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I was learning the halachos of berachos on things that are ground up, and it seemed pretty clear to me that the blessing on chocolate should be ha'etz. I found discussion in some more contemporary poskim who all seemed to take the same approach - "Really, it seems like it should be ha'etz, but the minhag is to make a shehakol, so let's see if we can explain it." That's fine with me - I have no problem coming up with an explanation to justify the minhag. What I was bothered by was the conclusion of R' Shlomo Zalman Aurbach, who after trying several approaches to explain the minhag, does not find any satisfactory explanation for it being a shehakol. He leaves it as a צע"ג - needs major further investigation. But he doesn't conclude to reject the minhag. It seems that he still accepts that the proper blessing is shehakol.

For myself, I am fine accepting the approaches offered in other responsa and making a shehakol. What I don't understand is why R' Shlomo Zalman, for himself, did not reject the minhag.

Chocolate was just a convenient example, so I hope readers do not get stuck on the example. My question, succinctly put, is at what point, if ever, can an established, accepted minhag be rejected as mistaken?

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I think it would be rejected if it lacked justification and it voilated a halacha badly. For example, if shehakol could not apply to chocolate, and would not be an appropriate bracha (would be levatalah) then I think you would see a push to change it. Since it is bedieved OK anyway, it can be simply left unexplained. –  Yishai Jul 6 at 15:42
    
R' Auerbach zt''l actually made a similar conclusion with electricity on Shabbat; he said there was no halachic reason for banning it, but that the minhag should be followed. –  eliyahu-g Jul 6 at 16:00
    
When it's mistaken. But it's not for the faint of heart to decide that. –  Double AA Jul 6 at 16:24
    
@DoubleAA Is R' Shlomo Zalman of the faint of heart? –  YEZ Jul 6 at 16:27
    
@YEZ That's his call, not mine. –  Double AA Jul 6 at 16:30

3 Answers 3

In this specific instance, there is no harm from the minhag, since according to Rambam the blessing is still valid ( הלכות ברכות פרק ח,י-יא ):

בירך על פירות האילן, בורא פרי האדמה--יצא; ועל פירות הארץ, בורא פרי העץ--לא יצא. ועל הכול--אם בירך שהכול נהיה בדברו, יצא: אפילו על הפת ועל היין.

If one intentionally blessed "boreh pri ha'adama" on fruit of the tree -- the blessing is valid; and "boreh pri ha'etz" on fruit of the ground -- the blessing is invalid. And if he blessed "she'hakol ni'hi'ye b'divaro" on anything the blessing is valid; even on bread and wine.

So, if the bracha is still valid even if though it's "wrong" and there is a minhag to say it a certain way then there is no overriding reason to invalidate the minhag.

In contrast, there are some examples in MT of Rambam trying to cancel minhagim which he considers harmful or seriously mistaken. One such minhag ( הלכות אסורי ביאה יא,יד ), ( which is still existent to this day in some Moroccan communities ) is to wait forty days after the birth of a boy or eigthy days after the birth of a girl before resuming marital relations.

וכן זה שתמצא במקצת מקומות, ותמצא תשובות למקצת גאונים, שיולדת זכר לא תשמש מיטתה עד סוף ארבעים, ויולדת נקבה אחר שמונים, ואף על פי שלא ראתה דם אלא בתוך השבעה--אין זה מנהג, אלא טעות היא באותן התשובות. ודרך מינות באותן המקומות, ומן הצדוקיין למדו דבר זה; ומצוה לכופן כדי להוציא מליבן, ולהחזירן לדברי חכמים--שתספור שבעת ימי נקיים בלבד, כמו שביארנו.

And you will find in certain places, and you find some rulings from some Geonim, that a woman who gives birth to a boy will not have relations until forty days, and one who gives birth to a girl until eighty days, even if she saw blood only in the first seven days -- this is not a valid custom, but a mistake in those rulings. And it is the way of heresy in those places, and they learned it from the Sadducees; and it is a mitzvah to remove it from their hearts by force, and return them to the way of our sages -- that they should count seven clean days only, as we have expounded.

So canceling a minhag would seem to be only in cases where the minhag causes potential harm.

