Humrah Society II

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Is it permissible to be stricter than one’s parents or grandparents on halakhic matters? The Gemara in Gittin (5b) records a suggested change in the procedure of writing a get that was rejected so as not to cast aspersions on the gittin of earlier generations. Perhaps here, too, we may not be strict so as not to cast aspersions on previous generations.

The Terumas ha-Deshen (teshuvos, no. 232) discussed the applicability of this concept to other cases. For example, the Gemara (Gittin 85b) tells us that Rava instituted a change in the standard language of a get. Similarly, in medieval France, Rabbenu Tam instituted a further change in the language of a get. Did these changes not cast aspersions on the gittin of previous generations?

The Terumas ha-Deshen distinguishes that, in the original case of the Gemara, the suggested change was trivial because it was clear that it was halakhically unnecessary and a mere humrah for the sake of strictness. However, when there is a significant dispute and the correct halakhah questionable, a later generation may be strict for the other opinion despite the previous generation’s leniency. This would imply that, even today, if someone questions the halakhic propriety of an act then he may be strict on that matter even though previous generations were lenient. As long as there is a debate on the subject and he is not merely being superfluously strict.

Furthermore, it is questionable whether the issue of casting aspersions on previous generations applies to cases other than gittin. The Pis-hei Teshuvah (Yoreh De’ah 214:4) raises just this question and posits that it is a matter of dispute. According to the Ra’anah, the issue only applies to gittin while according to the Magen Avraham it applies to other matters as well, in his case tefillin. The Arukh ha-Shulhan, in his commentary to the laws of nedarim (Yoreh De’ah 214:26) that was only published from manuscript within the last twenty years, suggests that even the Magen Avraham would only apply the issue of casting aspersions to objects that currently exist. For example, if we were to cast asperions on earlier gittin, we would be implying that people alive today, the descendants of the woman divorced in that earlier generation, are mamzerim. Or, in the case of tefillin, we would be implying that the cherished tefillin from 100 years ago are not kosher. But merely on acts, all agree that we may be stricter than previous generations.

The Minhas Elazar (vol. 4 no. 7) dealt with this issue in regard to fixing a potential problem in a mikveh. In response to this objection, he offered fourteen different answers. Some of these answers only apply to his local problem but many are universal. His first answer is the most important to us: casting aspersions only applies to gittin where there is an implication that descendants are mamzerim. The interested reader is directed there for a more lengthy presentation.

In conclusion: No, there is no problem of casting aspersions on previous generations by, for example, drinking only Halav Yisra’el even though previous generations drank non-Halav Yisra’el.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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