Nusach Ashkenaz in the Center of Chasidic Davening: The Interesting Cases of Belz, Sanz, and Berdichev – נוסח אשכנז במרכז תפילות חסידים: נוסחאות בעלזא, צאנז, וברדיטשוב

As is well known, one of the major dividing lines between Chasidim and non-Chasidim, and a source of tension at times, is in the area of נוסח התפילה. While Chasidim (with some exceptions, as we have posted about in the past – see for example this post, as well as this post) overwhelmingly discarded the ancient נוסח אשכנז, adopting in its place a so-called “נוסח ספרד” or “נוסח אר”י”, those faithful to the holy מסורה of אשכנז emphatically rejected such change.

What is interesting and noteworthy, however, is that even among major Chasidic groups to the present day, there are major elements of nusach Ashkenaz still in use.

            Ashkenaz in the Nusach of Belzer Chasidim

The Chasidic group of Belz is one of the oldest (going back over two centuries) and largest Chasidic groups in the world, and has been a major force for a very long time. In Belz, the Shemoneh Esrei, the core of our tefillos, is basically a nusach Ashkenaz text (this can be personally witnessed by listening to חזרת הש”ץ at a Belzer minyan. For those not near one, a recent sefer from a Chasidic Rav in Europe, דברי פינחס, reports (top left), in the course of a responsum, “ומאחר שמנהג בעלזא עוד מימי כ”ק מרן השר שלום זצ”ל הוא להתפלל תפלת שמונה עשרה בנוסח אשכנז).

Historical Background

I had known of this phenomenon for some time, but lacked a full understanding of it. However, recently, I saw an explanation of the interesting background behind it. According to a recent release regarding the World of Belz website (paragraphs 8-10), way back in the early years of Belzer Chasidus, circa two centuries ago, the town of Belz was divided between the new Chasidim and the old townspeople that wanted to continue davening nusach Ashkenaz. They came up with a solution in which the Chasidim would lead the davening in the main Shul, however, certain parts of tefillah, including Shmoneh Esrei, the central part of our tefillah, would remain nusach Ashkenaz. The founding Belzer Rebbe himself, known as the Sar Shalom, approved of this arrangement (interestingly, a relatively recent encyclopedia article (first paragraph) described the first Belzer Rebbe, the שר שלום, as a Talmudist who maintained a close relationship with the non Hasidic Galician rabbinate of his time). So the story goes.

  Analysis

If this is all there is to this interesting phenomenon, however, one wonders why this arrangement has persisted for circa two centuries, long after the original principals to it passed on. It should have seemingly been just a temporary concession, an arrangement for a limited time (although perhaps Chasidim didn’t want to change what the first Rebbe did, and there were other people – non-Chasidim – who continued to daven nusach Ashkenaz in Galicia for many years, as even until the WWII period, there were significant numbers of people in Galicia, often in the large Shul of a town, that davened nusach Ashkenaz).

This leads one to suspect that there is more involved. Perhaps there is a recognition, a tacit admission by Chasidim, of the high level of nusach Ashkenaz, as well as persistent issues (textual and others) with Chasidic nusach Sfard.

Ashkenaz in the Nusach of Sanzer Chasidim

The fact that other important Chasidic groups with roots in Galicia also are said to have a nusach Ashkenaz, or mostly Ashkenaz, Shmoneh Esreh (the aforementioned דברי פינחס, mid-right column, states “בגליל צאנז ויתר מערב-גאליציא הי’ המנהג להתפלל שמונה עשרה רובו ככולו בנוסח אשכנז כמנהג קראקא), namely the large, important, and influential Sanzer Chasidim (e.g. the large groups of Sanz, Bobov, Klausenberg, and others), while they don’t seem to have such a story explaining why it is so, leads one to believe that they held that it was the nusach to use, and not just as a tactical concession.

Analysis 

Belzer and Sanzer Chasidim emphasize(d) traditional לימוד התורה, תורת הנגלה (as opposed to, for example, Kabbalistic study and practice for the masses, the המון עם) to a greater extent than some other Chasidic groups did. In Belz and Sanz the Rebbe was referred to as the Rav. He was someone who could pasken she’eilos in הלכה. They retained some אשכנז practices, as well as reverence for גדולי אשכנז, even those who opposed them strongly, such as the נודע ביהודה. Therefore they were not as rejectionist toward נוסח אשכנז as some other Chasidim.

