The Yoshon Renaissance and Vintage Minhogim – החזרת עטרה ליושנה: אפשר או א”א? ישן ומנהגים ישנים

March 2, 2014

Can old minhogim realistically make a comeback?

There are some people, who, upon learning about vintage minhogim whose observance has been lost in some quarters, such as, let us take for example, the singular Ashkenazic kaddish, as well as others mentioned at the conclusion of the previous post, agree that ideally they should be reinstituted or reinvigorated. However, they feel that it can not be accomplished, it is too late, the cat is out of the bag, and so on. They have despaired of them coming back. They think that it is impractical to realistically think or dream such a thing, of such a restoration.

But is such a pessimistic attitude itself realistic/justifiable? Can we really ‘turn the clock back’? Has such a thing ever been done in recent times? The answer is a resounding yes!

The return of Yoshon observance

Leaving aside great modern Jewish examples along such lines of other types, such as those related to ארצנו הקדושה, Eretz Yisroel, let us just examine what has transpired in recent years with regard to the מצוה/practice of ישן/שמירת איסור חדש, in the diaspora, חוץ לארץ.

Consumption of grain products from plants grown after the beginning of Pesach, the time the korban omer was brought בזמן שביהמ”ק היה קיים, is proscribed by the Torah. In the past, in the exile, it was difficult to observe and there were heterim expounded to deal with the issue. Nowadays, in our modern era, ב”ה, it is much easier to observe, and a growing practice, especially among the more learned and pious, is to observe it without recourse to leniencies utilized in the past.

‘They said it couldn’t be done’, but now, the practice of Yoshon is solidly entrenched and frequently incorporated and respected by institutions, manufacturers, caterers, and individuals. I am not getting involved now in the details and different opinions/shitos about it, but rather am just observing how it is possible, and we have seen in our own time, something that was forgotten among the masses, making a remarkable comeback.

Analyzing the Yoshon return

How did it happen? אכשר דרא, a new generation, better educated in תורתנו הקדושה, ב”ה, better conditions of living, ב”ה, and so on. Education led to people here and there taking upon themselves the old-new altneu practice/הנהגה , and, after a while, things snowballed, and it became even better known, and headed into  ‘mainstream’ territory.

A return of Yoshon in the realm of minhogim

So why can’t a similar thing happen with important old practices of our ancestors, such as the Ashkenazic kaddish, the Ashkenazic way of reciting kedushah, LeDovid Boruch on מוצאי שבת, and so on, as well? Such things don’t happen overnight, of course, but to state with absolute certainty that the old ways are gone forever, seems much too pessimistic and misplaced.

Cycles, ebb and flow, in Jewish history

We are now at the beginning of a new chodesh, אדר שני. Rosh Chodesh is a time of renewal. The moon seemingly disappeared. Then there is an invisible rebirth, followed by a glimmer of light, a sliver of white, which proceeds to grow and increase. Just like the לבנה, practices that were neglected can become rediscovered, reestablished, and reinvigorated, like עם ישראל, the Jewish people, who are compared to the moon. Such things have happened many times in Jewish history.

In fact we see nowadays a great and growing interest in classic minhogim in general. There are more publications, seforim, articles, discussions about them, in places where you may not have expected such. In just the last year or so, I have noted in well-trafficked, highly popular fora, online, as well as in a well-known Chareidi newspaper, discussions about the old Ashkenaz way of saying kaddish, in which it was held up as a proper and superior practice, and serious grappling with the question of why it  is not universally followed today. I don’t recall such discussions at such a level growing up. This indicates a growing awareness and interest in such מנהגים ותיקים. And why should it be surprising? We are in a time when people are going back to practices of their ancestors in other areas, so why not here? It is a well-established general trend, going back to roots, חזרה אל השרשים. So why not in the area of minhogim as well? The groundwork, the foundation, has already been laid, conceptually, and in practice.

ב”ה, אכשר דרא באמת, תודה להשי”ת.

