Rabbi Shlomo Cohen
As Part One of this paper took shape, a series of discussions ensued regarding a connected subject; in what instances may an Ashkenazi eat Chagovim [kosher locusts]? This, in turn, led to a series of interesting questions which, in turn led to a number of conversations regarding the status of Minhagim.
As was pointed out above, now that the Ashkenazi community is reconnected with the Sephardi community after a long hiatus of separation we can no longer claim that the Mesora of Kosher locusts is lost. To do so implies that Sephardi Chachomim have no credibility in Halacha. More aptly, Ashkenazim do not eat them because of Minhag.
Question: Under which conditions may an Ashkenazi eat Kitneeyos and Chagovim?
Answer: An adopted child, an Ashkenazi woman who marries a Sefardi and, ostensibly, any BT who chooses to do so.
Most people had a tough time with the last part of the answer. They are quite comfortable with a wide range of latitude but the line seems to get drawn here.
Minhag Avoseinu B’Yodeinu and Minhag Yisroel K’Din Hee, the customs of Judaism have the force of law. Under coercion, during a time of Shmad, a Jew must give up his life to martyrdom rather than change even the teeniest Jewish custom.
When the world was less mobile each country, area and town had its own set of customs. The Mishna tells us that one may not give up a stricter custom if he moves into a place where the custom is more lenient but must take on the stricter customs of that place.
Today, most Jews have a mixed bag of customs stemming from the ‘melting pot’ of American and Israeli Yeshivos. Few groups have managed to transplant their original customs. Among them are the German Kehilla, some Sefardim and, only perhaps, a few Chasidic groups, which retain Minhag.
Certain Minhagim have a Mazel while others seem to just fall by the wayside. In certain cases the very mixing of our communities in America may force certain Minhagim to become more widespread. A case in point is ‘Gebrucht”. This Minhag abjures the use of matza (or matza meal) in water. In reality, this is a relatively new Minhag first mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch HaRav (Found at the beginning of the Sheilos U’Tshuvos at the end of the last volume). Many Pesach recipes call for this mixture (e.g. matza balls, meatballs, kugels etc.). A family, which does not keep this Minhag, may be forced to reconsider if their daughter marries a young man who has this Minhag. Otherwise, the couple would be unable to come for Pesach. (As an aside, I counsel those who ask me to not take this Minhag on by choice for reasons of Shalom Bayis. It sounds wonderfully ‘Frum” until your wife has to figure out how to feed all your guests with major recipe constraints. As with any Minhag, I also strongly recommend that, when taking on any new Minhag, one says “B’lee Neder”.)
More often than not a Bochur will drop at least a few, if not many, of the customs of his father to take on those of his Rebbe. It is rather surprising that the Rebbeim do not exhort their students to maintain family Minhag. Actually, changing may be contrary to Halacha. The exceptions to the rule are converts and Ba’alei Tshuva who come with no prior Minhagim.
Even then, it is surprising that Kiruv workers are not more attuned to finding out where the family originally came from and extrapolate what general Minhagim should be followed. Poskim seem to allow a rather wide latitude in determining a BT’s Minhagim.
I set up a few scenarios to determine the response of various Rabbonim to the concept of Minhag. Interestingly, almost all were quite comfortable with a wide range of diversity. Each reached a point of discomfort when certain Minhagim were added to the mix.
A Ger comes to you for advice. What Minhagim should he follow? He offers you a number of things he would like to do. Which do you allow and which not?
He would like to wear a big Kippa S’ruga with long Payos, as well as a gartel but speak Israeli Hebrew while davening from the Breslover Siddur. He likes Sefardi Tefilin (the shape of the Shin on the Rosh is “cute”), and will keep all 7 weeks of Sefira according to the Ari z”l. He’d only like to wait 42 minutes after Shabbos, but, will be Makpid on the first Z’man Krias Shema and only wait three hours after meat. T’chailes turns him on. He will not eat Gebrucht on Pesach but would like to be able to eat Kitneeyos. Lastly, as a Goy he loved chocolate covered grasshoppers and feared he would have to give them up. Lo and behold, he discovers that there are kosher ones. He wants to follow the S’fardi Mesora on that one. What do you say?
