R. Israel Baal Shem Tov Davened Nusach Ashkenaz – ר’ ישראל בעל שם טוב התפלל נוסח אשכנז

May 28, 2017

On Shavuos is the yohrzeit of the founder of the Chasidic movement, R. Israel Baal Shem Tov.

It seems that there is significant evidence that he davened nusach Ashkenaz. A site devoted to him says as much.

See section ה. סידורי הבעש”ט, where the writer states וכידוע ומוכח שהבעש”ט הקדוש התפלל נוסח זה בלבד ולא שינה ממסורת אבות חסידי אשכנז (and as known, and is shown, that he davened that nusach alone and did not change from the tradition of his ancestors, the pious of Ashkenaz). Pretty strong words there (h/t).

There was an important, extensive article on this topic a few years ago by רב יש”י כהן in the קולמוס special Torah supplement of משפחה magazine, which can be seen here (at a Lubavitcher website – where, although some try to obfuscate things, the essential facts remain).

So for those of the Chasidic persuasion who want to follow in his footsteps, now you know what nusach to daven.

יה”ר שנזכה לקבלת התורה באמת ובפנימיות ע”פ המסורה הקדושה הישנה שלנו

Lag Baomer: Who Is In The Driver’s Seat? ל”ג בעומר: מי הוא הנוהג? להסתכל ולציית לגדולי הדור –

May 12, 2017

In a Torah society, people are expected to look to גדולי ישראל, sages and elders, for direction.

If your Rav, Rosh Yeshiva, Poseik, Rebbe, is not going to Meron on Lag Baomer, and not dancing around a bonfire enthusiastically, that is making a statement. He doesn’t have to shout from the rooftops, or issue a formal letter not to do those things. Real followers understand. Actions speak louder than words.

A major problem with Lag Baomer nowadays, is that certain things some people do seem to be driven by the relatively unlettered masses, the המון עם,  literal youngsters (at times even under bar mitzvah age), PR, and travel agent advertising, or even sometimes low(er) level leaders, rather than by גדולי ומנהיגי הדור. That is a major problem.

In some cases leaders may go along with something begrudgingly, in an attempt to prevent greater damage, ר”ל (e.g. go along with an authorized bonfire to prevent unauthorized, more dangerous ones), as אהרן הכהן did in the episode of the עגל הזהב. Nevertheless, שומר נפשו ירחק מזה. People in the know realize that such situations are not ideal, that the leader’s full heart is not in it, and they recall how things ended in the Torah, ה’ ירחם.

In the zechus of truly following גדולי הדור באמת, may we be zoche to וטהר לבנו לעבדך באמת.

א גוטען שבת


How to Make Your Kedushah More Heavenly, Angelic, and Powerful – איך לעשות הקדושה בעוה”ז יותר כמו הקדושה של המלאכים בשמי מרום ויותר חזקה

December 1, 2016

                            A look at kedushah in davening

Kedushah is one of the most important, and prominent, parts of davening. So much so, that a typical regular Shul goer will say it  three times each standard weekday morning with his minyan: once in ברכות קריאת שמע, once in חזרת הש”ץ, and once before aleinu (קדושה דסידרא).

It should be noted, however, that the three קדושה recitations are not totally identical  and interchangeable.

The first one, in the ברכת יוצר אור, appears in a context of a more lengthy and more detailed description of the heavenly sphere, and how the angels there praise הקב”ה.

The second one, in the shliach tzibbur’s חזרת הש”ץ, is an attempt by us humans in actual angelic imitation, sanctifying Hashem’s name in this world, as it is done in the heavens above (as per the introductory words to it). To that end, not only do people say it standing, in the manner of מלאכים above (as opposed to the other two, which are typically said seated), but they also customarily recite it with legs and feet together as well, imitating the posture of the angels, as well as rocking up and down on their toes at certain points for the same reason.

The third one, is done by reading the פסוקים (verses) as given in תנ”ך, accompanied by their Aramaic targum (translation),  surrounded by a collection of other verses from various places.

The special status of the kedushah of the שמונה עשרה historically

We have shown so far that the קדושה דעמידה (standing kedushah during the repetition of שמונה עשרה), is special, and different than the other two recitations, being an exercise in actual angelic imitation.