In the zechus of such renewal, may we be zoche to national renewal, בביאת משיח צדקנו, במהרה בימנו, אמן!

א גוטען חודש!

Gentrification and Retro-Ashkenaz: Back To The Future! ג’נטריפיקציה ורטרו-אשכנז: חזרה אל העתיד

February 13, 2014

In recent years, gentrification has become very popular , as well as one of  the ‘hottest’ trends in real estate, and living in general. In places around the world, old, run down areas and buildings, often in inner cities, have been rediscovered, renovated, improved, and resettled, in the process greatly increasing in valuation. People have gotten tired of continually moving further away from the city or city center, to more modern and newer developments. They have come to realize that older buildings and places can possess considerable charm and value, exceeding that of newer structures and locations at times. And that is even before factoring in the convenience of being closer to the center of things, rather than on the periphery.  In the wake of these trends, urban living has become popular again, and suburbs and exurbs have lost some of their shine.

People have come to realize that newer is not always better, and that the polish of old, solid quality can outshine more modern glitter, bringing about a sorely needed correction in perspective.

Spiritual Gentrification

In the spiritual realm as well, gentrification is something that deserves serious consideration. Instead of continually looking to newer ideas and customs, older and time tested practices of our ancestors and previous generations should be reexamined with a fresh eye, discarding preconceived notions that they are outdated, irrelevant, and inferior, to their newer competitors. Those who do so will often find themselves richly rewarded. It might take somewhat of a pioneering spirit to buck some current, modern trends at first, but, after a while, the vintage minhogim and teachings can become popular and mass movements, as they were in the past. We see stirrings of such trends developing now, with the growing interest in מנהגים ישנים מדורות קדמונים, as evinced in contemporary seforim, shiurim, and articles.

Practically Speaking

If a tzibbur is in need of some spiritual reinvigoration, they might consider incorporating some ‘spiritual gentrification’ into their lives. Trying some old minhogim of מסורת אשכנז, such as reciting kedushah in the derech of old Ashkenaz, saying kaddish the old Ashkenaz way,  singing לדוד ברוך on מוצאי שבת, and so on. The old minhogim may take some time to get used to for those new to them – like fine wine, they can be somewhat of an acquired/learned taste. But once you savor their special flavor, it can be addictive.

השיבנו ה’ אליך ונשובה חדש ימינו כקדם

Lehodos Ulehallel – New Clips of Shira Vezimra from KAJ WH choir – שירה וזמרה, להודות ולהלל, ממקהלת קהל עדת ישורון, וואשינגטאן הייטס, ניו יארק

December 16, 2013

During the recent Yom Tov of Chanukah, the KAJ WH choir performed for a local senior group. Now, all of us, קרובים ורחוקים, can enjoy the experience, thanks to GWCTD.

Here are some selected clips, for your listening pleasure.

To the choir and the Kehillah, keep up the good work. כה לחי!

Enjoy!

The Special Experience of Chanukah Lighting at Khal Adas Jeshurun (‘Breuer’s’) – הדלקת נר חנוכה בק”ק קהל עדת ישורון, וואשינגטאן הייטס, ניו יורק

December 2, 2013

The הדלקת נר חנוכה at KAJ (‘Breuer’s’) is traditionally a special experience.

Now, thanks to the generosity of GWCTD, those who could not experience it in person can get a taste of it even from afar.

Here is a video from the first night of this year’s Chanukah.

Note the following.

1) The beautiful בית הכנסת.

2) The chazan is wearing a tallis in the evening (I believe it is a short while after shekias hachamah). This is in accordance with Minhag Ashkenaz, in which the chazan/shliach tzibbur wears a tallis for tefillos mincha and arvis, as well as the morning tefillos (as we discussed in the past).

3) The way he is wearing it – draped over his arms (as opposed to a common practice among some of throwing back that part of the tallis back over the shoulders, leaving the arms uncovered by it).

