Archive for the ‘Minhog Ashkenaz’ Category

Torah Blessings of Ashkenaz Explicated: Profundity, Brevity, & Simplicity – להבין ולהשכיל בברכות התורה נוסח אשכנז ובמסורת יהדות אשכנז בכלל

September 19, 2017

In ברכת התורה that individuals recite in the morning, there are a number of small variations in נוסחאות, particularly in the section beginning with the words והערב נא.

Two main differences in text between (historic, classic) נוסח אשכנז and נוסח ספרד are, with the latter having extra words in various spots (typically), as follows.

A) After praying that the words of Torah should be sweet in our mouths, we continue on to ask that our children, וצאצאינו, be Jews who are learned and know G-d as well. In נוסח ספרד this is extended even further to וצאצאי צאצאינו, our children’s children. Why is it done so? The explanation given (brought in the famed סידור עבודת ישראל) is based on a teaching of Chazal in the gemara, that whoever is a talmid chochom, his son is a talmid chochom, and his grandson is one as well, the Torah does not depart from them forever. Therefore the request is extended to that next level, to (seemingly) get a lock-in guarantee of Torah forever in the family.

In classical נוסח אשכנז, however, צאצאי צאצאינו are not mentioned (note: as in some other cases, over time, in some more recent allegedly nusach Ashkenaz siddurim the additional words do appear, in parentheses, or as part of the regular text. But those texts are not the ones that are most reliable with regard to exactness and fidelity in text. The classical, old nusach can be seen, fully, or partially, in various prayer books, of the modern era and earlier years. It is also maintained in siddurim that follow the text of the גר”א מווילנא).

How do we understand the omission in classic nusach Ashkenaz?

Firstly, since the text of the brocho in the gemara doesn’t mention it, it is not a problem for us to omit it. One can always daven for grandchildren in shmoneh esreih or elsewhere. Our first, or main focus is our children, as it says in the posuk ושננתם לבניך. In a typical case, a father teaches his son Torah, while his child handles the grandson. The brocho is based on such a scenario.

We are focused here on our basic short term daily obligation, as opposed to our family legacy. If we take care of the short term, אי”ה the long term will follow and fall into place just fine.

Others say that וצאצאינו means/includes all descendants, not just sons. Although that is disputed by some.

Other approaches could be to cite the teaching of בני בנים הרי הם כבנים (grandsons are like sons), and to say that grandchildren are included in וצאצאי עמך בית ישראל.

B) The other difference is that in נוסח ספרד the word לשמה is added just before ברוך אתה ה’ המלמד תורה לעמו ישראל. Why? Presumably due to importance of proper intent in תורה ומצות.

So why does classic נוסח אשכנז omit it then? On a basic level, we can say that it is not in the gemara. Some also cite the famous Chazal that לעולם יעסוק אדם בתורה ובמצות אפילו שלא לשמה, שמתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה. However, even if there is a place for שלא לשמה at times, it is not the highest, most desired, preferred level, and can lead to difficulties (ח”ו).

So how can we understand why לשמה is omitted then? לענ”ד a few explanations can be given.

  1. A plain, סתם, mention of learning is assumed to be one of spiritually healthy לשמה. It does not have to be mentioned, it is understood/assumed.
  2. As we just davened/requested that the words of Hashem’s Torah be sweetened in our mouths, in the following words we assume they were so rendered, thereby rendering subsequent Torah learning  לשמה (something sweet is sufficiently attractive without ulterior שלא לשמה motives). This could also be connected/related to the old debate as to what learning לשמה means. As famously expounded upon by Rav Chaim of Volozhin, לשמה means לשם תורה. So if the words Torah are sweet in someone’s mouth, he is presumably learning לשמה. On the other hand, others (for example Chassidim) maintain that לשמה means for דביקות. So for them having the Torah sweet in someone’s mouth doesn’t mean that לשמה would necessarily, ordinarily follow.
  3.  It says ונהיה אנחנו וכו’ כולנו יודעי שמך.  Now what does יודעי שמך (Knowers of Your Name) mean? לענ”ד it can/does signify an exalted spiritual level (e.g. אשגבהו כי ידע שמי, ויבטחו בך יודעי שמך, ןכן). If I recall correctly, R. Aryeh Kaplan understands it in a kabbalistic way, as being someone who is knowledgable in Divine name(s). If so, it might be presumed that someone who has attained such a high level is in the category of לומד לשמה.

