Nusach (3/26/22) Today’s Parsha is Shemini. It contains numerous mitzvot, including many relating to Kashrut. We are, in some respects, a religion which seems sometimes bogged down with many rules. I think all Jews, more or less, know that there are rules of Kashrut. Some are universal. No bacon or pork chops. Today’s parsha tells us that bats are not kosher, so if you were thinking of having one of those flying mammals with bearnaise sauce, think again. Same with a mouse and Hollandaise sauce. Non starter. But other rules are not universal. There are, however, 4 species of locusts that are kosher. Is swordfish Kosher? Jell-O? Cheese? There are different rules relating to these items. Which brings me to what I really want to talk about today, which is not the Parsha itself. 1 I want to talk about Nusach. “Nusach” can be translated as “Rite.” Not W-R-I-G-H-T, not R-I-G-H-T, not W-R-I T-E, but rather, R-I-T-E. There are two categories of Nusach. One the one hand, there is musical nusach. And, on the other hand, there is Nusach Ha’Tefillah, or Liturgical Nusach. Musical Nusach: Which melody does the Chazzan use for Chatzi Kaddish in our Ashkenazic rite? There are many. (Sing examples of Chatzi Kaddish). after Maftir Before Musaf Shabbat Erev Rosh Hashanah Before Musaf R”H Before Amidah Neilah Tradition calls for one or the other, depending on the occasion. 2 But, that’s not my real subject today. It is Nusach HaTefillah, or Liturgical Nusach. It means again two things. The actual text of the prayer and the order of the prayers. With regard to the order of the prayers, for example, when does a particular shul say a certain prayer or do a certain ritual? For example, when on Shabbat morning, does a shul say the Song for Shabbat? It is found on p. 72 in our siddur. Do we say it after page 71 and before page 73? Clearly, that is where the compilers of the siddur put it. But, we don’t do that. We say it after the Shacharit service is over, just before the Torah reading, and we moved it there to permit persons who are saying Kaddish, which is recited thereafter, to be able to do so, just in case they’ve come to shul a bit late. That is our Chevrei Tzedek nusach. There is also a tradition in many synagogues to move it to the end of services, after the Mourner’s Kaddish after Alenu, and then 3 one can say Kaddish again. And, some have the traditions to have one Mourner’s Kaddish just for people who are in mourning at that time, and the other for people observing Jahrzeit. Those are different Nuschaot (that’s the plural of Nusach) relating to the order of services. And how is a certain ritual done? We lift the Torah and open it for all to see, AFTER the Torah reading. Some Jews do it BEFORE the Torah reading. We open the scroll and some lift the Torah and keep it closed. We Ashkenazim wind our tefillin on our arm in one direction, but many Jews wind the tefillin the opposite way. Then there is the actual text of prayers. A Reform prayer book is quite different than ours. Our Conservative 4 movement has tinkered with the text of prayers here and there. References to the restoration of the Temple and also passages relating to the restoration of animal sacrifices have been redacted from the Siddur in large part. The Conservative movement has given us the ever popular 115a and 115 b, permitting the shul to determine if it will recite the Imahot (the matriarchs) during the Amidah. The machzor we use on High Holidays has other changes. If you are flipping through the siddur you’ll find other choices to be made by the individual davenner. Now, when I grew up, and............... I suppose I am still growing up, the rule was that it was proper and indeed mandatory that you follow the Nusach of your family. Nusach Avotai, it was called. In the days when children were born and raised and stayed in the same town their whole lives, when no one moved more than a few miles from his birthplace, and we’re talking a very long time ago, 5 this was easy. Now, it’s not so easy. Under the theory of following your family’s nusach, there would be none of these choices. You had a set nusach. That was it. But, what about the situation where a person’s family was Orthodox, and now he’s conservative, or vice versa? Does he keep the family nusach? And what about an intermarriage? In a sense, I am the product of a “mixed marriage.” My mother was from an Orthodox Litvak family. My father, on the hand, came from a purely secular Viennese family. So, what was the nusach of my ancestors? These days, we have quite a lot of Jews who began life not as Jews. Their parents are Roman Catholic