4) The beautiful way the brachos are chanted by the chazan, following a traditional nusach. Each one takes close to a minute!

5) The special portable mini platform, upon which the chazan stands when lighting the menorah, after ascending three steps.

6) How the chazan descends after the lighting, taking special action to avoid turning his back to the aron kodesh.

7) The general decorum.

This is a great example of זה א-לי ואנוהו, upon which חז”ל comment התנאה לפניו במצות, as well as כבוד בית הכנסת ושמירת מנהגים קדושים.

Hopefully others will learn from this great example and act similarly. ומהם ילמדו וכן יעשו.

א ליכטיגען און פרייליכען חנוכה

The Special, Elevated Nature of the Kaddish in Nusach Ashkenaz – הייחודיות של הקדיש בנוסח אשכנז

October 18, 2013

Note: In the past we discussed the special nature of the Ashkenaz kaddish recitation (in a number of posts, for example this one), with a focus on the minhog that only one person recites kaddish at a time. In this post we turn our gaze to the actual text of kaddish in nusach Ashkenaz, and examine what makes it unique.

One of the most well known, and high profile (and frankly, baffling to many people, it seems) differences between nusach Ashkenaz and other nuschaos appears in the kaddish. The kaddish is a very exalted, ancient prayer, and requires a minyan (quorum of ten adult men) to be recited, as it is classified as among the ‘devorim shebikdushoh’ – דברים שבקדושה – which require an edah (congregation) for recitation, as derived and defined by our Rabbis and tradition. The kaddish especially stands out as a difference between nusach Ashkenaz and other nuschaos to a great degree, it seems, due to the fact that it is recited aloud multiple times a day as part of tefillah betzibbur (communal prayer). Whereas one only encounters the difference between nusach Ashkenaz and other nuschaos re the placement of Hodu (before or after Boruch Sheomar), for example, once a day during davening, kaddish is repeated a number of times each tefillah.

But what is behind the special nature of the nusach Ashkenaz kaddish, which takes center stage in Shul at various times, and is one of the most important and focal points of our communal prayer, תפילה בציבור?

Preserving a strong focus on the essential kaddish theme

Upon examination, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Ashkenaz kaddish is unique in how it expresses and preserves the basic, essential, and original theme/idea of the kaddish – namely exalting, elevating and praising the Great Name of Hakodosh Boruch Hu – שמיה רבה.

How does it do so, one might ask?

It does so by maintaining a clear focus on the whole point of kaddish – which is magnifying and sanctifying the Great Name of Hakodosh Boruch Hu – by excluding certain later additions made in other nuschaos. Other nuschaos contain additional, added components, that were inserted over time, for example ones asking for Moshiach and/or asking for health, parnassah, etc. As important as they are (and nusach Ashkenaz incorporates them prominently elsewhere in the davening), in nusach Ashkenaz, the focus of kaddish being a דבר שבקדושה, a special holy prayer, where we exalt the great name of Hashem, is considered to be critical, and something that needs to be guarded, and not confused or diluted. That focus must to be maintained.  Including other things diminishes it and leads to a dimunition of the strength and kavannah of the tefilloh.

Examining the text with the ערוך השלחן

Let us examine some segments of kaddish, to bring out the point. We will be guided by the great Aruch Hashulchan, ר’ יחיאל מיכל עפשטיין זצ”ל. The ערוך השלחן in אורח חיים, simanim 55 and 56, shares with us some very important yesodos, fundamentals, about kaddish. In סימן נה he gives us general background of the kaddish, and dinim. In the following siman, סימן נו, he gives us, translates, and explains the text of kaddish, in detail, which we will get into now.

יתגדל ויתקדש שמיה רבה – may His Great Name be magnified and sanctified. This is based on a posuk in Yechezkel (לח, כג) regarding the aftermath of milchemes gog umagog.

בעלמא די ברא כרעותיה – in the world he created according to his will.

