital, the nurses. They pulled the plug too early ,too late ...they should have, could have, might have.

It is important to understand that if you are willing to throw enough resources and have the patient endure endless procedures, life could be prolonged in a significant number of deaths, maybe a majority. Somebody, the children, the doctors, the rabbi has to say no more, it's enough...stop feeding, give morphine ...etc.So no wonder the guilt hangs low in a shiva house, especially a frum one where they don't have elaborate trays of food and drink.

Most halachot are basically minhagim, adopted at different points in our history. They were all chumros at one point or other.The halachos of shiva do wonders to relieve guilt. An example of a brilliant halacha is learning and saying kadish for the aliyat neshama of the nifter. All of a sudden the bereaved person is no longer helpless...there is something to be done and now, not in the indefinite future that actually benefits the deceased.

Of all the things to make fun of, minhagei avilus should be way down on the list.In some important sense there are never enough halachos. The more the avel is busy with now we stand up, now we sit down, now we daven, no we must talk first...the less time there is to think, and obsess. Eventually the grief and guilt go away.

The Hedyot said...

EJ -

As to your first two paragraphs, they are irrelevant to this situation. The niftar lived to be close to 100, and lived a very full and productive life. He was a truly great man. No one is feeling guilty about the situation at all.

As to the rest, I agree that there are benefits to some of the Jewish laws of mourning (although I wouldn't classify any of them as brilliant), but regardless of there being benefit to some halachos - it doesn't excuse stupidity.

gillian said...

EJ, are you kidding me? "Eventually the grief goes away"? What period of time do you allot till this "eventually"?

Additionally, from personal experience, I can tell you that the emotion uppermost during shiva is anger. Rage, actually. And the "consolers" coming in with their (often) idiotic comments simply fuel the rage.

gillian said...

Hedyot, just wondering if anyone else has seen a microwave covered during a shiva. Readers? (I'm not doubting your story in any way; I'm just curious if this is a unique situation, or if this ridiculous adaptation of the custom has actually become commonplace.)

Tofer said...

> Of all the things to make fun of, minhagei avilus should be way down on the list.

I'd agree. However, you can't just excuse any behavior by labeling it 'minhagei avilus'. Some actions are based on a real source (or sensible rationale), and some are just made up based on nothing other than a persons desire to 'cover his bases', which is not a valid reason, IMHO.

Abe said...

I once dined at the home of relative ,an uber-chumra advocate. I noticed that she had two bottles of kosher ketchup in her refrigerator, one labled meat and the other dairy. I asked her about this and she informed me that the distinction was to prevent traces of meat or dairy products flowing back up the ketchup stream and rendering the ketchup treif.
I just smiled and asked her why she doesn't also store a bottle of pareve ketchup in her fridge to be 100% chumra compliant.
She responded with a contemptuous sneer, and insisted that only the chumra obssesed would do that.
It took all my efforts at that moment not to burst out laughing.
I really feel sorry for these idiots.

Jordan said...

I was a little surprised by your comment:

One of the more unusual customs that I've seen practiced in many religious homes is that all the mirrors in the house are covered up.... because I've never been to a shiva house where the mirrors weren't covered, even in the homes of totally secular Jews. At least here it's a very widely practiced custom. (Sometimes the covering-up is done with "spray-on snow" from an aerosol can.)

The Hedyot said...

I didn't say it was uncommon. Just that it was unusual. Unusual, in that it's not the kind of thing people would expect to find in a house of mourning.

mOOm said...

Evanston Jew: All I can say is that at the shiva for my father I was upset annoyed by a couple of people who thought they should tell me how to mourn him... And no there were no mirrors turned around. But then my family are MO yekkes...

Anonymous said...

Folks: Don't forget to hide the spoons as well!

iamanon said...

I think some people just get confused. There is always a first time sitting shiva, when someone has to tell the avel what to do unless they are expert in the halachos. there are all kinds of minhagim and books don't tell you what is the family's minhag or necessarily what is commonly done. A friend of mine gave me a whole list of things different family memmbers did differently, not knowing what to do. For example, my friend came to the levaya and sat shiva without her wedding ring, while the other women wore theirs, since she was told it "counts" as jewelry and "most women" remove them and it seems that wasn't done. And so on and so forth. I know there are people who think one shouldn't LOOK in the mirror, but my understanding is that the mirrors are covered, but that one can look in them. What you say sounds excessive but people get confused and don't know what to do if they are not experienced. I've beem at shivas where they covered the glass in the breakfront. Again, I think that's unnecessary and if i'm right, it's covered due to confusion and hesitation and ppl just doing what occurs to them at the moment. The aveilim are not in a state of mind to ask and like (I think) EJ was getting at, there are awkward feelings that ppl tend to resolve by doing things, sometimes more rather than less. I think what ppl do during shiva out of confusion is not a chumra just a combination of ignorance, confusion and overdose of emotion. They want to get it "Right," don't know exactly what to do, and are overwhelmed and just set about doing things.