Posts Tagged ‘Minhag fads’

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

Rav Elyashiv, Rav Shach, and the Chazon Ish, זצ”ל, On Going To Meron On Lag Baomer: Rav Elyashiv’s Talmid (Student) Speaks Out

April 30, 2013

I just came upon, not long ago, a critical analysis by a mekurav of Rav Elyashiv זצ”ל, R. Dov Halbertal, להבחל”ח , that expresses well the point of view of very important gedolei Yisroel about the problematic nature of the Meron pilgrimage nowadays. Although it focuses on the viewpoint of gedolei Lita, namely Rav Elyashiv, the Chazon Ish and Rav Schach, זצ”ל, commenters mention that, להבחל”ח, Rav Ovadya Yosef and Rav Shmuel Wosner שליט”א also have taken similar positions with regard to the Lag Baomer event. So you have quite a spectrum of top level gedolim there expressing similar concerns.  Highly recommended reading!

Additionally, those that follow the news know about the chaos and צער that many suffered from in and around Meron this year in particular. Which reminds me of a story (brought in פניני מנהג – ל”ג בעומר, דף לח) regarding Rav Akiva Sofer, the דעת סופר. After he left Pressburg and fled to Eretz Yisroel due to the persecutions around WWII, one year he set out to travel to Meron (I am assuming to observe the goings on there). On the way, his vehicle broke down, necessitating lengthy repairs Whereupon he decided not to continue on to Meron then, even though things had already been fixed. He waited until after Lag Baomer to resume his journey, remarking that מן השמים, from Heaven, they do not allow him to go (on Lag Baomer), due to the קפידא (objection to the practice of the pilgrimage then) of his forebear, the Chasam Sofer. This shows how a גדול בישראל reacts to such phenomena. He makes a חשבון הנפש, he practices introspection.

וממנו ילמדו וכן יעשו, 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!

All Ye Into The Melting Pot! Melting Pot Minhogim vs. Minhag Avos – Minhogim Fads vs. Mesorah

June 17, 2011

In the Western world in recent decades (e.g. in the USA, Western Europe, and Australia), the melting pot model, encouraging the assimilation of immigrants into the dominant white culture, formerly the prevailing approach, has been dropped (a similar thing has happened in Eretz Yisroel, to a degree). In it’s place, a more enlightened approach of cultural pluralism was adopted. People of different backgrounds could still (or were even encouraged to) maintain their culture, language, links to homeland, etc.

But from what I am reading and hearing from some people, it seems that some frum Jews still adhere to the melting pot assimilationist model. They seem to believe that we all must go into a melting pot with regard to מנהגים. Everyone must accept the new frum commandments of upsherin and the like. After all, it is a מצוה דאורייתא of ערלה, right 😉 ? And חס ושלום that you refrain from dancing around a bonfire on ל”ג בעומר. How can anyone have the חוצפה to do such a thing, after all? What are you anyway? Some type of killjoy?

These assimilationists use euphemisms like ‘development of minhogim’. ‘Minhogim have always changed’, they claim. So how dare you insist on keeping the commandment of אל תטוש תורת אמך, sticking to the Ashkenazic minhogim of your מסורה, and resisting the latest fads, whether from ארץ ישראל, a Chassidic group, or elsewhere? After all, the grass is greener there, you know. Their מנהגים must surely be better than the ones of your father, right? So you better change and assimilate. You must accept all the fads that come along. Get with the program! Point your finger at the sefer Torah during hagbah, say Hallel on Pesach night in Shul in addition to your old way of saying it just during the seder at home, stop wearing tefillin on Chol Hamoed, give your son an upsherin even if you, your father, and grandfather didn’t….. You must conform and jump into the new frum melting pot, ASAP!  Don’t waste a minute!

Is this what ‘frumkeit’ has come to today?

Well, I, for one, am not going along with this new, PC (politically correct) ‘frumkeit’. I am not jumping into the melting pot to join all the latest fads. Nope. Mesorah is more important to me. I am not giving up my Ashkenazic מסורה, just because someone may think it is old fashioned.

Enough of this phony PC frumkeit already. Vive la difference!

Consumer Alert: Minhog Scammery On The Rise! Mislabeled, Cheap Middle Eastern Imports Flooding In, Threatening To Overwhelm Natives!

June 15, 2011

One of the more difficult challenges we face in keeping the holy minhogim of our Ashkenazic ancestors is posed by present day unrestricted imports from Eretz Yisroel, of Sepharadic minhagim posing as Ashkenazic ones.

