Posts Tagged ‘Lost minhogim’

The Disappearing Doctor of Iyyar: Virtual Vanishing of a Venerable Minhog – הרופא הנעדר של חודש אייר: מנהג ותיק בכתיבת שם ה’, שהולך ונתמעט

May 6, 2015

There is a popular vort that some people like to say over, especially around this time of the year, which interprets the letters of אייר, the month we are now in midst of, as standing for אני ה’ רופאך, I am Hashem your healer (‘doctor’). The aleph stands for אני, the two yuds for הקב”ה, and the ר for רופאך. The month is thereby depicted as a month of healing. The vort seemingly is based on an old minhog of many generations among Yidden, in which the letters י-י  (sans hyphen) are used to represent the venerated name of Hashem (in particular the שם הוי-ה), in place of the spelling out of it with the letters Yud-Kay-Vov-Kay (י, followed by ה, followed by ו, followed by ה).

Writing the Shem Hashem – background, past, and present practices

Jewish custom is that the Shem Hashem is treated with special respect. When people write, they do not write the Holy Name as it appears in a sefer Torah, for example. Rather they write ה’, ה’ יתברך, or similar. This was followed not only in private writing, but even in the printing of סידורים, where in the past, Shem Hashem was not written out explicitly, based on venerable, old practice. In other words, the spelling out of the letters, Yud – Kay – Vov – Kay in the past was done in Biblical texts, such as ספרי תורה וספרי נ”ך. In texts of תפלות, however, it was not done. Instead, Yud – Yud was substituted. The reason for this, was as part of the great veneration and respect Jews had for the great and awesome name. Just as people don’t enunciate it when they speak, rather they say instead ‘Hashem’ (the name), הקדוש ברוך הוא, etc., so too, they were careful not to spell out the name in writing as well. Recently, however, almost all נוסח אשכנז siddurim have abandoned this ancient practice (with the notable exception of some Yekke ones, whose circulation and numbers are quite limited at this time though) and started to write out the sheimos explicitly, with the letters ‘Yud – Kay – Vov – Kay’. It has gotten to the point, that one is hard pressed to find a siddur which follows that venerable minhog in many nusach Ashkenaz Shuls.

To better bring out the above, one can take a look at pages from a variety of נוסח אשכנז siddurim over the centuries, by clicking on the links below, thanks to

1. The kabbalistic סידור שער השמים of the famous Kabbalist, the של”ה, from approximately three hundred years ago, here.

2. The famous סידור בית יעקב (also strongly Kabbalah influenced), of the great Rav Yaakov Emden,  here.

3. A siddur from one of the גדולי ירושלים, ר’ זונדעל קרויזער, from a few short years ago, here.

Note the difference between how the Shem is written in the first two and how it is seen in the third.

Why should this be cause for wonder and concern, לעניות דעתי, as it seems from this vantage point?

For a number of reasons. If this was the minhog of the gedolim and masses of the past, how can people later, who are presumed to be on a lesser level, make such a change, on such a broad scale, to the extent that the old tradition is threatened with disappearance ח”ו? Do they think we know better than so many previous generations, and their leaders, the gedolim? How can such an old tradition be so easily abandoned? It should be stated that the question is more for people involved in putting together סידורים than the masses who daven from them, who are likely not aware of the issues involved, to be fair.

Kabbalistic siddurim have previously followed such a path, of printing out sheimos explicitly, and in Sepharadic/ Eidos Hamizrach siddurim one sees many varied sheimos spelled out. But the minhog among Ashkenazim was not so.

הרב יעקב לויפר, who wrote about this recently, feels that Kabbalistic influence is involved in the shift. He also mentions a responsum of Rav Moshe Sternbuch שליט”א, who/which advocates as much, as well as a claim that the Brisker Rav held so as well (which he states requires investigation), but feels that R. Sternbuch is in the minority.

It still surprises me, however, as this is not a small, minor matter, but a venerable old minhog that was kept for centuries.

The extent of the strength of the minhog can be seen from strongly worded declarations from very prominent Rabbonim in support of it over a century ago, which can be seen online, once again thanks to, two examples being

1) ר’ אלעזר הכהן, son in law of ר’ יעקב מליסא, the famed Nesivos Hamishpot (בעמח”ס נתיבות המשפט), wrote strongly about this inyan over a hundred years ago, with his message entitled אזהרה למדפיסים.


