Archive for the ‘Nusach 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


R. Israel Baal Shem Tov Davened Nusach Ashkenaz – ר’ ישראל בעל שם טוב התפלל נוסח אשכנז

May 28, 2017

On Shavuos is the yohrzeit of the founder of the Chasidic movement, R. Israel Baal Shem Tov.

It seems that there is significant evidence that he davened nusach Ashkenaz. A site devoted to him says as much.

See section ה. סידורי הבעש”ט, where the writer states וכידוע ומוכח שהבעש”ט הקדוש התפלל נוסח זה בלבד ולא שינה ממסורת אבות חסידי אשכנז (and as known, and is shown, that he davened that nusach alone and did not change from the tradition of his ancestors, the pious of Ashkenaz). Pretty strong words there (h/t).

There was an important, extensive article on this topic a few years ago by רב יש”י כהן in the קולמוס special Torah supplement of משפחה magazine, which can be seen here (at a Lubavitcher website – where, although some try to obfuscate things, the essential facts remain).

So for those of the Chasidic persuasion who want to follow in his footsteps, now you know what nusach to daven.

יה”ר שנזכה לקבלת התורה באמת ובפנימיות ע”פ המסורה הקדושה הישנה שלנו

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

How Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev Learned to Respect Nusach Ashkenaz -איך ר’ לוי יצחק מברדיטשוב למד להחשיב נוסח אשכנז

June 30, 2016

In various sources, an interesting story regarding the famed Chasidic leader R. Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev is related, related to nusach hatefilloh, along the following lines.

Some years after the petira of the famed Rav Zvi Hirsch (Horowitz) of Czortkov, Reb Levi Yitzchok spent a Shabbos there and prayed in the Shul where R. Zvi Hirsch used to daven. The shul’s minhog was to daven nusach Ashkenaz, as R. Zvi Hirsch did. Reb Levi Yitzchok nevertheless led the prayers in nusach Sfard, as was his wont. All of a sudden, he fell deeply asleep, and dreamed that Rav Zvi Hirsch was standing over him, rebuking him in a vein of ‘How did you dare change the local accepted nusach after I worked so hard to make a path to heaven for the tefillos thus said’?

Upon this scathing rebuke, Reb Levi Yitzchok ceased leading the prayers in nusach Sfard.

The story can be seen in English in the book “Mamma Used to Say: Pearls of Wisdom from the World of Yiddish“, on page eighty seven (at times it can be seen online in the book preview via the attached link).

It can also be seen in Hebrew here (top of page twenty eight).

Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev is one of the best known and loved Chasidic leaders of all time, a legendary and iconic figure. So this story is a מעשה רב, a story of a leader that is to be looked to for guidance by his followers. וממנו ילמדו אחרים וכן יעשו אי”ה, אכי”ר.

To our dear friends and supporters, א גוטען זומער!

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.


Rav Shmuel Wosner zt”l, Oberlander Titan: His Ashkenaz side – הרב שמואל וואזנער זצ”ל: הגאון האבערלאנדר מוויען ויחסו למסורת אשכנז

April 29, 2015

A few weeks ago, Rav Shmuel Wosner, בעהמ”ח שבט הלוי, passed away, after more than a century בעוה”ז.

Many of the reports, commentaries, and eulogies (הספדים) that followed described him outright, or gave the impression, that he was a Chasidic leader. While it is true that Rav Wosner had close connections with the Chasidic world (as well as with the Litvish world, and other frum groups), the reality is actually somewhat different, and more complex.

For those that are not aware, to set the record straight, wearing a shtreimel does not necessarily a Chasid make (cf Rav Elyashiv zt”l). In reality, Rav Wosner was an Oberlander (Austro-Hungarian empire Ashkenaz) Yid from Vienna, aka א וויענער, who davened נוסח אשכנז. Having nusach Ashkenaz as one’s personal נוסח התפלה, and being Chasidic, do not typically go together. While it is clear that Rav Wosner adopted some Chasidic practices, the fact that he davened nusach Ashkenaz speaks volumes, and indicates that he retained his core Oberlander identity.

