Archive for the ‘Ashkenaz’ Category

The Lion of Ashkenaz: The Arizal You Didn’t Know – הארי של אשכנז: האריז”ל שלא הכרת

July 17, 2018

Today, ה’ אב, is the yahrzeit of one of the great figures of Jewish history, the אר”י ז”ל, Rav Yitzchok Luria. Although almost four and a half centuries have passed since The Ari passed away as a relatively young man, only in his late thirties, he still is very much alive in terms of his influence on the Jewish world.

To a great extent, as Rav Hamburger שליט”א writes in the recently released fifth volume of שרשי מנהג אשכנז, the Arizal was a riddle, a mystery, during his lifetime, as well as after his passing, to the present day.

Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to get a better understanding of this major figure in Jewish history from what is available to us, כפי שידינו מגעת, and to, בעזרת השי”ת, dispel some of the confusion about him that is quite prevalent among many today.

To that end, a significant section (p. 246-320) in the new sefer, entitled האריז”ל, שורשיו באשכנז ושאלת התפילין, (see p. 20-21 here) is devoted to in depth exploration and analysis of the Arizal from an Ashkenazic perspective.

Contrary to the conception many people seem to have, thinking of the Arizal as a Sepharadic Kabbalist or as Chasidic, Arizal was an Ashkenazic Jew. Let us explore a bit his Ashkenazic identity, practices, and attitude.

Identity

  1. He is referred to over and over again, by his contemporaries, as the אשכנזי רבי יצחק. It was not just a name, an inherited surname (his family name was Luria) from previous generations, as we are familiar with today. Rather it was a description of the man. Although his Ashkenazic father passed away when he was just eight years old, his mother was from a different background, he didn’t live in the main areas of settlement of אשכנז, and lived among many ספרדים, he still retained this strong אשכנזי identity. The moniker אר”י, by which he is known, stands for אשכנזי רבי יצחק.

Practice

2. He davened in an Ashkenazic Shul in Tzefas at key times of the Jewish year, on ימים טובים such as the ימים נוראים and רגלים, as well as at other times, and darshened there as well (while he davened in a Sepharadic shul at other times, e.g. on regular weekdays, as he desired to recite the additional mizmorim, bakashos, and vidui recited there). Source: שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק ה citing קסת יהונתן, דף ה עמוד א (right column, ד”ה גם). Rav Chaim Vital, his talmid, mentions a number of times the מחזור אשכנז that the Arizal used on ימים נוראים.

Attitude

Arizal and Mesoras Ashkenaz: Opponent or Proponent?

3.  Contrary to what many people might think, The Arizal did not renounce or repudiate his Ashkenazic roots, and did not tell his fellow אשכנזים to change their נוסח or מנהגים. On the contrary, he encouraged them to stick with their ancestral minhogim. Here are some words about this from הרב הגדול ר’ יוסף פיאמיטא מאנקונא ז”ל in the ספר פחד יצחק (top of page)

שמעולם האר”י הקדוש לא שלח יד במנהגי הקהלות….והיה מניח לישראל במנהג אבותיהם והיה מזהירם שלא לשנות מנהגם כי היה אומר על כל מנהג יש מלאך ממונה וחלון ברקיע לקבל אותן התפילות וכ”כ בכוונות האר”י 

Free partial translation: The Holy Ari  never touched the customs of the congregations…he would have them continue with the customs of their fathers and warn not to change them….

It is quite possible, or even likely perhaps, based on the above and other material brought in the new sefer, that he davened נוסח אשכנז for the main parts of his davening, and maybe even wore tefillin on Chol Hamoed.

In the zechus of following the מנהגים הקדושים of our ancestors, may we be זוכה to נחמת ציון וירושלים בב”א.

Note: We already wrote a bit about the Arizal in this vein two years ago, but now that a great amount of new information on the topic has come out via the new volume of Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz, it was felt appropriate and worthwhile to revisit and expand upon it. The above is just a limited taste of the great amount of material on this and other related topics in the new sefer. Those interested to learn more are directed there.

