The Noam Elimelech on changing from nusach Ashkenaz to nusach Sfard: Not a simple matter!

The discussion of the previous topic spurred me to look for the letter cited of the Noam Elimelech, one of the legendary fathers of the modern Chassidic movement, whose yahrzeit is כא אדר (according to what is written here, it should be observed in both Adars during a leap year, like this year).

It is in the back of the sefer נועם אלימלך, where he responds to a letter from a friend of his asking if he should change the nusach and daven nusach Sfard.

Perhaps surprisingly to us, the Noam Elimelech places strict conditions on making such a change. If a person is not on a very high madreiga, he says, חלילה to daven nusach Sfard. The letter can be seen here, courtesy of the wonderful website.

Also interesting is that the Noam Elimelech says that he didn’t grasp that nusach for a long time, until he became old.

So we see that it was not a light matter then, even to such a great early Chassidic leader, to just change the nusach.


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5 Responses to “The Noam Elimelech on changing from nusach Ashkenaz to nusach Sfard: Not a simple matter!”

  1. Dr. Yitzchok Levine Says:

    I believe that there is a teshuva written by Reb Moshe Feinstein, ZT”L, in which someone asked him if he could switch from Nusach Sefard to Nusach Ashkenaz. He replied in the affirmative, pointing out that this fellow’s ancestors originally davened Ashkenaz!

    In fact, I am pretty sure that Reb Moshe held that one could change from Sefard to Ashkenaz, but not from Ashkenaz to Sefard, unless, of course, one comes for a “real” Sephardi (oriental) background.

    As I wrote earlier, one of the big points of contention between chassidim and misnagdim was the fact that the chassidim change from Nusach Ashkenaz to what we call Nusach Sefard. Indeed, how could they abandon the practice of their fathers, grandfathers, etc.?

    One should keep in mind that the Nusach Sefard that chassidim and others daven today is not the “real” Nusach Sefard that the oriental Jews daven.

  2. Zvika Says:

    A Sephardic friend of mine said that what we call Nusach Sefard is essentially the 17th/18th century mainstream Sephardic nusach, albeit slightly modified. Since that point in time, the Sephardic nusach has dramatically changed. Apparently, 17th/18th century Chassidish and Sephardic siddurim were pretty similar.

  3. Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

    It is my impression that the differences are greater than that.

    Furthermore, I am not sure what you friend meant exactly with his remarks. Did he mean that Chassidic ‘nusach Sfard’ is like the pre-Arizal Sepharadic siddur? If so, that is not what the Chassidim were trying to tap into, as far as I know. They were very interested in the the Arizal, not just generic Sepharadim, as far as I know.

    If something else, I am not aware of what would have caused a dramatic change after the dates given.

  4. Zvika Says:

    Well, the modern differences between “Nusach Sfard” and any Sephardic nusach are quite substantial.

    My friend’s point was that a Chassidic “Nusach Sefard” siddur was similar to an old Sephardic siddur prior to the changes I am guessing were made much later on in history. I’d have to ask him about it.

    I’ve heard different explanations as to why Chassdim adopted the Sephardic Nusach. The most common one is that the Sephardic Nusach was perceived to be more spiritual due to the infusion of mysticism that was already present in their Tefillot. The other common explanation was that it was perceived to be an older Nusach and therefore more authentic than NA. The first explanation makes sense, seeing as Chassidim tend to prefer prayers infused with mysticism. The second one could be true, but I seriously doubt that is the reason, even if it were true.

    Regardless, it’s something that should definitely be researched.

  5. Dr. Yitzchok Levine Says:

    ARI stands for Ashkenazi Rabbi Itzchok.


    The Ari Hakadosh was born in Yerushalayim in 5294. He descended from an illustrious line of Torah scholars. His father, Rav Shlomo Luria Ashkenazi, is believed to have been a descendent of Rav Yechiel Luria, av beis din of Brisk, and famed author of “Chochmas Shlomo” on Shas, and the equally well known “Yam Shel Shlomo.”
    The name Ashkenazi denotes Rav Shlomo Luria’s affiliation with the very small Ashkenazic community that lived in Yerushalayim about 450 years ago, and was led by the famed Rav Klonimus of Brisk.
    Although Rav Klonimus had held a prestigious position in Brisk, serving as av beis din and rosh yeshiva, he longed to live in Eretz Yisroel, where he felt he would achieve ultimate closeness with Hashem. When the Turkish emperor, Suliman the Magnificent, known for his compassionate attitude toward Jews, conquered Yerushalayim, Rav Klonimus realized his dream and moved to Eretz Yisroel, settling in Yerushalayim.

    According to his mother was Sephardic.

    Thus the ARI stems from Ashkenazim and it is hard for me to believe that he changed from the Nusach that his father davened. Indeed, someone I know claimed that the ARI personally davened Nusach Ashkenaz.

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