Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Hair and fall-out, and other Jewish problems

Those of you who have been following the Orthodox Jewish world the past month are undoubtedly aware of the two or three things on everyone's minds. First and foremost is the question of the wigs. Apparently many wigs worn by many Orthodox Jewish women come from hair that was donated as an offering by Hindu women in India as offerings to various Hindu gods and goddesses. This hair, as it is the product of idolatry, would be unfit for use by Jews.

The second big issue is the question of the water. Various microbes were recently discovered in some water, which were perhaps large enough to render the water unkosher, and thus unfit for Orthodox Jewish to drink.

Thirdly, is the issue of the eiruv in Brooklyn. This is a technical issue about creating an edifice that would act as a standard loophole to a prohibition against carrying in certain places on the Sabbath, where it normally would be prohibited. The details are cumbersome, so I will not go in to them here.

This third issue would make for an interesting study in a few years about the sociology of Jewish Law. The reason that this Eiruv was not built in Brooklyn sooner was because R. Moses Feinstein, the last great authority of Jewish law who passed away about 18 years ago, said not to. Hassidic Jews in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn never felt bound by his rulings, but nonetheless did not build an eiruv until a few years ago. Now many hassidic Jews use it. (There was a different issue in other hassidic neighborhoods too.) More left-wing Orthodox Jews also did not feel bound by his rulings and they have been using their own eiruv for years. Non-hassidic Jews recently built a new eiruv in Brooklyn. This eiruv is starting to catch on. More and more people are starting to use it. I suspect it will be generally accepted in a few years. My suspicion is that now there are a new generation of Brooklyn Orthodox Jews who were never under the sway of the rulings of Moses Feinstein, and do not remember him. It is those people who do not feel held back by his reasoning and prohibition. His reasoning was sound, but it does not necessarily mean it can fight what the community wants. The evolution of Jewish Law is full of examples of things becoming permitted or prohibited based on community pressure, and not the standard canonical protocols of Halachick decision making. These changes in Jewish law are well worth studying by scholars of Judaism. The historian Katz has done some good work on this, and there is also the seminal paper by Soloveitchik.

The second issue of the water will die down. Few people are taking it too seriously. A few people starting using Poland Spring water coolers in their homes, and maybe a few people bought better filters for their water, but I have not detected a major shift in water usage.

The first issue, which is most likely the most serious issue from the perspective of Jewish law, is the question of the wigs. You will still see many wigs being worn, ad every wig dealer in New York and Israel has taken out ads in the local papers telling everyone which of their wigs are definitely OK to wear, and which are still questionable. Many have taken to buying temporary wigs that are definitely OK, until this issue is resolved or dies down. These wigs are expensive.

Naturally, these issues have spawned a whole slew of Jokes. I welcome people to send me more. I heard someone recently talking about only using hair that is shmurah mishas kitzirah. Also, they discovered that there were many toilets that come from India. The ruling there was "shev, ve'al taaseh".

Those jokes are not so funny, but I am sure there are funnier ones out there. Tell them to me.

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