A few months ago, רבש”ה שליט”א spoke at a gathering for a new MMA affiliated minyan in ירושלים , and, in the course of his remarks, related some interactions with various gedolim over the years, with regard to Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz related activities, small excerpts of which re R. Wosner follow. He stated that Rav Wosner was most supportive and helpful, relating that when MMA opened its first shul in Bnei Brak, a week before Rosh Hashanah 5752, Rav Wosner said ‘this is a great זכות for the ימים נוראים, not just for you, but for all of כלל ישראל, that you are returning these minhogim to Klal Yisroel’…..Over the years he always encouraged us….After he encouraged us to open a Shul that says פיוטים and מערבות, he then began to say them in his own shul, which is נוסח ספרד, as well. He began to say במה מדליקין in his shul, and he says all the piyutim in the tefillah, even when the tzibur isn’t saying it. In the last year he even stopped the תקיעות in the ‘shtille shmoneh esreh’ (תפלת מוסף בלחש) on ראש השנה…I owe Rav Wosner a lot, because he gave us a lot of support.

May the memory of רב וואזנער זצ”ל be for a blessing, and hopefully there will be, of his many followers, admirers, and descendants, those that continue on in his ways of following the traditions of Oberlander Yiddishkeit, including davening nusach Ashkenaz.

יהי זכרו ברוך

Updates: Hespedim for Rav Wosner with maspidim wearing a טלית גדול, have been held in multiple locations: See e.g. LucerneParis (Strasbourg Rav שליט”א being maspid in tallis)London Satmar.

Comprehensive reports on the yichus of Rav Wosner זצ”ל.

Avinu Malkeinu, A Closer Look: Customs & Insights – תפלת אבינו מלכנו: מנהגים וביאורים

September 13, 2013

One of the tefillos that especially colors and characterizes this time of the year is אבינו מלכנו. Though its basis is ancient, based on a gemara, it was further developed as time went on, and divergent customs developed around it in some places. As with tefillos in general, it is highly recommended to learn more about it, to make your prayer more meaningful, and hopefully more effective, and to leave rote prayer behind (hopefully).

The renowned siddur Avodas Yisroel, as is its wont, sheds significant light on the prayer. It informs us that the amount of supplications starting with Avinu Malkeinu therein varies greatly between Sepharadic, Ashkenaz, and Polish versions, from 29, to 38, to 44, respectively, with a total of 53 different versions existing. In addition, there is a difference in sequence between nuschaos as well. One difference in sequence which caught my attention in particular, is that while in nusach Polin (Eastern European), אבינו מלכנו החזירנו בתשובה שלמה לפניך, asking Hashem to bring us back in complete repentance before Him, follows lines such as א”מ סלח ומחל לכל עונותינו, א”מ מחה והעבר פשעינו וחטאתינו מנגד עיניך, א”מ מחוק ברחמיך הרבים כל שטרי חובותינו, in nusach Ashkenaz it precedes them. That seems to have significant logic on its side, as at the least, praying, yearning, and striving for repentance (hopefully followed by actual repentance), should lead the way, rather than asking for an outright, unequivocal pardon from above first (although it is true that part of repentance, the admission of sin, was already addressed by the first line, אבינו מלכנו חטאנו לפניך).

Another difference in אבינו מלכנו between nusach Ashkenaz and nusach Polin, is that nusach Ashkenaz says it during aseres yemei teshuvoh, but not on a regular calendar taanis tzibbur in other parts of the year, while nusach Polin, in a relatively recent development, does. Update: I looked at a Sepharadic siddur and it seems to be the same as Nusach/Minhag Ashkenaz here, meaning that Avinu Malkeinu is not routinely recited during a regular taanis tzibbur outside Aseres yemei teshuvoh.

May we be zoche, in the zechus of עיון תפלה, analysis and delving into our prayers, which we are taught (as said in tefillas Shacharis) is one of the things שאדם אוכל פירותיהן בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא (sounds like a great investment!), to more meaningful and spiritual davening, תשובה שלמה, and a שנה טובה.

Thanks to all for their support.

חתימה טובה

Will That Be Life Or Good Life? Understanding the Ashkenazic Kaddish – A Guide For The Perplexed חיים או חיים טובים? להבין נוסח הקדיש של האשכנזים

October 10, 2011
Why No Request For ‘Good Life’ in Our Kaddish?
Some aspects of the נוסח אשכנז kaddish seem to baffle certain people, especially outsiders who’s conception of קדיש is influenced by the נוסח ספרד version. Bewildered, they are at a loss to understand what seems to them the strange behavior of the Ashkenazic faithful, who still adhere to that ancient, holy rite, stubbornly refusing to change.
For example, they wonder why, toward the end of kaddish, their nusach is the ‘plain vanilla’ יהא שלמה רבה מן שמיא וחיים עלינו ועל כל ישראל, rather than the longer יהא שלמה רבה מן שמיא וחיים טובים עלינו ועל כל ישראל.

