The Humra crazies have struck again! According to a status posted by Rabbi Ilai Ofran of Kibbutz Yavne, one of the major kashrut bodies in the country intends to start a brand called “shemita kosher milk” – that is from cows that did not eat from any land owned under heter mechira, otzr beit din or any other halachically disputed solutions to the Jewish Sabbatical agricultural year.
Rav Ofran spoke to one of the heads of this body, who admitted that there is no halachic basis whatsoever for this idea. According to all, the milk that comes from the cow is perfectly kosher even if it ate something that to us would be forbidden. But – he said – there are about 500 families who are interested in it.
So what’s going on? How can a new humra be upon us that has no halachic basis and prohibits the completely permitted?
First, this is further proof of my contention that humras come from below as much if not more than they come from above. Rabbis who pasken humras are often as much messengers of their communities or concerned individuals as they are active agents of change.
Second, as Rav Ofran rightly points out, humra is part of an internal social religious arms race in which all sides try to outdo the other. I often feel that the many badatzes and kashrut symbols have far more to do with social belonging and boundaries than actual halachic rules. Cases like this strengthen my intuition.
But the most important factor underlying this and probably many other humra crazes is the problem of religious ignorance. These very pious families, who probably don’t know the exact details of hilchot shmita (it’s very technical), prefer to “wing it”, go with what their intuition or “gut” tells them is OK and not OK and give little thought to what the halacha actually says or how this makes everyone else feel about halacha.
Whether you’re Haredi, religious, secular, traditional or otherwise, religious ignorance affects us all. We would do well to study how far it goes and find ways to properly cope with it before the next crazy idea hits.