Synagogue Changes

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Jewish liturgy is fairly consistent across geographic traditions but even small differences matter when selecting a permanent text for a specific synagogue. For example, the Kaddish prayer is universally recited at many places in the service but a few words differ between the Ashkenazic, Middle Eastern and pseudo-Sephardic (Chassidic) texts. Repetition breeds familiarity and comfort, or constant irritation for those who prefer a different text.

When a synagogue’s demographics change, can its official text change as well? This is an emotionally charged issue that is best decided by rules rather than by the subjective determination of a rabbi bound to offend many congregants by selecting one side. R. Yerachmiel Fried, in his Yom Tov Sheini Ke-Hilkhaso (final chapter, par. 16), settles the issue as follows:

A synagogue whose founders established its text as Nusach Ashkenaz according to the agreement of a majority of members, and through the years new members joined, even though the majority now wants to pray in Nusach Sefard the synagogue may not change its text because there are still many members who wish to continue praying Nusach Ashkenaz, even though they are now the minority. The same applies in reverse.[45]

All this only applies if they want to change a prayer practice in a way that contradicts their previous practice… But if they… only want to add to previous practices… they may change with majority agreement.[46] [45] Mishnah Berurah 68:4. And see Responsa Yaskil Avdi 7:8. This also applies to a private synagogue; see Responsa Zikhron Yehudah no. 46; and see Pischei Teshuvah, Orach Chaim regarding a synagogue with no established “format”.
[46] Iggeros Moshe, Orach Chaim vol. 2 no. 21. And see Bi’ur Halakhah 468 sv. ve-chumrei ha-makom; Responsa Maharshdam, Orach Chaim no. 35; Chelkas Ya’akov, Orach Chaim no. 79 regarding a synagogue built by a donor on condition it prays a specific “format”, under what conditions may it change. And also see on these matter Mishnas Yosef (by R. Lieberman), Hilkhos Beis Ha-Kenesses.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

51 comments

  1. I take it there’s no one who says “you shouldn’t care enough about barely-discernible differences to bother arguing one way or another”?

  2. Maharashdam is in favor of making the changes.

  3. Basically, all Ashkenazim should revert to their mama nusach, Nusach Ashkenaz, and the world would be a better place.

  4. My shul back in New York began life as an adjunct to Agudah and davened Sefard. Partially under the influence of a well-known Maimonidean, we switched to Ashkenaz (it took us a little longer to move the Shir Shel Yom on Shabbat to the end). After all, he said, we were simply going back to a nusach that all our ancestors had davened a couple of centuries ago. My opinion of Sefard (the chassidic kind) has remained low ever since. I can only laugh when Chabad claims it’s the only authentic one- it’s the least authentic there is. Not even the Ari (who was an Ashkenazi) davened it.

    Said Maimonidean, by the way, is now the quasi-rav of a local Yemenite Kahal, although he’d prefer they’d daven Baladi instead of Shami. Maybe he’s gotten them to switch too.

    And yes, I know Ashkenaz of 2012 isn’t Ashkenaz of 1700. But Sefard sure isn’t either.

    (My father, Galitzianer born and Skver influenced but a YU-educated Misnaged, still davens Sfard. [One exception: He winds his teffilin like Ashkenaz, because he likes it that way.] His kids all daven Ashkenaz, and he doesn’t mind.)

  5. very interesting. This seems to say that in principle there is nothing wrong with changing the nusach, provided no one objects. I think that this is far from obvious especially given that individual change of nusach is not a simple thing.

  6. I am reminded of an old joke. A new Rabbi comes to a shul and on the first night of Peasch asks what the minhag is regarding Hallel. One member says, “we say it,” another says “we don’t say it.” Other congregants chime in on one side or the other. Finally, the oldest member is asked. He answers: “This is our minhag–we argue about it.”

  7. Mike S — Funny, I was thinking of the Jewish Robinson Crusoe joke: “that’s the shul I go to and that’s the one I won’t go near”.

    Moshe — Following up on Nachum’s point, how did Nusach S’farad and Nusach ha’Ari become so widespread if not for many individuals who had no issue with change of Nusach?

