‘Sephardic Yekkes’ – Western Sepharadim And Some Of Their Yekke minhogim – מנהגי אשכנז אצל הספרדים של מערב אירופה, וצפון ודרום אמריקה

A great sefer for research on minhogim, among other things, is the sefer כתר שם טוב, penned by the Chacham R. Shem Tov Gaguine, a great Sepharadic talmid chochom, who was a Rav in England, among other places. Some of the volumes are available via the great Hebrewbooks.org website.

I have recently become more acquainted with it, and have found some very interesting things there.

I have seen a number of cases, where, surprisingly, the minhogim of Spanish and Portugese Sepharadic communities discussed there are the same as those of Yekkes. The Western European Sepharadim are a community parallel to the Yekkes among Ashkenazim in a way and to a degree, in that they preserved certain old Spanish minhogim like the Yekkes have preserved old Ashkenaz ones. So that points to old traditions of ספרד and אשכנז  being in accordance with regard to those matters.

I assume that as time goes on I may אי”ה find even more such correspondences, but for now I will share a few such cases.

1) בריך שמיה is not said when the ספר תורה is taken out.

2) The section starting  רבונו של עולם הריני מוחל is not recited in the beginning of קריאת שמע על המטה (see footnote toward bottom of page).

3) Upsherin custom not known to them.

4) Tefillas Rav is not said in Rosh Chodesh bentching (footnotes).

5) It states that the old minhog in London was that on Shabbos it was announced who would say kaddish in the coming week (footnotes near bottom of page) (as only one person said kaddish at a time, as in מנהג אשכנז, as we have been discussing recently. So we see that Sepharadim practiced the singular kaddish in the old days as well).

This has bearing also with regard to early American Sepharadim and their congregations, such as the Spanish and Portugese Synagogue in NY, where some, if not all of the minhagim of the Western European Sepharadim are followed as well.

So we see that despite what people may think, Sepharadic and Ashkenazic practices are not always so different, and there can be surprising and significant convergences. After all, we are brothers, of course.

(There are other minhogim which a broader range of Sepharadim and Yekkes share as well, which רבש”ה spoke about in shiurim last time he was in the USA, which we may discuss in the future, אי”ה).

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16 Responses to “‘Sephardic Yekkes’ – Western Sepharadim And Some Of Their Yekke minhogim – מנהגי אשכנז אצל הספרדים של מערב אירופה, וצפון ודרום אמריקה”

  1. Cheski Says:

    Lot to do with eschewing any minhag based on the Zohar after Shabtai Tzvi, I suppose?

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Of the five minhogim focused on in the post,

      The first one is from the Zohar.

      The second one, I don’t recall it being from the Zohar, at least not the nusach as with בריך שמיה, but it was promoted by מקובלים so perhaps can be considered על פי קבלה. But it doesn’t seem too mystical, beyond the mention of gilgul.

      The others are not from the Zohar.

      So I would say that what you write is a factor, but it is not the only thing that is going on here.

  2. S. Says:

    And, of course, the Western Sephardim are invariably depicted in shul with broad hats and tallis over them, like the German Ashkenazim.

    On the issue of whether or not a shaliach tzibbur should not wear wool (which the Yismach Moshe defends, and claimed that the Sephardim have such a hakpada) the Chasam Sofer writes that he knows that of the Western Sephardim of Amsterdam, London and Hamburg, this is not true. (OC 16)

  3. Milhouse Says:

    The Spanish-Portuguese have no mesorah of their own; they came to Amsterdam as escaped marannos knowing nothing, and imported Sefardi rabbis from Italy and Turkey to teach them, so their minhagim are a bit of a blend and can’t be relied on for historical purposes. They were also, especially in London, a community overwhelmingly of amhoratzim; the aliyah names were in Portuguese because the congregants were not expected to know what “peticha” or “hagbaha” or “shlishi” mean. And some of their minhagim come from practical considerations, e.g. their minhag of saying selichot in maariv (which is strictly forbidden al pi kabala) come simply from not being able to get a minyan in the morning.

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Interesting. Something to look into. Maybe others can shed light on the matter.

      I am not recommending that we all adopt all their minhogim, nor that they can always be relied on for historical purposes. However, to say that there is nothing that can be gleaned from a careful study of their minhogim, a kind of a study that a gadol baTorah like R. Gaguine conducted while being among them for decades, seems to be going too far.

      Caution in drawing conclusions from their practices? Okay. Wholesale rejection of any value to them? I’m not going along with that at this time.

      Even if they were lacking in ancient mesorah, could we not say that some of their practices reflect the prevailing Sepharadic practice at the time they came into being or thereabouts? So if they came together 100-150 years after גירוש ספרד, could we not assume that some of their practices at least reflect how things were then?

