Posts Tagged ‘Migration’

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.

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

April 18, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking at the Sources

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

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

Yemenite minhag not to duplicate Hallel on seder night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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