וימליך מלכותיה בחייכון וביומיכון ובחיי דכל בית ישראל – may his Kingdom rule in your lives, in your young years, and in the lives of all of Israel. This is part of exalting the Great Name of Hashem as well, as we know, והיה ה’ למלך על כל הארץ, ביום ההוא יהיה ה’ אחד ושמו אחד – when the Kingdom of G-d, the Malchus Shomayim will come to pass, on that day Hashem’s name will be one.

Here, we arrive at a major divergence. At this point, in nusach Sfard, Sepharad, etc. (as opposed to nusach Ashkenaz, which, following the oldest nusach of kaddish we have, from Rav Amram Gaon, does not include such) there appears an additional בקשה of ויצמח פורקניה ויקרב משיחיה, asking for Moshiach. However, the Aruch Hashulchan explains, that in nusach Ashkenaz it is not recited because the idea is already included in the aforementioned וימליך מלכותיה, as the establishment of the Kingdom of Hashem and the coming of Moshiach is one and the same idea. Moshiach is, so to speak, a subsidiary agent of מלכות שמים. After all, what does Moshiach come for? To establish the מלכות שמים. Which touches on another important point, as an aside, namely that Moshiach is not an end in and of itself, but rather a shliach, an אמצעי (intermediary) to bring about the מלכות שמים on earth. However, it needs to be stated and remembered that even when Moshiach comes, it is הקדוש ברוך הוא that is our redeemer, as we say in Shabbos davening, אפס בלתך גואלנו לימות המשיח (see Rav Schwab on Prayer , as well as the peirush of the Rokeach there) (the second major point of divergence is toward the end of the kaddish, in the section starting יהא שלמה רבה מן שמיא וחיים. We have already discussed that in a previous post, to which I refer the interested reader).

Do a few words really make a difference, one way or another?

Some people might say (or think), what is the difference, a few words here, a few words there. But that is not attitude of our gedolim, past and present, whether it is in מקרא, משנה, גמרא, הלכה, תפלה or elsewhere.  Every word is considered and weighed. Words do make a difference. A shift of even one word, even a letter, can make a significant difference. Kal vachomer a difference of a number of words, or inserted additional bakashos.

Actually, it is quite surprising that some members of the people of the book nation, would even harbor such a notion. As a limud zechus, we can perhaps ascribe it to קוצר רוח ועבודה קשה.

Davening at high speed, with a lack of kavonnoh, can make things turn into a big blur. Greater clarity is attainable though.

One actually can easily understand why some people nowadays, unfortunately, see no significant difference, or any at all, between נוסחאות, and therefore claim that there is no issue/problem of switching from one to another. If people pray at high speed, with a lack of כוונה, it is not surprising if the whole davening is a blur to them, all the more so if they do it in an early morning haze, half asleep. If you are speeding on a road at 60mph, can you focus in and appreciate the intricacies of a flower on the side of the road, and how it differs from its neighbor? The solution is to slow down and tune in to the davening in a more inner, פנימי, manner.

Nevertheless, even if things seem unclear to us at times, we need to have respect and humility before our great ancestors and leaders, the גדולי עולם, the גדולי אשכנז, who bequeathed to us this great treasure of a nusach, an ancient gem, which was cherished and preserved for generations before being handed over to us, even if we don’t always understand every word and nuance of it. After all, do we really think that we know better than them, and can blithely, casually, throw to the side of the road the great inheritance that they left us, to exchange it for a newer, more flashy model? A nusach is not like a car, which people might switch every so often. True, it is a vehicle for עבודה שבלב, but it was not put together with a plan to become obsolete and get replaced in a few years, unlike some metal conveyances of the modern era.

In the zechus of כוונה בתפלה, עיון תפלה, and הליכה בדרכי אבותינו הקדושים, may we be zoche to the קיום of the words of the kaddish, וימליך מלכותיה, בעגלא ובזמן קריב, ואמרו אמן.