Basically the same progression, however this is a serious BT. His family originally came from Poland/ Russia. How do you handle each of the above?
This BT is clearly from a German background but thinks that the Teimonim are where it’s at. He wants to go all the way with Teimanee Minhagim. Can he eat Kitneeyos or Chagovim? How about four wives?
You’ll recognize this guy. He tried Zen and Transcendental Meditation first. Then got “into” Judaism by studying Zohar in a ‘Havura’ in Haight-Ashbury. He went from inhaling pot to inhaling Havdala spices and thinks the spices are ‘groovier’ and more spiritual, y’know man, like they’re more connected to the oneness of the universe, oom.
This guy became “Frum” on his own and is now a veritable grab bag of Minhagim including those mentioned above. He comes to you still in his ponytail and ear stud. What do you change and what can you leave alone?
Generally, the discomfort voiced by most people I spoke with was the lack of Hadracha and the lack of a Rav rather than the muddled state of the practices. Most had little difficulty with the mixture until it came to Kitneeyos, Chagovim and four wives where most, though not all, demurred. Halachically, there would be nothing wrong in any of the scenarios above. Clearly, however, any person in this muddle will be regarded, at best, as a novice, surely as an Am Ha’Aretz and, probably, as a kook.
One Rav finally put his finger on the discomfort. He aptly pointed out that, within the scenarios, most were personal choices. Kitneeyos, Chagovim and multiple wives, on the other hand, are established Minhagim, accepted by the entire Ashkenazi world without exception. The sole possibility remained scenario three wherein an Ashkenazi joins a Teimani community in which case he would take on all of their Minhagim.
MINHAGIM WHICH MAY BE EASILY CHANGED
Tefilin or not on Chol HaMoed
Which part of Sefira you hold
Sitting or standing at Kiddush and Havdala
Nusach of Tefila (Ashkenaz, Sfard, Ari, Sfardi)
Rabbeinu Tam Tefilin
The Ashkenaz or Sfard Knots of the Tefilin
Kind of Shofar
Type of Kolose – Shofar
K’sav of Mezuzos – Bais Yosef, Ari, Velesh
42 / 72 minutes
Levush – kapote, beketshe, hat, streimel, kippa s’ruga
Men using Mikva – daily, weekly
Wearing Tzitzis in or out
MINHAGIM WHICH MAY NOT BE, OR ARE NOT, CHANGED
Waiting 6 hours fowl
6 hours / 3 hours after meat
Reading a Haftorah every Shabbos and Yom Tov
Differences in which Haftoros are read
Saying Shema in Musaf Shemona Esray
Multiple wives – even though Takanas Rabbeinu Gershom is over
Chalitza rather than Yibum
Kitneeyos on Pesach for Ashkenazim
Gebrucht on Pesach [one may take this on ‘Bli Neder’ if it is not family Minhag and drop it later on]
To avoid garlic and onions on Pesach
Chagovim for Ashkenazim – although Sefardim have a Mesora
Talis for a Bochur – Yekkes and Sefardim do wear
Wearing Talis over head during Tefila
Yom Tov Sheini Shel Galiyos
Pronunciation of Lashon Kodesh and Hashem’s Name
To eat Milchigs on Shevuos
Women adding a Tefila after lighting candles
Women adding an additional candle for each child
Shalom Zachor (Minhag Kadmonim)
Wearing a Yarmulka (Minhag Amoraim)
Not drinking water Shabbos after Mincha
Candles down aisle at Chasuna
MINHAGIM WHICH HAVE CHANGED
Men throwing candy at Choson: (originally women threw at Bar Mitzva and Choson)
Women not working on Rosh Chodesh
Women not working while Chanuka candles are lit
Placing a Simen specifically on Milchig Kaylim
Having candles at a Bris
Making a Bas Mitzva
MINHAGIM WHICH ARE NO LONGER DONE AT ALL
Special Haftorah for a Choson
Reading the Torah in a three year cycle