2) A few years later, a קונטרוס came out in support of the same, entitled הסכמות הרבנים, with statements of a group of renowned Rabbonim, including R. Chaim Berlin, and R. Eliyohu Boruch Kamai of Mir.

Rav Sternbuch, in his reponsum where he discusses the matter, from circa thirty years ago, states that most siddurim do not spell out the sheimos, but rather use י-י instead. But if that was true at that time, it definitely is not so now, as the tide has swung dramatically, to the point where I think the old minhag can be placed in our ‘endangered minhogim‘ category. The fact that it has reached such a situation, hopefully will spur people to give it more thought and consideration.

In the zechus of התבוננות in, and hopefully, at some point, החזרת עטרה ליושנה in this inyan, may we be zoche to אני ה’ רופאך, בב”א.

Note: (The info in the above is primarily based on an excellent מאמר in קובץ חצי גבורים פליטת סופרים ז, אלול התשע”ד by הרב יעקב לויפר, ירושלים, עמודים שמז-שסה)

The Mysterious, Elusive, Elongated, Melodious Borechu – On The Trail Of A Lost Ancient Tradition – הברכו הארוך – חיפוש מנהג אבוד

September 19, 2011


Our תפלה בציבור is comprised of various components. One very important part is the recitation of things classified as דברים שבקדושה, which we are taught require a מנין (quorum) to be said. In this category are ברכו, קדיש, וקדושה. In this series of posts, we share some ideas to strengthen and make more meaningful these parts of davening, בעזרת השי”ת, based on the ancient holy wisdom and practices of our ancestors.

PART ONE – ברכו את ה’ המבורך

To start, let us turn our attention to ברכו.


ברכו את ה’ המבורך –  just four words – and another five, adding up to nine, if you count the response of ברוך ה’ המברך לעולם ועד. Yet these words pack a lot of power into them, and therefore have a special status in הלכה.

Perhaps because this utterance, the call to bless הקדוש ברוך הוא, at the beginning of davening/a section of davening/reading the Torah, is so short, and can be mistreated by running through it so fast that it is barely noticed (as we unfortunately see happening at times), with people not given sufficient time to focus on it, and not given the attention it deserves, there is an ancient מנהג to elongate the ברכו and extend its recitation.


However, nowadays, this minhog has been lost for the most part, in most places, outside of the precincts where מנהג אשכנז is practiced. Though interestingly, it is not only a minhag Ashkenaz, it has a place among (at least some) Sepharadim as well (כמבואר בספר כתר שם טוב). Despite it being featured in ‘mainstream’ halachic literature studied far and wide, where it talks of being מאריך בברכו, to have a special extended ברכו chanted by the חזן, especially at certain times, מוצאי שבת being a prominent example, nevertheless, surprisingly, for most people this minhog nowadays is such an enigma, such a mystery, to the extent that people can even be baffled by references to it.


ראש השנה and the ימים נוראים are approaching, where, for most of us, the last remnants of this old minhog resides. One of the most distinctive and beloved features of that time of the year is the special, elongated Borechu, with a special melody, that is used on those evenings. That beloved High Holiday Borechu is part of this general minhog.


There is a very comprehensive discussion of this inyan in שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק א, p.195-213, and I have been informed by רבש”ה that there will be important additions on the subject in the iy”H forthcoming new edition of the long out of print volume (anyone who would like to have the zechus of lending a hand to this important work, feel free to step up…). Those who want more info on it are directed there.


Perhaps it is time to consider bringing it back in places where it has been lost, beyond the ימים נוראים. Or are people nowadays too busy to spare the extra few seconds? 😉


While you contemplate that suggestion, you can listen to a few clips of special, elongated Borechus from various special times, as chanted by the חזן of קהל עדת ישורון in ירושלים עיה”ק, ר’ מיכאל פרידמאן שליט”א, to get an idea what they can sound like, and to see how they enhance the ברכו experience.


ברכו for a ‘regular’ Friday night.

ברכו on Friday night for a שבת where two ספרי תורה are read from in the morning.

