2004 How “Halacha” Evolves
Chananya Weissman
July 7, 2004, The Jewish Press

Here’s a little game. The object is to find the common denominator between the following three evolutions in Jewish society. (Answer appears below.) Readers who may be disturbed or offended by my analysis are urged not to blame the messenger. If anyone could prove me wrong I would be deeply grateful, since I wish that none of this were true. However, if there is truth in my words, I hope they will lead to honest and thorough introspection on the part of all those who claim allegiance to the Torah.

Situation #1
  1. Freshly slaughtered animals are inspected for lesions on the lungs that would render the animal a tereifa. Some lesions do not affect the kashrus of the meat, but only a trained inspector (or an average housewife) can be relied upon to tell the difference.
  2. The decision is made that meat with any lesions on the lungs will not be sold as kosher meat. Only meat from animals with smooth lungs (“glatt”) will be sold as kosher meat. This makes life easier for wholesalers, but drives up the price of meat for the consumer.
  3. “Glatt” meat is marketed as a higher standard of kashrus. The price increase is thus more palatable for the kosher consumer, even though in reality he is getting nothing more for his money.
  4. Anyone who is not makpid to eat only “glatt” meat is a shaygitz.
  5. Kashrus certification appears on such products as laundry soap and wax candles (stomach pump not included). Consumer is told the certification is a sign of quality, higher standards, etc. Taste of laundry soap and candles goes down, prices go up. But the truly observant Jew can’t take any chances, and willingly pays the higher prices just to be free of any chashash.
  6. Glatt kosher potato chips are invented. Potato chips are not entirely smooth, but they are definitely not treif. Well worth the extra 49 cents and lack of flavor.
  7. Anyone who is not makpid on the aforementioned products is a shaygitz.
  8. Chassidishe shechita becomes the new universal standard. There are not 10 Jews in the world who know what chassidishe shechita is and why it should be the new universal standard, but we can assume that somewhere along the way a chashash is being avoided. Thanks to savvy marketing the importance of the chashash remains a mystery to all but those versed in nistar. Anyone who is not makpid on chassidishe schechita will have his identity duly noted.
  9. Super glatt is invented.
Situation #2
  1. One man supposedly finds bugs in his tap water.
  2. Panic ensues.
  3. Teshuvos are written. People begin to drink laundry soap pending a final ruling.
  4. Price of water filters goes up.
  5. Water is okay.
  6. Sign appears in local shul: “Are you concerned about your water?”, followed by advertisement for water filter. No one questions why the sign does not read “Should you be concerned about your water?”
Situation #3
  1. Although it would appear that many observant married women do not cover their hair, they are actually wearing shaitels.
  2. It is discovered that some shaitels use hair from India, and further noted that there are strange religious practices in India.
  3. Panic ensues.
  4. Teshuvos are written. Shaitels are publicly burned or hidden at home pending a final ruling.
  5. Price of European shaitels goes way up.
  6. For the first time in history, kashrus certification appears on shaitels.
  7. Rabbis rush to compile lists of acceptable shaitels and approved shaitel distributors.
  8. There is research that seems to indicate that the hair in India is not literally offered to idols, but is merely a symbolic expression of spirituality (humility, sacrifice of one's beauty, etc.). Some Poskim are reluctant to permit the wigs due to continued confusion about the matter. Other Poskim are confident that there is no cause for concern. Still others – well, no one is quite sure what they really said or didn’t say, despite the many tools of instant communication available nowadays. Rumors fly, fanning the flames of panic, confusion, and religious one-upmanship.
  9. The shaitels do not have to be burned. Therefore, it would seem, they should not have been burned.
  10. Prediction: After the smoke clears, the Halachic status of shaitels will remain virtually unchanged, if not entirely unchanged.
  11. No one cares. Entrepreneurs seize this golden opportunity and begin marketing shaitels that are free of any chashash, real or imagined. This began instantly.
  12. Anyone who wears a shaitel that has even an imaginary chashash is a shaygitz.
  13. Thanks to savvy marketing, only shaitels that are free of any imaginary chashash will henceforth be available. Prices will thus permanently stay raised.

So what do these developments all have in common? Ignorance, social conformity, religious consumerism, and lack of a strong religious leadership (due both to lack of courage and lack of a sincere following), all leading to panic and a change in so-called “Halachic standards”. Anyone who raises a red flag about this is lambasted for criticizing the “Frum community” (which apparently refers exclusively to those most susceptible to these unfortunate developments), the assumption being that it is wrong to criticize religious people and/or that these developments are actually positive.

Indeed, I find it puzzling that those who publicly burned shaitels would surely argue most vociferously that we must blindly follow the Gedolim – despite the fact that no respected Halachic authority called for shaitels to be burned! Why did these people decide on their own that they should burn shaitels – publicly, no less – without regard for the real possibility that this violates bal tashchis and is a chillul Hashem? Pure hypocrisy.

It should also be noted that in all these cases the so-called “Halachic standards” are not being determined by the Gedolim everyone is supposedly following so faithfully, but by the “Jewish Street”. Unfortunately, our religious leaders are for the most part reactive, as opposed to proactive, in situations like this. Maybe they feel they make fewer waves and rifts in the community this way (which is highly questionable), maybe they feel it isn’t worth the trouble (which is highly questionable), or maybe they are afraid of a potential backlash (which would unfortunately call into question whether they can actually be considered religious leaders, being that they are the ones being led).

Again, in case you missed it, Halachic “standards” are being determined from the bottom up, not from the top down. And anyone who doesn’t paste a smile on his face and play along is going to have problems, including, but not limited to, when shidduch time comes around.

Many people proudly point to the above developments as illustrations of how Jews rush to fulfill the retzon Hashem. No one stops to question if any of this actually is the retzon Hashem. Well, almost no one.

Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness, a unique campaign to alleviate the angst and hardship of shidduchim in the religious community. He may be contacted at admin@endthemadness.org.