Interestingly, it seems that the גירסא of the רוקח is just ונהיה אנחנו וצאצאינו יודעי שמך, without the words ולומדי תורתך following it. Which could be explained לענ”ד as above, that יודעי שמך is a high level of, כביכול, “knowing הקב”ה”, higher than just basic learning. So if someone is on the level of יודעי שמך already, he has already incorporated and passed beyond the basic level of לומדי תורתך, hence it does not need to be mentioned, and can even possibly be seen as out of order/sequence if it follows in the text. And even if it is mentioned, the word לשמה doesn’t need to be added.

In this case, as in other instances, classic נוסח אשכנז seems to generally shy away from adding words, preferring brevity over verbosity. As the expression goes, less is more.

In the זכות of adherence to the great מסורה of אשכנז, may we be zoche to its great תורה heritage.

כתיבה וחתימה טובה – א גוט געבענטשט יאהר

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Lag Baomer: Who Is In The Driver’s Seat? ל”ג בעומר: מי הוא הנוהג? להסתכל ולציית לגדולי הדור –

May 12, 2017

In a Torah society, people are expected to look to גדולי ישראל, sages and elders, for direction.

If your Rav, Rosh Yeshiva, Poseik, Rebbe, is not going to Meron on Lag Baomer, and not dancing around a bonfire enthusiastically, that is making a statement. He doesn’t have to shout from the rooftops, or issue a formal letter not to do those things. Real followers understand. Actions speak louder than words.

A major problem with Lag Baomer nowadays, is that certain things some people do seem to be driven by the relatively unlettered masses, the המון עם,  literal youngsters (at times even under bar mitzvah age), PR, and travel agent advertising, or even sometimes low(er) level leaders, rather than by גדולי ומנהיגי הדור. That is a major problem.

In some cases leaders may go along with something begrudgingly, in an attempt to prevent greater damage, ר”ל (e.g. go along with an authorized bonfire to prevent unauthorized, more dangerous ones), as אהרן הכהן did in the episode of the עגל הזהב. Nevertheless, שומר נפשו ירחק מזה. People in the know realize that such situations are not ideal, that the leader’s full heart is not in it, and they recall how things ended in the Torah, ה’ ירחם.

In the zechus of truly following גדולי הדור באמת, may we be zoche to וטהר לבנו לעבדך באמת.

א גוטען שבת

 

How to Make Your Kedushah More Heavenly, Angelic, and Powerful – איך לעשות הקדושה בעוה”ז יותר כמו הקדושה של המלאכים בשמי מרום ויותר חזקה

December 1, 2016

                            A look at kedushah in davening

Kedushah is one of the most important, and prominent, parts of davening. So much so, that a typical regular Shul goer will say it  three times each standard weekday morning with his minyan: once in ברכות קריאת שמע, once in חזרת הש”ץ, and once before aleinu (קדושה דסידרא).

It should be noted, however, that the three קדושה recitations are not totally identical  and interchangeable.

The first one, in the ברכת יוצר אור, appears in a context of a more lengthy and more detailed description of the heavenly sphere, and how the angels there praise הקב”ה.

The second one, in the shliach tzibbur’s חזרת הש”ץ, is an attempt by us humans in actual angelic imitation, sanctifying Hashem’s name in this world, as it is done in the heavens above (as per the introductory words to it). To that end, not only do people say it standing, in the manner of מלאכים above (as opposed to the other two, which are typically said seated), but they also customarily recite it with legs and feet together as well, imitating the posture of the angels, as well as rocking up and down on their toes at certain points for the same reason.

The third one, is done by reading the פסוקים (verses) as given in תנ”ך, accompanied by their Aramaic targum (translation),  surrounded by a collection of other verses from various places.

The special status of the kedushah of the שמונה עשרה historically

We have shown so far that the קדושה דעמידה (standing kedushah during the repetition of שמונה עשרה), is special, and different than the other two recitations, being an exercise in actual angelic imitation.

Since it is already treated in such a special manner, it would be quite appropriate to elevate and strengthen it even more, if possible, within the bounds of our tradition, by extending the angelic imitation even further. In fact, if we look into the matter thoroughly,  we will learn that in ancient days (and to this day in part or full in some communities), the קדושה דעמידה was recited differently than the most commonly practiced way of the present.

How exactly was it done, you may ask? The answer is, that as opposed to the congregation saying the introductory segment of נקדש את שמך בעולם, וכו, in addition to the חזן leading the prayers, that segment (as well as other segments not being actual pesukim recited up above) was reserved for, and recited solely by, the שליח ציבור, with the congregation listening to it in absolute silence, in a hallowed hush that came over the assemblage. That extended hallowed hush, a thunderous speaking silence, brought an additional aura of heavenly holiness to the proceedings, cultivating the proper mood for the actual kedushah to shortly follow. Those that have merited to experience this very special and historic manner of saying kedushoh know what I mean.