    Gil — footnote 46 should reference Mishnat Yosef not Mishnah Yosef. Also, you usually indicate origin of excerpted posts like this.

  8. Ah: didn’t parse the first time — the excerpt is from the book…

  9. “My opinion of Sefard (the chassidic kind) has remained low ever since.”

    the only thing that boggles my mind more than nusach sefard is davening nusach sefard yet arguing that we can’t add a new misheberach because this would alter the matbe’ah shel tefillah

  10. abba: Ha!

    IH: It’s not as if Chassidut was/is noted for strict adherence to other hilchot tefillah either.

  11. “because there are still many members who wish to continue praying Nusach Ashkenaz, even though they are now the minority.”

    I find this unhelpful. What does “many” mean? I understand if it’s 60-40 in favor of the change, but what if its 70-30, 80-20, 90-10, 99-1? Where’s the cut-off?

  12. Nachum — the inverse is the slavish view of Nusach (modulo all the teyrutzim like BT) may just be a litvish exaggeration.

  13. I understand that that is shul here in Toronto that davened nusach Sefard. When it moved from downtown Toronto to a new building in the suburbs it ordered new siddurim. By accident, they ordered siddurim with nusash Ashkenaz rather than Sefard and as a result they switched the nusach!

  14. A few years ago the Vien-Kahal Adass Yereim shul in Williamsburg switched to Nussach Sefard, garnering some publicity.

  15. It is funny that so many Ashkenazic Jews seeks to daven ‘nusach Sfard’. Have you ever seen masses of Sepharadim seeking to daven nusach Ashkenaz? Why are so many Ashkenazim Sephardi wannabes?

    I am reminded of a Jackie Mason joke. He says that he has an issue with Chinese people. Jews are always eating in Chinese restaurants, but, he says, have you ever seen a Chinese person who says ‘I am chalishing for a piece of gefilte fish’?

  16. Litvak: “It is funny that so many Ashkenazic Jews seeks to daven ‘nusach Sfard’. Have you ever seen masses of Sepharadim seeking to daven nusach Ashkenaz? Why are so many Ashkenazim Sephardi wannabes?”

    The reasons are endless, but I blame the Briskers, especially the Rav: their love affair with the Rambam and their infatuation with the “more pristine” sefardi halakha has surely influenced the rest of us. I keep thinking back to the story of how the Rav (in accordance with Rambam’s position) lambasted the widespread Ashkenazi practice of not putting on tefillin on Hol Hamo’ed, but nonetheless adhered to his family minhag, which dictated not putting on tefillin on Hol Hamo’ed.

  17. “It is funny that so many Ashkenazic Jews seeks to daven ‘nusach Sfard’. Have you ever seen masses of Sepharadim seeking to daven nusach Ashkenaz? Why are so many Ashkenazim Sephardi wannabes?”

    It has nothing to do with “Sephardi.” It has to do with the perception that it is a correct Kabbalistic and/ or Chassidic nussach. The name is no more significant than the fact that in Yiddish Sephardim were called “Frenks.” It was an old practice (across cultural and religious borders) to call foreign-imported things or people by an exotic name with little regard for geographic precision. Usually there is a reason for the name, but it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the actual origin. Hence “French fries” and the like. But in the case of this nussach it is just a name. If it was called “Nussach Tehora” or something like that, people would still be ‘seeking’ to daven this magical mystical/ Chassidic rite.

  18. ” I keep thinking back to the story of how the Rav (in accordance with Rambam’s position) lambasted the widespread Ashkenazi practice of not putting on tefillin on Hol Hamo’ed, but nonetheless adhered to his family minhag, which dictated not putting on tefillin on Hol Hamo’ed.”

    The original Ashkenazic minhag was and is to put on tefillin. So how could this be the pristine Sephardic minhag? It is (also) the pristine Ashkenazic minhag. And Sephardim put on tefillin?

