Posts Tagged ‘Ashkenaz’

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

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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!

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.

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”.

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

 

The Special Experience of Chanukah Lighting at Khal Adas Jeshurun (‘Breuer’s’) – הדלקת נר חנוכה בק”ק קהל עדת ישורון, וואשינגטאן הייטס, ניו יורק

December 2, 2013

The הדלקת נר חנוכה at KAJ (‘Breuer’s’) is traditionally a special experience.

Now, thanks to the generosity of GWCTD, those who could not experience it in person can get a taste of it even from afar.

Here is a video from the first night of this year’s Chanukah.

Note the following.

1) The beautiful בית הכנסת.

2) The chazan is wearing a tallis in the evening (I believe it is a short while after shekias hachamah). This is in accordance with Minhag Ashkenaz, in which the chazan/shliach tzibbur wears a tallis for tefillos mincha and arvis, as well as the morning tefillos (as we discussed in the past).

3) The way he is wearing it – draped over his arms (as opposed to a common practice among some of throwing back that part of the tallis back over the shoulders, leaving the arms uncovered by it).

4) The beautiful way the brachos are chanted by the chazan, following a traditional nusach. Each one takes close to a minute!

5) The special portable mini platform, upon which the chazan stands when lighting the menorah, after ascending three steps.

6) How the chazan descends after the lighting, taking special action to avoid turning his back to the aron kodesh.

7) The general decorum.

This is a great example of זה א-לי ואנוהו, upon which חז”ל comment התנאה לפניו במצות, as well as כבוד בית הכנסת ושמירת מנהגים קדושים.

Hopefully others will learn from this great example and act similarly. ומהם ילמדו וכן יעשו.

א ליכטיגען און פרייליכען חנוכה

Prominent Chassidic Rebbe Speaks Out Against Inappropriate Kabbalah Study

May 31, 2012

As we have discussed in the past (see, for example, here), even though the Chassidic movement broke with traditional Ashkenazic practice in certain areas, such as nusach hatefillah, nevertheless, in other areas some Chassidim maintained traditional Ashkenazic stances.

I recently saw a interesting report in a newspaper published in Eretz Yisroel, called בקהילה (Bakehilla), about the Sanzer Rebbe of Netanya, speaking out strongly against people getting involved in Kabbalah when they are not on the proper level to do so (בקהילה פלוס, כה אייר תשע”ב, p.15). Under a title of סוד ה’ ליראיו, it reported that the Rebbe strongly condemned the spreading of קבלה indiscriminately to the masses, and said that  people should first learn the whole ש”ס (Talmud) with תוספות, among other aspects of standard תורת הנגלה. He warned of serious danger in learning Kabbalah for people not on the level to do so.

That is in accordance with traditional Ashkenazic belief and practice, which limits Kabbalah study to people properly prepared for it (in the past this has been a point of contention at times between some Chassidim and non-Chassidim). The words would not have been so surprising to me had they been uttered by a non-Chassidic Rosh Yeshiva or Rav. But it was somewhat surprising at first to see such strong talk on the topic from a Chassidishe Rebbe. A pleasant surprise though.

Looking for info about it online, I couldn’t find a recent report like the one in the newpaper, however I did find one of the Rebbe delivering similar remarks (though milder and less developed than in the recent report), three years earlier, on the occasion of the yohrzeit of the דברי חיים of צאנז.  Looking further, I noted similar sentiment at the Wikipedia page of the Rebbe’s ancestor, the דברי חיים, as well.

In the course of my searching, I also found an interesting report from a few years ago in which the Rebbe spoke out against Chassidim who institute new customs, such as abolishing the recitation of ונתנה תוקף on Yom Kippur, as well as certain other controversial actions such as dancing in the streets before שבת.

Boruch Hashem, it is nice to see a Chassidishe Rebbe speak so strongly on such an important matter, expressing the Ashkenazic viewpoint so clearly and forcefully. Hopefully we will see more such manifestations in the future, אכי”ר.