or Presbyterian. What is their nusach? And, what do you do if you typically use an 6 Ashkenazic conservative nusach like we do, and you’re invited to a Bar Mitzvah at the Iranian shul here. Do you bring your own siddur or use theirs? My own view is this: Ka’asher B’Roma, Assei K’Romanim. (When in Rome, do as the Romans). It is important to pause here and note that there are many different Nuschaot with different Jewish liturgical text. The Sephardim say different words. Jeff Amdur grew up at a shul which used Nusach Sephard, and they add 4 words in Kaddish which we do not say in our liturgy, the kedushah in the Amidah is very different textually, and so forth. There are Iraqi, Italian, Syrian, Yemenite, and many other Nuschaot. One famous one is called Nusach Ari, which is the textual nusach of the Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria, who passed away in the late 1500's. He created a special nusach for his followers, and what does that mean? It means he did not use the Nusach of his ancestors. He made up a new one. 7 The Ari taught that there are 12 gates, corresponding to the 12 tribes, through which our prayers ascend to God. He created a 13 th gate, a 13th set of prayers. But, this 13th rite, this 13th Nusach was rejected by nonChassidim. The Ari’s concept was that since you don’t really know from which tribe you came, you should make sure that you use the nusach...the prayer text...of your ancestors, otherwise, your prayers would not ascend to God. Things are, as I noted, quite different today. This brings us to my personal confession. On February 14 in the evening we had a ritual committee meeting. I brought up the issue of nusach, noting that some people who have davenned here have added words not in the siddur and deviated from the siddur. We discussed this, and anyone who attended that meeting would say that I was an advocate of sticking to our nusach and not deviating...not adding a word or taking out a word. I mean, we have this 8 siddur, and we have chosen it, and we should stick to it. No decision was made that night. The discussion was simply to stimulate some thoughts on the issue. But then, the very next morning, I got up and looked at the news on the internet. On the computer was a story about a Catholic priest in Phoenix who had resigned. What offense had he committed? It seems that over a period of 20 years he had performed thousands of baptisms. The story on the internet said: “As he administered the ritual, the priest would say, "We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit." But the correct wording is "I baptize," according to the Vatican's instruction.” The story continued, “No one, including priests, "may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority, " according to 9 Vatican teachings.” What this priest had done was to change the nusach on his own. He said that he did this unintentionally. But, he did it. As a consequence, thousands of persons, according to Catholic Halacha, were not actually baptized. And the consequence?.......... Well.......... The Phoenix diocese put up on their website information about this problem, including some FAQ’s. Here are a few: Does this make my marriage invalid? May I continue to take communion? A few days later, a similar story appeared with regard to a Priest in suburban Detroit. A young priest, watched and listened to a video of his Baptism ceremony and learned that he had been baptized incorrectly by the Detroit priest, using the same incorrect pronoun, thereby invalidating his Baptism, and since, one had to be Baptized to become a priest, this invalidated his ordination, 10 and, therefore, as the dominoes fell, this invalidated the Baptisms he had done, and the weddings! And, of course, in both cases....in Phoenix and Detroit, their Halacha states that a non-Baptized Catholic who dies cannot go to heaven, but his soul is relegated to purgatory. An awful penalty for someone else’s inadvertence. Now, it is not my intention to criticize the Catholic church. They can practice as they wish. I ran this story by my friend, retired Episcopal Bishop Robert Ilhoff, who spoke here during one of our limudim. He was the head Episcopal Bishop of this area. Maybe some of you recall his talk. Bishop Bob responded: ”Sometimes, I am really glad for the 16th Century Reformation. That poor priest only changed “I’ to “We.” We [Episcopals] do not labor under such a strict rule about 11 liturgy (thank God). People change words all the time in our liturgies. The intention is what counts for us and it can be argued that it is the Church which baptizes so why not