What is wrong with you guys, they think (though not usually voicing such thoughts aloud in polite company)? No request for חיים טובים from הקב”ה? Why not? Don’t you want a good life? Doesn’t everyone?

Understanding And Maintaining The Special Nature Of Kaddish

Actually, however, the Ashkenazic קדיש, in addition to preserving ancient nusach, also preserves the ancient view of kaddish associated with it, in a more pure manner. Here’s how.

Let us first remember what the idea of kaddish is and what kind of prayer it is. Is it like the שמונה עשרה, where we ask הקב”ה for personal needs (in designated parts of the tefilloh)? Or is it like other types of davening, such as praise, thanksgiving, exalting Hashem…. where personal petitionary prayer is not allowed?

The answer is that it is a prayer focused on the greatness of Hashem, praising the great name of הקב”ה. It is not a prayer to ask for needs such as פרנסה, רפואה, וכו. There are other places in davening designated for such requests.

So therefore, we can say that in the Ashkenazic view, the place to ask for chaim tovim, ‘a good life’, is דווקא, specifically, not in the kaddish, and therefore it is excluded. On the other hand, basic life is needed in order to praise הקב”ה, as it is stated, לא המתים יהללו קה, so that is acceptable there.

(As an aside, there are also issues regarding word and letter counts in our prayers being symbolic and corresponding to various things, as we have mentioned in the past, that need to be considered when contemplating our holy traditions.)

The special nature of kaddish is also reflected in its name and its designation as a דבר שבקדושה. Kaddish is not, to use the לשון of the Zohar, a prayer of הב הב, of personal requests, for a so to speak shopping list to ask of Hashem.

If people start adding requests to the kaddish, they can end up where the Sepharadic kaddish is, where the text for that segment reads יהא שלמא רבה מן שמיא, חיים, ושבע, וישועה, ונחמה,ושיזבא, ורפואה, וגאולה, וסליחה, וכפרה, ורוח, והצלה, לנו ולכל עמו ישראל, ואמרו אמן, twenty two words, as opposed to the twelve in nusach Ashkenaz, almost double the length!

Further Insight From Our ימים נוראים Tefillos
רבש”ה called to my attention (and generously shared with me some of his many resources on the inyan, from which I cite below) that additional insight on this matter, re chaim vs. chaim tovim, can be garnered from discussions surrounding some special additions to our tefilloh that we recite during the high holiday season, at the beginning of each year.

There are special insertions in the שמונה עשרה then, from the time of the גאונים. Let us focus on the first one, זכרנו לחיים מלך חפץ בחיים וכתבנו בספר החיים למענך אלקים חיים. We ask that הקב”ה remember us for life. Not good life. Just plain life. Even ardent nusach Sfard advocates here just request חיים, and not חיים טובים.

Various explanations are given for this.

The ערוגת הבשם explains that it is understood that we want חיים טובים when we make such a בקשה. That is the default, ideal form of chaim.

רבינו תם explains that הקב”ה gives then בעין יפה. We need only ask for plain חיים.

In the view of the mussar master R. Isaac Sher of Slabodka, we are asking for life סתם. Life in general. There are many types of life, with a great variety of conditions and challenges. Life is precious. Even if it is not what people may think of as ‘good life’. All types of life give us opportunities to serve Hashem and live fulfillingly. Life with significant challenges, that wouldn’t be generally viewed by the masses as ‘good life’, can also be very meaningful. It is not our place to demand from הקב”ה that we have only a certain type of ‘good life’.

May we be zoche to great and meaningful and holy life. שנת חיים ושלום to this virtual Ashkenazic community.

A גוט יום טוב, מועדים לשמחה, און א גוט יאהר!

Thinking Of Editing Shemoneh Esrei? Not So Fast. להבין נ”א בברכת תקע בשופר בשמו”ע בלי להוסיף המלה לארצנו

May 17, 2011


Recently, it was reported that a Rabbi from Israel, on a visit to America, spoke at a (nusach Ashkenaz) Shul and urged the people there to add the word לארצנו at the end of the ברכה of תקע בשופר in the שמונה עשרה. This Rabbi is a lover of ארץ ישראל and presumably he wanted to strengthen the audience’s connection to our holy land in some way with such a gesture.

Such a proposal can seem nice and innocuous to the masses, and I can see people struggling to give a reason why it should be rejected. But doing so can open the door to other changes, and who knows where that could lead. And where does it end? That alone should suffice to reject the idea. Especially since the Shemoneh Esrei is such an ancient and central part of our תפלה.

