A guest post by CA
Dear Mr. Bear:
I suppose you bounced me from your team because of my lack of productivity. Ah well. I guess I'll just have to work on my own blog.
However, a thought came into my mind today at shul that you might want to share with your loyal readers.
Today's haftara (for Mishpatim) concerns one mof the reasons why God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the First Temple. Apparently, in response to the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, the Jews had freed their slaves. However, when King Neb slacked off a bit, and the Jews thought that maybe the worst was over, they enslaved them again. (Jeremiah 34:8 et seq.) This got ol' YHVH so pissed off that the fate of the Temple was sealed and our people were off to exile.
Now our rabbi was trying to sell us a bill of goods about how this meant that even thought the Torah permits slavery, God isn't really so hot about it. But it occurs to me that this passage is nothing less than a proof text for requiring chumras to replace halacha. After all, the Torah allows slavery. The Jews in Jerusalem had NO halachic obligation to free their slaves. But once they decided to go above the letter of the law and free them, God wouldn't let them go back and start owning slaves again. In other words, once the Jews take on a chumra, they're stuck with it.
Now, as a semi-observant member of a Conservative community, I'm not sure whether I like my own interpretation. After all, what I'd like is someone who can fiddle with halachic requirements to make as many of them as possible a dead letter, or at least optional. In that, I'm really more of a Reform Jew at heart, it's just that I grew up Conservative, and don't like Reform ritual. But here we have a biblical prooftext that supports the concept of chumras. Could the Hareidim be right?