Saturday, May 16, 2015

If Minhag and Halacha had Started Today…

Yesterday's post got me thinking. The world we live in radically different than that of our ancestors. There are the technological changes, like computers and airplanes, the resultant lifestyle changes, like the lack of open fires in our homes, and the social changes, like the disappearance of the aristocracy and the  recognition of women as men's social and legal equals.

The modern pace of change is unparalleled in history. Had you taken a Roman citizen from 2000 years ago and dropped him in medieval Europe, there would have been new things for him to marvel at, but the world was similar enough to the one he was used to that he could have gotten along. Take someone from the middle ages and bring him forward to today, and the world he finds himself in is an unrecognizable magical place. Yet almost all halacha and minhag developed before the world we live in existed, and reflects a world as foreign to us as ours would be to the medieval time traveler.

What might our rituals and laws look like had they ossified last Tuesday, instead of hundreds or thousands of years ago?

Today, biur chametz is an event, where individuals and communities have a rare excuse to play with fire and build bonfires to burn their chometz. Yet in the recent past, burning your chometz instead of, say, throwing it in the river was a matter of convenience. Everyone had  fireplaces in their home. It was much easier to toss your chometz into the living room fire than to take it outside. Had the minhag been set today, we'd probably flush our chometz down the toilet.

Lighting candles Friday night was initially done for light, so that one wouldn't have to eat their Shabbos meal in the dark. Had the minhag developed today, might women make a bracha before flipping the dining room switch? Would we have a minhag to have a chandelier with one bulb for each person in the family? If a woman forgot to turn on the light one week, might she ever after need to have an extra bulb in the chandelier?

Telephones would have prevented the problems that saddled us with two-day yomim tovim.

And so on…

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