Reverting vs. Converting – The Halachic Basis For Returning To Lost Minhogim – להחזיר עטרה ליושנה בעניני מנהגים – הבסיס ההלכתי

If one has, for one reason or another, lost touch with his מנהג, his ancestral, family custom, and grew up with a different one for an extended period, but later becomes more aware and wants to return to the former, may he do so? After all, we prize tradition, מסורה, so much, and typically gaze with suspicion at changes.

Rav Moshe Feinstein z”l, מחבר of אגרות משה and world renowned poseik, addresses a variation of this question in a famous teshuvoh, in Igros Moshe on אורח חיים, ב:כד.

The question posed to him was if an Ashkenazic Jew, who came from a ‘nusach Sfard’ family, but grew up davening nusach Ashkenaz, was allowed to do so. After all, we are taught אל תטוש תורת אמך – not to forsake our traditional minhogim. So could such a change be countenanced?

Rav Moshe responded that he was allowed to adopt נוסח אשכנז, since, as an Ashkenazic Jew, by doing so he was really going back to his old mesorah, as the practice of some Ashkenazic Jews to daven ‘nusach Sfard’, was only a recent change innovated by the Chassidic movement (without a clear halachic basis that Rav Moshe was aware of), which was a departure from Ashkenazic tradition. So if this man wanted to go back to his pre-Chassidic familial tradition of davening nusach Ashkenaz, it wasn’t a deviation, but rather a return to his roots and authentic ancestral custom (minhog). He was not converting to a different, foreign minhog – rather he was reverting, going back to his old, family custom.

It seems, נראה לעניות דעתי, that this תשובה has broader implications than just the narrow case of nusach hatefilloh addressed. לכאורה the same principle should apply in general to cases of going back back to minhogim that were somehow lost over time, particularly, if an acceptable basis for departures from them is unclear, as in this case.

So, for example, let’s say a congregation wants to go back to the old minhog that only one person says kaddish at a time? Seems to be countenanced, based on this teshuvoh. If it wants to go back to singing LeDovid Boruch on Motzaei Shabbos? Ditto. To having the chazan say a special, long, melodious ברכו at certain special times? Ditto.

This lays the ground for some ideas I wish to write about, בעזרת השי”ת, and hope to post on soon.

P.S. Thanks to my friends and readers for granting me such a generous summer vacation😉. One needs time to learn and think and reflect, to have, בעזרת השי”ת, worthwhile things to write about. Now that אלול has arrived and the new year is approaching, it is time to get back to work here.

It was and is encouraging to me to see the statistics of the many visits to this site, even during the summer vacation period, when there were no new posts for a long time. It shows that there is a great thirst and demand for ‘דבר ה in the areas of מנהג and מסורה discussed here. Thanks for your support, and may we continue to progress together.

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20 Responses to “Reverting vs. Converting – The Halachic Basis For Returning To Lost Minhogim – להחזיר עטרה ליושנה בעניני מנהגים – הבסיס ההלכתי”

  1. Ploni Says:

    The Adas shule in Baltimore followed minhag hagra & made a brocho on megilos. When I layened there (1959-1962) I did not make a brocho on megillos. After I left they wanted to re-institute the minhag of the gra & the p’sak was their minhag is now not to say a brocho.

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Thanks for your comment.

      As stated on the side of this blog, we are trying to discuss Torah topics here, important inyonim, but if פסק הלכה is needed, a competent halachic authority should be consulted. Sometimes there are special considerations in a specific place, case, or situation, that have to be taken into account.

    • YDL Says:

      R’ Hamburger writes in the madrich that Ashkenazim make a bracha on the megilos but not a shehecheyanu. (This of course assumes that one is leyning from a klaf). BTW, does anybody know why some say ‘laining’ and some say ‘lyning’?

  2. Yekkishe Bekishe Says:

    Why are you pointing out items that are pure Minhog, which have absolutely no Halachic ramifications (such as the saying of Ledovid Baruch or saying a longer Barchu). What about the Issurei Skiloh based on differences in Hilchos Shabbos or Issurei Krisus in Hilchos Niddo? Aren’t they as least as important?

