The endangered species list is widely known, and has been very successful in raising awareness of the danger of extinction of species among the general public, since it was introduced in the United States decades ago. This increased public awareness, combined with legal protection, has brought about a great shift, and some species have recovered to the point where they have been removed from the list.
Threats to species can arise from various factors, such as newly introduced, aggressive, exotic species threatening or crowding out more docile native ones, loss of habitat, and imported insects and diseases.
Whereas in the past, great distances, deserts, and oceans, were barriers that lent protection to the status quo, nowadays with cheap and easy modern transportation and shipping, exotic invasive animals, plants, germs, microbes, and diseases, get around easily, and can create havoc far and wide.
A similar situation prevails with regard to minhogim.
Minhogim are not static. They wax and wane in popularity, and sometimes even disappear. Highly aggressive, invasive minhogim (or perhaps more correctly their bearers and promoters) can threaten ancient, more docile ones. A foreign minhog that seems attractive and fun can quickly gain a foothold, and gradually displace a pre-existing one that may not be as cute or colorful, but may be more authentic and correct.
This can happen relatively quietly, without much protest, since religious Jews are often reluctant to argue about such things, fearing machlokes. The foreign custom can soon become entrenched, and proceed to grow to the point of posing a danger to an old established minhog.
The imported minhogim threatening the natives can come from a child’s teachers in Yeshiva, ארץ ישראל, a neighbor, or a new sefer.
Perhaps making people aware of the threat to endangered minhogim can help keep them alive, בס”ד. With that goal in mind, I propose an endangered minhogim list. As with the endangered species list, not all of the minhogim are equally in danger. Some may be on the verge of extinction at present, while others may be just gradually diminishing in their spread and acceptance over a long period of time. While my focus here is on Ashkenazic minhogim, other minhogim can fit the bill as well. Nominations are welcome.
Following are a few examples of what I have in mind for such a list.
1) Singing לדוד ברוך before ma’ariv on motzaei Shabbos in Shul, an ancient minhog with an ancient tune.
2) Only one person recites kaddish at a time (as opposed to the Sepharadic group kaddish).
3) Saying פיוטים in Shul on special occasions, such as the ארבע פרשיות, and on יום טוב.
4) A Shul having an authentic (raised platform) bimah (as opposed to just an inclined structure or table on the same floor level as the rest of the furniture).
5) The שליח ציבור wearing a tallis when leading davening, even for mincha and maariv.
Each threatened minhog should have a detailed proposal nominating it for inclusion on the list. In future posts we may do just that.
יה”ר that this proposal should be at least as successful as the endangered species list in raising awareness of this issue among the public, and help protect our ancient treasures.
Note: Just to be clear, I am talking about legitimate minhogim that are worthy of preservation, not minhogim that are in the categories of minhag shtus – מנהג שטות (nonsensical minhag), and minhag taus – מנהג טעות (a mistaken minhag). Some things are best consigned to the ash heap of history.
Tags: Endangered minhogim