Nowadays, however, when the hold of tradition has been weakened, for many people that would not suffice as a reponse, so for them, and להגדיל תורה ולהאדירה, I will write down some additional thoughts that came to me while contemplating the matter, and from reading a piece on the nusach of תקע בשופר in the annual Yerushoseinu, published by Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz.


A) While not all the texts and tefillos are of the same age, or on the same level, nevertheless, central tefillos, such as shemoneh esrei, are ancient and have been used and examined by many generations of גדולי ישראל and עם ישראל.  To lightly assume that they  were omitting a vital word without realizing it, does not seem to be the most responsible assumption to make.

B) Another issue is that, as taught by various traditional sources, there are a specific amount of words in certain prayers or brachos, which have significance, be it symbolically, kabbalistically, or otherwise. Tampering with the traditional text clashes with those traditions. In this case, the טור states that the ברכה has twenty words. Adding le’artzeinu makes it twenty one, and hence puts the structure passed down for generations into disarray.


C) At first I thought that it was not necessary to specify that the gathering should be to Eretz Yisroel, because it is simple and understood. Where else would it be to? Bhutan? Nepal? Uganda? Peru?

D) Another approach was taken by R. Yitzchok Isaac Wallach, a doctor who lived in Dessau. He wrote about this over three hundred years ago. His תשובה on the subject was recently publicized in the ירושתנו issue of 5770, ,עמודים סג-פד, in a piece prepared by R. Yaakov Shmuel Spiegel.

He points out that there is a method and order to the set up and sequence of the שמונה עשרה, as the gemara in מסכת מגילה  tells us.  E.g. from the brocho of תקע בשופר to את צמח דוד, we daven for the following six stages of envisioned גאולה, in the following order –

1) Gathering together of exiles, 2) Judgement meted out to evil doers, 3) Destruction of those who rebel against Hashem, 4) Elevation of the righteous. 5) Building of Jerusalem, 6) Return of מלכות בית דוד (Davidic kingdom).

He goes on to show, from various teachings of חז”ל, that it was envisioned that in the stages of גאולה, there would first be a gathering of exiles in the diaspora, even before a return to ארץ ישראל, and that is what this brocho (stage one above) refers to. As he explains it, the ingathering to ארץ ישראל is connected to the later stage, of restoration of the Davidic kingdom, which is part of stage six. Therefore, the idea to add לארצנו to the brocho of תקע בשופר is out of place.

Interestingly, he also brings an aggadic teaching to support his point, citing what is brought in the שבלי הלקט, that when יעקב אבינו went to down to מצרים and saw יוסף and שמעון, and he and his sons gathered all together, the מלאכי השרת exclaimed בא”י מקבץ נדחי עמו ישראל. And that was in חוץ לארץ.

I am not going to go into everything he wrote, that would be much more work, but just want to let people know about the existence of this piece of Torah. Interested parties are directed to ירושתנו for the complete version. Hopefully, they will  extrapolate from this case to other cases and not jump to conclude that long-standing traditions are lacking.

Finally, as an aside, it is interesting that some נוסח ספרד siddurim also omit לארצנו.

Hallel in Shul on Pesach night – Understanding the basis of the מנהג אשכנז to refrain – מדוע א”א הלל בבית הכנסת בליל הסדר בפסח לפי מסורת אשכנז

April 18, 2011

(An important post from a few years ago, improved and updated, and moved to the front page for review, as Seder night approaches)

Singular Hallel, for a singular evening, or a duplicated Hallel? 

All proper Jews say הלל, praising הקדוש ברוך הוא, on פסח night, during the סדר. This joyous recitation is one of the highlights of the evening. Some others, however, recite it a second time that night as well, in Shul. It is the latter custom, to do a double recitation of Hallel, and the stance of מנהג אשכנז toward it, that is the subject of this posting.

A few years ago, I received a booklet of circa seventy pages from מכון מורשת אשכנז on the topic of הלל בבית הכנסת בליל פסח. It was a greatly expanded version of the chapter on the subject in שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק א (app. fifteen pages), by רבש”ה, of ten years earlier.

It is a very thorough treatment of the subject from various angles, that shows very clearly, based on ancient (as well as more  recent), classical sources, that הלל on פסח night is, according to our holy מסורה, properly recited only at home, during the seder, בשעה שמצה ומרור מנחים לפניך, and not a second time in Shul at night as well. I highly recommend it.

For those who are not clear about the issue, and don’t have access to the aforementioned booklet, I will write some words, a combination of what I saw there, mixed with some of my own thoughts.