With so much travel these days between Eretz Yisroel and the diaspora lands, instant worldwide communication, so many youngsters as well as more mature students studying in the Holy Land, and massive amounts of Judaica produced in and exported from there, we are faced with a virtual invasion of foreign customs.

As we have touched on in the past, many Ashkenazic Jews in ארצנו הקדושה, whether due to past compulsion or present proximity, practice some questionable Sepharadic minhagim (actually they may not be really Sepharadic, but for descriptive ease, I am referring to them that way now), that are not in accordance with their heritage.

When people are aware that practices are not from or in accordance with the holy מסורה of אשכנז, they can more easily be on guard against their infiltration. But when they are depicted as Ashkenazic, and even more so, from the holy Ashkenazim of  ארץ ישראל, the people that some think have a constant virtual halo around them, especially if they are of the ירושלמי variety, people can let their guard down and think that they are 100% acceptable for Ashkenazic Jews. But it ain’t so. The minhogim of the אשכנזים in חו”ל (the diaspora) are actually often more authentic and accurate than those of their cousins in Eretz Yisroel.

So first and foremost, people have to be alerted about this dangerous phenomenon. And then hopefully they will take steps to counter this dangerous fad, and reject the foreign adulterated customs, בעזרת השי”ת.

I will list here a few examples of such dangerous foreign imports, the mislabeled practices that need to be exposed for what they are, Sepharadic minhagim posing as Ashkenazic minhogim. Some of them have been written about previously, while others will perhaps אי”ה will be the subjects of future posts.

1) Chalaka (a word of Arabic origin), also known as Upsherin in Yiddish.

2) Bonfires and other questionable Lag Baomer activities. I wonder if there is a relationship between the widespread Lag Baomer bonfires in Eretz Yisroel and the new problem of an outbreak of Charedi juvenile pyromania there. השם ירחם.

3) Expanded version of the last part of Rosh Chodesh Bentching, starting with יחדשהו, as we have touched on in an earlier post. סידורים from ארץ ישראל can be vehicles for spreading such foreign nuschaos. Hey, the בני ארץ ישראל need to make a פרנסה, I know they sell siddurim overseas, but if they want to sell them to us, they can make them according to our מנהג.

4) Kaddish after Krias HaTorah being given to any aveil, rather than being said by the בעל קריאה, as per the classical minhog.

5) Cheap Judaica trinkets, e.g. Sepharadic/Oriental Shivisis and Hamsas. The former are sometimes purchased by well meaning people and given to Shuls, where sometimes unwittingly they are accepted and hung, usually at the amud, despite being against Ashkenazic practice. The latter may be hung or worn by individuals.

6) Finger pointing (pinky or other) at the sefer Torah during hagbah. The minhag Ashkenaz is to bow toward the sefer Torah then, an earlier recorded minhog mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch, a gesture of reverence and respect toward the holy Torah. But now one sees quite a few people in some places doing the easier finger pointing which lacks the type of giving of kavod to the Torah that bowing shows.

7) Hallel in Shul on Pesach night. Minhag Ashkenaz is only to say it at the seder later.

People have to be aware of this serious problem, take a stand, and refuse to go along with the adulteration of our holy Ashkenazic heritage, which happens when people accept such customs. And then אי”ה we will be hopefully be able to get the אשכנזים of ארץ ישראל to go back to their old minhogim, ולשלוח המנהגים הנכריות , and return to the ways of their ancestors before they came under foreign influences.

יה”ר שנזכה לכך בב”א, ובזכות השבת מנהגי האבות החביבים והקדושים אל הבנים נזכה ל”והשיב לב אבות על בנים ולב בנים על אבותם” בקרוב, אכי”ר

The Hidden Costs Of The Shtiebel On Your Block – Davening in a Shul of a different minhog than your own – Is it a good idea?

May 1, 2011

לילך לשטיבעל סמוך לבית או להעדיף להדר ולהתפלל במקום שמתפללים בו כאבותי, אפילו בריחוק מקום מה? שאלה מעניינת

An issue that we sometimes hear about these days involves parents complaining that their children have adopted a different religious path than the one they were raised in. For example, Modern Orthodox parents may complain that their children have become Haredi. Balabatish/Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE)  type parents may complain about children learning in Kollel. Non Chassidim may complain about children joining a Chassidic group, and Chassidim may complain if their children leave the Chassidic path and join another frum category. And so on.

An oft heard response to the above involves shifting the blame to the parents. For example, telling them, hey, if you didn’t want your son/daughter to become like that/join this other frum group, why did you send them to an institution where the faculty is of that group and teaches that their way is the proper way to live?

The above issues have been much discussed elsewhere and this website was not created to repeat what others have already covered.

However, I wish to point out that this issue has a counterpart in the area of מנהגים as well.

People daven in various venues. Shuls, Botei midrash, Yeshivos, shtiebels…..Sometimes people choose the places where they daven based primarily on the nature and quality of the Torah and tefilloh offered. Other times, however, factors such as how close the venue is to your house loom large in the calculations. Or how you get along with the people. Or if the place has a good kiddush.

Now these decisions are not necessarily simple. There are various factors involved. But I do wonder when people give too much weight to geographic proximity, and don’t go the proverbial extra mile to find a minyan that is a better fit for them and their ancestral minhog. Many people seem to feel that, hey, what is the difference if the Shul has a different minhag/nusach? I can daven my own nusach privately anyway. I can have a siddur of my own nusach for that. Maybe the minyan even provides such siddurim.

But what these people may not realize, is that by doing so, their own proficiency in their personal מנהג will erode over time. We know that people are influenced by their surroundings. The nusach they were raised with can start to mix and merge with the one around them in their mind, forming a new creation that is neither one or the other, נישט אהין און נישט אהער, neither here nor there. This phenomenon is sometimes on display when such people go to the amud.

Also, as a friend of mine, let’s call him Reb Yisroel, mentioned to me, if people daven in a minyan of a different nusach/minhag than their own, even if the father retains his knowledge of the different tradition that he was raised in, if his children grow up in the ‘other’ minhog environment, they will not have the deep rooted background in their ancestral custom the way their father has, and at times, that can even lead to them ultimately leaving that minhog altogether, and assimilating into the ‘new’ minhog they grew up hearing around them during davening. I have heard of such cases.

I realize that life is complex and that there might be other factors that outweigh the minhog/nusach angle. But to ignore it and leave it out of the deliberations? Wrong and foolish, if you ask me.

To clarify, I am focusing more on sustained long term exposure here, which has a greater effect than short term, rare, and ad hoc experiences, which are not as dangerous.

על פי הלכה, an argument can be made for this as well, it seems to me. אל תטוש תורת אמך is interpreted by our tradition as an exhortation not to leave one’s מנהגים. If someone places themselves into a situation where their connection to ancestral tradition will be endangered, even if only gradually and long term, and that of their children to it even more so, is there not a halachic issue? And even if someone would dispute that, would they not at least concede that it would be at least a הידור מצוה for someone to daven in a place that follows their ancestral minhog? And we live in a time when people seek הידורים and חומרות, right? So why not this one too? A הידור in תפלה. Gevaldig!

Do we need an explicit פסק הלכה that one should or must travel extra, as in the case of getting water for נטילת ידים, or finding a מנין, to get to a minyan of one’s own tradition, to make people aware that this should be an area of concern? Is convenience everything? Are you willing to accept erosion of your connection to your personal mesorah, your family heritage, just because some shtiebel opened up near your house, to save yourself a little bit of walking? And if someone says, hey, there is no Shul according to my מנהג near me anyway………well, maybe you should start one then!

So walk the extra mile for your מנהג אבות. It will be both physically and spiritually healthy for you, and you will rack up the miles in sechar halicha/שכר פסיעות!

שבוע טוב – גוט וואך

P.S. I hope the Association of Shtiebel Owners and Operators (ASOO) doesn’t get too angry at this post, but hey, I think the issue needs to be raised! 😉

Update : In further contemplating this question, other scenarios come to mind as well.

E.g. a person can say, it is a מצוה to help the new shtiebel. Have רחמנות on the Rav/Rebbe. Help a fellow Yid. Maybe he needs a פרנסה. Maybe he needs a tenth man (and a ninth, and an eighth, and a seventh..) to make his minyan. And then you, the nice guy who likes to help people, are gradually roped in. But at what cost? Short term it may be seem innocuous and even admirable. But long term? You are going to be exposed to customs that are not your own and that exposure can have a significant effect on you and your family, heritage and future generations.

If the shtiebel does not have a constituency of it’s own in the location, to the extent that it has to recruit others from different עדות and מנהגים to survive, does it really belong there? Perhaps it really belongs in a different location. How about all Shtiebel owners having a comprehensive market survey of a location to ascertain that they have a constituency, before moving in? Yes, I know that I am a dreamer. 😉