  3. Micha Berger Says:

    Rav Moshe is responding to someone who was already used to Ashkenaz, despite his family’s history of davening Nusach “Sfard”. It’s a bedi’eved case, and thus not generalizable to your hypothetical. A shul can’t switch back to one person per Qaddish based on the reasoning in this teshuvah; rather they have justification not to switch back if the situation were to arise by accident.

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Hello and thanks for the comment.

      Interesting chiluk, but if you get down to the core principle (reversion is not conversion), I don’t see why there aren’t broader implications. I just glanced again at the teshuvoh, and it doesn’t seem to me to be so narrowly constructed, although you are right in that the circumstances of the question were limited and specific.

      Rav Moshe wrote at the end of the penultimate paragraph אבל כשאחד רוצה לחזור ולהתפלל נוסח אשכנז שהוא נוסח אבותינו ורבותינו ודאי רשאי שהרי חוזר לקדמותו

      That language doesn’t seem overly narrow to me.

      • Micha Berger Says:

        You are correct that the text toward the end appears to be broader than the original question. I just don’t know if RMF thought this “reshai” is strong enough to stand on its own, or if he meant that in combination, it was another senif toward the full conclusion.

  4. kirschen Says:

    If you are going this far, why not have ALL Jews revert to their original ancestral nusah of Eretz Yisrael, as is laid out buy the Geonim? See http://www.machonshilo.org.

  5. Micha Berger Says:

    R’ Kirschen,

    Where did you get the idea that all Jews davened nusach EY, or that it is “the geonim” rather than “some geonim” who laid it out?

    Simple disproof: If it were really the consensus of the geonim, it would have been Nusach Bavel, rather than Nusach EY. The Israeli geonim were far overshadowed by the rashei yeshiva of Sura and Pumpedisa. They are the savoraim who put the finishing touches on Talmud Bavli through the teachers of the rishonim of both Ashkenaz and Sepharad. There is no question it is their pesaq we follow in general.

    Second, there is no consensus even within the genizah. They found four versions of Shemoneh Esrei (the weekday Amidah), for example.

    All qehillos (Ashkenaz, Sepharad, Edot haMizrach, Teiman, Italkim…) use variants based on Siddur R’ Amram Gaon. There are no manuscripts, and so machloqesin about Rav Amram’s wording are still preserved today. The oldest extant siddur is that of R’ Saadia Gaon but I don’t know of a qehillah that still uses it. Nor is there any reason to believe R’ Saadia was more influenced by Minhag EY than he was by R’ Amram — whose seat he occupited in Sura. R’ Amram was roughly contemporary, not later, with the snippets found in the Cairo Geniza used by Machon Shilo.

  6. kirschen Says:

    In any any event, they definitely did not use the nusah that is contemporarily called Nusah Askkenaz. That was originally codified by the Maharil, based on earlier nushaot.

  7. LFD Says:

    Nice to have you back! Will you be taking questions as to certain Minhagim? For example, in my house my father always said Kiddush and had mezonos and benched before we washed for shabbos lunch. My father does not remember at this point in time why he did it. I never have since I got married. I don’t know if this was a minhag or a way to say 100 brachos or just a way to keep all of us kids busy longer. He has no siblings/relatives to ask. What would you do?

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Hello and thanks for the nice words!

      In response to your question…

      I was contemplating what to write. My thoughts were to recommend you post your query at an online forum such as Mail-Jewish, Avodah, at the KAYJ web forum (link on side of home page here), where you could tap into a broad, knowledgable tzibbur. But I was going to offer some thoughts anyway, since you brought it up.

      But let me ask some questions first. You don’t have to respond here, you could just consider them on your own.

      What are the roots of your father – e.g. Yekkish, Litvish, Galicianer, Hungarian, Polish, Dutch, English…..? That is important to know if the minhag came from his family. On the other hand, perhaps he picked it up in Yeshiva or from a rav, as opposed to from his paternal home. If so, what kind of Yeshiva did he study in, or what kind of Rav may have influenced him to adopt such a practice?

