Posts Tagged ‘Chassidim’

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!

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

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.


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


Vestiges of Minhag Ashkenaz in Unexpected Places: Satmar Rebbe’s Teshuva Drosho – דרשת שבת שובה ושבת הגדול ע”י הרב בטלית

October 2, 2014

Sometimes one is pleasantly surprised when they see an unexpected sight. Such was the case when, a short while ago, I came across a photo of the (Kiryas Joel) Satmar Rebbe giving a ‘Shabbos shuvah drosho’ in Williamsburg in New York, a few days ago, wearing a tallis. The practice seems to be a vestige of the old minhag Ashkenaz, in which a tallis is worn not only for davening, but also on other special occasions, such as when a Rav is mesader kiddushin, officiating at a chassunah (wedding), and for Shabbos Hagodol and Shabbos Shuva drashos, and so on, מפני כבוד הציבור. In this case it was especially interesting as it was not even on Shabbos, but rather on Sunday, צום גדליה!

Interestingly, this minhag survives in a variety of locations around the world, such as Eretz Yisroel, Europe, as well as some places in the USA. Did you see it at the drosho you attended this year?

Do you have any other examples of sightings of Minhag Ashkenaz practices, or vestiges thereof, in unexpected places, that you would like to share with us? Do tell!

יה”ר שנזכה לשוב בתשובה שלמה בקרוב

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.

More Reasons To Reject The New Lag Baomer Practices – The Hidden Dangers Of New Customs

May 4, 2012

With less than a week to go, and the hype in the air, it is time to review the topic of Lag Baomer and build on last year’s post about it (

Earlier this week I saw a post from ארץ ישראל , which brought out, in a very clear way, very serious dangers, I mean סכנות, of the day in the way many people mark it at present (HT Rafi). These are very serious dangers, both in גשמיות and רוחניות, lurking then. Which have claimed victims, let us not delude ourselves. We know that חמירא סכנתא מאיסורא. That alone should cause people to reconsider what they do on that day, even if the post last year didn’t do the job. I think everyone should take a look at the post.

And there are even more dangers which that article didn’t get to, such as various dangers in the very crowded atmosphere in Meron, from pushing, to heat exhaustion, to פריצות, to issues for Kohanim, and further.

The Lag Baomer hypers are fond of repeating mantras like כדאי הוא רבי שמעון לסמוך עליו בשעת הדחק (R. Shimon is worthy of relying upon in time of duress) and (in Yiddish) רבי שמעון בלייבט נישט שולדיג ביי קיינעם (R. Shimon doesn’t remain owing anyone anything – meaning that he pays up). But however accurate they may or may not be, such sloganeering does not override basic Torah teachings such as אין סומכין על הנס and במקום דשכיח הזיקא שאני

 Update: More calls have come out echoing words above, e.g. from a leading Yemenite Rav in Eretz Yisroel, and others. Also, see this warning from authorities there.

Chassidim Who Stay Away From Meron on Lag Baomer

Another important point to note is that there are many frum groups that are not into going to Meron on ל”ג. In last year’s post we discussed the practice of Rav Elyashiv שליט”א, of never going to Meron. But some people might say what do you expect from a Litvak, after all? So for them I want to point out that certain very major Chassidishe Rebbes and their followers are conspicuous by their lack of participation in the event as well. For example, the largest Chassidic court in Eretz Yisroel is reportedly that of  חסידי גור, aka Gerrer Chassidim. Has anyone seen the Gerrer Rebbe and great masses of Gerrer Chassidim there in Meron on Lag Baomer? I guess there may be some, here and there, but proportionate to their numbers? I don’t think so. Correct me if I am wrong. And other very important Chassidic groups, such as Satmar, also have reservations about it, and are not seen there as they are at other events. So the point is that the matter is not simple at all, even for those who are not usually identified by the masses as being part of the מנהג אשכנז community, even for staunch Chassidim.

Update: It is being reported that the Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Bnei Brak ordered his younger followers to stay away from Meron on Lag Baomer, without exception. Vizhnitz is one of the largest Chassidic groups in Eretz Yisroel. Sign can be seen here.

Chassidim Without Bonfires 

It seems that in the past, the lighting of bonfires was limited among Chassidim as well, especially in the diaspora (outside Eretz Yisroel). For example, it is reported that the old Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, did not have a ‘hadlokoh’ in the USA. The practice was only established by his successor, Rav Moshe Teitelbaum, the Beirach Moshe. The Stoliner Chassidim were reported to be pioneers in having a public bonfire at their center in Boro Park, in Brooklyn, which seems to be only in recent decades, if that far back. So it is seems that for many years, many Chassidim managed on Lag Baomer in the disapora without הדלקות

Update: I have been informed that at the court of the Gerrer Rebbe there is no הדלקה  (bonfire) at all. Despite the fact that it is located in Eretz Yisroel. That is quite significant, since Ger is reportedly the largest Chassidic group in ארצנו הקדושה, as well as being one of the largest and most influential in the world. Presumably the Rebbe is continuing in the footsteps of his predecessors in this regard.

Evolution and Spread of Various Lag Baomer Practices

From what I have seen, it seems that the bonfire lighting may have first been in Meron, the area of מערת רשב”י, over time spreading to other areas in Eretz Yisroel. And only later, gradually, and partially, to some places in the diaspora. I am thinking here of practices among groups who generally were inclined to adopt Sephardic practices, such as various Chassidic groups. Nevertheless, it seems that there was and is variation among them, and they did not all rush immediately to copy every Sephardic practice of the day. If a Chassidic group did not have a certain practice in its earlier days, under revered earlier Rebbes in the diaspora, it could be difficult for them to suddenly change, and make a giant bonfire lighting for example, when that was not their minhag previously, if they stress the principle of not deviating from old practices.

Not Wise to Leap On To A Mirage of a Moving Bandwagon That is Actually Not of Sturdy Construction

The above gives more than enough reason for any Ashkenazic Jew to rethink the practices under discussion, even if they have already engaged in them. But surely those that haven’t yet been swept up in the frenzy, including many in חוץ לארץ, should now feel more secure in standing firm against the innovations. If people in Eretz Yisroel are speaking out about the great problems associated with such practices, why would anyone of sound mind want to import them to chutz lo’aretz? Attempts to do so should be firmly rejected and resisted. Yeshivas should not innovate such new practices, as unfortunately some have done in recent years. It sends a wrong message about following our holy מסורה, which is in opposition to what a ישיבה should stand for. If talmidim need to have some recreation, they can go to a park, and engage in traditional innocuous pastimes there.

Broader Lessons Beyond This Specific Case 

And this lesson from Lag Baomer practices, about the dangers of new customs not in the path of the observances of אבותינו הקדושים, our holy ancestors, is a general lesson to keep in mind, not just for this particular case. לא ללמד על עצמו יצא, אלא ללמד על הכלל כלו יצא.

Those who want to mark the day in a special way can emulate מרן רב אלישיב שליט”א and have special סדרים in לימוד תורתנו הקדושה.

In the zechus of proper observance of ל”ג בעומר, may we be zoche to בשורות טובות ישועות ונחמות, במהרה בימינו, אמן!