  19. I agree that a rabbi should not attempt to significantly change a shul’s nusach. This is an issue, as far as I can see, primarily with Chabad rabbis who seek to introduce Nusach Ari to shuls having a long-standing different nusach. They appear to believe the notion that their nusach is appropriate for all kehillot, while other nuschayot are valid only for a particular kehillah. As a counter example, I davened many years ago in a Nusach Ari shul. The congregation and rav were not Lubavitch, however, in my time. They modified the nusach in an interesting way. In the middle of the Rosh Hashana musaf amidah, the shatz would stop and an elderly congregant would chant the ‘Vaye’esayu’ paragraph which is not in Nusach Ari. The shatz would then continue the amidah. I found that attitude admirable. They would not change the original nusach of the shul, yet made an accomodation to the feelings of the congregants and found a way to include a beautiful tefillah found in other nuschayot.

  20. S.: “And Sephardim put on tefillin?”

    You are correct, I mistakenly thought that this was shittat ha-Rambam. In fact, the Rambam (at least acc. to Kessef Mishna — see Hilkhot Yom Tov 7:13) does rule that we are forbidden to wear tefillin on Hol Hamo’ed. It is the Rosh (Hilkhot Tefillin 16) who paskens that we must wear tefillin on Hol Hamo’ed — confirming your statement that the practice of wearing tefillin on Hol Hamo’ed is the longstanding Ashkenazi practice. Thanks for the correction.

  21. It is funny that so many Ashkenazic Jews seeks to daven ‘nusach Sfard’. Have you ever seen masses of Sepharadim seeking to daven nusach Ashkenaz? Why are so many Ashkenazim Sephardi wannabes?

    Come to Israel, you’ll find plenty of Sephardi Ashkenazi-wannabes. Specifically, all the Sephardi charedim, including major rabbanim, who insist on sending their kids to Ashkenazi schools which at the same time go so far as to put quotas on the number of Sephardi students.

  22. Shlomo: “Come to Israel, you’ll find plenty of Sephardi Ashkenazi-wannabes. Specifically, all the Sephardi charedim, including major rabbanim, who insist on sending their kids to Ashkenazi schools..”

    I am aware of that phenomenon. But do those types adopt nusach Ashkenaz for davening and abandon the nusach they were born into as well (not just during their time in the Ashkenazic institution, but for life)? I was under the impression that they wanted to attend Ashkenazic schools in the belief that their education was better (whether correct or incorrect), but still kept their nusach. That they wanted the Ashkenazic academic environment, but weren’t necessarily adopting the Ashkenazic siddur.

  23. I actually saw a Sephardi guy I know eating a piece of gefilte fish with chrein at a wedding (I don’t even know Ashkenazim who do that!). So I asked him what’s pshat? He tells me, “I never get this at home!” Go figure.

  24. It bothers me to no end that my son calls a Sephardic boy in his class, whose super-frum super-Sephardic family we know well, Dovid rather than David.

  25. I actually saw a Sephardi guy I know eating a piece of gefilte fish with chrein at a wedding (I don’t even know Ashkenazim who do that!). So I asked him what’s pshat? He tells me, “I never get this at home!” Go figure.

    That’s a funny one.

    I guess that is the same reason why sushi is so popular in kosher restaurants and weddings. Both Ashkenazim and Sephardim can say the same thing about sushi.

  26. >I don’t even know Ashkenazim who do that!
    Really!?

  27. MiMedinat HaYam

    ? pseudo-Sephardic ?

    only cause of that term, i think you must identify the source of this article.

    (and plz sign all posts GS or AE or whatever. another issue.)

    2. but does the Rav eat inside his home on shmini atzeret?

    3. ‘Vaye’esayu’ — most (non lubavitch — dont know their particular minhag) shuls have the chazzan’s son sing it. ditto
    xxxxxxxxx tfillah for chazan (the name escapes me right now — “horem mah sheyomeru”).

  28. MiMedinat HaYam

    “heyeh im pipiyot”

    these two tfillot are of the most beautiful parts of RH and YK.

    in my opinion.

  29. Can we expect a post in the near future on what Tefilos someone who davens Nusach Ashkenaz should say as part of being part of the Tzibur when he or she is davening in a shul wherein the Nusach is Sefard and vice versa? Can someone explain how some who identify with the Nusach Edot HaMizrach insist even on saying Kaddish in that Nusach when they daven in a Nusach Ashkenaz shul?

