What Selichos Can Learn From Kinnos – מה שאמירת סליחות יכול ללמוד מאמירת קינות של ט’ אב

September 30, 2016

In recent years there has been a growing movement for מנינים on תשעה באב to have a learned person speak about קינות of the day, preceding each קינה with words of introduction and explanation. This helps make the kinnos more meaningful, by helping people better understand what is being said, as well as by slowing down the pace of the davening. In the past we have shared a proposal for treating פיוטים similarly.

In this time of the year, when סליחות are said, we might consider similar treatment for them as well. Kinnos and Selichos are actually alike, in that they are different types of piyyutim, complete with difficult language and esoteric allusions. So what is good for piyyutim and kinnos should be good for selichos as well. Just a relative few words of learned explanation (a good translation/elucidation text helps as well, of course)  can transform lip service, ח”ו, to serious, heartfelt davening.

יה”ר שבתפלה בכוונה ובהבנה נזכה לתשובה שלמה ולכתיבה וחתימה טובה

Arizal: Ashkenazim Should Follow The Way Of Ashkenaz – האריז”ל: אשכנזים ינהגו כמנהג אשכנז

August 9, 2016

Today, ה’ אב, is the 444th yohrzeit (יום השנה) of the renowned Arizal (מדת האר”י), one of the most influential figures in the Jewish world in recent centuries.

The Ari z”l was born to a Sepharadic mother and an Ashkenazic father. His father passed away when he was eight years old, however, and he grew up in a Sepharadic environment. To give some perspective timewise, he lived about two hundred years before the modern Chasidic movement of Eastern Europe, which views itself as connected to and influenced by him. One prominent way in which this relationship is seen, is with regard to נוסח התפלה, with almost all Chasidim having adopted a new nusach, referred to by some as nusach Sfard, and by others as nusach Ari.

Interestingly enough, however, the Arizal himself, hundreds of years ago, is recorded as having regularly stated that people should stick to their ancestral customs, and that Ashkenazim should stick to מנהג אשכנז.

That teaching of the אר”י is brought by the של”ה in sefer דרך חיים on the words איש על דגלו באותות לבית אבותם in במדבר ב:ב.

A good thing to know. The Arizal respected the way of Ashkenaz.

ובזכות הליכה בדרכי אבותינו ורבותינו הקדושים, יה”ר שנזכה לילך בפעמי אבותינו בארץ קדשנו, בדרך העולה בית א-ל, בנחמת ציון וירושלים בב”א

א גוטען חודש

How Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev Learned to Respect Nusach Ashkenaz -איך ר’ לוי יצחק מברדיטשוב למד להחשיב נוסח אשכנז

June 30, 2016

In various sources, an interesting story regarding the famed Chasidic leader R. Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev is related, related to nusach hatefilloh, along the following lines.

Some years after the petira of the famed Rav Zvi Hirsch (Horowitz) of Czortkov, Reb Levi Yitzchok spent a Shabbos there and prayed in the Shul where R. Zvi Hirsch used to daven. The shul’s minhog was to daven nusach Ashkenaz, as R. Zvi Hirsch did. Reb Levi Yitzchok nevertheless led the prayers in nusach Sfard, as was his wont. All of a sudden, he fell deeply asleep, and dreamed that Rav Zvi Hirsch was standing over him, rebuking him in a vein of ‘How did you dare change the local accepted nusach after I worked so hard to make a path to heaven for the tefillos thus said’?

Upon this scathing rebuke, Reb Levi Yitzchok ceased leading the prayers in nusach Sfard.

The story can be seen in English in the book “Mamma Used to Say: Pearls of Wisdom from the World of Yiddish“, on page eighty seven (at times it can be seen online in the book preview via the attached link).

It can also be seen in Hebrew here (top of page twenty eight).

Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev is one of the best known and loved Chasidic leaders of all time, a legendary and iconic figure. So this story is a מעשה רב, a story of a leader that is to be looked to for guidance by his followers. וממנו ילמדו אחרים וכן יעשו אי”ה, אכי”ר.

To our dear friends and supporters, א גוטען זומער!

Chasidic Leader Articulates Anti-Lag Baomer Bonfire Stance – אדמו”ר נגד מדורה בל”ג בעומר

May 25, 2016

Over twenty years ago, a leading Chasidic leader laid out a case against having a Lag Baomer bonfire in New York at his Yeshiva in a public address. It seems that some in his community wanted to make one, even though it wasn’t the tradition of the group, but he spoke out strongly against such an innovation.