א גוטען שבת

Avinu Malkeinu, A Closer Look: Customs & Insights – תפלת אבינו מלכנו: מנהגים וביאורים

September 13, 2013

One of the tefillos that especially colors and characterizes this time of the year is אבינו מלכנו. Though its basis is ancient, based on a gemara, it was further developed as time went on, and divergent customs developed around it in some places. As with tefillos in general, it is highly recommended to learn more about it, to make your prayer more meaningful, and hopefully more effective, and to leave rote prayer behind (hopefully).

The renowned siddur Avodas Yisroel, as is its wont, sheds significant light on the prayer. It informs us that the amount of supplications starting with Avinu Malkeinu therein varies greatly between Sepharadic, Ashkenaz, and Polish versions, from 29, to 38, to 44, respectively, with a total of 53 different versions existing. In addition, there is a difference in sequence between nuschaos as well. One difference in sequence which caught my attention in particular, is that while in nusach Polin (Eastern European), אבינו מלכנו החזירנו בתשובה שלמה לפניך, asking Hashem to bring us back in complete repentance before Him, follows lines such as א”מ סלח ומחל לכל עונותינו, א”מ מחה והעבר פשעינו וחטאתינו מנגד עיניך, א”מ מחק ברחמיך הרבים כל שטרי חובותינו, in nusach Ashkenaz it precedes them. That seems to have significant logic on its side, as at the least, praying, yearning, and striving for repentance (hopefully followed by actual repentance), should lead the way, rather than asking for an outright, unequivocal pardon from above first (although it is true that part of repentance, the admission of sin, was already addressed by the first line, אבינו מלכנו חטאנו לפניך).

Another difference in אבינו מלכנו between nusach Ashkenaz and nusach Polin, is that nusach Ashkenaz says it during aseres yemei teshuvoh, but not on a regular calendar taanis tzibbur in other parts of the year, while nusach Polin, in a relatively recent development, does. Update: I looked at a Sepharadic siddur and it seems to be the same as Nusach/Minhag Ashkenaz here, meaning that Avinu Malkeinu is not routinely recited during a regular taanis tzibbur outside Aseres yemei teshuvoh.

May we be zoche, in the zechus of עיון תפלה, analysis and delving into our prayers, which we are taught (as said in tefillas Shacharis) is one of the things שאדם אוכל פירותיהן בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא (sounds like a great investment!), to more meaningful and spiritual davening, תשובה שלמה, and a שנה טובה.

Thanks to all for their support.

חתימה טובה

Avraham Avinu was a Sepharadi? Who knew! – אברהם אבינו עליו השלום אכן היה ספרדי? מי ידע

August 27, 2013

In the past, we posted on the topic of Chassidim and Ashkenaz, exploring the complicated relationship between Chassidim, and Sepharadic and Ashkenazic ways.

Recently I saw an interesting report and video online, from a visit that a Chassidic Rebbe from the USA held with Chacham Rav Ovadia Yosef  שליט”א.

In the video, the Rebbe relates that his father stated that 1) Avrohom Avinu was a Sepharadi, as he came from Aram Naharayim, and that 2) he loves Sepharadim so much, that it must be, that in a previous גלגול (incarnation) he was a Sepharadi.

While I understand that the remarks should be taken with a grain of salt, realizing that they were uttered with poetic license (or should we say as מילתי דבדיחותא) , nevertheless, in accord with the aphorism that many a truth is said in jest, I believe that they reflect an attitude that exists among many Ashkenazim, particularly Chassidim in some respects, toward Sepharadim. In that way of thinking, Sepharadim are the pure, unadulterated, old fashioned Jews, while Ashkenazim are some Johnny come lately, distorted version of same. The problem is, of course, that such broad, sweeping generalizations and attitudes are quite problematic, for various reasons.