Looking at the Sources

The practice to say Hallel in Shul, in addition to the recitation at home during the seder, is not mentioned in the גמרא. It is contained in what is referred to as מסכת סופרים, a later compilation of teachings that were deliberately excluded from the גמרא, that is not on the level of the Talmud, where it is mentioned for people who were not learned (yes, believe it or not, not everyone learned in ישיבה and כולל for many years then ;-), and could not be relied upon to say it properly on their own, at home during the seder.

The רמ”א states clearly that we don’t say it. The משנה ברורה and ערוך השלחן do so as well. Interestingly, even the שלחן ערוך הרב, authored by the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, states that ‘we do not read it in Shul in these countries’ in his code of law (though in his siddur, which was made for his Chassidim, he says to do so).

Yemenite minhag not to duplicate Hallel on seder night

Also worthy of note is that Yemenite congregations that hew to their ancient minhog, mostly those categorized as Baladi, also do not say it.

What did the GRA, the Gaon of Vilna, do?

Some claim that מנהג הגר”א is to say הלל in Shul on Pesach night. However, that is not listed as a practice of the Gaon in the well known work מעשה רב, which records his minhogim. If the Gaon would have said Hallel in Shul, in opposition to the general minhag Lita around him, it would have certainly stood out and been sufficiently noteworthy to qualify for inclusion there. That omission speaks volumes. What seems to have happened is that some of the פרושים in ארץ ישראל  got it from the local ספרדים, among other non-Ashkenaz practices such as chalaka/upsherin, saying אין כאלקינו daily, and an expanded version of יחדשהו in ראש חודש bentching, for example, as when they settled in ירושלים circa two centuries ago, they were not permitted to have their own Shul for some time by the government, and had to daven with the ספרדים in order not to stand out. The ספרדים then were dominant there, and they had to subjugate themselves to them, and try to blend in.

Gedolim who said Hallel only once on seder night, even after moving to Eretz Yisroel 

Staunch advocates of the ancient Ashkenaz tradition not to duplicate Hallel on that night who came later on to ארץ ישראל, when אשכנזים were able to practice their faith and מנהגים more freely, rejected this anachronistic, submissive stance to Sepharadic (later Sepharadic – early Sepharadic practice in Spain didn’t have it either, but that is another discussion, עיין שם) practice, and maintained the מנהג אשכנז of saying it only once, during the סדר. For example the גרי”ז, Rav Velvel Soloveichik, whose refraining from saying הלל in Shul then was well known (שו”ת תשובות והנהגות חלק ב, סימן רמ”ה, הגש”פ מועדים וזמנים, ירושלים תש”מ, עמוד נ-נא), and the דעת סופר, Rav Akiva Sofer of Pressburg.

It seems quite ironic that at the very outset of the חג הגאולה, during זמן חרותינו, the festival of freedom, when ב”ה we are free to practice our ancestral faith, some people still slavishly follow a practice that some of our brethren were compelled into doing, in opposition to their ancestral מנהג. Presumably they just don’t know what the background of the matter is.

Another big problem with it to me, on an experiential level, in addition to all the other issues, is doing the same thing twice on one night. People should rather do it once correctly. Doing it twice the same night diminishes the experience.

If one finds themselves in a place where Hallel is duplicated, how should one act? מעשה רב ממרן הגרי”ז זצ”ל

Another angle to this issue, that should be addressed, is the situation that arises at times when people whose minhog is not to say it, are davening where they do say it. Sometimes such people are cajoled (by themselves – or imagine feeling so, perhaps a figment of their imagination? – or others), and convinced into believing that they must join the recitation, with the argument that it is not proper to be פורש מן הציבור. However, in that regard, they should know that when the Brisk’er Rav, the גרי”ז, was in such a situation, he would exit, and go to another room (סדר הערוך לרמ”י וינגרטן, פרק כח, הערה 16).

להבחל”ח הגאון ר’ שמואל קמנצקי שליט”א, the Gaon Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlit”a, has paskened that if someone who follows Ashkenaz minhog in this is in a place where Hallel is said, he should leave unobstrusively – and furthermore, if he cannot do so, he should recite Tehillim during the Hallel – but not Hallel itself!

The trend of continually adding on new things, at the expense of the old, is not recommended. As חז”ל teach us,  כל המוסיף גורע – whoever adds, subtracts. On the other hand, the one that follows the minhog of his holy אשכנז ancestors, is הולך בעקבי צאן קדשים, and is הולך בטח, striding securely in the steps of his forefathers.

In the zechus of following the מנהגים of our holy ancestors, may we be זוכה to have a meaningful and proper יום טוב.