Monday, December 01, 2008

Peyos Up Or Down?

A post from SemGirl from a month ago got me thinking. It was already fodder for one post here on parshablog, in terms of the tzavaah of Rabbi Yehuda haChassid and the practice of not marrying someone with the same name as your parent. But there is also:
A friend of mine really worked overtime, laboriously for months, making a Shidduch. Boy likes girl, girl likes boy , blaaaa blaa, blaaa. Wonderful, they get engaged. Dont say Mazal Tov, just yet. One set of in-laws was adamant that the Choson wear his payos up, the other was just as adamant that he wear them down. Ultimately, it proved to be such a bone of contention that the engagement was called off. After much heated negotiation and mediation, they got back together. Even though, the Shadchan was in Israel on business, they were cajoled into proceding , as its such a volatile situation, it was too risky to wait . I kid you not. I thought of the perfect compromise. How about, one payos up, and one payos down..
And see the discussion at WolfishMusings.

At first glance, it seems like a triviality. And indeed it is. Who cares whether the long peyos are up or down?!

But then I thought about it some more, and I can see in it a dispute which is happening over and over again in modern society. It is a contention between mimetic tradition vs. book learning, and between certain poskim (and kol korei writers who champion said poskim) vs. established Jewish practice.

Indeed, it is quite possible that we can lay the blame for breaking up this shidduch at the doorstep of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita.

How did it develop that the peyos in some communities are worn up, and in others down? There are different theories, but it may be a valid question whether those theories are ex-post-facto rationalizations, or whether they are in sync with the facts.

For example, wear peyos up, based on a Zohar and thus a kabbalistic idea that the peyos of the head should not touch the peyos of the beard. Or one should really wear the peyos down, but people used to hide their peyos because of decrees from the Czar that they should not go about with long peyos. Or it is more convenient to have them back, so that they don't get caught in the heavy machinery. ;)

Apparently, Rav Kanievsky wrote in a sefer (see here) that the reason was the decrees. And nowadays there is no decree, and so the proper thing to do is be proud you are a Jew and wear them down.

Fine. That is a wonderful psak, and many rabbonim the world-over make similar declarations about major or minor things for their constituents.

However, IMHO, it would be a good thing to keep in mind that not everyone is Rav Kanievsky's constituent. Many people in other communities follow other rabbonim and poskim, and they might not suddenly drop the practice of their community, which their rabbis and poskim themselves practice, at the mention of Rav Kanievsky's opinion in the matter. And at the same time, some of Rav Kanievsky's constituents are idiots who do not realize this, and think that Rav Kanievsky and Rav Elyashiv are the gedolei hador, such that anyone who acts otherwise to their opinion is a mechutzef and an apikores.

When people from other communities wear their peyos up behind their ears, they are most certainly not stating that they are embarrassed about being a Jew. Quite likely, they are growing a long beard at the same time, chassidishe malbush, and so on, such that they are clearly identifiable as Jews. Indeed, they may keep their peyos up for convenience, or because they believe that this is a holy minhag of their community, perhaps based on kabbalistic reasons. And even if a great Rabbi from Eretz Yisrael declares that the optimal course of action is otherwise, they have their own mehalech, and own mimetic tradition on the matter.

I wonder whether Rav Kanievsky is aware that when he makes such a statement verbally or in print, some people might then try to impose this as psak on other unwilling groups of frum Jews -- and if he is aware of this, whether he should hedge his remarks to make it clear that he is not condemning those who continue in their own practice. (Just as Rav Yaakov Yosef recently opposed the census in Israel but made clear that he was not protesting against those who follow other positions.)

My guess -- the SemGirl post is not specific on this point -- is that the chassan wore his peyos up behind his ears. Meanwhile, the girl's parents were from a community that wore their peyos down, and or they encountered the statement from Rav Kanievsky, or some other modern posek, that the ideal was wearing them down, so as not to be ashamed of one's Judaism.

The girl's parents told the boy about this, expecting him to comply with the words of the Gedoylim, namely the "psak" of Rav Kanievsky. But should the chassan abandon something he considers an important practice, and minhag of his community, because he has been told that a certain Rav has paskened otherwise? Perhaps he has his own poskim. Should he deligitimize the minhag of his community, when Minhag Yisrael Torah Hi?

The sensible answer is that of course he should cave. Pru eRevu is a Biblical commandment, and whatever kabbalistic reasons, or whatever status of this minhag, in pales in comparison. Plus there is also the consideration of shalom, and of shalom bayis.

In some families, they make a potato kugel and a lukshen kugel, with the second kugel being called the shalom bayis kugel. Because the wife's family's minhag was potato kugel and the
husband's family's minhag was lukshen kugel, and so they make both to preserve both minhagim and to maintain shalom bayis. Perhaps the same should apply here, and the chassan should have caved. (The compromise of one-up and one-down would not have worked, because besides looking silly, it would be a violation on one side, since quote unquote "al pi din," the peyos had to be down.)

But of course, people are people. And the reaction was probably "How dare they say that our minhag is invalid, worse than theirs, and a practice based on shmad? We are not going to cave? We are holy Jews, with holy minhagim, and we are not going to change because of someone ignorantly spouting that our minhag is wrong." And as the personalities on both sides, of both in-laws got into the picture, the fight escalated until finally the shidduch was broken off - at least until it was resurrected.

And they may have had a point. This particular case, or whether the peyos are up or down, is just silly. But in general, what is going to happen in the marriage when the chassan's community has one halachically-grounded practice, which is his minhag, and his in-laws come at him with some psak from Rav Kanievsky or Rav Eliashiv?? To take some examples from Rav Eliashiv, Rav Elyashiv holds that one must wait six hours between yellow cheese and meat (see here), and perhaps he does not hold of this. Or Rav Elyashiv is against modern sheitels. And Rav Eliashiv is apparently against using psychiatrists and psychologists. And against heter mechira. Not to argue against these particular psakim, but the point is that there are certainly other great rabbis who take contrary opinions, which this chassan and his community might well hold of. Is this peyos dispute, and resolution, a good precedent, and a good template for interactions in their marriage in the future? The establishing of such boundaries seems critical.


icecream said...

Gd says let the great disgrace of my name being obliterated serve to illustrate that Sh"Bayis is yet greater than honouring Me. [Sotah]

Perhaps we are not interested in honouring Gd as much as we are in using Gd to honour ourselves.

w.o. solomon

Lakewood Falling Down said...

I've read and the re-read this post. "Indeed, it is quite possible that we can lay the blame for breaking up this shidduch at the doorstep of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita." It is very dangerous, in my opinion, to make a statment like this. And note the name of my blog. It seems that the "kol korei writers who champion said poskim" are more to blame than our gedolim expressing their halachically based opinions. When your Rav gives a drasha, does he site every dissenting opinion? If you want to say our Gedolim should stand up to the local idiots who write kol koreis, I agree. But we need to be careful who we attack. (Attack being a harsh word, take this in the spirit intended). BTW, why not blame the parents? Or the yeshiva system at large that creates, in my opinion "Black Hatted Lemmings"? There is blame on all sides.

joshwaxman said...

you're right. as I said, what Rav Kanievsky did is no different than what any posek does, and this is fine.
i'll try to come up, bli neder, with a clarification. i would like Rav Kanievsky to be more forceful in opposing the local "idiots," more than just saying that "anything said in my name is false."



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