There seems to be a related discussion in Pesachim 50b where it talks about canceling a custom to take challah from rice bread. ( bottom of the page )

I also read there is a discussion by Rav Ovadia Yosef in יביע אומר, חלק ב, יורה דעה, יא,ח on the obligation to cancel bad customs, but I don't have access to it.

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If Klal Yisroel has been following a minhag for generations, abandoning this minhag questions the implicit or explicit decisions of the previous generations. We are taught that the previous generations were greater than ours. So to abandon the minhag is an enormous responsibility. To exercise that responsibility would require such a high level of agreement amongst the Torah scholars of the time that it would be practically impossible to achieve.

But an individual can conduct himself in some cases to avoid following the "erroneous" minhag without explicitly teaching that it was wrong. To take the case of the brocho on chocolate. A person could take a fruit and another food which takes the brocho “shehakol” (he wants to eat all these items) and make these brochos before eating the chocolate which was on the table before him. I know a Rav who did this (I don't know his current practice).

My answer, succinctly put, is that an established, accepted minhag cannot practically be publicly rejected as mistaken.

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There are lots of examples of customs that were rejected. See my answer for one example. –  Robert S. Barnes Sep 19 at 9:16

It seems to depend on how wrong you (the halachic decider) think the minhag is. Case in point, Reb Moshe Feinstein would not reintroduce sheheim mishtachavim lihevel verik bavk into aleinu because so many previous generations had not said it so we don't have to be better than them. On the other hand, he led the crusade to pronounce guphen and gushem due to the fact that he said the old pronunciation was against the gemara.

It seems very consistent throughout the tshuvos and psakim of the geonim and rishonim that they were constantly faced with the question of 'this is what we do. Is it right or wrong?' They then decided if the case against keeping the minhag was strong enough to abolish the old minhag or not. Most famous is Tosafos in the beginning of Maseches Brachos concerning Maariv during the day time. Everyone did it. Can we find how to uphold the minhag within the confines of Halacha? Yes? Then it's not so bad. An example the other way is when some rishonim decided to change the order of the parshios in their tephillin. They thought the proofs against the old way outweighed whatever benifit there would be to keep it (obviously I find it an offence to my logic when I hear silly things like 'There always were two types of tephillin'). Another tephillin case was when Rav Sherirah was asked to explain why nobody wears tephillin. His answer was everybody he knows in Sura and Pumpadisa wears them so of course one must wear them. Again, a supposed 'custom', which was weighed against the law, and lost.

The examples are countless but it all seems to stem from practice which may or may not be based on ignorance. Your case of chocolate is a case of ignorance based on never having had it limaaseh, in actual psak. And even though there is halacha, meaning similar cases which can be compared and are almost identical, but, it was never addressed and therefore the case for change is not as strong as a case of halacha limaaseh, by default it is only logic coming from halacha vilo limaaseh, weighed against a standing minhag. Same would be with electricity, as we have no old standard to go back to and say this is the way it was and should be, we are left with a thought and a question opposing a standing minhag. Not such a strong case for change.

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-1 for the Rabbeinu Tam comment. Whatever you think of "they always had two types of tephillin" if you know anything about the subject you know that it well precedes Rabbeinu Tam. –  Yishai Sep 19 at 0:28
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@user6591, there is a Teshuva from the Rambam that shows that he very well knew about the Rabbeinu Tam order, and wore them that way in his youth. He changed due to new manuscripts of Geonim that he found as well as Rav Hai Gaon's Tefillin being in the Rashi/Rambam order. –  Yishai Sep 19 at 2:15
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@user6591, By the way, to believe what you say about the Teshuva of Rav Sherirah, you have to think that not only did they not wear them, they didn't have a single shel yad (arguably a shel rosh is a less reliable thing in this question) anywhere and just made new ones without an actual one to look at. –  Yishai Sep 19 at 2:20
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@Yishai Like I mentioned before my main point was not to say Rashi was the origional and R.T. changed. My point was someone somewhere changed. This tshuvas Rambam just proves it. Someone did something and through research decided it was time for a change. And what I said about the Sherira gaon tshuva wasn't meant to be a scientific explenation of the history of what happened. It was just a point to consider while wondering what happened and who forgot what. –  user6591 Sep 19 at 2:58
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@Yishai in light of your argument I edited the language in my answer. Let me know if you still object. –  user6591 Sep 21 at 16:17

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