July 19, 2024
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July 19, 2024
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A recent article in a Jewish publication describes a memorial event open to the public which will end with what it describes as the “quintessential Jewish memorial prayer Keil Malei Rahamim.” The author does not take cognizance of the Sephardic memorial prayer called the Hashkavah. Regrettably, this limited perspective is typical among many writers. They do not intend to offend Sephardic readers, but the phenomenon needs to be addressed. A remedy to this problem is for Jews to be educated about each other’s minhagim. In the case of Sephardic practice, simply reading Rav Herbert Dobrinsky’s classic “A Treasury of Sephardic Laws and Customs” provides a basic knowledge of Sephardic practice that will expand one’s Jewish horizons.

Knowledge of basic Sephardic practice by all Jews is now more essential than ever. At this point, nearly every major Jewish community in the world has a Sephardic congregation. There are approximately two million Sepharadim (kein yirbu) worldwide and many of them, if not most of them, identify as Orthodox and observant. Currently, approximately half of the world’s observant Jews are Sepharadim. An Ashkenazic Jew growing up even in the New York area in the 1950s or 1960s would likely never encounter a single Sephardic Jew. This is certainly not true today.

Moreover, knowledge of Sephardic practice enriches Ashkenazim’s appreciation for Ashkenazic minhagim. For example, Sepharadim do not recite Av HaRahamim before Mussaf on any Shabbat. The reason is that Av HaRahamim was introduced by Ashkenazic communities to commemorate the terrible suffering endured during the Crusades. Raising awareness of Sephardic practice raises one’s level of understanding his own practice. Knowing that Sepharadim do not recite Megillat Kohelet on Sukkot sharpens the question as to why Ashkenazic practice is to recite this sobering analysis of life on Sukkot, the time we all describe as Zman Simhateinu. Of course there is a compelling explanation for the Ashkenazic practice (true joy emerges from a proper perspective on life), but one will discover the explanation only if he recognizes that the question exists. Similarly, Sepharadim not appending the pasuk of Lechu Neranena LaHashem to the Shir Shel Yom of Wednesday motivates one to ask why Ashkenazic Jews do add this pasuk. The explanation is a most beautiful one (the kedushah of the coming Shabbat begins to emerge on Wednesday) but one would likely not notice the anomaly without being aware of the contrasting custom.

Finally, awareness of the relatively few differences among the different Orthodox communities results in the appreciation of the broad common denominator of the many communities. Rav Dobrinsky’s relatively short book presents most of the differences between the communities. This is because the communities share so much in common! To the perceptive onlooker it is not the differences that are most remarkable between the eduyot, but the vast commonality. Sepharadim and Ashkenazim share more than ninety percent in common in their practices. This is utterly extraordinary considering that we have been separated for thousands of years by thousands of miles. There is no greater or more dramatic testimony to the fidelity of Am Yisrael to its holy mesorah. This breathtaking phenomenon motivates us to maintain this stunning achievement and steadfastly maintain the texture and fabric of our tradition.

The Orthodox world is, nonetheless, diverse as it should be. Sefer Yechezkel concludes with a vision of the rebuilt Yerushalayim which includes representation of all 12 shevatim, demonstrating that even in Messianic times we will not meld into one exact same style of observance. Our strength lies in our rich diversity. The greater our appreciation and awareness of our community’s diversity the greater of vision of our people and our own specific communities’ particular minhagim. The day will soon arrive when we will no longer read exclusionary statements such as “our practice to recite Teshuvah Tefillah UTzedakah Ma’avirin Et Ro’a HaGezeriah” (this is not part of the Sephardic liturgy) or “our daily minhag to recite the 13 Middot of Rahamim” (not included in Nusah Ashkenaz) resulting in the enhancement and elevation of our entire community.

Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck.

By Rabbi Haim Jachter

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