In ancient times, that was the way of saying this kedushoh. Both in אשכנז and ספרד. In recent centuries, however, many people and congregations departed from it (often in a mistaken belief that they were following an alternate way of the Arizal), to the point where today, it is a practice followed only by a minority. But this venerable, meaningful, and powerful מנהג ותיקין is still practiced, known, and cherished, by connoisseurs of tefillah and old minhogim, and stands waiting, with ancient, venerable dignity for restoration to the position of common practice that it had in the past (as we discussed previously, based on a psak of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l).

      Some reasons for conducting קדושה דעמידה the ancient way:

1) The angels don’t give such introductions before saying this kedushah on high. So why should we, when claiming to imitate their practice, do so? (ר’ דוד אבודרהם , renowned Sepharadic ראשון).

2) Practical benefits of increased focus it brings to קדושה, with more power, and ancient aura added. For those who have never experienced it, try it sometime. It grows on you too.

To focus in on this a bit more, and elaborate on how it works, I am adding some analysis, as it seems from here, לעניות דעתי, based on a typical נוסח אשכנז weekday קדושה.

a) The introduction, נקדש, וכו, is, by far, the longest segment of the kedushah, at a length of 18 words. The other parts that are not pesukim, namely לעומתם ברוך יאמרו, and ובדברי קדשך כתוב לאמר are an additional 7 words. That computes to a total of 25 words for what we can call the instructional and explanatory segments.

b) The essence of the kedushah, on the other hand, the actual פסוקים, total just 21 words.

Those who make the tzibbur say both parts a and b, are having them recite forty six words. On the other hand, those who limit them to the pesukim only, give them just twenty one words to say. So the second way then, reduces by more than 50% the required recitation, enabling a better focus on the essence that remains. It is known that requiring people to say more words, can lead to increased speed, and a dimunition of kavannah. As stated in the first siman of שלחן ערוך אורח חיים, quality trumps quantity, טוב מעט בכוונה מהרבות בלא כוונה.  

3) Say the קדושה of the מלאכים the way the ראשונים כמלאכים said it. Experience the kedushah of the רא”ש, בעל הטורים, מהר”ם מרוטנברג, מהרי”ל, ריטב”א, רשב”א, רבינו יונה, וכו’, וכו

                       For further study and contemplation

For those who wish to learn more about this, the matter is discussed at greater length in the great שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק א (an updated and expanded version of the long out of print volume awaits sponsorship for publication at this time), as well as in the Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz English language synopsis volume.

כידוע למבינים, a slight bit of tweaking, of adjustment, can go a very long way, and bring a huge payoff in the form of greatly enhanced results. That goes for things like a car tune up, a Chanukah menorah, a cooking light, as well as with עבודה שבלב, and our קדושה recitation.

This beautiful minhog has been preserved through the centuries (in greater or lesser measure) by followers of מנהג אשכנז in German lands, as well as some others, for example people who follow מנהג הגר”א מווילנא. Hopefully those in this new seeking generation who are not yet familiar with it, will grant it the consideration and respect it so rightfully deserves.

 

יה”ר שבזכות החזרת עטרה ליושנה נזכה במהרה להחזרת השכינה בשלמות למקומה

א גוטען חודש

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

Chasidic Leader Articulates Anti-Lag Baomer Bonfire Stance – אדמו”ר נגד מדורה בל”ג בעומר

May 25, 2016

Over twenty years ago, a leading Chasidic leader laid out a case against having a Lag Baomer bonfire in New York at his Yeshiva in a public address. It seems that some in his community wanted to make one, even though it wasn’t the tradition of the group, but he spoke out strongly against such an innovation.

Due to the time of the year we are in now, and the fact that many people are under the false impression that all Chasidim are for lighting bonfires on Lag Baomer, I feel it is timely to share from the address he gave (the address was in Yiddish. A partial recording is online, but is not ideal for sharing due to some problems with it. So I will share some excerpts from it, translated).

The Rebbe said that a Lag Baomer bonfire was not seen or heard, not by their forefathers or Rebbes. Lag Baomer was observed for hundreds of years in Europe (where his Chasidic group originated), by Chasidishe Yidden, who were דבוק בתורת ר’ שמעון בר יוחאי (strongly attached to the teachings of R. Shimon bar Yochai), who celebrated and felt a special elevation on the day they held as his yahrzeit, but it was not with a bonfire that these feelings were manifested.

He then continues on to say that in Eretz Yisroel there is a bonfire custom, which started in Meron, and due to the fact that it was difficult for some people to go there, they did it in other locations there as well.