Since it is already treated in such a special manner, it would be quite appropriate to elevate and strengthen it even more, if possible, within the bounds of our tradition, by extending the angelic imitation even further. In fact, if we look into the matter thoroughly,  we will learn that in ancient days (and to this day in part or full in some communities), the קדושה דעמידה was recited differently than the most commonly practiced way of the present.

How exactly was it done, you may ask? The answer is, that as opposed to the congregation saying the introductory segment of נקדש את שמך בעולם, וכו, in addition to the חזן leading the prayers, that segment (as well as other segments not being actual pesukim recited up above) was reserved for, and recited solely by, the שליח ציבור, with the congregation listening to it in absolute silence, in a hallowed hush that came over the assemblage. That extended hallowed hush, a thunderous speaking silence, brought an additional aura of heavenly holiness to the proceedings, cultivating the proper mood for the actual kedushah to shortly follow. Those that have merited to experience this very special and historic manner of saying kedushoh know what I mean.

In ancient times, that was the way of saying this kedushoh. Both in אשכנז and ספרד. In recent centuries, however, many people and congregations departed from it (often in a mistaken belief that they were following an alternate way of the Arizal), to the point where today, it is a practice followed only by a minority. But this venerable, meaningful, and powerful מנהג ותיקין is still practiced, known, and cherished, by connoisseurs of tefillah and old minhogim, and stands waiting, with ancient, venerable dignity for restoration to the position of common practice that it had in the past (as we discussed previously, based on a psak of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l).

      Some reasons for conducting קדושה דעמידה the ancient way:

1) The angels don’t give such introductions before saying this kedushah on high. So why should we, when claiming to imitate their practice, do so? (ר’ דוד אבודרהם , renowned Sepharadic ראשון).

2) Practical benefits of increased focus it brings to קדושה, with more power, and ancient aura added. For those who have never experienced it, try it sometime. It grows on you too.

To focus in on this a bit more, and elaborate on how it works, I am adding some analysis, as it seems from here, לעניות דעתי, based on a typical נוסח אשכנז weekday קדושה.

a) The introduction, נקדש, וכו, is, by far, the longest segment of the kedushah, at a length of 18 words. The other parts that are not pesukim, namely לעומתם ברוך יאמרו, and ובדברי קדשך כתוב לאמר are an additional 7 words. That computes to a total of 25 words for what we can call the instructional and explanatory segments.

b) The essence of the kedushah, on the other hand, the actual פסוקים, total just 21 words.

Those who make the tzibbur say both parts a and b, are having them recite forty six words. On the other hand, those who limit them to the pesukim only, give them just twenty one words to say. So the second way then, reduces by more than 50% the required recitation, enabling a better focus on the essence that remains. It is known that requiring people to say more words, can lead to increased speed, and a dimunition of kavannah. As stated in the first siman of שלחן ערוך אורח חיים, quality trumps quantity, טוב מעט בכוונה מהרבות בלא כוונה.  

3) Say the קדושה of the מלאכים the way the ראשונים כמלאכים said it. Experience the kedushah of the רא”ש, בעל הטורים, מהר”ם מרוטנברג, מהרי”ל, ריטב”א, רשב”א, רבינו יונה, וכו’, וכו

                       For further study and contemplation

For those who wish to learn more about this, the matter is discussed at greater length in the great שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק א (an updated and expanded version of the long out of print volume awaits sponsorship for publication at this time), as well as in the Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz English language synopsis volume.

כידוע למבינים, a slight bit of tweaking, of adjustment, can go a very long way, and bring a huge payoff in the form of greatly enhanced results. That goes for things like a car tune up, a Chanukah menorah, a cooking light, as well as with עבודה שבלב, and our קדושה recitation.

This beautiful minhog has been preserved through the centuries (in greater or lesser measure) by followers of מנהג אשכנז in German lands, as well as some others, for example people who follow מנהג הגר”א מווילנא. Hopefully those in this new seeking generation who are not yet familiar with it, will grant it the consideration and respect it so rightfully deserves.


יה”ר שבזכות החזרת עטרה ליושנה נזכה במהרה להחזרת השכינה בשלמות למקומה

א גוטען חודש

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