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Legendary Chassidic Rebbe Admits: The Noda BiYehudah Was Correct In His Opposition to Lisheim Yichud – אדמו”ר הדברי חיים מצאנז מודה: הנודע ביהודה צדק בהתנגדותו לאמירת לשם יחוד

April 10, 2018

We are now in the period of sefira, when ספירת העומר is recited nightly. Before the actual counting of sefira some recite לשם יחוד קוב”ה וכו, which many others deliberately omit, which sort of puts Lisheim Yichud in the spotlight in Shul.

Additionally, today, כ”ה ניסן, is the yahrzeit of the legendary דברי חיים, the Sanzer Rebbe, progenitor of many Chassidic Rebbes, dynasties and individuals.

So it is a good time to discuss the unique stance in the Chasidic world that the Divrei Chaim held, in terms of lisheim yichud (as well as other matters).

As is well known, the question of whether to say lisheim yichud before a mitzvoh is an old machlokes, with various גדולי אשכנז, most prominently the towering Rav of Prague, R. Yechezkel Landau, known as the נודע ביהודה, opposing the practice (שו”ת נודע ביהודה מהדו”ק יו”ד סימן צ”ג as well as מהדו”ת או”ח סימן ק”ז), and, מאידך גיסא, Chasidim supporting and saying it.

However, what is less well known, is that the Divrei Chaim, despite being a great Chasidic leader, actually said that the Noda BiYehuda was correct in the matter (as stated in שו”ת דברי יציב או”ח סימן ס”ה, in the last sentence on the linked page, as per commenter below), and, based on that, his followers do not say lisheim yichud before sefira (although they do say הנני מכון או הנני מוכן ומזומן וכו). That is the minhag to this day in Sanzer Chasidic circles, such as the large Chasidic dynasties of Sanz, Bobov, Klausenberg, etc.

Interestingly, we even have a report of a specific verbal formulation the Divrei Chaim used to express this iconoclastic (among Chasidim) opinion of his, supporting the Noda BiYehuda. The Klausenberger Rebbe, R. Y.Y. Halberstam, the דברי יציב, reported that he heard that from his father, that the Divrei Chaim remarked in Yiddish ‘Reb Chatzkele iz gerecht geven’ (R. Yechezkel Landau was correct – in his stance against lisheim yichud recitation). That was related (43:10-) in a shiur some months ago given by Rav Asher Weiss, a prominent Rav, who is the poseik of Shaarei Zedek hospital in Eretz Yisroel.

May we be zoche to be מודה על האמת if we err, and reach the proper conclusions in תורה ויראת שמים.

Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz Volume Five Is Here! שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק ה’ בענין תפילין בחול המועד הגיע

March 28, 2018

ברוך אתה ה’ אלקינו מלך העולם שהחינו וקימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה

After a long hiatus, ב”ה we have just merited the release of a new chelek of שרשי מנהג אשכנז, volume five in the series. The last previous new volume to be published appeared over ten years ago. Since then Rav Hamburger shlit”a and Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz were occupied with different projects which gave us other valuable seforim, but the continuation of the publication of the perhaps best known work of the machon, שרשי מנהג אשכנז, was delayed, for various reasons.

Therefore it is now with great שמחה (joy) that the new volume, which is devoted to the topic of wearing tefillin on chol hamoed, is warmly welcomed.

To give you a better idea of what the sefer is about, I will share an edited free translation of some words from the Hebrew description at the MMA page for it, along with some words of my own.

An ancient difference of opinion, perhaps the most sharp, pointed, and extended in the history of כלל ישראל, revolves around the issue of whether it is obligatory to don tefillin on chol hamoed, if it is at least a permitted act, or whether  it is a great aveira to do so. Various sages and wise men have already commented about the greatness of the vastness and intensity of this מחלוקת.

This new work lays out before us, in an unprecedented manner, the various Torah perspectives on the issue, from the earliest sources available to contemporary Torah literature, in halacha, minhag, as well as the mystical/hidden side of our heritage, with a historical perspective rare in its scope with regard to differences of opinion and developing processes and trends alongside the saga, in various countries and time periods. In this work come to life many lands and various movements, with their great wise men and leaders.

