Archive for the ‘Minhogim’ 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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Dancing Around A Bonfire & Concern Of Foreign Practices: Rav Wosner’s Responsum – רקידה סביב מדורה וחשש דרכי אמורי: תשובת רב וואזנער ז”ל –

May 2, 2018

How do we view dancing around a bonfire through Torah eyes? Are there any issues regarding the practice? Well, believe it or not, there a teshuvah (responsum) from a leading halachic decisor on the issue.

Toras Aba just put up an interesting post discussing a halachic concern regarding dancing around a bonfire, due to similarity with ancient practice of idolators. It is based on a teshuvah (responsum) of one of the leading poskim of our era, Rav Shmuel Wosner z”l, stemming from a תוספתא that states המרקד לשלהבת הרי זה מדרכי אמורי.

Here is the full teshuvah of Rav Wosner (שו”ת שבט הלוי, חלק ז, יורה דעה סימן קלו).

Rav Wosner concludes that there is definitely a מקום (basis) to be מחמיר (stringent) and refrain from doing so. Toras Aba feels that is relevant to the Lag Baomer situation. A matter worthy of serious consideration.

That is in addition to many other reasons for people not to make bonfires, which have been touched on here in the past, e.g. safety, חשש גזל עצים, damaging air quality, refraining from new practices not practiced by our holy ancestors, etc.

May we merit a safe Lag Baomer, בין ברוחניות, בין בגשמיות, both spiritually and physically.

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.

 

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

 

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

Memories of Seder Night With Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l – זכרונות מליל הסדר עם רב שמעון שוואב זצ”ל

April 21, 2016

In an engaging and entertaining presentation last year, R. Yosef Chaim Schwab shlit”a, shared various tidbits from, להבחל”ח, his father Rav Shimon Schwab זצ”ל on Pesach seder night, with various other, related, interesting pieces thrown in for good measure.

Following are some nuggets from the talk (some of you may already be familiar with them, but for those who aren’t, as well as those who might enjoy a chazara, and additional details, we share it). Times in the recording are approximate.

There is a mitzvoh of והגדת לבנך (you should relate to your son about the Exodus) –  in America they changed it to והגדת לאביך (the child tells it to his father). The meaning of the Biblical הגדה is like a monologue, as opposed to a dialogue.

Why is there no ברכה of shehechiyanu recited on biur chametz? Answer given – it is not recited when something is destroyed.

Why is a kittel worn at the seder? (40:00)

Ma nishtana – why is the term rather not למה נשתנה instead, as typically used for questions?

Why is there no ma nishtana on other Yomim tovim, which have unique practices as well?

What Rav Schwab zt”l asked his son after he visited the zoo with his children (about zebra stripes) (18:30).

Why is there no ברכה of בא”י אמ”ה שעשה ניסים לאבותנו בימים ההם בזמן הזה on Pesach? That is what hagada is, as stated re why there is no הלל on Purim (one explanation given), because the megillah reading takes that role.

Why do some people dip four times during the seder, e.g. adding dipping the Koreich sandwich in charoses, as well as matza in salt, when in the מה נשתנה it says that we dip twice? Rav Schwab, and other respected authorities advocated strictly dipping two times only, so he felt should be done to be true to the הגדה and honest.

מעשה ברבי אליעזר, ורבי יהושע, ורבי אלעזר בן עזריה, ורבי עקיבא, ורבי  טרפון, וכו  – Why are these five in Bnei Brak singled out? There were many others doing so, having sedorim, were there not? These were descendants of groups that were not subjugated in mitzrayim, being e.g. Leviim, or in the case of Rabbi Akiva, a ben Gerim.

Meaning of the expression חוטפין את המצות – get to matzos/afikoman quickly – you can be מאריך later 22:35 app. The famous Rishon known as “The Mordechai” says that in olden days they ate first, and then said the הגדה, so the children would be around for the eating. Not to  be overly lengthy in saying the haggodoh before the meal(22:35.

Rav Schwab was opposed to the idea of (even) children (even) playfully “stealing” the afikoman (see here for more on that). That term should be avoided.

A vort from R. Shimon Schwab’s father about צפון (tzafun) (26:50).

Numerological  discussion re the numbers four, seven, and others.

The connection of modern human rights doctrine to יציאת מצרים.

R. Shimon Schwab’s father, החבר ר’ יהודה שוואב ז”ל, asked his five sons  (dubbed by some חמשה חומשי תורה) which one of four types of sons of the הגדה do you want to be? Four gave the same answer, but one son, the later ר’ מרדכי שוואב, differed. Hear why (44:55).

He (R. Shimon’s father) also said to them, I want you to know boys, I love you very much, but if you go against the Torah, I don’t want to know you (quite different from the “unconditional love” doctrine advocated by some educators today) (45:50).

חג כשר ושמח

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.

 

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