Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Is the trend towards chumrot driven by a more halachically literate Orthodox laity?

A common criticism (which I have repeated myself many times over the years) is that the Orthodox community has trended towards ever more stringent chumrot because the shul rabbi, who understands the needs of the laity, has been replaced as as posek by roshei yeshiva, who are in the ivory tower, so to speak, and don't understand those needs, thus are less likely to look for compassionate kulot.

I still believe there's truth to that, but as I was reading this piece by Aryeh Klapper on gedolim, one sentence really struck me:

"The eclipse of shul rabbis occurred because they were less capable than the roshei yeshiva of serving a more educated and more observant generation of Orthodox men and women".

I never thought of it that way before, but he does have a point. The Orthodox laity is far more halachically literate than at most times in Jewish history, fantasies about shtetl life aside. People kept halacha culturally, and asked the community rabbi their she'elot. Girls didn't have formal religious education at all, and most boys had only cheder before going off to work.

Today, K-12 day school education is the minimum for Orthodox children and teens in most communities, and as a result, they have a far greater understanding of halacha than their ancestors. Rabbi Klapper's suggestion is plausible. The natural result of greater halachic literacy may be a demand for greater adherence to firmer standards, and that may be reflected in the responses given to she'elot.