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Chumros and Minhagim on Pesach
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: Chicago Community Kollel

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Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

My husband and I would appreciate your guidance with an issue where we have differing views.

My husband’s family has the minhag of not “mishing” on Pesach, meaning that they don’t eat at other people’s homes throughout Pesach. They also do not purchase any of the commercial food products such as snacks, prepared foods, etc.

When we were first married, I was OK with it even though it meant a great deal of additional work for me. But as our family grows and our children are getting older, the added work is a bit overwhelming. We are also concerned because our eldest children are getting quite resentful and feel overly restricted.

My husband feels that minhagim (customs) are very important. I agree that they are. But I don’t feel that they are worth engendering the resentment of our children.


Rabbi Horowitz Responds


I am with you on this one. While minhagim (customs) are an integral component of our mesorah (tradition) and Pesach, in particular, is a time of year where family minhagim play such an important role in determining our practices, I would not recommend maintain in totality a minhag that is “engendering the resentment of your children.”

This is not to say that your family should abandon this particular custom entirely. There are a number of ways to perpetuate this minhag, which is, after all, a time-honored tradition in many kehilos. One approach would be for your husband to refrain from eating commercial products throughout Yom Tov, while graciously and cheerfully allowing his wife and children to do so. This way, several clear messages are simultaneous being transmitted to your children. Firstly, the importance of tradition in your Yom Tov practice and your husband’s willingness to exhibit a level of misirus nefesh (self-sacrifice) to adhere to family minhagim. At the same time, he will be conveying to his children a very important point – that he cares about their comfort (and yours) and is willing to make allowances for them. As your children grow older, don’t be surprised if one or more of them voluntarily assume this minhag, especially when they marry and establish their own families.

Another way to go may be to have the entire family assume this minhag for a limited period of time, say for the first day or two of Yom Tov. During that time, your family would refrain from eating commercial foods or ‘eating out’ as an observance of this family minhag. I think this would accomplish your objective of adhering to your customs without excessively burdening your children.

As a number of readers of this website pointed out, this is another example of the importance of having a Rabbi with whom your family members can consult with on such matters. (Click here for a column I published in The Jewish Observer several years ago on effective tips for seeking advice from rabbinic authorities.) A Rabbi can also address any halachic issues that may come up (hataras nedarim, for example) should you decide to step back from all or part of a minhag that you have practiced for a number of years.

One final note, Shoshana. Please tell your husband that I request that he read these last few lines very, very carefully.

I ask all fathers to think about the term “Canary in a Coal Mine” as an excellent metaphor to keep in mind when raising children. Early coal mines did not have adequate ventilation systems, nor did the miners have sophisticated detection devices for deadly methane and/or carbon monoxide gases. Canaries are especially sensitive to methane and carbon monoxide, which made them ideal for detecting any dangerous gas build-ups. Miners would therefore routinely bring a caged canary into new coal seams. As long as the ‘canary in the coal mine’ kept singing, the miners knew their air supply was safe. Once the canary quit chirping, signaling that it was ill – or worse – that would signal that conditions would turn deadly for humans in the near future and an immediate evacuation was in order.

In my many years of dealing with families and at-risk children, I have found that wives and (usually eldest) children serve as “Canaries in Coal Mines.” For when they stop singing – when the simchas hachayim of a family life begins eroding – it is a sure sign that things are not in order and it is almost certain that there will be casualties chas v’shalom in the future unless immediate changes are made to the environment. I have also found that mothers are usually far more sensitive to hearing these warning signs than are fathers (I discussed this regarding the concept of making aliya in last week's column).

So please listen carefully to your wife – now and forever. Best wishes for a chag kosher v’somayach and continued nachas from your children.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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