  30. Slaom Spira-thanks for the links.

  31. Rav Rakeffet says (perhaps only semi-seriously) that siddurim should all versions of kedusha within.

    “Can someone explain how some who identify with the Nusach Edot HaMizrach insist even on saying Kaddish in that Nusach when they daven in a Nusach Ashkenaz shul?”

    Seriously? I sometimes get the feeling they don’t know any better. It is kind of annoying, especially if more than one person is saying.

    As my wife’s rav says, many shuls in Israel follow a “whatever the shatz davens” rule. But that’s only Ashkenazi places. You’ll never see a Sephardi shul tolerate that.

  32. MiMedinat HaYam

    yes nachum, sephardim are more proud of themselves than we (various forms of ashkenazim) are.

    and, as you say, they often do that cause they dont know better. maybe rabbonim should emphasize that point in their (dumbed down) shiurim.

    and your father prob prefers winding his tfillin that way, since that is how the sofer sold him his first pair of tfillin. the sofer should also have taken this lesson. (or he didnt want to.)

    2. y aharon — i checked last nite, and found that sfardim (syrians, hence most sfardim) do not say “ve’yesau”. neither do lubavitchers not say it. so whats the issue?

    3. dov f — he prob thought the (beet colored) horseradish was a tomato sauce (moroccans eat “fish balls” in a tomato sauce on shabat)

  33. Actually, he eventually got a pair of tefillin with his affiliated rebbe. Nu.

    I once heard a hilarious standup by an Ethiopian Jew about his Ashkenazi girlfriend, whose name was “Schwartz.” (Bah-dum-dum-crash. I mean that.) The first time he met her parents, they served him gefilte fish- “not bad”- with the hottest charif they could get. Because…he was African? One bite, and he’s moaning, “mayim…mayim…”

  34. Shalom Spira: That was a fine exposition of the opinion of R’ Moshe Feinstein only. The lecturer (not poseq) did not mention a single other opinion, and there certainly are such.

    Is that called intellectual dishonesty?

  35. existentialist

    who wrote this post? why is it not signed by someone?

  36. MiMedinat Ha Yam, I don’t understand your remarks about my comment on the Viye’essau paragraph found in Ashkenaz and S’fard (Hassidic) nuscha’ot for the ‘chazan’s’ repetition of the ‘musaf’ amidah on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I took no position on whether or not the tefila should be said. I remarked only on the pleasant way in which one congregation kept the original nusach of the shul while satisfying the apparent desire of the congregants to add a tefila that they had been accustomed to back in Europe.

    Your comment about the paragraph being said by the “most…shuls have the chazan’s son sing it” is strange. I have davened in many shuls using various nuscha’ot (Ashkenaz, S’fard (Hassidish), and Ari. I have never seen or heard of such a practice.

  37. R’ Steve Brizel,
    You are most welcome.

    R’ Nachum,
    Thank you for filling in valuable information that I omitted in my response to R’ Steve Brizel.