Lag Baomer, the Rebbe continued, is an Eretz Yisroel Yom tov. The velt says that Lag Baomer was given to Eretz Yisroel Yidden as a compensation for not having Yom tov sheini shel galuyos – יום טוב שני of the diaspora.

The Rebbe states that if we don’t know what to do, we go to the בית מדרש and study what our tradition is. He also points out that there are no ‘halachos’ regarding Lag Baomer bonfires, e.g. how large should it be – one story, two stories, עד לב השמים, how long should it burn, etc., which could bring to a situation of unhealthy competition among some to make a larger fire, add fuel, and so on. There is a danger in innovating customs, as who knows where it could lead in the future, היום אומר לו עשה כך, ולמחר אומר לו עשה כך, וכו, what might happen in future years. He then, warning of innovating practices seemingly under the guise of piety, of a יצה”ר המתלבש בגארטעל, not in accordance with tradition, cited the words from Tehillim  שמרה נפשי כי חסיד אני

The point of sharing this is to let people know (although we have touched on it before, see previous posts) that the Lag Baomer bonfire, especially, but not exclusively in the diaspora, is a point of major contention even among Chasidim, not practiced by certain major Chasidic groups (e.g. Gur, Satmar Williamsburg, Bobov, Lubavitch, etc.), and is by no means a universal practice. They should not be fooled by all the publicity, photos, videos, etc., to think that is a universal custom. All the more so among non-Chasidim, particularly Ashkenazim. No one should think that ‘everyone is doing it’, so they should ‘go along with the crowd’, because that is not the case.

When one adds to the equation the dangers of the fires – see e.g. multiple strong warnings in Eretz Yisroel this year warning of the dangers of the fires, e.g. this strong general warning, this warning specifically re eye danger, these guidelines from מד”א, and this directed to women, based on sad experience of injuries, ר”ל, from the past, the choice for us is clear – stick to your ancestral minhog, מנהג אבות, and stay away from the bonfire custom. The מצוה דאורייתא involving fire of the spring has already passed, a bit over a month ago, on erev Pesach, when the chometz was burned. Lag Baomer is a not a Pesach sheini for fire.

With wishes of a spiritually and physically healthy and safe Lag Baomer…..

P.S. Also noteworthy this year, for those who didn’t see it yet, is the strong statement from the ראשון לציון (echoed by his brother as well) against a mass pilgrimage to Meron. He urges his Sephardic brethren to emulate ליטאים שיושבים ולומדים בל”ג בעומר rather than those others who journey to Meron then.

Spring Mesorah Challenges – מסורה בשבוע אחר פסח

May 5, 2016

We have just finished Pesach, a יום טוב in which our traditions are shared and passed on to children and descendants.

Right afterward, however, we are already confronted with some challenges which test if we have sufficiently internalized the importance of מסורה.

The very evening of מוצאי פסח, some people try to impress upon us their custom of greetings others then with the words “א גוטען זומער” (“a gutten zummer” – “a good summer”). But we know that summer does not start in the month of ניסן, not even in the end of the month. We know that חז”ל comment, referencing the words מוציא אסירים בכושרות – that Hashem took us out of מצרים in a nice month, without extreme weather (not summer or winter, for example), in a time that was conducive to journeying. We also know that חודש ניסן is called by the Torah חודש האביב, the month of spring. In פרשת נח we are told of six seasons of the year, two months for each. It is clear then that Nissan is not the summer. שמור את חודש האביב – watch the month of Nissan – don’t call it something it isn’t, such as summer.

Another example comes a short time later, as the first Shabbos after Pesach approaches. Some of the same circles then are promoting a custom of ‘schlissel challah’ (שליסעל חלה), a practice from outside of מסורת אשכנז that has been questioned on various grounds. While its proponents would like you to believe that “everyone is doing it”, actually, not only it is not part of the mesorah of great segments of כלל ישראל, such as יהדות אשכנז, אובערלאנד, ליטא, ספרד, תימן, וכו, it is not even universally practiced in their own Chasidic camp (for example, אוצר מנהגי חב”ד, p.253, reports that it is not minhag Lubavitch).

No one should be ‘stampeded’ into adopting such practices foreign to their mesorah, in the mistaken belief that ‘everyone is doing it’. Because it just ain’t so. “Everyone” is not doing it. A mythical “everyone” is not our פוסק anyway.

In שיר השירים, which we read on Pesach, we are given guidelines for how we should conduct ourselves. We are told צאי לך בעקבי הצאן – go in the footsteps of your holy ancestors. Our ancestors were not fools, ח”ו. If they did not follow these new practices, we should not either.