This special work, which has already merited enthusiastic responses, and is adorned with haskamos (approbations) from leading rabbonim, is a must for the discerning reader.

To see more about it, including the full table of contents and many sample pages, click here.

בברכת חג כשר ושמח

P.S. Other worthwhile Pesach related past posts can be (re)viewed via links on your right, such as this one explaining the minhag Ashkenaz not to say Hallel in Shul on seder night.

 

Arizal: Ashkenazim Should Follow The Way Of Ashkenaz – האריז”ל: אשכנזים ינהגו כמנהג אשכנז

August 9, 2016

Today, ה’ אב, is the 444th yohrzeit (יום השנה) of the renowned Arizal (מדת האר”י), one of the most influential figures in the Jewish world in recent centuries.

The Ari z”l was born to a Sepharadic mother and an Ashkenazic father. His father passed away when he was eight years old, however, and he grew up in a Sepharadic environment. To give some perspective timewise, he lived about two hundred years before the modern Chasidic movement of Eastern Europe, which views itself as connected to and influenced by him. One prominent way in which this relationship is seen, is with regard to נוסח התפלה, with almost all Chasidim having adopted a new nusach, referred to by some as nusach Sfard, and by others as nusach Ari.

Interestingly enough, however, the Arizal himself, hundreds of years ago, is recorded as having regularly stated that people should stick to their ancestral customs, and that Ashkenazim should stick to מנהג אשכנז.

That teaching of the אר”י is brought by the של”ה in sefer דרך חיים on the words איש על דגלו באותות לבית אבותם in במדבר ב:ב.

A good thing to know. The Arizal respected the way of Ashkenaz.

ובזכות הליכה בדרכי אבותינו ורבותינו הקדושים, יה”ר שנזכה לילך בפעמי אבותינו בארץ קדשנו, בדרך העולה בית א-ל, בנחמת ציון וירושלים בב”א

א גוטען חודש

Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer zt”l Film: The Man and His Life – סרט על חיי הרב לוי יוסף ברייער זצ”ל ופעליו

January 2, 2016

Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer zt”l: A Loving Tribute RDJB

Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer zt”l: A Loving Tribute 

A fine professional film on the life of Rav Breuer and his famous kehillah in NY, prepared for a YRSRH dinner years ago, with historical footage, alongside reminiscences of family, talmidim, kehillah members, and prominent personalities.

Learn the story of the man behind “Breuer’s”.

Plain Speaking Profundity: Rav Shimon Schwab Speaks – עמקות בפשטות: רב שמעון שוואב זצ”ל דובר

December 23, 2015

A public spirited יהודי has just made available for viewing a valuable historic collection of several video clips of Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l, famed Rav of KAJ WH, and author of various renowned ספרים.

The recording consists of the following:

1) It opens with some brief, quiet clips of Rav Schwab and Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer zt”l, senior Rav and meyaseid of KAJ WH. From the 5730’s/1970’s I would guess (approximately two and a half minutes).

2) Following that quiet segment, a segment from the yovel (50th) anniversary commemoration of KAJ WH is featured. That was in approximately 5750/1990. One can see in attendance there prominent personalities of the present Torah world, שליט”א, such as R. Avrohom Ausband,  Rosh Yeshiva of Telshe Riverdale (Rav Schwab zt”l learned in Telshe in his youth), and R. Yaakov Perlow (aka Novominsker Rebbe), who served for years as a marbitz Torah with KAJ WH. Rav Schwab expounds upon the meaning of the words יובל and דרור, as stated in the Torah with regard to such a jubilee and shares appropriate Torah השקפה for the occasion. The shofar is blown as well (thirteen minutes approximately).

3) That is followed by a segment from the installation of Rav Zechariah Gelley שליט”א (he should have a רפואה שלמה במהרה בתוך שאר חולי ישראל), which I guess is from the early 5750’s/1990’s (nine minutes approximately).