    R’ Laser,
    Thank you. Indeed, RMF’s ruling (discussed in part 1 of R. Marcus’ lecture) that a Nusach Sefarad Jew may switch permanently to Nusach Ashkenaz is challenged by R. Yom Tov Halevi Schwarz in his Ma’aneh la-Iggerot, no. 56. Moreover, RMF’s ruling (also discussed in part 2 of R. Marcus’ lecture) that a sha”tz must pray the silent amidah following the minhag ha-makom is also challenged by R. Schwarz in Ma’aneh la-Iggerot no. 58.
    See here http://www.israel613.com/books/MEANE_IGROT-H.pdf
    However, in all fairness to R. Marcus, this lecture was part of his “Piskei Reb Moshe” series (-perhaps I should have mentioned that before; I apologize for this omission), a lecture series which focuses on RMF. I would add, as a personal note, that I find R. Marcus’ conclusion of part 2, where he discovers a responsum of Rashba”sh that supports RMF (that even a sha”tz who doesn’t normally recite “Barukh Ha-Shem le-olam amen amen” should do so when praying in a synagogue that does), to be quite impressive. [However, see Ma’aneh la-Iggerot no. 73 – in the parallel question of whether one who does not normally recite Hallel with a blessing in synagogue on the Seder night should do so when visiting a different synagogue – where R. Schwarz effectively dismisses RMF’s proof from the story of Rav Ashi reciting Kiddusha Rabbah. If so, R. Schwarz would presumably torpedo RMF’s ruling regard the shat”z reciting “Barukh Ha-Shem le-olam amen ve-amen”, since that ruling is equally predicated on the Rav Ashi episode. [R. Schwarz never mentions this explicitly, of course, since the latter responsum of RMF was published only subsequent to the publication of Ma’aneh la-Iggerot.] Paradoxically, however, R. Schwarz ends his analysis regarding Hallel on a conciliatory note toward RMF, ultimately agreeing regarding Hallel on the Seder night (though not for the same reason RMF provided). In any event, R. Schwarz offers no mention of the Rashba”sh, a formidable support to RMF regarding “Barukh Ha-Shem le-olam amen ve-amen”. Ye’yasher kochakha, R. Marcus, for this discovery.

  38. Sorry… I meant to write (in lines 4-5 of my response to R’ Laser) “(also discussed in part 1 of R. Marcus’ lecture)”. Thank you.

  39. Shearith Israel in Manhattan is particularly noted for its refusal to countenance even the slightest departure from its minhagim, even by visitors. My rav made the mistake of taking his tefillin there on Chol HaMoed and was asked to leave. My wife made the mistake of trying to sit on the floor on Tisha B’Av night and was advised that she should go to a different synagogue if she wanted to do that.

  40. What bothers me to no end is that people who do not wear tefillin on Chol Hamoed (against Talmud Yerushalmi) feel that “Lo Tisgodedu” does not apply to them when davening in a shul that does put on tefillin, but say that it is unacceptable to do the reverse.

  41. MiMedinat HaYam

    y aharon — i’ve been in many shuls of diff types, and Viye’essau is consistently sung by someone else (ashar had r muschel fils; the chazan there only had daughters and a son in law.) in the non chassidic nusach sfard shul i grew up in (in boro park) the chazzan actually sat down (helped by his sons so as not to move his feet) for a well deserved rest, and was helped up by the sons. the shul i currently daven has a chazzan who “cheats” by adapting wellknown “required” melodys to his “pareve” (not high, not low) voice, but he eessentially “says” Viye’essau.

    my point is, is that the chabad shul (inadvertently) kept the “minhag” of having someone else sing it. since, i guess, chabad does not say it.

    tfillin — dont litvaks require those not wearing tfillin to daven in the exrat nashim (or other room) on chol hamoed? (which custom they dont really keep, anyway.)

  42. MiMedinat HaYam

    also bothers me chassidim who insist on saying 13 middos in nusach ashkenaz shuls where it is not said (at least not on mondat and thursday, where some nusach ashkenaz say it).

    SA specifically says tachnun is said by everybody according to the minhag of the shul.

    (of course, one may ask why does SA says this only regarding tachanun, not other tfillot, in questioning the whole premise of the discussion here (and of RMF, ROY, etc.)?)

  43. Anonymous-is Ma’aneh la-Iggerot considered a serious critique of the views of RMF expressed in IM?

  44. MiMedinat HaYam

    steve b — of course it is. ROY quotes him extensively, with a full disclaimer. and our host R Gil follows him, too. you dont have to agree with him, but his arguments are valid.

  45. Thank you, R’ Steve Brizel, for your important question. Thank you, as well, R’ MiMedinat HaYam, for answering.

    I see Ma’aneh la-Iggerot as a “diamond-polishing” book. In other words, Iggerot Mosheh is a brilliant diamond. As my teacher R. Joshua Shmidman said (quoting his father R. Yitzchak Shmidman) regarding RMF, “Shekhinah medaberet mi-gerono shel Mosheh”. And Ma’aneh la-Iggerot polished the diamond to allow it to illuminate even more brilliantly, by raising certain rejoinders that RMF’s beit midrash must now search to answer (-similar to R. Yochanan’s statement in Bava Metzi’a 84a that he appreciated how Reish Lakish would always challenge him in 24 different dimensions). Indeed, R. Shmuel Marcus has now risen to the occasion by discovering the responsum of Rashba”sh which clearly vindicates RMF.

