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Thought for the Day: When Halachic Obligations Collide

A close friend of mine died many years ago and I took it pretty hard.  One of the reasons his death was particularly difficult for me was that we had become closer after we were each diagnosed with cancer.  Different cancers, but cancer none-the-less.  He died; I didn't.  I wanted to do something!  So I decided that I would be stringent on myself to each only eat חלב ישראל.  Baruch HaShem, I told my rav my decision.  Of course, it would have been better to have actually discussed the idea with him, but at least I asked.  His response was very cool (one might say even icey).  "Your family doesn't keep חלב ישראל, they are not ready to keep חלב ישראל, and I am not sure they every should keep חלב ישראל.", he told me.  No problem, I responded; I'll keep it as a personal stringency... if we are having dairy for dinner, I'll just make myself something else.  What could be wrong with that?

At that point I believe my rav realized just how bottomless my clueless meter is and simply told me, "No".

I am much more mature now.  I almost always discuss with my rav before doing something that might possibly be stupid.  Of course that means I ask before making nearly any change.  As it turns out, this stupidity could have been averted had I known halacha better.  Suppose you have someone who has accepted upon himself the stringency to eat only פת ישראל (bread baked by an Orthodox Jew).  That Jew cannot, of course, each פת פלטר/bread from a non-Jewish bakery; that's the normal rules of anyone who accepts a stringency of any sort.  Suppose, though that our stringent Jew has a guest who is very happy to eat פת פלטר.  Moreover, the host has a very fine loaf of פת פלטר to serve his guest.  In that case, the Shulchan Aruch says that the host not only may, but must himself also eat from the bread he serving to his guest -- even though eating by himself he would not be allowed to each that פת פלטר, no matter how good it is.

What allows him to eat the פת פלטר?  There are two explanations.  The Taz says that since you are making bracha for the other Jew and he is going to eat from the פת פלטר --as is appropriate since it is the better bread; then the host must also eat from the פת פלטר, because that is the bread on which the bracha needed to be made.  The Shach gives a different reason: משום איבה/because you'll make the other Jew feel like you don't think he is as religious as you and will therefore generate ill will.  There is a practical difference between the explanations: if you are each making your own bracha, but eating at the same table (and the guest is still a guest and the host is still a host), then according to the Taz the host would have to eat his (poorer quality) פת ישראל, while according to the Shach the host would still need to eat the (better quality) פת פלטר.

As it turns out, we pasken like the Taz.  None the less, from the discussion it is clear and apparent that how you will make another Jew feel is a halachic consideration.  Even more pointed: this is not a case of "holier than thou" makes people feel bad; this is rather a case where not being holy enough (i.e., not knowing the correct halacha) would lead to bad feelings.  Derech Eretz Kadma la'Torah is not external to halacha, it is halacha.

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