Monday, February 13, 2012

Rav Ovadia Yosef & changes to greater stringency in tznius

This picture of Rav Ovadia Yosef and his family was recently published on YNET. The article is not written in a respectful manner. This post is to defend Rav Yosef against the claims of the article. The claim is made that Rav Yosef's wife is not dressed according to the laws of modesty. I just want to point out that there is no question that the standards of tznius have changed to be much more machmir. But her hair covering is halachically correct according to the Chasam Sofer and Rav Moshe Feinstein - and obviously according to Rav Yosef. It is interesting to note that in Rabbi Falk's book on Modesty he claims that this tshuva of Rav Moshe was only meant for the particular individual who asked the question. A reading of the Igros indicates that that is not so even though he has a letter from Rav Dovid Feinstein supporting him. The dress is also according to the acceptable standards of modesty of those times. Thus this is clearly an example of shifting standards of halacha but the bottom line is that she fullfilled the halacha and standards of those days - even though such is not be acceptable today. It also is not possible to rely on this to ignore todays standards.

See my discussion of this issue on Avodah 11:29 
[note that the book on Modesty was written by Rabbi Falk & not Rabbi Wagschall]
There is also an important  comment by Rav Yehuda Henkin on this issue in Avodah 11:31


  1. How can it be claimed that Halacha does not change one iota, and yet it is changed at such a rapid rate?

    Even the issue of how to dress, ie in black, has no basis in Halacha - it is a minhag. And sephrdi dress has no connection to Ashkenazi dress - which itself is based on that of the Cossacks and other tormentors.

  2. Eddie said...

    How can it be claimed that Halacha does not change one iota, and yet it is changed at such a rapid rate?
    halacha does change - sometimes - major discussion of parameters contained in series by Rabbi Mordechai Willig
    I just posted

  3. I question whether this YNET "article" deserves the dignity of a response. They're mocking all of us.

  4. Of course it changes, - but the strongest proponents of the "no change" position are also the ones changing it in a particular stringent position.. There is a connection, between this issue and that of the kanoim. According to the Netziv, it was this movement to ever greeater stringencies that ultimately led to the Hurban. The process is sadly recognisable today, ie. a stringency is adopted - this becomes the norm amongst some of its takers, who then consider whoever hasnt adopted this as being "treif". This is how the Netziv describes the sinnat hinnam of the 2nd Hurban . It is an unintended outcome that there are violent acts towards the more moderate keepers of Torah, but thigns seem be repeating themselves.

    Perhaps the counterargument would be that even with a static halacha , there would be such violence. But for example, many peopel consider wearing blue jeans as being totally assur. Its not forbidden anywhere (as far as I know) to wear blue denim.

  5. Eddie that is not what the Netziv said:

    he said that they viewed anyone who disagreed with the was heretics and had them killed

    Here is my translation from Daas Torah:

    Netziv (Introduction to Bereishis): Bereishis was called Sefer HaYoshor (the Book of the Upright) by the prophets. That is because it is about the Avos - Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov who were called upright by Bilaam. We need to understand why he singled them out by the title “upright” instead of other descriptions such as tzadik or chasid? Furthermore, why is Bereishis singled out with this description of “upright”? Another question is why Bilaam asked that his end should be like those who have such a description? The praise of uprightness is to reinforce G d’s judgment in destroying the Second Temple which was a generation of tzadikim and chassidim and those devoted to learning Torah - however they were not upright in the mundane world. Therefore, because of the baseless hatred in their hearts to each other they suspected that whomever they saw who did not conduct himself according to their opinion in Yiras Shamayim must be a heretic. Consequently, this led to much killing and all the evils in the world until the Temple was destroyed. Thus, there was an acknowledgement of the uprightness of G d’s judgment in that He would not tolerate tzadikim like these. Rather He wanted tzadikim who were upright in the world. Because even if the non upright tzadikim were motivated by religious consideration - such conduct destroys the world. Therefore, this was the praise of the Avos that besides being tzadikim and chassidim and lovers of G d to the ultimate degree - they were also upright. That means that they conducted themselves in relation to the peoples of the world - even the debased idol worshippers - with love and were concerned about their welfare in regards to the preservation of Creation. This we see in the pleading of Avraham for the people of Sedom - even though he had total hatred for them because of their wickedness - nevertheless he wanted them to live…

  6. Eddie:

    The short, oversimplified answer is that the PRINCIPLES of halakha do not change, but since circumstances do change, the application of halakha changes.

    Simply example. The Torah forbids a man to wear women's clothing. What is "women's clothing" varies by time and place. If you or I were to wear a skirt in New York, we would be violating a deoraysa. If we did so in Edinburgh Scotland, we would not.

  7. Thank you for the correction. This is even more potent. Condier the view that whomever is "x", eg Modern O, or left wing, or not accepting of the "official" line, is equivalent to Reform,or apikorus.