Berdichev nusach

There is also a Chasidic nusach called nusach Berdichev, used by some, including members of the Bostoner Chasidus which is similar to the above. I don’t have much material on it at this time.

Conclusion

The adoption by the Chasidism of a new נוסח התפלה, in place of the traditional נוסח אשכנז, was apparently a later development in the movement, said to be from the time of the Maggid of Mezrich, rather than from R. Israel Baal Shem Tov, who is called its founder.

There is much difference of opinion and variation among Chasidim as to what the exact text of this nusach should be. Among many Chasidim, including very large and significant Chasidic groups, to this very day, important segments and elements of נוסח אשכנז surprisingly still persist, even at the heart of their תפילות.

א גוט געבענטשט יאהר און א גוט יום טוב

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6 Responses to “Nusach Ashkenaz in the Center of Chasidic Davening: The Interesting Cases of Belz, Sanz, and Berdichev – נוסח אשכנז במרכז תפילות חסידים: נוסחאות בעלזא, צאנז, וברדיטשוב”

  1. noachav Says:

    With relation to the Bostoner nusach: I’m from the Boston area and have orened at Beis Pinchas (the Bostoner schul in Brookline, MA, USA). Their nusach is much more of a mainstream Sfard than Polish Ashkenaz. Their rebbe is a descendent of R’ Shmuel haLevi Horowitz of Nikolsberg, the brother of the Haflooh.

    Some particular points:
    Shema’ Kauleinu begins אב הרחמן שמע קולינו, rather than שמע קולינו as in Nusach Ashkenaz.
    או”א רצה וכי׳ ends וינוחו בה כל ישראל, rather than וינוחו בה ישראל, according to the Eastern Ashkenazi girsoh.

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Thanks for your comment.

      Based on my research, of the three Chasidic Shemoneh Esrei nuschaos discussed above, Belz is the closest to Ashkenaz (very close, almost totally Ashkenaz), Sanz is second, and Berdichev is at the bottom. Nevertheless, since there is still some parallel, and it is related to the discussion, I gave it a brief mention at the end of the post. But no one should think that it is equivalent to Belz in this respect.

  2. EA Says:

    Branches of Sanz pray a nusach similar to Ashkenaz because the son of the Divrei Chaim, the Shinove Rav (Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam), prayed mostly a nusach Ashkenaz shmonei esrei. In Divrei Yechezkel, it is brought as one of his minhagim, in which he differed from his father who would always change his nusach and was not very consistent. In the sefer minhagim of the Sanz-Klausenburg rebbe – Halichot Chaim, for the weekday – it brings that he followed the Shinover Rav in this matter.

    Nusach Berdichev is misleading. The siddur is called Tefilah Yeshara and was printed several times, the most common is called Tefilah Yeshar Ve Keser Nora, which is a commentary on the siddur. The reason it is called Berdichev is because the most common printing was in Berdichev, but it is also known as the Radvill siddur. Also it is a lot more similar to nusach Ashkenaz than the version of the Bostoner Hasidim, which changed some things in their version of the siddur. You can find a very old version of this siddur on Hebrewbooks.org and the most current printings of the siddur are printed here in Eretz Yisroel by the printers of the Biala books and there is a printing by Satmar from K. Joel, since this was the siddur the Divrei Yoel use to pray from, but would change certain nusachs, as Hasidic Rebbes tend to do. In fact most Hasidic Rebbes throughout the history have used the Tefilla Yeshara siddur, but would change the nusach according to their preferences, a quick list (not including those already mentioned): Lelov, Nadvorna, Biala, Koydinov, Siget, Satmar, Uhjel, Apta, Viznitz, Chernobyl (and all of its branches – Hornsteipl, Talno, Charkas, Skver, Rachmastrivika, etc.)

  3. Israel Says:

    I am a chossid that keeps full Minhag Ashkenaz. How I got there is a long story. I don’t know if I am the only one like this, but I have never met another.

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