Due to the time of the year we are in now, and the fact that many people are under the false impression that all Chasidim are for lighting bonfires on Lag Baomer, I feel it is timely to share from the address he gave (the address was in Yiddish. A partial recording is online, but is not ideal for sharing due to some problems with it. So I will share some excerpts from it, translated).

The Rebbe said that a Lag Baomer bonfire was not seen or heard, not by their forefathers or Rebbes. Lag Baomer was observed for hundreds of years in Europe (where his Chasidic group originated), by Chasidishe Yidden, who were דבוק בתורת ר’ שמעון בר יוחאי (strongly attached to the teachings of R. Shimon bar Yochai), who celebrated and felt a special elevation on the day they held as his yahrzeit, but it was not with a bonfire that these feelings were manifested.

He then continues on to say that in Eretz Yisroel there is a bonfire custom, which started in Meron, and due to the fact that it was difficult for some people to go there, they did it in other locations there as well.

Lag Baomer, the Rebbe continued, is an Eretz Yisroel Yom tov. The velt says that Lag Baomer was given to Eretz Yisroel Yidden as a compensation for not having Yom tov sheini shel galuyos – יום טוב שני of the diaspora.

The Rebbe states that if we don’t know what to do, we go to the בית מדרש and study what our tradition is. He also points out that there are no ‘halachos’ regarding Lag Baomer bonfires, e.g. how large should it be – one story, two stories, עד לב השמים, how long should it burn, etc., which could bring to a situation of unhealthy competition among some to make a larger fire, add fuel, and so on. There is a danger in innovating customs, as who knows where it could lead in the future, היום אומר לו עשה כך, ולמחר אומר לו עשה כך, וכו, what might happen in future years. He then, warning of innovating practices seemingly under the guise of piety, of a יצה”ר המתלבש בגארטעל, not in accordance with tradition, cited the words from Tehillim  שמרה נפשי כי חסיד אני

The point of sharing this is to let people know (although we have touched on it before, see previous posts) that the Lag Baomer bonfire, especially, but not exclusively in the diaspora, is a point of major contention even among Chasidim, not practiced by certain major Chasidic groups (e.g. Gur, Satmar Williamsburg, Bobov, Lubavitch, etc.), and is by no means a universal practice. They should not be fooled by all the publicity, photos, videos, etc., to think that is a universal custom. All the more so among non-Chasidim, particularly Ashkenazim. No one should think that ‘everyone is doing it’, so they should ‘go along with the crowd’, because that is not the case.

When one adds to the equation the dangers of the fires – see e.g. multiple strong warnings in Eretz Yisroel this year warning of the dangers of the fires, e.g. this strong general warning, this warning specifically re eye danger, these guidelines from מד”א, and this directed to women, based on sad experience of injuries, ר”ל, from the past, the choice for us is clear – stick to your ancestral minhog, מנהג אבות, and stay away from the bonfire custom. The מצוה דאורייתא involving fire of the spring has already passed, a bit over a month ago, on erev Pesach, when the chometz was burned. Lag Baomer is a not a Pesach sheini for fire.

With wishes of a spiritually and physically healthy and safe Lag Baomer…..

P.S. Also noteworthy this year, for those who didn’t see it yet, is the strong statement from the ראשון לציון (echoed by his brother as well) against a mass pilgrimage to Meron. He urges his Sephardic brethren to emulate ליטאים שיושבים ולומדים בל”ג בעומר rather than those others who journey to Meron then.

Spring Mesorah Challenges – מסורה בשבוע אחר פסח

May 5, 2016

We have just finished Pesach, a יום טוב in which our traditions are shared and passed on to children and descendants.

Right afterward, however, we are already confronted with some challenges which test if we have sufficiently internalized the importance of מסורה.

The very evening of מוצאי פסח, some people try to impress upon us their custom of greetings others then with the words “א גוטען זומער” (“a gutten zummer” – “a good summer”). But we know that summer does not start in the month of ניסן, not even in the end of the month. We know that חז”ל comment, referencing the words מוציא אסירים בכושרות – that Hashem took us out of מצרים in a nice month, without extreme weather (not summer or winter, for example), in a time that was conducive to journeying. We also know that חודש ניסן is called by the Torah חודש האביב, the month of spring. In פרשת נח we are told of six seasons of the year, two months for each. It is clear then that Nissan is not the summer. שמור את חודש האביב – watch the month of Nissan – don’t call it something it isn’t, such as summer.

Another example comes a short time later, as the first Shabbos after Pesach approaches. Some of the same circles then are promoting a custom of ‘schlissel challah’ (שליסעל חלה), a practice from outside of מסורת אשכנז that has been questioned on various grounds. While its proponents would like you to believe that “everyone is doing it”, actually, not only it is not part of the mesorah of great segments of כלל ישראל, such as יהדות אשכנז, אובערלאנד, ליטא, ספרד, תימן, וכו, it is not even universally practiced in their own Chasidic camp (for example, אוצר מנהגי חב”ד, p.253, reports that it is not minhag Lubavitch).