    Such claims are regularly made. They are even made within Modern O world, famous example , R Zimmerman referring to R' Berkovits as "my friend the apikorus".

    I am not saying that we are killing each other, but sadly we are delegitimizing each other(we being Klal Yisrael).

    Thanks again for the accurate translation of the Netziv, a very important piece.

  8. "The short, oversimplified answer is that the PRINCIPLES of halakha do not change, but since circumstances do change, the application of halakha changes."

    If I remember correctly, that was pasr of R Rackman's argument re the stautus of women and their presumed acceptance of any kiddushin. I haven't been able to get my hands on that teshuva, though.

  9. What does Rav Moshe and the Chasam Sofer say about hair covering?

    Also, I think the article in YNET is extremely disrespectful. If you have a question from a private photo of Rav Ovadya, go and ask him for his response. Maybe the photo was taken in Rav Ovadya's home by his wife's father or on a timer on a stand?

  10. Tal: Yes, I accept your comments,
    and the Scottish example is one I myself have used several times.
    But, let us say that it was ok for Scottish Jews to dress like that, but now we are machmir and they are no longer allowed, that is a change in the halacha without basis.

    Shaul: Yes, this is what R' Rackman argued. He wrote a book called One Man's Judaism where he proposed various changes, and was deemed an apikorus for his views.

    I have seen a reference to the Hatam Sofer - and I'm sure RDE will make a clarification on how I express this, and post hsi translation - regarding shaving. According to my memory (I have no sefer in front of me) he criticised one of the Lubavitcher rebbes for forbidding all shaving , regardless of the mechanism, becasue of kabbalistic reasons. Whilst the Hatam Sofer was brilliant and strictly traditional, he opposed Hadash, be it from reform or orthodox! What a giant he was!

  11. "even though such is not be acceptable today. "

    If it's not acceptable today, why are you showing us a picture that's assur to look at?

  12. RDE,

    How can you claim halacha changed in this case? Shulchan Aruch defines what body parts a woman must cover (I.e. On the chest.)

    As far as the hair, it seems from the photo to be showing a lot more hair than Rav Moshe allows.

    And, perhaps, Rav Ovadia regrets what was worn in the photo. He never published this photo (and certainly not as an example for halacha.)

  13. Before you all get too excited, I saw this picture a few years ago on a so called Charedi forum. At least ynet can try to claim they are Tinosh Shenishba. What about the so called "frumaks" and their "revelations" and "comments"

  14. Rav Eidensohn, I understand that we should not rely on old practices to ignore today's minhag or halacha or dat yehudit. But is it the case that halacha and minghag *always* have to get stricter with time, or is there a halachic way to reduce strictness if the slide toward stringencies becomes too excessive?

    I think this is a very important issue, because the more absurd and widespread stringencies become, the more it delegitimates Orthodox Judaism in the eyes of the non-observant (who see it as a deviant sect, Heaven forbid, rather than what it is). After all, if the tendency toward increasing strictness is mainly a phenomenon from the last 200/300 years, it seems like there ought to be some stopping point.

    "The Torah is not made for ministering angels," "G-d does not rule over his creatures with tyranny."

    When R' Shammai passed one of his 18 ordinances, the day “was as grievous to Israel as the day when the golden calf was made.” (Shabbat 17a)

  15. Recipients and PublicityFebruary 14, 2012 at 7:57 AM

    What was the context of the photo? Where did it truly come from? From some government archive?

    Often times, individual or family photos taken to be sent overseas or for official purposes of individuals by either government agencies or by private photographers had the families and individuals posing in the most informal and natural manner. Just as many passport photos require/d people to take off their head-coverings and photos of families that were being sent for various reasons overseas de-emphasized the "religious" appearance of religious Jews as much as possible.

    It was not uncommon for men to trim their beards and women to remove their head-coverings to "make a good impressions" for the photographers and on outside secular or non-religious recipients (often-times governmental) of the photos.

    Also in gentile societies in the past, as today in some anti-Semitic countries like Holland and Denmark today, Jews are afraid to wear head-coverings and Jewish garb for fear of being attacked.

    The rise and growth of modern Chasidic communities and their influence by example (in dress, diet, life-style, outlook, attitudes) has also encouraged other Charedi communities, such as the Litvaks and the Sephardim to grow beards and men dress in black suits all week, while women have adopted even more stringent rules about head-coverings.

  16. I don't necessarily endorse its conclusions, but this is a fascinating article showing that some poskim have approved of married women not covering their hair at all (as has been the custom in many Jewish communities). The quotes at the begining of the article alone are well worth reading.


    Is This Really Dialogue?

    A Reply to the Interesting Substance of a Critique in Dialogue’s Inaugural Edition of my Tradition Article on Uncovered Hair

    Guest post by R. Michael J. Broyde


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