ברכו for a regular motzaei Shabbos (this clip contains an extended והוא רחום as well)

In the zechus of being מאריך in ברכו, we should be zoche that the אריכות of our גלות comes to an end soon, אמן, כן יהי רצון לפני השי”ת.

P.S. I realize that I neglected to mention a related and associated minhog to this one, namely, the saying of יתברך וישתבח… while the חזן is being מאריך in ברכו. That is also discussed extensively and comprehensively in the aforementioned section of שרשי מנהג אשכנז. It is interesting that it is still printed in siddurim today alongside ברכו despite the fact that almost nobody seems to say it, at least in most Shuls! There are grounds for the extended, elongated ברכו even without the ציבור saying it concurrently, but it definitely is related and relevant to this discussion.

Reverting vs. Converting – The Halachic Basis For Returning To Lost Minhogim – להחזיר עטרה ליושנה בעניני מנהגים – הבסיס ההלכתי

September 13, 2011

If one has, for one reason or another, lost touch with his מנהג, his ancestral, family custom, and grew up with a different one for an extended period, but later becomes more aware and wants to return to the former, may he do so? After all, we prize tradition, מסורה, so much, and typically gaze with suspicion at changes.

Rav Moshe Feinstein z”l, מחבר of אגרות משה and world renowned poseik, addresses a variation of this question in a famous teshuvoh, in Igros Moshe on אורח חיים, ב:כד.

The question posed to him was if an Ashkenazic Jew, who came from a ‘nusach Sfard’ family, but grew up davening nusach Ashkenaz, was allowed to do so. After all, we are taught אל תטוש תורת אמך – not to forsake our traditional minhogim. So could such a change be countenanced?

Rav Moshe responded that he was allowed to adopt נוסח אשכנז, since, as an Ashkenazic Jew, by doing so he was really going back to his old mesorah, as the practice of some Ashkenazic Jews to daven ‘nusach Sfard’, was only a recent change innovated by the Chassidic movement (without a clear halachic basis that Rav Moshe was aware of), which was a departure from Ashkenazic tradition. So if this man wanted to go back to his pre-Chassidic familial tradition of davening nusach Ashkenaz, it wasn’t a deviation, but rather a return to his roots and authentic ancestral custom (minhog). He was not converting to a different, foreign minhog – rather he was reverting, going back to his old, family custom.

It seems, נראה לעניות דעתי, that this תשובה has broader implications than just the narrow case of nusach hatefilloh addressed. לכאורה the same principle should apply in general to cases of going back back to minhogim that were somehow lost over time, particularly, if an acceptable basis for departures from them is unclear, as in this case.

So, for example, let’s say a congregation wants to go back to the old minhog that only one person says kaddish at a time? Seems to be countenanced, based on this teshuvoh. If it wants to go back to singing LeDovid Boruch on Motzaei Shabbos? Ditto. To having the chazan say a special, long, melodious ברכו at certain special times? Ditto.

This lays the ground for some ideas I wish to write about, בעזרת השי”ת, and hope to post on soon.

P.S. Thanks to my friends and readers for granting me such a generous summer vacation ;-). One needs time to learn and think and reflect, to have, בעזרת השי”ת, worthwhile things to write about. Now that אלול has arrived and the new year is approaching, it is time to get back to work here.

It was and is encouraging to me to see the statistics of the many visits to this site, even during the summer vacation period, when there were no new posts for a long time. It shows that there is a great thirst and demand for ‘דבר ה in the areas of מנהג and מסורה discussed here. Thanks for your support, and may we continue to progress together.

Minhag Ashkenaz? Where’s The Uniform(ity)? FAQ #1

June 24, 2011


Question: How can you speak of מנהג אשכנז, when all Ashkenazic areas did not have totally identical minhogim? Even in Ashkenaz proper (Germany), not all places followed the same practices in all matters. Can there be a minhog without absolute uniformity in a place?

Answer: This question implies that if there is any variation within a territory, there can be no such thing as that place having a מנהג (a notion that might kill just about all such notions of minhogim if taken to it’s logical extreme).