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      “their minhag of saying selichot in maariv (which is strictly forbidden al pi kabala) come simply from not being able to get a minyan in the morning”

      Re selichos, I see that R. Gaguine states something like that here (bottom of footnotes).

    • S. Says:

      >The Spanish-Portuguese have no mesorah of their own, etc.

      Where to begin.

      I agree that for historical purposes (I assume by that you mean, what did they do in Spain?) this is problematic, but I object to the suggestion that the Western Sephardim aren’t authentic traditional Sephardic communities and that their own liturgies and customs are somehow not relevant.

      I’m hardly the person to break out an authority figure and try to force it on anyone, but what about the Chasam Sofer I pointed to? Since the whole idea of avoiding woolen garments was supposed to have something to do with the Ari (specifically, that it is an appropriate hanhaga for those who daven according to the nussach ari), obviously the Chasam Sofer wasn’t saying that by seeing the minhag of the masses and rabbis of the Western Sephardim we know what they did in Spain, but that we know what *Sephardim* do (and therefore we must doubt R. Moshe Teitelbaum’s contention that “Sephardim” will not wear wool when leading the tzibbur). It seems to me that he didn’t dismiss these communities as a pack of am haratzim with weak minhagim and Ottoman rabbis (or, in his time, Reverends with clean shaven faces) but he viewed them as authentic kehillos kedoshos.

  4. Zohar Says:

    Page 101, did not eat any of the Simanim of Rosh HaShanna mentioned in the Talmud Bavli, like the Yekkes.

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Hi, I’m not sure what you mean, 1) I didn’t see what you refer to on p.101 (p.101 where? In Keser Shem Tov?), and 2) Yekkes do eat simanim on Rosh Hashonoh, see discussion in KAYJ forum here.

      • S. Says:

        Is this what Yekkes do? Or more accurately, what they did 100 or 75 or 150 years ago?

        I’m not sure if I’m communicating my preliminary thought properly, but let me try: we have to distinguish somewhat between what we think of as Yekkes, people who grew up Orthodox in Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (and their immediate forebears, whom we did not have the privilege to know) and the German Jews of the 18th century and earlier. As we know, even the Orthodox in Germany changed quite a bit. The image that we have of a schulklopper, which probably evokes a shtetl in Ukraine, was a venerable institution in German villages until some time in the 19th century. A lot of people probably don’t realize that, because when they think of German Orthodox Jews they think of short jackets and so forth. But those were changes in German Orthodox society. (Likely we also do not always realize that the later German Orthodox Jews were indistinguishable in dress, name and language from the German gentiles, because they all looked so formal anyway; a 19th century gentleman dressed conservatively, with a beard, still looks nice and frum.)

        The German Orthodox accepted a certain degree of the aesthetic critique of the Reformers and implemented changes, so by the time we get to the Yekkes we know we are not necessarily seeing them practicing their Jueddischkeit as originally practiced in Ashkenaz.

        So – take the simanim. If they were viewed as superstition (as no doubt they were) is it possible that Yekkes in the 19th and 20th century did not do them, or did only a minimalist version, while the “sources” would indicate that minhag Ashkenaz was to do them?

        Since I am not a Yekke I cannot say from personal knowledge. And of course you can’t always draw conclusions from what people do today. It is possible that the Yekkes didn’t do them, and they had a renaissance in recent years. Does anyone with personal knowledge know if their German parents, grandparents, etc. did indeed do the simanim or not?

        Maybe this would explain the disparity between what “Zohar” is saying and the KAYJ forum.

      • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

        Hello Reb S.

        Your point is well taken.

        We also have to take into account differences between different places in Ashkenaz and between rural and urban Jews.

        The stereotypical modern Yekke many people think of lived in a large city. But that is a modern phenomenon, part of the great wave of urbanization of the Jews in the modern period, which was part of a great urbanization among the general population as well. But there were others that still lived in older settlements and outside the large cities.

        רבש”ה has a discussion re changes in minhogim in the hakdomoh to cheilek daled of שרשי מנהג אשכנז, see ten categories that he describes starting at p.27 here.

  5. YDL Says:

    In my family, and all of the Yekkish families that I know, the only siman that is done is the apple and honey. Anything beyond that (which is rare from my experience) is done without saying the Yehi Ratzon.

  6. Richie Says:

    Other similarities include:

    · One stands up when one’s father gets an Aliya for the whole Aliya;
    · Saying מזמור שיר ליום השבת after קריאת התורה at שבת מנחה.

  7. Rachel Says:

    Sefardim “tahor” also do not do hillula, henna and many wait 3 hours.

  8. Rachel Weis Says:

    In my family, the only thing we did was the apple and honey. My father was the “top Yekke” in Washington Heights, and from the great city of Frankfurt. My father never put the tallis over his head, even when he davened as baal tefillah on Yomim Noraim.

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