1) Avraham Avinu was not a Sepharadi! He never was in Sepharad (Spain). There is a difference between Sepharadim and pre and non Sepharadic Middle Eastern Jews (aka בני עדות המזרח), which is what Avrohom Avinu was. Sepharadim are Jews from Spain, ספרד, while bnei Edot Hamizrach are members of ancient Middle Eastern communities who may well have never even been near Spain. In fact, when Sepharadim entered some Middle Eastern communities following the expulsion from Spain, they clashed with the local pre-existing, non Sepharadic communities, with regard to different minhagim and so on.

2) The romanticizing of Sepharadim. The grass is not always greener on the other side. Nowadays we have a phenomenon of masses of Sepharadim clamoring to enter Ashkenazic institutions of Torah learning, which they believe to be superior (though they are not always so, I’m afraid). And at the same time, Ashkenazim romanticizing the Sepharadim and their derech. It is quite humorous and ironic.

3) One wonders why people who think so highly of Sepharadim and their ways does not join them. Should they not change their pronunciation and minhagim to align with Sepharadi ways, if that is what they believe?

4) If Avraham Avinu was a Sepharadi, since he was from ארם נהרים, does that mean that יצחק אבינו, יעקב אבינו, and so on, were Ashkenazim because they came from ארץ ישראל?

נלענ”ד that statements like ‘Avraham Avinu was a Sepharadi’ belong in the same category as the Chassidic children’s books that depict Moshe Rabbeinu attired in a shtreimel and bekishe.

By way of contrast, showing how a great gadol took a different tack, openly expressing strong pride in his Ashkenazi background, I am reminded of the famous statement of הודאה with regard to his roots penned by Rav Yaakov Emden, in his sefer מור וקציעה, אורח חיים נג, where he states על כן שמח לבי ואודה ה’ בכל לבי שעשאני יהודי אשכנזי בניבי (therefore my heart is glad, and I praise Hashem with all my heart that he made me an Ashkenazic Jew in my pronunciation). I think that kind of attitude is historically in accord with the mesorah of Ashkenazic Jewry.

P.S. The above was about what the Rebbe said re Sepharadim. If you want to look at the other side of the coin and see what Rav Ovadia thinks/holds of the Rebbe’s and other Ashkenazic pronunciations, one can hear his words clearly in a video online. Quite different. Rav Ovadia states his view openly, that the Ashkenazic way is wrong. It gives a good view of the other side of the coin here.

If Rav Ovadia can make such statements, why do some think it is inappropriate for Ashkenazim to revel and rejoice in their great mesorah? צע”ג לענ”ד

והאמת והשלום אהבו

Yomim Al Yemei Melech Mystery Solved – Origins Of Recent Custom Revealed – מקורות לשירת ימים על ימי מלך נחשפים – סקירה בהיסטוריה ונוסחאות שונים

July 29, 2013

In our previous post, we asked for information about the origin of the recent custom of some to sing ימים על ימי מלך תוסיף שנותיו כמו דר ודר for great sages, gedolim, and so on. It appears to have spread over a spectrum of Klal Yisroel, from being sung for Chacham R. Ovadia Yosef, Litvishe gedolim from Eretz Yisroel, as well as from America, Chasidic Rebbes, to more modern circles.

B”H I found some good information online about it, which sheds much light on the matter, even if some details remain uncertain.

A query related to it appeared a  few years ago in an online forum from Eretz Yisroel, which elicited valuable information. One respondent there points to a video of a visit of the Satmar Rebbe, בעל דברי יואל, to Eretz Yisroel in 5719.  Indeed, there you will hear the singing of a similar, but somewhat different and simpler version of the popular Yomim al yemei melech song of today (interestingly, the same video also includes the singing of Ohr zarua latzaddik that we discussed earlier as well). Some there attribute it to the Skulener Rebbe (Wikipedia has additional info re the Skulener Rebbe attribution), while elsewhere it seems to be credited to composer Mona Rosenblum.

Based on the above, as well as other information, it appears to be a Chasidic custom that, over time, crossed over to some other groups. How exactly that happened is not known. Perhaps one person with a foot in both camps brought it from one group to another. Most people may not have known or realized what was happening, as well as where the practice was coming from.

The custom continues to the present in various Chasidic groups, but not identically in all cases. For example, while Belzer Chasidim sing Yomim al yemei melech, they do it with a different tune. This can be seen/heard in a video from the end of a recent Belzer chassunah, at 4:00.  On the other hand, it can be seen in a recent Satmar video online (3:16-) with a more modern (compared to the 5719 video) version of the widespread tune, and appears to be sung by various other groups as well, such as Vizhnitz, Skulen, and others. In other groups (e.g. Lubavitch), however, it is not sung. As with many Chasidic customs, there are differences between different Chasidim.

I guess that this particular practice passed over to non-Chasidic groups more easily than other songs sung by Chasidim for their Rebbes (for example, various versions of יחי אדונינו, וכו), as it is from Tehillim, with somewhat obscure origins,  and seems to be דבר השוה לכל נפש, having broad appeal, as the ideas of כבוד התורה and כבוד תלמידי חכמים resonate far and wide. Nevertheless, as we have stated earlier, it is not universally accepted, and since it is just relatively recently that it has crossed to circles beyond the Chasidic community, it remains to be seen if it will be just a limited fashion (as some songs are popular for a while, and then are superseded by others), or something more than that. In general, it seems that in the area of music, borrowing or sharing of niggunim from one group to another, is more common than the sharing of other practices, as musicians play for various groups and are often deferred to, enabling them to easily spread styles from one to another. Like artists, they can easily be agents of change.

Conclusion: It is a relatively recent (post WWII) practice, of Chasidic origin, which has spread to some others as well in recent years, and is in flux at present.

Survey of Recent (?) Customs: Gedolim Welcome Songs – שירת ימים על ימי מלך ושאר דברים לגדולים

July 17, 2013

A widespread contemporary custom in the Chareidi world is that when one of the gedolei Torah, גדולי ישראל, arrives at a special event or for a special visit, a verse from Tehillim, Yomim al yemei melech tosif…(ימים על ימי מלך תוסיף שנותיו כמו דר ודר – תהלים סא:ז)* is sung to a well known tune. For those who need an illustration of what I am talking about, here is one.

I was wondering about this a while back, as I recalled from years ago, that on similar occasions, אור זרע לצדיק ולישרי לב שמחה – תהלים צז:יא used to be the niggun of choice previously. A choral version of that tune can be heard here.

I asked רבש”ה about it back then and he related that he remembered that years ago, it was yet a different posuk, שאו שערים ראשיכם והנשאו פתחי עולם, וכו, that was popularly used (in ‘Yeshivish’ circles presumably) on such occasions. He thought that ימים was used for Rav Schach זצ”ל (when he was a מופלג בזקנה I assume) and that later its use had spread to other gedolim as well. Personally, I wonder if the singing of yomim did not originate in Chasidic and/or Sepharadic circles.

As an aside, I believe that none of these would be sung in strict מנהג אשכנז, due to an issue with singing pesukim outside tefilloh (as brought in the Luach Minhogim of Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz, in the Simchas Torah section). Update: I asked רבש”ה about this and he agreed.

Does anyone have any information about these customs that they could share, to shed some more light on them?

My guess is that the above practices are relatively recent. I also suspect that the singing of ימים on such occasions is spreading out from ארץ ישראל in the way that some other practices from there have spread to the diaspora, as we have discussed here in the past. While the idea of greeting and being mechabed gedolim with song is not new, the specific forms discussed above seem to be relatively recent. In general, a nice and catchy tune can definitely help a practice spread. If we would know when the current popular tune for Yomim came together, that might help a lot in tracking and dating the practice.

Note: This post is a bit different than our typical fare, but since this site functions as a minhogim discussion forum in general, in addition to its role with regard to minhag Ashkenaz in particular, such things have a place here as well.

* Re the singing of Yomim – if one looks at peirushim of the verse in Tehillim, one can well wonder if its use as a gedolim welcome song is not out of place, according to poshut pshat there – see Rashi on it for example. See here for more on that.

Lag Baomer In The Eyes Of The Litvishe Tradition: R. Dov Halbertal’s Critique, Rendered Into English – ל”ג בעומר בעיני גדולי ומסורת ליטא

May 1, 2013

(Although I posted about R. Halbertal’s piece earlier this week, I noticed that many readers did not click on the link to his Hebrew article there, thereby missing out on the full flavor and power of the piece. Since I believe it reflects well, to a great degree, the viewpoint of the Ashkenazic tradition in general, as well as the Litvishe way, and is therefore worthy of wider dissemination, I decided to attempt an English rendering of it, which follows. It is not an authorized translation in consultation with R. Halbertal, so I cannot claim to have captured his every point and nuance, but I think it conveys his message, generally speaking.

Note: Some of the phenomena that R. Halbertal is reacting to may not be familiar to readers who have not been to Meron, as well as readers in the diaspora, so please keep that in mind before jumping to conclusions.)

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In recent years, there is developing and spreading a phenomenon that sees in the Lag Baomer celebrations a מצוה גדולה (great mitzvah), which is almost obligatory. The day is not far when people will be embarrassed if they did not take part in the pilgrimage to the tomb of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai, and the celebrations surrounding it. All this with great support and backing, along with strong promotion, from the secular and religious media.

I do not come, חלילה, to damage the old traditions of ascending to the kever and kindling lights and praying there. However, in recent years, the phenomenon has gotten out of hand, exceeding its actual importance and proper boundaries.

Relating to such a phenomenon requires introspection regarding the position of גדולי ישראל, the great leaders of the Jewish people, with regard to it. In one of his talks, Rav Schach remarked that the Lag Baomer celebrations are not a ‘great mitzvah’ – that the Chazon Ish was very meticulous in his pursuit of mitzvos, and if it was such a great mitzvah he would have been pursued it, and ascended to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai himself. Rav Elyashiv as well, was asked a great many times about it,  especially in the later years, with the growth of the phenomenon. His response was given in various formulations, such as ‘I was never there’, ‘Rav Shimon (Bar Yochai) is in the Mishnah’, and so on.

And if the Chazon Ish, Rav Schach, Rav Elyashiv, Roshei Yeshivos, and many other gedolim, saw in Lag Baomer a day to be emphasized with a strengthening of Torah learning, can we know better than they? What is all the great streaming to Meron, and the multiplicity of ceremonies, that lack commonality with the world of these paramount leaders, who shaped the way of Torah and the world of Yeshivos in the land of Israel?

The coarseness that surrounds the day threatens the centrality of Torah learning 

One can say that the great drift and the developing trend surrounding the day, that sees the celebration of Lag Baomer at the tomb of Rashbi as an obligatory commandment, stems in great measure from the fact that the chiloni (non orthodox) public, which seeks Jewish identity without properly finding it, finds it proper to perform commandments according to the inclinations of their emotions, which do not stem from a sense of obligation.

Similarly, the ease of traveling there, and the many ‘tikkunim’ that are performed for many problems there, encourage and contribute to the phenomenon. The various media contribute to the development of the phenomenon, directly or indirectly, by way of extended and detailed descriptions of the celebrations of the day, and interviews with public personalities and Rabbis who proclaim great importance to the ascent to the tomb and related matters.

The vulgarity that surrounds the various circles of the religious public at these celebrations threatens the centrality of Torah learning, and the understanding that that is the true will of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai, rather than the transformation of the day to a full day of celebration and partying, that is not accepted by the recorders of oral traditions, and transmitters of our tradition.

I write all this because, it seems to me, that people have even ceased to talk about it.


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