Before proceeding further, I would like to note the irony that some of the people putting forth the above question, at the same time, when it comes to Eretz Yisroel, claim that there are such things as ‘minhag Eretz Yisroel’ and ‘minhag Yerusholayim’, and therefore people can’t put on tefillin there on Chol Hamoed, say ברוך ה’ לעולם at תפלת ערבית, etc. Now the fact is that ארץ ישראל has much variety in מנהגים. Yet still, they don’t let that get in their way, and continue to maintain that constructs of  מנהג ארץ ישראל and מנהג ירושלים nevertheless exist at present. Anyone else notice an inconsistency?


Anyway, getting back to the question, I ask those who raise this point the following. Anyone familiar with Sepharadic minhagim knows that there is wide variation among them. Catalonia didn’t have the exact same minhagim as other parts of Spain. Moroccan minhagim are not identical with Turkish ones. Amsterdam and London Sepharadim differed from those in Eretz Yisroel, Syria, Baghdad…etc. So perhaps there is no such thing as מנהג ספרד?


People can take this logic further as well. They can ask, hey, how can you say there is a תורה שבעל פה, a מסורה in Yiddishkeit in general, if we see variations among frum groups? If presence of some variation is such a problem for people, it is not just a problem for מנהג אשכנז. It is a problem far beyond that. A problem for our faith in general.


The answer is, that the absence of a totally universal and absolutely uniform mesorah for every detail nowadays is not necessarily indicative of lack of a מנהג.

We know that over time, and with the vicissitudes of גלות, things have been forgotten. Even as far back as the time of mourning for מרע”ה, thousands of הלכות were lost.

So now, in brief, this is the situation of מנהג אשכנז today (as I have understood from רבש”ה).


מנהג אשכנז is an ancient and holy mesorah, which goes back to the time of the churban Beis Hamikdosh, as stated by גדולי אשכנז (such as the רא”ש,  רבינו אשר בן יחיאל ז”ל).

The heartland of מנהג אשכנז was along the Rhine river, in the area of the famed ancient Jewish settlements at Worms, Shpeyer, and Mainz – וורמייזא, שפירא, ומגנצא.


Over time, due to persecutions and other factors, people migrated from there to newer communities, but, at times, the traditions did not fully survive these moves. Some minhogim were forgotten or changed over time, in the new places. Not having phones and computers, they could not call back home every time they had a question.

On the other hand, in the older communities, where there was greater continuity, and less disruption due to migration, the old מנהגים were generally preserved better.

The further away in time and space one got from the ‘alter heim’, the old communities of Ashkenaz, the more there was a loss of certain traditions (this doesn’t necessarily mean in very major ways, it could be in relatively small details), and the new communities developed their own ways of doing some things, at times at variance with the old minhog. After a while, מנהג אושטרייך (minhag Austria) developed in this way, as a variation from the Rhineland minhag Ashkenaz. The word Oestereich is made up of Oest (East in English), and Reich, which means realm. They were quite similar to minhag Ashkenaz overall, but had lost some of it along the way. Later מנהג פולין developed from מנהג אושטרייך.

Some communities excelled in keeping the old מנהג אשכנז relatively intact, one particular stellar example being Frankfurt am Main.


As time went on and people moved further away, there was more and more loss of the old מסורות. But people still called themselves Ashkenazim and knowledgable ones still realized their roots and connection to the old Ashkenaz along the Rhine. Masses of people however, lost touch with their roots, to the point of forgetting where their ancestors had migrated from in the old Ashkenaz, centuries earlier.

In the modern era, newer Jewish communities like Berlin, in northern Germany, far from the Rhineland, followed minhag Polin and not the ancient minhag Ashkenaz, having been settled by migrants from the newer areas.


Now since we are speaking here of מנהג אשכנז, which is the older and more venerable mesorah of which the רא”ש and other gedolim wrote, the fact that there were parts of (modern – the old Germany was not the same as the current nation-state) Germany where the later developments of minhag Oestreich or minhag Polin were followed, is not relevant, as the goal here is to preserve the more ancient minhag Ashkenaz specifically.

Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz, although researching and discussing various Ashkenazic practices, is especially interested in identifying and following the old minhag Ashkenaz (which most of the time is basically the same as minhag Frankfurt am Main). It keeps the old מסורות alive, בעזרת השי”ת, by preserving and disseminating them, ע”פ הדרכת גדולי אשכנז. This website basically follows that path as well.