We are all familiar with the trend towards crazy humros and how some people are going out of control. However, they seem to me to be the extreme and do not represent the norm. I am not implying that the Orthodox community as a whole has not moved towards increased observance and stringency. Rather, I question whether this is a move towards humrah or towards the only halakhah that can be (textually) justified. Is it that people are looking for new ways to be strict (I know, some definitely are) or that they are doing their best to align all of their actions with halakhah? I think the latter. Some are misguided; some, particularly youngsters, are immature. But most “normal” people I know have a certain degree of yiras Hashem and do not want to do something that they and their rabbi cannot justify halakhically.
I found Dr. Haym Soloveitchik saying something similar in a response to a rebuttal of his article “Rupture and Reconstruction.” This response is titled “Clarifications and Reply” and was printed in The Torah u-Madda Journal vol. 7.
Like most of my contemporaries and elders, I was baffled by the spread of humrot (stringencies in religious performance). Upon reflection I realized that many of the so called humrot were, in fact, quite reasonable, indeed, could often make good claim to being the only correct ruling in the case at hand. Frequently, a new practice was being labled a “humra“, not because it was the more stringent of two valid views, but simply because it made stricter demands than what had been habitually required. More often than not, “humra” meant simply “more than what one had been accustomed to.” (p. 137)
Much later in his article:
What is clear, to me at least, is that we are dealing with a generational difference. A new generation has emerged which finds the past ways of its parents and grandparents too unthinking, too ignorant, and yes, if truth be told, simply too lax and accomodative. This is not a pleasant prospect for the older generation to contemplate, especially as the young are only too unaware how much this “lax” observance had cost their parents in a different day, and how high the price they regularly paid for their “minimal” Orthodoxy. It is only natural then that explanations as religious one-upsmanship, “humra of the month club,” ideological brainwashing and “Magyarization of Yiddishkeit” abound and beckon soothingly. Such interpretations, to my thinking, offer consolation rather than understanding. (p. 145)