Friday, October 30, 2009

The source for not using a fork

In a comment or two on my previous post about eating herring with your hands, frequent commenter Yosef Greenberg writes:
Dr. Segal was right, it seems.

See here from the Munkatcher Rebbe.

You weren't serious in your imaginings, I hope. They do use forks in other occasions. Regardless, would it have been such an issue the Church was mechaven to the same thing?
Whoops. He does write there that the Rebbe never used a fork.

He didn't use a spoon in this case either, though.

What Dr. Segal had cited was the old-timers in a particular shul, explaining why they are fish with their hands on the basis of וּבְכָל-דְּגֵי הַיָּם, בְּיֶדְכֶם נִתָּנוּ. As Yosef Greenberg points out, it states in Darkei Chaim veShalom that:

והי׳ מדקדק לאכול את
העין וגם מהראש של הדגים. ולא אכלן ע״י כף (וע״י מזלג שקורין גאפי״ל
לא השתמש בשום מאכל ) רק באצבעותיו. ואמר הרמז שנאמר וכל דגי הים
״בידכם״ נתנו.. לאכול דייקא בהידים ולא ע״י דבר אחר
And he was medakdek to eat the eye as well as from the head of the fish. And he did not eat them via a spoon (and via a fork, which they call a guppel, he never made use of it for any food) but rather with his fingers. And he said that the remez to it is that is stated "and all the fish of the sea I have given over in your hands. To eat specifically with the hands and not via another implement.
Did I mean the church parallel seriously? Half-seriously. Simple practices can become encoded as minhag.

And newfangled utensils could be regarded as a change from tradition.

We see this idea in the very same sefer, about eating fish:
שצד . (א) וכדי להשביע צחצחות את הנפש המתחקה אחר שורשן ומנהגן של
צדיקים איך שדקדקו בכל דבר כחוט השערה אפי׳ בהקדמת מאכלא׳
לחבירו לא אמנע פרי עטי לכתוב מה שסיפר רבינו ז״ל מעשה שהי׳ אחרי
הסתלקות אביהן ורבן של ישראל בעל דברי חיים מצאנז זי״ע שחי׳יו שב בראש
אדמו״ר הגה״ק בעל דברי יחזקאל משינאווע זי״ע והקדים לאכול סתם דגים
ואח״כ אכל דגים חמוצים ועמד אחיו הגה״ק הר״ב מגארליץ זי״ע וצווח ואמר
איך בשבת הראשון כבר אתה משנה מנהג אבינו רועינו אשר דרכו בקודש
לאכול מקודם הדגים חמוצים ואח״כ הסתם דגים. והשיב אחיו מרן משינאווא
והדים קולו ואמר רבותיי כתיב והייתם נקיים מה' ומישראל ויען כי אחי אמר
עלי שאני משנה מנהג אבי ע״כ אגיד לכם למען תדעו כי אבי הקדוש כשהי ׳ רב
בדודניק ושם לא הי' דגים מצויים ודאג כל השבוע שיהי' לו דגים על שב"ק
ובתחלת השבוע כשנזדמן בביתו דגים קנו אותן מידו כדי שלא יתקלקלו החמיצו
אותן שיוכלו לעמוד על ש״ק מבלי הפיג טעמם . ואח״כ סמוך לשבת ובעש״ק
כשנזדמנו דגים חיים לקנות קנו והכינו ובישלו אותן לכבוד ש״ק בלי חימוץ
וממילא כשהי' לפניו שני מיני דגים הללו הקדים לאכול את החמוצים מטעם
שהי' תדיר אצלו ותדיר קוד ם ואח״כ כשנעשה רב בצאנז . שכאן הדגים מצויים
ולא הוצרכו להכין באיזה ימים מקודם דגים חמוצים לצורך שבת רק עשו
הדגים חמוצים ג״כ בעש״ק אך עכ״פ כיון שהי' נהוג מאז לאכול הדגים חמוצים
בראשונה לא רצה גם בצאנז לשנות מנהגו להקדים הדגים חמוצים באכילתן
תמיד . משא״כ אנכי (סיים הגה״ק משינאווא ) מעולם לא באתי לידי כך שיהיו
הדגים חמוצים אצלי תדיר. ורגיל יותר כי על כן אין זה שינוי ח״ו רק הדגים
פשוטים הם חשובים וחביבים אצלי ביותר ועדיף להקדים אכילתן . ע״כ .

