Posts Tagged ‘Chassidus’

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.


  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.


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.


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.


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

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

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


Is this why Moshiach hasn’t come yet, according to Chassidic teaching?

April 8, 2011

(Yes, you are at the right blog. For those who have been waiting with bated breath for the next installment of the riveting endangered minhogim series, don’t panic! We will אי”ה get back to the minhogim, endangered or robust, do not worry. Just taking a break here, mixing it up a bit, need a change of pace sometimes.) 😉

While going through הישיבה הרמה בפיורדא, in the chapter on Rav Yosef Steinhart, there is a discussion about his position with regard to the contemporary Chassidic movement, which began in his time. As part of this, it shows part of the famous letter sent by the בעל שם טוב to his brother in law, R. Gershon of Kutov, which was first printed in the sefer בן פורת יוסף, printed in תקמ”א, in which the בעש”ט says that he met Moshiach in the course of an aliyas neshomo (heavenly ascent of the soul) that he had on ראש השנה of the year תק”ז.

Usually, when people hear, talk, and write about this letter, only a small snippet of it is mentioned. Actually, it is a lengthy letter, discussing various things. Usually what is mentioned is that the Besht asked Moshiach, ‘when are you coming Sir?’, and the reply given was ‘when your wellsprings spread forth outward’, which is explained to mean something like Chassidus spreading through the world.

When one looks at the actual letter, however, one sees that that is only part of the story, and that some important additional information was omitted. The relevant passage is as follows:

ושאלתי את פי משיח, אימת אתי מר? והשיב לי, בזאת תדע, בעת שיתפרסם למודך, ויתגלה בעולם, ויפוצו מעינותיך חוצה מה שלמדתי אותך והשגת, ויוכלו גם המה לעשות יחודים ועליות כמוך, ואז וכלו כל הקליפות, ויהי’ עת רצון וישועה. ותמהתי ע”ז והי’ לי צער גדול באריכות הזמן כל כך מתי זה אפשר להיות. אך ממה שלמדתי בהיותי שם שלשה דברים סגולות ושלשה שמות הקדושים, והם בנקל ללמוד ולפרוש, ונתקרר דעתי וחשבתי אפשר ע”י זה יוכלו גם כן אנשי גילי לבוא למדרגה ובחינה כמותי, דהיינו בהיותם יכולים לעליות נשמות וילמדו וישיגו כמו אני. ולא נתנה רשות כל ימי חיי לגלות זאת ובקשתי עבורך ללמוד אותך ולא הורשתי כלל ומושבע ועומד אני על זה

You can see it here, a bit over half way down the page. So basically it says that when others are able to make yichudim (Kabbalistic unifications) and aliyos (heavenly ascents) as the Besht, then Moshiach will come. Not just a generic ‘spreading of Chassidus’.

So my question is, how many people can do such things, today or then, Chassidim or non Chassidim, Kabbalists or non Kabbalists? And indeed the letter goes on to say that the Besht was very distressed about it, how long it would take to reach such a point. But from what he learned there in shomayim, three segulos and three שמות הקדושים that are easy to learn and explain, he was calmed, and thought that perhaps through them other people would be able to reach his level, namely to make aliyos neshomos like him, and to learn and attain, but permission was not given him all the days of his life to reveal it. And he asked on behalf of R. Gershon to teach him, but was not permitted at all, and was so sworn.

So perhaps, according to this letter, we can say that Moshiach didn’t come (according to Chassidic teachings) because others didn’t reach that level?

Am I missing something here? I know that there has been much written about the letter. Perhaps someone can explain?

More on the Chassidishe Rebbe who davened nusach Ashkenaz, and somewhat similar contemporary cases

March 8, 2011

Here is more info on the Chassidishe Rebbe who davened nusach Ashkenaz, courtesy of The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe.

There is a two volume siddur, צלותא באברהם, that was put out according to his nusach, with commentary and explanations, which can be seen at

I just took a quick look at it, and indeed, on page six of volume one, it is stated and stressed that he davened in nusach Ashkenaz davka. It seems that what was meant was an Eastern European version of nusach Ashkenaz, but nevertheless that is still remarkable for a Chassidishe Rebbe.

I will, בלי נדר, examine it more later, and maybe there will be more to say then.