    Permit me to add the following insight from R. Moshe David Tendler in his 1988 symposium debate with R. Hershel Schachter regarding the definition of death.

    “My shver zatza”l was not disturbed when people disagreed with him. I’m not disturbed when people disagree with him, either. I’m just convinced that they’re wrong.”

    http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/711847/Rabbi_Moshe_D_Tendler/Definition_of_Death_I

    (83:49 into the lecture)

    Indeed, the exciting milchamtah shel Torah between Iggerot Mosheh and Ma’aneh la-Iggerot serves as one of the foci of the R. Tendler-R. Schachter symposium over the definition of death. [Although the title “Ma’aneh la-Iggerot” is never explicitly identified by either R. Tendler or R. Schachter during that debate, it is identified by R. Schachter when he crystallizes the debate into writing in Be-Ikvei ha-Tzon no. 36, where he cites Ma’aneh la-Iggerot nos. 5-6 as disputing Iggerot Mosheh OC 1:8-9 regarding tefillin on a gangrened arm).

    [Actually, be-mechilat kevod Torato shel Moreinu ve-Rabbeinu R. Schachter, I disagree with linking the two disputes. It seems to me that even Ma’aneh la-Iggerot nos. 5-6 might hypothetically agree that brain death could equal death, since Ma’aneh la-Iggerot might have believed that a gangrened limn is still considered to be alive only when the organism as a whole is still breathing or conscious (as is the case when a person places tefillin upon a gangrened arm). But who says that an organism is still alive even after breathing and consciousness have ended irreversibly (as in brain death)? That chiddush was communicated to us by RSZA, not by Ma’aneh la-Iggerot. (Although, to complicate matters, RSZA did not believe he was actually contradicting RMF…).]

  46. To elaborate on what R. Tendler means when he says “My shver zatza”l was not disturbed when people disagreed with him”, I would point to the Artscroll biography of RMF (2011 edition, p. 449), from which it emerges that Ma’aneh la-Iggerot was only published thanks to the extraordinary generosity of RMF, who permitted the publisher to produce the book.

  47. Yet, no one other than R. Ovadiah Yosef and R. Shalom Spira quotes the Ma’aneh La-Iggeros. I believe it is because of the chutzpah inherent in the disagreements. There are ways to disagree with a Gadol and publishing a teshuvah-by-teshuvah rebuttal is not respectful. Personally, I refuse to open the book and don’t know anyone who feels differently. It has generally been lost to history. When Urim published an English book by the same author, I refused to take it and the publisher had to literally force one into my hands.

  48. R Gil-thanks for your important comment on the sefer and author at issue.

  49. I thank our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student for his very kind words. I also thank him (as well as R’ Steve Brizel) for correctly championing the honour of RMF, certainly a great mitzvah as per the principle “Et Ha-Shem E-lo(k)ekha Tira – le-rabot talmidei chakhamim” (Pesachim 22b).

    Cf. the comments of R. Aryeh Ginzberg in his Shu”t Divrei Chakhamim (Hashkafah ve-Da’at Torah, no. 47) in his effort to explain the interaction between R. Yaakov Emden and R. Yonatan Eibeshutz.
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=20287&st=&pgnum=289
    Perhaps a similar explanation could be offered to elucidate the interaction between R. Schwarz and RMF.

    Apparently, there are seven places where R. Ovadiah Yosef quotes Ma’aneh la-Iggerot, listed here:
    http://ishimshitos.blogspot.ca/2008/12/maaneh-ligrots-biggest-fan.html

  50. I don’t think it was just the teshuva by teshuva rebuttal that was disrespectful, but more directly the front-page of his work where he accuses reb moshe of being ‘machtie es harabbim’.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: