Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Sefard, Ashkenaz and...other?

In the '40s in Argentina, the Syrian Chachamim decided to deal with a problem they were having then - the proliferation of fake converts who only wanted to marry Jewish women, a common problem among the non-religious. The only solution they found to this fake-convert-intermarriage problem was to disallow converts to enter into their community (in Argentina or elsewhere), even if the conversion was proper and they are 100% Jewish.

This means, a Syrian rabbi will not perform a marriage that involves a convert, nor will they allow the children of converts in their schools, or in other community institutions.

However, the Syrians still recognize the converts as equal Jews, will of course count them for a Minyan, and will accord them the full respect due to a Torah scholar etc. if warranted. Their intent is not to deny the concept of conversion, nor to deny someone's right to convert, but rather, it was a hard decision that they had to make, that because of the intermarriage problems, not to integrate converts socially into their community.

Therefore, if you are a convert and want to marry a Syrian, although the Syrian rabbi will not perform the ceremony, he will assist you in finding another rabbi - non-Syrian - that will, and offer whatever assistance they can. Their rule was made in self-defense of their specific community, but they happily support and respect converts in general.

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The 10 tribes did not go away and turn to paganism. They were exiled at the end of Kings II.

Even so, there were always people from the 10 tribes still among mainstream Jewry -- not everyone was exiled.

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There are numerous reasons why someone might say that the sefardic poskim are more traditional and the ashkenazic ones are more creative, so to speak. First, patterns seems to develop in halachic methodology where ashkenaz minhagim are created not based on tradition but rather the needs of the time or some other reason. You will find the Rama in shulchan aruch all over the place mentioning chumras that comes from custom and not din --- and you will even find him saying: "there are some places that are accustomed to the following [chumrah] ... and so too I am accustomed to do it due to minhag, but it is a chumrah without any reason" (YD 93:1).

You will also find things like sefardic girls not making the brachah she'asani kirtzono because it is nowhere to be found in the gemora or writings of chazal, and first appeared in the days of the geonim.

You will also find that sefardic poskim are very much into collecting opinions from rishonim nad achronim, the more the better, in their responsa, whereas ashkenazi poskim will tend more to learning the sugya and coming out with their own conclusion. (Of course, nobody is going to argue with a Taz, but the issue here is how important is it to find as many opinions as possible, and how much weight does your own opinion hold).

From all of this and much more, including some of the items mentioned by Rachak, it could seem to someone that sefardic Orthodoxy is somehow more traditional and ashkenazic more creative.

But that would be a mistake. Ashkenzaim and sefardim both have their own legitimate mesorahs. The measure of creativity involved in the halachic process is itself a subject of tradition: if you’re going to base your approach on the approach of the earlier sages, perhaps you ought to use them as an example of what you should be doing, rather than merely using what they did. In other words, the early geonim themselves were creative in their halachic process, and now the question becomes does that tradition of creativity end there or does it continue throughout the generations, each generation carefully measuring its own parameters of how far it is allowed to go on its own and how far it must rely on previous generations.

In short, the mesorah of gedolim on both sides is equally legitimate; there is no way to argue in favor of the sefard methodology over the ashkenaz and vice versa.

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Nusach sefard is really a variation of the Nusach created by the Arizal (what is called Nusach Ari is not from the Ari - it is from the Baal HaTanya). The reason he changed nusach ashkenaz was because the later, weaker generations were no longer able to direct their tefilos upwards on the path that they needed to go (each shevet has its own "pathway" and thus its own "kavanah"), he created sefard as a generic nusach that people from all shevatim can use.

The main difference between nusach sefard and ashkenaz, the Divrei Chaim says, is the reversal of the order of Boruch Sheamar and Hodu - the other changes are of lesser significance.

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According to Rav Moshe Feinstein ZTL, any way that Jews speak is considered Loshon HaKodesh and it doesn't matter what the accent is.

However, all though all Halchicly valid Minhagim are proper, as is the case in all Minhagim, you should follow your own Minhagim and not someone else's. Meaning, if you are of Ashkenaz descent you should speak Ashkenaz, and not like an Israeli or Sefardi. Unfortunately, the original Zionists, who were non-religious and atheists to boot, decided that Jews should become a plain middle-eastern people with a middle eastern language, and so they changed their own accents from Hungarian and German to Middle Eastern-Sefardic, which is the way Israelis speak today. They did this in order to break our Eastern European traditions and transform us into a Middle Eastern culture. Following them in this is wrong. If you are of Ashkenaz descent you should speak Ashkenaz and vice versa.

I remember once, in the Shul I am rabbi in, Rabbi Dovid Lifshitz Z"L, who was a Rebbi in YU, davened there, and the Baal Tefilah prayed with a Sefardic accent.

After the Davening, Rabbi Lifshitz came over to me asking me why I allow Ashkenazim to pray in a Sefardic accent (like they do in Israel), since it is against their Minhag. I answered that the Baal Tefilah was a real Sefardi, he just happens to pray in my Shul. He said it bothers him in YU where he sees Ashkenaz boys of European descent speaking with a Sefardi/Israeli accent.

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