No one should be ‘stampeded’ into adopting such practices foreign to their mesorah, in the mistaken belief that ‘everyone is doing it’. Because it just ain’t so. “Everyone” is not doing it. A mythical “everyone” is not our פוסק anyway.

In שיר השירים, which we read on Pesach, we are given guidelines for how we should conduct ourselves. We are told צאי לך בעקבי הצאן – go in the footsteps of your holy ancestors. Our ancestors were not fools, ח”ו. If they did not follow these new practices, we should not either.

In the זכות of going in the ways of our holy מסורה, may we be זוכה to a strengthening and intensifying of our connection with the תורה הקדושה, as we are taught in Pirkei Avos that מסורת סייג לתורה.

א גוטען שבת און א גוטען חודש

Memories of Seder Night With Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l – זכרונות מליל הסדר עם רב שמעון שוואב זצ”ל

April 21, 2016

In an engaging and entertaining presentation last year, R. Yosef Chaim Schwab shlit”a, shared various tidbits from, להבחל”ח, his father Rav Shimon Schwab זצ”ל on Pesach seder night, with various other, related, interesting pieces thrown in for good measure.

Following are some nuggets from the talk (some of you may already be familiar with them, but for those who aren’t, as well as those who might enjoy a chazara, and additional details, we share it). Times in the recording are approximate.

There is a mitzvoh of והגדת לבנך (you should relate to your son about the Exodus) –  in America they changed it to והגדת לאביך (the child tells it to his father). The meaning of the Biblical הגדה is like a monologue, as opposed to a dialogue.

Why is there no ברכה of shehechiyanu recited on biur chametz? Answer given – it is not recited when something is destroyed.

Why is a kittel worn at the seder? (40:00)

Ma nishtana – why is the term rather not למה נשתנה instead, as typically used for questions?

Why is there no ma nishtana on other Yomim tovim, which have unique practices as well?

What Rav Schwab zt”l asked his son after he visited the zoo with his children (about zebra stripes) (18:30).

Why is there no ברכה of בא”י אמ”ה שעשה ניסים לאבותנו בימים ההם בזמן הזה on Pesach? That is what hagada is, as stated re why there is no הלל on Purim (one explanation given), because the megillah reading takes that role.

Why do some people dip four times during the seder, e.g. adding dipping the Koreich sandwich in charoses, as well as matza in salt, when in the מה נשתנה it says that we dip twice? Rav Schwab, and other respected authorities advocated strictly dipping two times only, so he felt should be done to be true to the הגדה and honest.

מעשה ברבי אליעזר, ורבי יהושע, ורבי אלעזר בן עזריה, ורבי עקיבא, ורבי  טרפון, וכו  – Why are these five in Bnei Brak singled out? There were many others doing so, having sedorim, were there not? These were descendants of groups that were not subjugated in mitzrayim, being e.g. Leviim, or in the case of Rabbi Akiva, a ben Gerim.

Meaning of the expression חוטפין את המצות – get to matzos/afikoman quickly – you can be מאריך later 22:35 app. The famous Rishon known as “The Mordechai” says that in olden days they ate first, and then said the הגדה, so the children would be around for the eating. Not to  be overly lengthy in saying the haggodoh before the meal(22:35.

Rav Schwab was opposed to the idea of (even) children (even) playfully “stealing” the afikoman (see here for more on that). That term should be avoided.

A vort from R. Shimon Schwab’s father about צפון (tzafun) (26:50).

Numerological  discussion re the numbers four, seven, and others.

The connection of modern human rights doctrine to יציאת מצרים.

R. Shimon Schwab’s father, החבר ר’ יהודה שוואב ז”ל, asked his five sons  (dubbed by some חמשה חומשי תורה) which one of four types of sons of the הגדה do you want to be? Four gave the same answer, but one son, the later ר’ מרדכי שוואב, differed. Hear why (44:55).

He (R. Shimon’s father) also said to them, I want you to know boys, I love you very much, but if you go against the Torah, I don’t want to know you (quite different from the “unconditional love” doctrine advocated by some educators today) (45:50).

חג כשר ושמח

Parah Piyyut Podcast Video: מבוא לפיוטי פרשת פרה

April 1, 2016

A short video has just been posted online about the piyutim for this Shabbos, Parashas Poroh.


