Preserving family customs

What group do you belong to? Are you a Chasid or a Misnaged? Are you Chassidic Lite or a Snag? Are you Satmar or Belz? Are you a Meshichist or anti? Are you Dati Leumi or Charedi Dati Leumi? Are you Zionist or anti-Zionist? Do you support the left or the right? Do you wear a hat and jacket for davening or don’t you? Do you wear a Tichel or Sheitel? Do you wear thick stockings or normal stockings? Do you wear open toes or only closed shoes? Do you drink Chalav Yisrael or is Chalav HaCompanies your Chalav Yisrael? Will you send your children to University or will they only do courses via correspondence?

Some of these questions, if not all of them, are used by potential Shadchonim to match people up. If it is indeed necessary to have a one to one match between the answers to these questions before a meeting takes place, then I wonder how many of those issues are really fundamental? This is a deeper question which I am not dealing with in this post.

Societal pressure to conform has negative and positive aspects. The positive aspect is that people feel part of a community. The negative aspect is that a level of individuality or existing family minhag is lanced.

On Shavuos, there is an Ashkenazi custom to sing Akdamus. In my youth, there were probably only two occasions each year when I heard Rabbi Chaim Gutnick ז’ל lead the davening in some form. One was Neilah, where his authentic Nusach was no doubt the one he heard in Telz as a Yeshivah Student, and elsewhere in Poland and London. I will never forget him reciting “Enkas Mesaldecha”. (As an aside, I can’t grok the “man made, popular hit songs” approach to Nusach. How can one sing Enkas Mesaldecha to “a little bird is crying!?!) . The other time I heard Rabbi Chaim Gutnick lead, was on Shavuos when he was called up for the first Aliya, and before commencing, he sang the ancient Akdamus Milin to its authentic tune.

In the main Shule at the Yeshiva, for many years, R” Hershel Klein ז’ל used to say the Akdamus. Those were the days when there were a significant number of Baal HaBatim who davened in the Shule who were not Chabad Chasidim. The Shule had no problem accommodating these customs and didn’t feel it had to follow the practice at 770. When R’ Hershel Klein was ill, he asked me to say it on his behalf. These days, R’ George Marcus has taken on the role but he passes the baton to me because I have a louder voice.

Interestingly, I read that the last Lubavitcher Rebbe ז’ל did say Akdamus, but he did so in between the Aliyos. Apparently, his father, R’ Levik ז’ל had the custom to say Akdamus as in normative minhag ashkenaz (as did other branches of Chabad) but his father-in-law, the Rayatz  z”l did not say Akdamus loudly in a responsive manner as per minhag Ashkenaz. In order to somehow satisfy both practices, the last Rebbe said Akdamus quietly. This is reported in the name of people who stood close enough to hear it.

Why did he do so? Was it because of respect for his father or was it because it was a minhag and we are enjoined  אל תטוש תורת אמך  and לא תגדודדו? I suspect that the last Rebbe was not ready to completely cancel his own father’s Minhag even if it was not the Minhag of his father-in-law the previous Rebbe, whom he revered, all his life.

In trying to become “accepted” by a particular group or feel like a card-carrying member of that group, how many family minhagim are discarded in the process? Does membership of a particular group mean you have to throw away all or most family minhagim which are not known by that particular group?

We have a Minhag to only eat Milchig on Shavuos. Yes, there is such a Minhag, and no, it’s not in contradiction to שמחת יום טוב. I guarantee that my wife or mother’s milchig dishes will leave you completely בשמחה. To me, as a second generation holocaust survivors’ child, I feel that it is even more important to ensure that what Hitler ימ’ש didn’t manage to destroy, doesn’t get erased in the process of “becoming part of something”.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

8 thoughts on “Preserving family customs”

  1. A number of points: To say that in response to ‘conform’ to societal pressure “The negative aspect is that a level of individuality or existing family minhag is lanced.” is to surely miss the point.
    Minhagim, whether we are aware of their origin or not are very deep and cherished and founded upon solid bedrock underpinned by Torah.
    Minhag is never intended to distance individuals, push them away or belittle but on the contrary, unite, build up and give pride and belonging to a group of common minded individuals.
    The example you start this ‘pitput’ with is disingenuous, has little to do with genuine minhag and only ends up splintering and causing pain to communities.
    Klal Yisrael is a small enough group as it is, the ‘frum’ community, however you define it is rarely more than 10% of the overall Jewish community, is even smaller. To make new labels and demarcations is not only the opposite of achdus, it creates further division and ‘pirud’ and is certainly not helpful in creating shidduchim or any other type of unity!
    Why is it that the more ‘black’ a group becomes the more it tries to define it self into smaller and smaller units? Is this yet another chumrah or one-upmanship of the chareidi world?
    When will we ever learn?
    The Torah was given after Klal Yisrael demonstrated the ultimate in achdus – camping by the mountain (as one person with one heart – as rendered by Rashi).
    It’s not rocket science, but for 2000 years, knowing the problem and the solution we have still to implement it!

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    1. I’m not sure I understand your point, Realistically. I haven’t created any categories, they exist. I’m not suggesting that Minhagim divide, I am suggesting that some people think that by keeping their treasured minhag, they don’t belong as a 100% card carrying member of a group. That is fact, surely.

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  2. I can’t agree with the suggestion that the Rebbe ZTz”L was less than a wholehearted chossid of his predecessor. I would suggest that if he behaved this way it was precisely because he wanted people to retain their own minhogim, and he knew that people would abandon their minhogim for his if he said akdamus aloud.

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    1. Perhaps. I’m no expert on his hanhagos, but my feeling has always been that he did this for things which were Beis HoRav and not Minhag Chabad per se. But Pook Chazi! Look at what’s happened. How many Sefardim of Chabad keep Sefardic customs, for example? There is this pressure not just in Chabad, but in many many groups to conform. Is he pressure direct? No. Why don’t people preserve their Minhagim?

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  3. I find it all a bit confusing.In Hayom Yom Sivan 6 it says Akdamut(page 400) is not said.Amazing no???
    Why is Akdamut in the Siddur if not to be said?
    It does not say Lubavitchers do not say it,it says it is NOT SAID,

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  4. Bruce: There are lots of things in the Tehilas Hashem siddur that most Chabad synagogues don’t say, and some things not in there that many do say. It’s just a siddur.

    As for the general issue of conformity, the fact is that most people want to “fit in”. I think it’s a shame that Jews from Yemen feel the need to wear bekeshes, but why should they feel awkward when they’re living with and studying amongst people that dress this way?

    For what it’s worth, I think it’s clear that the late Rebbe didn’t push people to do this, except when it was an issue of adhering to positive role models, and there are many instances when he specifically instructed people to retain their original minhogim. Take the Lubavitch girls’ school here in Melbourne: it teaches in a Sephardi-style pronunciation, because that’s what its non-Lubavitch predecessor used (as I understand it – feel free to correct me if you know the full story).

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