It is strange to apply tadir kodem to this. Regardless, simple actions such as having pickled fish were encoded as minhag even though the original reason (possible unavailability of the fish) no longer applied. And people got extremely upset over something as trivial as changing the order of the courses, until a reason was given explaining that he was applying halachic principles to the metzius just as the father would have done in a different situation.

So is it so surprising that forks, or spoons for fish, could be avoided for similar reasons. That is, to cite Wikipedia about the spread of forks:

The fork's adoption in northern Europe was slower. Its use was first described in English by Thomas Coryat in a volume of writings on his Italian travels (1611), but for many years it was viewed as an unmanly Italian affectation. Some writers of the Roman Catholic Church expressly disapproved of its use, seeing it as "excessive delicacy": "God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks — his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to Him to substitute artificial metallic forks for them when eating." [5][6] It was not until the 18th century that the fork became commonly used in Great Britain, although some sources say forks were common in France, England and Sweden already by the early 1600s.[7][8]

It seems quite plausible to me that forks were not in use by the early rebbes, and a people so punctilious about table conduct, who ritualize every aspect of it, even those dictated by practical concerns, would view the introduction of a fork as a great heresy. Even as it spread in the general public, they would maintain their fork-free meals.

Of course, what is being dealt with here is a spoon. Perhaps if one does not eat with a fork, eating with a spoon is unwieldy. Or it was prepared in a way that no spoons were initially required. And that became encoded as minhag.


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

In R. David Weiss-Halivni's autobiography, The Book and the Sword (pg 22), he writes about a relative of his who would complain to his grandfather about his modern tendencies, which he says "sounds absurd today": "I had become modern; I ate with a fork, unlike most people, who ate with their hands; I curled my earlocks; I was always trying to make sure I had a crease in my pants--things of this sort. . . . Grandfather defended me . . . " (emph. mine)

This was the 1930s.

Actually, I know someone who was a childhood friend of his. I can ask him to confirm if this was how things were. In any case, even if his relative was an anachronism being that it was as late as the 1930s, the point is that such an attitude seems confirmed to have existed.

Yosef Greenberg said...

Nice switching the types of herring. :)

"Did I mean the church parallel seriously? Half-seriously. Simple practices can become encoded as minhag."

It sure can. But there is sound reasoning behind this. Some minhagim had more than one reason, and one who thinks s/he know the reason will incorrectly dismiss the minhag.

"even though the original reason (possible unavailability of the fish) no longer applied"

Or did it?

Of course you can take it further or less. We do see such positions in halachah in some cases, for other reasons.

Oh, and I finally opened a blog.

joshwaxman said...

i much prefer herring this kind of herring...

i agree that *some* minhagim have more than one reason, or that the overt, assumed reason is not the accurate one.

on the other hand, as a minhag gets old, people begin attributing all sorts of extra reasons to practices, so maybe authentic cases in which there are true multiple reasons are few.

i am reminded of two stories. one, at a shalom zachar at a chassidishe shteible, where the (anonymous) rabbi's son asked him how to arrange the tables. he said that it didn't matter, but gave a suggestion. my father pointed out to him that nevertheless, when his (=the rabbi's) son grew up, he would likely say that this is the established minhag of how to do it. and the rabbi agreed that indeed, that was likely.

the other story is how the Rav used to cross the street to avoid dogs. someone asked him if he was afraid of dogs. and he said: No, but Rav Chaim was.

welcome to the J-blogosphere!



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