It is in turn followed by video messages from Rav Schwab

4) on the occasion of the simcha of the wedding of Rav Gelley’s son (six minutes approximately),

and, concluding,

5) to a dinner of the KAJ branch in Monsey, where he expounds upon the future of the kehillah based on the words in Bereishis of ועתה הייתי לשני מחנות (six and half minutes approximately).

We are indebted to the one who has shared this great material with us, and hopefully we will be zoche to see more such treasures in the future.

In these video clips we see Rav Schwab’s combination of profundity with deceptive simplicity and straightforwardness.

I would propose to say that that might  describe his מהלך החיים, way of life, in general, not just his דרך הלימוד, and way of speaking, and that that is also a מורשת אשכנז, a way of great gedolim of אשכנז.

יהי זכרו ברוך – זכרונו לברכה לחיי העולם הבא

The Glory of Chanukahs Past and Present: A Chanukah Stroll Down Western European Jewish Memory Lane: Breuer’s and IGB Basel – הוד חנוכה של שנים קדמוניות בזמננו – קהל עדת ישורון וואשינגטאן הייטס, ביהכ”נ באסל

December 14, 2015

Just in time for זאת חנוכה (important correction: commenter D. has written to me that in מסורת אשכנז the last day of Chanukah is called חנוכת המזבח, rather than Zos Chanukah, and Rav Hamburger shlit”a commented that his point was very correct, and so it is in ספרי רבותינו הראשונים והאחרונים, so I stand corrected with regard to the terminology, שגיאות מי יבין….וה’ ירחם עלי), a commenter, Mendel, has alerted us to some fine, important newly posted videos, one of historical footage showing Chanukahs past in KAJ-Breuer’s, as well as one of a program focusing on IGB Basel on Chanukah in the past.

Viewing them, one gets a renewed appreciation, feeling, and yearning for the glory and majesty of the past, as seen in Western Ashkenaz type kehillos, and a renewed desire to help them continue enriching our lives.

We thank the poster for sharing these newly virtually available treasures with us, and invite our community of readers to view and enjoy them.

יישר כחו וחילו

א פרייליכען חנוכה

 

The Special Experience of Sukkos at KAJ WH – היחודיות של חג סוכות נעלה בקהל עדת ישורון בוואשינגטאן הייטס: רעיונות ממשתתף אחד

October 2, 2015

R. Avrohom Gordimer, a talented writer, thinker, and Torah activist, has shared some thoughtful reflections on the specialness of the Sukkos experience at KAJ WH.

Worth reading and thinking about.

Other communities and individuals may want to share in the spiritual bounty therein, via similar fare.

א גוטען מועד, א גוטען שבת, א גוטען יום טוב, און א גוט יאהר

From Medieval Ashkenaz Techinah Supplication to Iconic Segulah: The Chasidic Transformation of G-d of Abraham – השינוי החסידית של גאט פון אברהם: מתחינה אשכנזית מימי הביניים לסגולה מפורסמת

September 18, 2015

In many siddurim and bentchers nowadays, one encounters a supplication at the conclusion of Shabbos called גאט פון אברהם (God of Abraham) (GFA).  It is often accompanied by words stating that it is from the Chasidic leader Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev (RLY), and that it is a great segulah for success (such as with פרנסה), and should be recited three times by men, women, and children.

While on the surface it seems a simple matter, it actually is quite a bit more complicated, as a number of questions may arise if one thinks about it, such as 1) why is a Yiddish prayer in the standard Hebrew (לשון קודש) siddur?, 2) why is it specifically promoted as a potent segulah?, 3) why the emphasis and detailed instruction that men, women, and children recite it?

Medieval Ashkenaz Origin

Firstly, it should be mentioned that GFA is originally an old Ashkenaz תחינה (supplication) in the vernacular that goes back to hundreds of years before the time of RLY, who was in the early years of the Chasidic movement. See this interesting related discussion at the Musings of a Jewish Bookseller blog, which includes illustrations of the prayer in pre Hasidic printed works. A more clear rendering of an old Ashkenaz version can be seen in a recent siddur here.