It gives an introduction to some of the music and meaning involved, giving a nice flavor to the text and practice. Hopefully we will see additional, expanded such efforts in the future, to share the beauty of the practice of reciting the special piyutim with those not attuned to it yet.

א גוטען שבת


Poetic Justice: Piyyutim Get Some Overdue Attention – חיבורים חדשים רמי מעלה על פיוטים

March 3, 2016

Once again, we are at that time of the year, as winter winds down, just weeks from Purim ב”ה, the beginning of one of the high seasons of piyyutim in Shul. It is no secret that piyyutim are a ‘hard sell’ for numerous people, and that many have long abandoned them.

But there is yet hope. With a comprehensive, intelligent approach, that shows the wisdom and beauty within them to people, rather than trying to force feed them to the masses, inroads and advances can be, and are being made, in perpetuating their ancient, holy legacy.

In recent years there has been a profusion of new, improved siddurim issued. Piyyutim, however, have gotten a lot less attention. Understandable, on the one hand, after all, they are not the same as regular tefilloh, but nevertheless cause for concern if they didn’t yet get their fair share of attention perhaps.

In that vein, some recent publications featured at the מכון מורשת אשכנז website are a hopeful sign, specifically two works on piyyutim which have come out in the last half year or so, adorned with the blessings of מורנו הרב המבורגר שליט”א and others.

(Of course, there have been other fine works previously  issued on piyyutim in recent decades, but some were quite academic, of limited circulation, etc., great for the more scholarly among us, but not necessarily a perfect fit for the המון עם, the masses of daveners. And/or they may have focused on more widely recited parts of the poetic heritage we have, omitting other, lesser known, but still worthy segments. The fine new works of which we speak, attempt to fill gaps left in the past.)

The most recent new work in the category of which we speak, which includes piyutim for the special Shabbosos of the ‘ארבע פרשיות’, which we are about to start, בס”ד, is very new, ‘hot off the press’, as some might put it.

title page

With skillfull innovation, scholarly, but not overly weighty and tedious, features, introductions, and explanatory comments, it was put together as a machzor for the masses. It has already gotten some nice publicity, and is worth looking at. You can get a taste of it via the Machzor Shivchei Yeshurun website.

We wish the people involved in these initiatives ברכה והצלחה, and hope that they continue to progress מעלה מעלה with their worthwhile activities לטובת הציבור.

Oberlander Ashkenaz Rebbe: Rav Yochanan Schreiber-Sofer of Erlau zt”l – אדמו”ר נוסח אשכנז-אוברלנד: רב יוחנן סופר מערלוי זצ”ל

February 26, 2016

We wrote in the past about a Polish Rebbe that davened nusach Ashkenaz, but that was some time ago. In recent days the frum press has been writing about another “Rebbe” who davened nusach Ashkenaz as well, along with his kehillah. We are writing, of course, about אדמו”ר מערלוי, ר’ יוחנן סופר זצ”ל, who was niftar just a few days ago.  The Erlau (or Erloi) Rebbe, R. Sofer, like R. Shmuel Wosner zt”l, who’s lesser known Ashkenaz side was discussed here a while back, was actually from, and part of, the Oberlander Hungarian nusach Ashkenaz community, which is not so well known to outsiders, and is often confused with other groups.

For R. Sofer, this background, being a descendant of the great Chasam Sofer, towering iconic leader of Hungarian Jewry, particularly the Oberlander segment of it (after moving to Oberland from Germany), was very important, and he worked hard to make sure it continued. עד כדי כך, that not only did he issue many seforim of Torah from משפחת החתם סופר זצ”ל,  his kehillah faithfully kept the nusach hatefillah of the Chasam Sofer and Oberland, נוסח אשכנז. Even more so, Erlau even wears tefillin for morning davening on חול המועד openly, בפרהסיא, in ירושלים עיה”ק at their בית מדרש, as per their ancestral minhog (as is done in a number of other congregations in ארץ ישראל as well, contrary to popular belief). No gartel either. Interestingly, many people considered him a Chasidic Rebbe nevertheless, despite such ‘infractions’.

May the zechus of clinging to the מסורה of Oberland stand in his merit, and may his descendants and talmidim continue in that special path.


Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer zt”l Film: The Man and His Life – סרט על חיי הרב לוי יוסף ברייער זצ”ל ופעליו

January 2, 2016

Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer zt”l: A Loving Tribute RDJB

Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer zt”l: A Loving Tribute 

A fine professional film on the life of Rav Breuer and his famous kehillah in NY, prepared for a YRSRH dinner years ago, with historical footage, alongside reminiscences of family, talmidim, kehillah members, and prominent personalities.

Learn the story of the man behind “Breuer’s”.