[Avodah] Mistaken Minhagim

Jay F. Shachter jay at m5.chicago.il.us
Tue Feb 11 01:17:50 PST 2020

Talking during prayer is not a minhag.  It is a hanhagah (Hebrew, like
every language, has nuanced near-synonyms in matters of importance to
its speakers).  Jews do not talk during prayer thinking "this is how
Jews should conduct themselves", or even "this is how Jews conduct
themselves", and those cognitions are part of the definition of the
word "minhag".  The original poster asked for mistaken minhagim, which
originated in the hamon `am, and which were subsequently tolerated by
the scholarly class.  Talking during prayer is not a mistaken minhag,
because it is not a minhag at all.  A minhag that satisfies the
original poster's question -- as has already been pointed out by
another contributor to this mailing list -- is praying for rain, not
when you need rain, but when the people of Iraq need rain.  Other
minhagim that satisfy the original poster's question are wearing
costumes on Purim, or not cutting a boy's hair till he is three years
old.  And there are numerous other idolatrous practices and
superstitions that are found among Jews, like tugging your ear after
you sneeze, or not walking over a baby, and if you do walk over a
baby, then walking backwards over the baby to undo the walking
forwards.  If you read classic Yiddish literature, you will learn many
minhagim regarding sickness which clearly belong to the category of
"halloxesh `al hammakkah" but which were nearly universal among the
Jews depicted in that literature, and which are not condemned by the
Yiddish-speaking scholarly class even now.  The practice of not eating
kitniyyoth (deliberately left untranslated) on Passover also
originated in the hamon `am, and was later ratified, and even
codified, by the scholarly class, but I would abolish it if I could,
because, inter alia, it makes it more expensive to observe Passover,
and God cares about the property of His people.

There are other mistaken minhagim which originated, not in the hamon
`am, but in the scholarly class themselves, and which are not
condemned by the scholarly class, because they benefit the scholarly
class.  An example of this category is the practice of earning a
living from teaching Torah sheb`al peh, which is clearly forbidden by
Jewish law.  An even more odious example is the practice of "kollel",
which involves paying people, not even to teach Torah, but just to
learn it.  This is not only prohibited by Jewish law, but also
condemned in the strongest terms; yet the scholarly class have taken a
prohibition, and turned it into a commandment, because it benefits
them.  A third example is draft exemptions for yeshiva students, even
though -- as has been pointed out before on this mailing list -- the
halakha clearly states that "bmilxemeth mitzva hakkol yotz'im, afilu
xathan mixedro vkhallah mixupathah".

                        Jay F. ("Yaakov") Shachter
                        6424 North Whipple Street
                        Chicago IL  60645-4111
                                (1-773)7613784   landline
                                (1-410)9964737   GoogleVoice
                                jay at m5.chicago.il.us

                        "Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur"

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