However, as a vernacular (Judisch-Deutsch, or Yiddish) תחינה supplication, it is not as formal and set in stone, so to speak, as, for example, sections of the main body of the סידור התפלה. Therefore, there were numerous versions of the prayer extant in Europe in the past. The contemporary scholar and researcher ר’ יחיאל גולדהבר , in his fine work מנהגי הקהלות (v.1, p.267-8), has a discussion of it, in which he cites a work printed a little over a century ago in Warsaw with twenty two versions of it. In many places it was basically a women’s prayer seemingly.

To better understand this, we need some context. Centuries ago, the state of Jewish education for the masses was not at the high level it is at today for some, ב”ה . There were women (especially) that were not proficient in Hebrew. For them, a Yiddish-vernacular prayer was something they might better understand and relate to than one in Hebrew – לשון קודש. Men were typically better learned, so they were more connected to more standard Hebrew prayers, but even among them, due to various pressures, many were weak in Hebrew and Torah learning. So perhaps we could say that it was a supplication with a special connection and appeal to the less educated, who were more comfortable with the vernacular of Yiddish as opposed to Hebrew.

Chassidic Transformation of  Old Supplication

There are some additional discussions online of the topic, which shed much light on it. Firstly, is a page with information from a Rav Gershon Kitzis in לשון קודש, which is very helpful. Also helpful is a discussion at an online forum here. Both of them I credit for helping greatly in researching the topic, from which are drawn the understandings below.

The Yiddish composition of GFA gives it a folksy, informal, populist feel, which fit in well with the populist, anti-establishment, and anti-elitist aspects of the Chasidic movement, especially in its early years. RLY was one of the most popular Chasidic leaders, who spoke to G-d directly and in Yiddish, as seen in some of his other famous legacies, such as ‘א דין תורה מיט הקב”ה, דודאלע, וכו. Anyway, it seems that RLY  or someone else in early Hasidism, took the old GFA and transformed it, by adding aspects related to and stressed by the nascent, early Hasidic movement, such as אמונת חכמים, דבוק חברים טובים, ודביקות בהקב”ה. Though people nowadays may not realize it, those are themes very important, integral to, and stressed by the Chasidic movement, especially in its early days, when RLY lived, when it was under strong attack by its Rabbinic opponents. RLY suppposedly instructed that it should be recited 3x (something seen with some other recitations as well, especially with Chasidic or Kabbalistic connection), by not just women, but rather men, women, and children (‘everyone’). This could be seen as part of Chasidic outreach to the less educated masses, as well as an expression of Chasidic identification and solidarity. The term אמונת חכמים could be understood as referring to Chasidic leaders, while dveykus and dibbuk chaveirim are also well known major Chasidic themes.

Supplication to Segulah

Putting together the above pieces of the puzzle, the above background may solve the mystery of why specifically this prayer (the Chasidic version) was touted as a great segulah. Perhaps it was that basically switching over to (similar to Chasidim changing from נוסח אשכנז לנוסח ספרד perhaps), or saying the Chasidic version of the תחינה (rather than an Ashkenazic version, or not saying it at all) was a way of identifying with, expressing support for, and praying on behalf of the Chasidic movement, something very close to the heart of RLY. That is why he (or whoever it was) assured people that it would be a great segulah. On the other hand, non Chasidim who didn’t go along with that, were/are making a statement as well in terms of their allegiance religiously, as remaining faithful adherents of the great pre Chasidic Ashkenazic path.

As time passed, this background of the prayer became obscured and forgotten. Many Jews didn’t primarily speak Yiddish anymore, and some even translated it into other languages. But the appeal of a great segulah attached to the name of a famous personality still persisted to many.

The Ashkenazic, non-Chasidic versions also continue on as well. Rav Binyomin Shlomo Hamburger שליט”א has a tune for an old version that he sings with it.

Conclusion 

I hope you found this exploration as fascinating as I did.