      Anyway, I was going to share some other thoughts, but in the interim, a reader sent in a very interesting response, so I will defer to him, at least for now, and direct you to his words, following this.

  8. JoshB Says:

    @LFD

    Hi,

    I am living in Berlin, Germany. In my family we have retained the traditions of Ashkenas. Quite a few families I know from Germany, Switzerland, Alsace and the like have a Minhog like the one you mention. The reason / history seems as follows. Praying on Shabbos morning was (is) also quite early, 7.45, 8.00, 8.15 etc. Since by the time you are done it is too early for a proper lunch people have a (milchige!!!) Frühstück (breakfast), including Kiddush. Lunch, including Barches, is then later served at its proper time (milchig or fleishig). Some (as in some, many do not) people will also recite another Kiddush (which includes a different Nussach, starting with “Shomaur” rather than “Zochaur”), be it that they made Kiddush at breakfast or because they heard Kiddush at a communal reception after Mussaf.
    As a final suggestion for solution: Maybe your father had that Minhog of old, and when synagogues began praying at later times (and there was a drosho added etc) the time in between that breakfast and lunch got very shortened?!

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Shalom Josh –

      Thank you very much for visiting and for your interesting and informative response to LFD’s query.

      I am happy to hear that you are continuing with the traditions of Ashkenaz. I believe that pre-WWII Berlin followed minhag Polin, at least in some respects. What is the situation there now, if I may ask, with regard to minhag Ashkenaz? Readers would be interested to hear what is going on there.

  9. LFD Says:

    Dear Josh & Treasures,
    Thank you for the time and ideas. I will research them and hopefully let you know how it goes. On another topic relating to minhagim and Ellul, who decided when the appropriate time to say L’Dovid Hashem Ori…is? Ashkenaz says it by Maariv, N’S by mincha. I was at the Boston beis hamedrash in Flatbush who daven N’S, and they said it before Aleinu, whereas most other N’S minyanim I’ve been to say it after Aleinu. And do I say it as is my minhag, meaning if I daven N’S, and I catch a N’A minyan, should I say it with that minyan, say it 2x? I have always been taught to say it again, as it is not a good idea to separate yourself from the Klal. Then again a lot of young 11-12 year olds who daven N’A in yeshiva and N’S at home may forget to say it altogether!

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Minhag Ashkenaz (meaning German) doesn’t say LeDovid as part of davening this time of the year. It is a beautiful piece of Tehillim, which we love, but the institutionalized daily recitation of it now is relatively new, just from the last few centuries. There are others that didn’t accept it as well. There is some good info online on the topic which google can lead you to.

      Nevertheless, re your query, related to the practice of a significant segment of Eastern European Ashkenazic Jewry, I can venture a guess. Perhaps nusach Ashkenaz does it once in the morning and once at night, as that seems to be a typical breakdown for things done twice in a twenty four hour period. One covers the night of it, while the other handles the day part. Nusach Sfard perhaps is concerned here with the way of the Arizal, who had reservation about learning mikra (Torah shebiksav) at night. So maybe they shifted it to after mincha for that reason.

  10. LFD Says:

    Minhag Ashkenaz doesn’t say LeDovid as part of davening this time of the year? Wow. Looking forward to future posts!

  11. Micha Berger Says:

    Saying LeDavid is first mentioned in Chemdas Yamim, a sefer R’ Yonasan Eibshitz and others gave a haskamah to when it was first published. (Decades after its writing.) R’ Yaakov Emden pointed to Sabbatean concepts in the book. Many Chassidishe rabbeim also held the book was Sabbatean. As did the Gra. Today, among academics, the Sabbatean origin of the book is considered a given. (The question of whether it was actually written by Natan of Gaza, Shabbetai Zvi’s “prophet”, or by another follower is still open, though.)

    So not only don’t German Jews say LeDavid, Granikim and many Chassidic groups also don’t.

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