In the זכות of going in the ways of our holy מסורה, may we be זוכה to a strengthening and intensifying of our connection with the תורה הקדושה, as we are taught in Pirkei Avos that מסורת סייג לתורה.

א גוטען שבת און א גוטען חודש

Parah Piyyut Podcast Video: מבוא לפיוטי פרשת פרה

April 1, 2016

A short video has just been posted online about the piyutim for this Shabbos, Parashas Poroh.

Parah

It gives an introduction to some of the music and meaning involved, giving a nice flavor to the text and practice. Hopefully we will see additional, expanded such efforts in the future, to share the beauty of the practice of reciting the special piyutim with those not attuned to it yet.

א גוטען שבת

 

Poetic Justice: Piyyutim Get Some Overdue Attention – חיבורים חדשים רמי מעלה על פיוטים

March 3, 2016

Once again, we are at that time of the year, as winter winds down, just weeks from Purim ב”ה, the beginning of one of the high seasons of piyyutim in Shul. It is no secret that piyyutim are a ‘hard sell’ for numerous people, and that many have long abandoned them.

But there is yet hope. With a comprehensive, intelligent approach, that shows the wisdom and beauty within them to people, rather than trying to force feed them to the masses, inroads and advances can be, and are being made, in perpetuating their ancient, holy legacy.

In recent years there has been a profusion of new, improved siddurim issued. Piyyutim, however, have gotten a lot less attention. Understandable, on the one hand, after all, they are not the same as regular tefilloh, but nevertheless cause for concern if they didn’t yet get their fair share of attention perhaps.

In that vein, some recent publications featured at the מכון מורשת אשכנז website are a hopeful sign, specifically two works on piyyutim which have come out in the last half year or so, adorned with the blessings of מורנו הרב המבורגר שליט”א and others.

(Of course, there have been other fine works previously  issued on piyyutim in recent decades, but some were quite academic, of limited circulation, etc., great for the more scholarly among us, but not necessarily a perfect fit for the המון עם, the masses of daveners. And/or they may have focused on more widely recited parts of the poetic heritage we have, omitting other, lesser known, but still worthy segments. The fine new works of which we speak, attempt to fill gaps left in the past.)

The most recent new work in the category of which we speak, which includes piyutim for the special Shabbosos of the ‘ארבע פרשיות’, which we are about to start, בס”ד, is very new, ‘hot off the press’, as some might put it.

title page

With skillfull innovation, scholarly, but not overly weighty and tedious, features, introductions, and explanatory comments, it was put together as a machzor for the masses. It has already gotten some nice publicity, and is worth looking at. You can get a taste of it via the Machzor Shivchei Yeshurun website.

We wish the people involved in these initiatives ברכה והצלחה, and hope that they continue to progress מעלה מעלה with their worthwhile activities לטובת הציבור.

Oberlander Ashkenaz Rebbe: Rav Yochanan Schreiber-Sofer of Erlau zt”l – אדמו”ר נוסח אשכנז-אוברלנד: רב יוחנן סופר מערלוי זצ”ל

February 26, 2016

We wrote in the past about a Polish Rebbe that davened nusach Ashkenaz, but that was some time ago. In recent days the frum press has been writing about another “Rebbe” who davened nusach Ashkenaz as well, along with his kehillah. We are writing, of course, about אדמו”ר מערלוי, ר’ יוחנן סופר זצ”ל, who was niftar just a few days ago.  The Erlau (or Erloi) Rebbe, R. Sofer, like R. Shmuel Wosner zt”l, who’s lesser known Ashkenaz side was discussed here a while back, was actually from, and part of, the Oberlander Hungarian nusach Ashkenaz community, which is not so well known to outsiders, and is often confused with other groups.

For R. Sofer, this background, being a descendant of the great Chasam Sofer, towering iconic leader of Hungarian Jewry, particularly the Oberlander segment of it (after moving to Oberland from Germany), was very important, and he worked hard to make sure it continued. עד כדי כך, that not only did he issue many seforim of Torah from משפחת החתם סופר זצ”ל,  his kehillah faithfully kept the nusach hatefillah of the Chasam Sofer and Oberland, נוסח אשכנז. Even more so, Erlau even wears tefillin for morning davening on חול המועד openly, בפרהסיא, in ירושלים עיה”ק at their בית מדרש, as per their ancestral minhog (as is done in a number of other congregations in ארץ ישראל as well, contrary to popular belief). No gartel either. Interestingly, many people considered him a Chasidic Rebbe nevertheless, despite such ‘infractions’.

May the zechus of clinging to the מסורה of Oberland stand in his merit, and may his descendants and talmidim continue in that special path.

 

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