In the zechus of our following in the ways of our great ancestors, and the גדולי אשכנז זי”ע, may we be zoche that the G-d of our ancestors, אברהם, יצחק, ויעקב protect and bless us.

Thanks to my dear friends for their support.

חתימה טובה, א גוט געבענטשט יאהר

Soul Terminology, and Expressions of Love: Proper Frum Expression In The Lens of the Ashkenaz Tradition – Gleanings From Rav Shimon Schwab – התבטאות תורני בדברי רב שמעון שוואב זצ”ל

June 17, 2015

I recently came across a number of recordings of הרב שמעון שוואב זצ”ל online. Rav Schwab zt”l, whose twentieth yohrzeit was marked just a few months ago at קהל עדת ישורון – ‘Breuer’s’, where he served as Rav for many years, was a master expounder of Torah hashkofoh, as well as a general גדול בתורה and מנהיג ישראל (he was also a strong supporter of מכון מורשת אשכנז, see e.g. his הסכמה printed at the beginning of שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק א, as well as his letter in the beginning of שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק ד). His ספרים, many of which came out toward the end of his life, or after his petirah, have spread his greatness to people around the world. However, many, especially among the younger generations, even if they know of him, never heard him speak, בקול קדשו, thereby losing out on the special flavor this great godol imparted with his audial דברי אלקים חיים. Therefore, it is great to know that recordings of a number of major addresses that he made to mechanchim are accessible online.

While listening to Rav Schwab recently via these recordings, in addition to enjoying the general great Torah wisdom on the declared topics of the addresses, I also gleaned some important lessons from his careful diction, even if they were peripheral to the main subjects under discussion. With a תלמיד חכם of the stature of Rav Schwab, who did not utter words lightly, all the more so in his later years, when his Torah was in category of old wine (as per mishnah in מסכת אבות פרק ד), one can see and deduce important lessons from seemingly minor phraseology as well.

Following are two examples of what I mean.

There are expressions that are commonplace today, in various circles, that were not commonly used by the masses (if used at all) in previous generations. Which compels the thinking Yid to wonder, if they are according to our mesorah, or are in the category of חדשים מקרוב באו?

1) ?חלק א-לוה ממעל, או נשמת א-לוה ממעל

When Rav Schwab talked about the soul of a Yid (in “An Address on Tznius”, second section of this recording) (54:38), instead of using an expression for it often heard nowadays, namely חלק א-לוה ממעל, he used a different term, namely נשמת א-לוה ממעל. The relevant passage (just after 54:25) is

“The lack of tznius brings out the worst in the nefesh habehamis. And the tznius clothing inspires the very best of our Nishmas Elokah Mimaal.”

What is the difference one might ask? The former (Cheilek Elokah Mimaal) is a Kabbalistic term, used by some, which can be, and is (mis)understood by some as meaning that a neshomoh is literally a ‘piece of Hashem’, a notion at odds with traditional Jewish theology, which posits rather that the neshamah is a creation of Hashem. The latter term (Nishmas Elokah Mimaal) does not lend itself so easily to such misunderstanding.

I suspect (but don’t know with absolute certainty) that Rav Schwab may have deliberately used the term he used due to the above concern.

See discussions here, here, and here.

 2) הקב”ה אנחנו אוהבים אותך

Nowadays one at times witnesses public statements, in the form of songs, declarations, and even bumper stickers, proclaiming  הקב”ה אנחנו אוהבים אותך (Hashem, we love you), an expression that was not commonly heard shouted aloud in the past in our circles. Is that in consonance with our מסורה? Rav Schwab (in his address entitled Internalizing Eternity) states the following (after 33:20) “Since Ahavas Hashem is such a strictly personal matter, he who truly loves Hashem does not show his אהבה. He rather hides it. It is far too intimate to parade it in public. He is mekayeim והצנע לכת עם ה’ אלקיך. It is exclusively his private affair, between him and his Creator.”

In the zechus of following our holy mesorah of traditional Torah expression, may we be soon be zoche to the expression from הקב”ה of אני ה’ א-לקיכם.

א גוטען חודש