Interestingly, it states that while he davened nusach Ashkenaz, his sons departed from his practice and ceased doing so. I have heard of other cases in which fathers, gedolei Torah, who are or were Chassidic or semi-Chassidic (at least as far as I know), in modern times, davened nusach Ashkenaz, but similarly, it seems as if their children didn’t continue their practice in that regard. I don’t know this first hand, so can’t vouch for it with total certainty, but the reports seem credible.

One case is re Rav Shmuel Wosner שליט”א , one of the great poskim, who lives in Eretz Yisroel. I have heard that he davens nusach Ashkenaz, as per his family minhog, but his descendants have become more Chassidish and daven Sfard. Can anyone confirm this?

Another case is re Rav Moshe Bick זצ”ל, a great poseik in the USA, who was נפטר a number of years ago. I have heard that he davened nusach Ashkenaz, and that he was a descendant of Rav Yaakov Emden, whose siddur (the original authentic Ashkenaz version) he reprinted. I believe that his descendants have become more Chassidish and daven Sfard, though I may be (totally or partially) wrong, and I welcome correction.

The Noam Elimelech on changing from nusach Ashkenaz to nusach Sfard: Not a simple matter!

March 7, 2011

The discussion of the previous topic spurred me to look for the letter cited of the Noam Elimelech, one of the legendary fathers of the modern Chassidic movement, whose yahrzeit is כא אדר (according to what is written here, it should be observed in both Adars during a leap year, like this year).

It is in the back of the sefer נועם אלימלך, where he responds to a letter from a friend of his asking if he should change the nusach and daven nusach Sfard.

Perhaps surprisingly to us, the Noam Elimelech places strict conditions on making such a change. If a person is not on a very high madreiga, he says, חלילה to daven nusach Sfard. The letter can be seen here, courtesy of the wonderful website.

Also interesting is that the Noam Elimelech says that he didn’t grasp that nusach for a long time, until he became old.

So we see that it was not a light matter then, even to such a great early Chassidic leader, to just change the nusach.

Chassidim and Ashkenaz

March 6, 2011

A comment on one of the earlier posts led to the idea of writing about Chassidim and Ashkenaz. I will try to collect some of what I know about this.

The attitude among Chassidim to minhag and nusach Ashkenaz was not and is not uniform. Nor uniformly negative. Some harbor positive feelings toward it. There are many remnants of Ashkenazic practices among Chassidim, and, when it comes down to it, they are still Ashkenazic Jews. Despite having changed in davening from nusach Ashkenaz to what they call ‘nusach Sfard’ or nusach Ari, they still basically follow a more or less Ashkenaz path in other matters of halocho, e.g. following the Rama instead of the Beis Yosef.

Even in the nusach of davening, there is a great amount of variation among them. There are quite a few different Chassidic siddurim. In recent years especially, various Chassidic groups have put out new siddurim with their own nusach, which they use, as opposed to generic ‘nusach Sfard’ siddurim. No single one that is used by all Chassidim. And some are not as far from Ashkenaz as others.

I have heard that the nusach of the Belzer Chassidim, especially in shemoneh esreh (?), is very close to nusach Ashkenaz (I am using the term Ashkenaz here loosely and not getting into differences between Eastern and Western Europe, etc.). If I remember correctly, the nusach of the Bostoner Chassidim, which claim a connection to the Hafla’ah, is also not that far from Ashkenaz, at least in terms of the shemoneh esreh. As I stated earlier, one Rebbe, the Cieszanower I believe, davened nusach Ashkenaz. I have also heard that the Noam Elimelech, one of the great Hassidic founding fathers, in the back of his sefer, where letters are printed, has a letter which touches upon this and he is actually okay with nusach Ashkenaz as well.

The Komarno Rebbe was very strongly in favor of the old Ashkenazic minhog that only one person says kaddish at a time. I believe there are other areas in which the Komarno was also in agreement with Ashkenazic minhog as well.

There has actually been confusion among Chassidim about how far to go in their adoption of  Sepharadic practices. For example, on some occasions there are differences of opinion between Minhag Sepharad and Minhog Ashkenaz re what haftoroh is read. In such cases some Chassidim have gone along with the Sepharadic practice. But others have stuck to the Ashkenaz one (I believe that is the practice of most of them). One of the previous Munkatcher Rebbes wrote about this issue. This I heard in the shiur of Rav Hamburger in Lakewood last year.