say, “We.” Our attitude is that if the priest intended to baptize, the words used are secondary. I wonder if the present Pope would agree with the authorities in Arizona; this seems extreme even for the most doctrinaire Roman Catholics. The Roman Church like ours and so many others now begins the Nicene Creed, “We believe…” For centuries, it began “I believe….” It has been decided that the Nicene Creed is not one’s personal creed but the Creed of Christians in totality, hence the “ We believe.” Organized religion is sometimes its own worse enemy! Shalom to you and Cheryl.” It is interesting that Bishop Ilhoff said that what counts is intention. We have this concept also. Hebrew for 12 intention is Kavanah. Your inner intention when you daven. This is the opposite of Kevah, which is the formulaic text which guides our prayers. Kavanah means that we need to focus on the prayer and its meaning. Intention is critical. If you happen to be passing outside a shul on Rosh Hashanah just as the shofar is being blown, have you satisfied your obligation to hear the shofar? Well, what was your intent? As I wrote out this d’var Torah, I also was doing my daf yomi, my daily study of Talmud. We were learning the tractate of Yevamot, which deals largely with Levirite marriage. You know the concept. A man’s brother is married and he dies childless, so the first man must marry his widowed sister-in-law. This it Torah law, and we don’t really do this anymore, so far as I know. The details of this are really mind-boggling and largely irrelevant. But, as it frequently does, the Talmud drifts into a discussion of 13 something else. Here the Talmud drifted into a discussion of a verse from Deuteronomy, specifically Chapter 14, verse 1, which says: “You are children of your God. You shall not gash yourselves.” The biblical commentators saw this verse as a response to the practices of the Amorites, one of the peoples that lived in ancient Israel, who engaged in such practices. But the rabbis of the Talmud were particularly interested in the Hebrew phrase lo titgodidu, meaning “you will not cut yourselves.” Reish Lakish said to Rabbi Yohanan: I should read here the verse: “You shall not cut yourselves [titgodedu], ” which is interpreted as meaning: Do not become numerous factions (agudot). 14 Do not divide yourselves into factions? Don’t we do this all the time? As noted previously, we have different prayer ritual, we differentiate ourselves by our Ashkenazic or Sephardic origin, by dividing ourselves into Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, etc., and in so many other ways. In Israel, they divide themselves into about 12 political parties. You know the story of the Jewish man who finds himself stranded on a desert island. He builds a shul. Then he builds a second shul. Ultimately, he is rescued. His rescuer asks, “Did you go to both of the two shuls?” The castaway points to one and says, “Certainly not. I would never set foot in that one!” I interpret this expression not to split into factions together with the phrase “you shall not gash yourselves.” That is, it is ok to recognize that some of us pray differently, some have a different skin color, some have a different accent, some have a different sexual 15 orientation. That’s ok. It’s ok to be different. What is not ok, is to gash the other person for his differences. To attack someone because he is Reform or Orthodox, or not Ashkenazic, or winds his tefillin in the other direction, or whatever. So, with all due respect to the Ari, and to others, I changed my mind that morning when I read the story of the Catholic priest who used the wrong pronoun. I don't think that our God cares if we daven with nusach Sfard, or nusach Ashkenaz, or nusach Ari, and I don't think our God cares if we use a reform prayer book or an orthodox one or our Sim Shalom. I have the feeling, though I cannot prove it, that our God cares about bigger things than pronouns and prayer text. Now, if someone got up to daven and said, "Today, I will do Shacharit in Swedish" I think that would give me pause. But, then, I suppose that this is done in Sweden. So, what of it? 16 Let’s not gash ourselves. Let’s enjoy Jewish unity. As we say on Rosh Hashanah in the Amidah, VaYeasu Chulom, Aguda Achat, La’asot R’tzoncha B’Levav Shalem...” “Let us all come together, as one community, to do God’s will, with a full and complete heart.” And let us say.... Amen. Shabbat Shalom. 17
Chevrei Tzedek is community built and community run. We rotate who gives sermons. On this blog, you will see a variety of styles, reflecting the diversity of our community.