May 26, 2024
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May 26, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

By Avi Ciment

“Rebbe, my friend had a stroke and I put tefillin on him, but sometimes his hands flail and he pushes the knot away from the bayis. Is that a problem?”

Rabbi: Yes. It’s a bracha levatala.

Rabbi: Speaking lashon hara is the same as eating treif meat.

“You mean, instead of calling a mean person a jerk, I can eat a bacon double cheeseburger?”

Rabbi: Technically, yes.

A friend of mine had a question about bedika and met with the town rav, and was told that his wife was still forbidden to him for yet another seven days.

The husband called another rav, who happened to specialize in this particular field, and was told his wife need not count at all as she was tahor.

The issue is that for most of these scenarios, there are different shilas (opinions).

Some people wait five hours, others three, between eating meat and milk. Some people wait two days in Israel, and others hold one, with sources to back it up as well. Certainly, those holding by the highest stringencies are to be commended and respected for protecting our masorah, but that does not give one group the right to criticize others, provided they stay within the realm of halacha.

In the case of my friend’s tefillin, when the rabbi said it was a bracha levatala, I was devastated. I called a few rabbis, who explained to me that the knot and bayit should touch, but if they don’t, it hardly disqualifies the mitzvah. I immediately felt a sense of relief, as I couldn’t bear the thought of his holy brachot going unheard by Hashem.

In terms of lashon hara being equated to eating pig, there are different ways to interpret that. While it certainly can be taken at face value, it can also be chazal’s way of stressing the importance of avoiding lashon hara in the same way as you would avoid eating treif meat.

In the case of the rabbi who took a stricter position (and an incorrect one) on someone’s bedika, accidents happen, but sometimes these inconveniences make an already tough situation harder for young couples trying to do the right thing.

The Gemara says that every step a man takes out of Israel is like idol worship. Taken literally, that would mean millions of otherwise frum Jews are like idol worshippers. Is it possible that the Gemara is speaking in hyperbole to convey the importance of Yishuv haaretz?

Why is this delineation so important? Because today, more than ever, when the forces of evil are so prevalent in our society, we should look to bring others closer, rather than push them further away with strict chumras and judgments that only divide. We all have the power to influence others and bring people closer to Hashem, yet being holier than thou hardly advances the message of ahavat Yisroel.

Case in point: Last month I had the pleasure of marrying off my daughter, who just made aliyah to a nice boy from Efrat. Israeli weddings are always super-charged with excitement. Adding 100 kids celebrating from their hearts only enhanced the moment. Because we had a livestream, many people viewed the wedding, and the comments ranged from amazing to amazing. And then came the judgments.

“Wow, you really have fun at your weddings. I mean, the weddings I attend in the yeshiva world are more serious, without any lightheartedness. I was surprised to see frum girls singing songs during the wedding—which you know is forbidden in the Torah.” This individual wasn’t the only one who felt that way, as I asked some of my close friends to the right, who silently shared that sentiment.

Naturally I called many rebbeim who explained to me that Rav Yitzchak Yechiel Weinberg gave a psak that women can sing Jewish songs along with other women and men for kiruv purposes.

Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch further paskened that women can sing in shul with men, in a lower voice. Additionally, hundreds of people were singing at the wedding and the voices of the women were not overly distinctive. There is also a concept that there are fewer stringencies if the singing is done out of a shul—which it was. It’s also brought down that it is less of an issue if there is a minimum of 17 female voices singing in unison. Additionally, the Seridiel Aish is lenient about men and women singing zemirot at the Shabbat table.

Surrounded by the golden hills of Israel in the Psagot Winery, the angelic voices of 350 people joined in unison—some louder, some quieter—“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…”

It was truly a moment I will never forget, and throughout the evening, many people reiterated that sentiment.

What better opportunity is there to channel 100 Modern Orthodox teenagers into praying and singing with more kavana than most of these kids have ever felt before? All of our children are subjected to a very impure world. It’s close to impossible to listen to a song on the radio without all of the filth that comes along with it. And I’m not even referring to rap, another poor excuse for music. Here’s a chance to finally channel music into words praising Hashem, and we want to start making judgments?

During the ceremony I looked over and saw many of my daughter’s friends praying with such kavana and intensity that it was palpable. A family friend—who is highly intelligent, respected and extremely frum—texted me after the wedding.

“Rarely in life does one get to experience something so magnificent. There was so much love and heart packed into every second.”

Given all this, why would anyone think there’s an upside to denigrating a beautiful and kosher moment? What accounts for some people choosing the machmir road and judging others along the way, as opposed to many holy gedolim like Reb Aryeh Levine, z”l, who were extremely pious, yet judged all Jews favorably? Perhaps this unmitigated love for the klal is what made Reb Aryeh the ultimate tzadik in our time.

Obviously, at the base of it is an uncompromising rigidity, which is to be respected, but not when it is utilized in judging others. We must remember that what made Rav Moshe Feinstein, z”l so great, was not that he could be so strict, but rather that he could find the kulahs, the less-stringent views. He saw the bigger picture and wanted to keep others close to Hashem, rather than scare them away with certain chumras. And this is a gadol hador we are talking about.

Some people judge others simply because of insecurity. Feeling superior to another empowers those who need to mitigate their insecurities. Once again, if your endgame is to empower yourself by denigrating those around you, good luck with that.

However, if you believe that Hashem loves to hear songs of sincere praise from His children (remember Miriam and tambourines), what could be the point of creating yet another barrier within klal Yisroel? There’s no upside to denigrating those who are halachically permitted to sing songs of praise, presuming it falls within the permissible. I know people who only eat the strictest mehadrin hashgachas, and that is meritorious and admirable. But it doesn’t give them the right to judge others who choose to eat kosher food from a less-stringent hashgacha—assuming it’s still kosher.

Do we wish to divide on these issues when perhaps Hashem might rather us sit back, stop arguing, enjoy the hills, and sing songs of praise to Him for moments like these? And if you just happen to find yourself in Psagot, a nice cabernet can’t hurt…

Avi Ciment lives in Florida and is a longtime columnist for The Jewish Press. He lectures throughout the world and has just finished his second book, “Real Questions Real Answers.” He can be reached at

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