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Ore and let davven.™

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Minnek II (personal)

Minhag, minhag, minhag

In my neighbourhood, most of the Jews are of German (and bordering) extraction. Apart from the occasional Maghrebinian, Yemenite or Sephardi, the others are mostly Eastern European whose ancestors came over a hundred or so years ago, and they're more or less assimilated - in any case, everybody is everybody else's cousin or in-law. There are two main shuls,1 and they're proud of being stubbornly Yekkish ever since the synagogues opened. You'd expect them to follow nusech Ashkenez, wouldn't you? Unfortunately, this is not the case.

First of all, 250 years of polonisation left their marks on German Jews even before the war, and it still continues outside of Germany.2 But apart from that, one of the communities has developed into a strongly nationalist community, which also led to it that membership is receding - many simply emigrate to Israel. The other community is more and more chareidist. So you don't see any normal hats anymore: one shul is 80% srugies, the rest baseball caps, normal caps and only the occasional grey or black hat, in summer a selected few straw hats. The other shul is 98% black-hat by now, apart from this baal tshuve with his shtraimel. Mostly uniform oversize fedoras, only one gentleman with a homburg sometimes, or with a more stingy brimmed hat. Still black as black can. In one shul, there's a choir sometimes that turns the shul into a concert hall, in the other, some people shake their fists against the sky when davvening. In one shul's schools, Yiddish more and more replaces the childrens' vernacular; in the other one's, Ivrit is the subject in half of the lessons. In one shul, the current rabbi will be replaced by a young, ambitious uber-Zionist Amiel missionary, in the other shul, mostly those over the age of 45 work, the younger not.

Both engage in very strange and wild hakofes in autumn (I think around Shmini atzeres), they say the Sabbatean (?) Ledovid h' ouri veyish-i, in one they even say Hallel on the night of Pesech, and in both, they took up all the modern Poilishe narishkaaten. Hardly any of the particular customs are continued, except for the choice of piyyutim (not all are said, though).

I was at a wedding some time ago - the singing of Shir hamma-alôs ashrei kol yerei was impatiently tolerated, and the rest was oyoyoy and ayayay. (The people are mixed in simches, but if the couple would have been from the Zionist shul, they'd have sung 50% oyoyoy and 50% amis rael CHAI.)

So, after this wedding where you really couldn't see the couple because of the sea of black hats, I was a bit sad.

Then, a week or two afterwards, my in-laws told me about a bar-mitzve party they went to. The community is officially Orthodox. First a smaller-scale reception on Friday evening. The (Orthodox) rabbi wasn't invited. People who coyly went outside for a smoke were told by friendly other guests they don't have to go out, it wasn't that strict. The actual party with 180 guests was the next day, starting some hours before Shabbes ended. The rabbi was invited, and a table in the corner had paper cups and plates for that purpose. I'm not sure for what food, because that was treife - maybe they had some fruits somewhere. Or they thought kashres was about the plates. They did some stuff with 13 candles dedicated to 13 people (the rabbi wasn't among them). Then a group of women performed a kind of show - they came in different costumes in honour of the places the boy's relatives were coming from. So, there were people from Brazil, and they did a sexy dance in bikinis and feather boas, or from Texas, and the did a sexy dance with cowboy hats, and embarrassed guests by sitting on their laps here and there to the amusement of other guests. I think it was during this Texas part that the "girls" poured Tequila more or less succesfully in the guests' mouths - you know these bottles that have a thin spout? And in the boy's mouth. I'm not making this up.

When I heard that, I asked myself what on earth I'd got het up over. The form of hats, and that people said "hizraell" or "isrool" instead of Yisroel? In both of my shuls, people take the Tôre seriously, in both, they're warm and open towards people that are different, in the schools there's still Tôre being taught. And if you look close, we're still more Yekkish than in many other places. Even in the nusech-Sfard shtibl3, people will push their chairs under the table when they stand up for shumenesre. And in the course of the 15 years that the chasidist chazzen has been here, he learned some of the old piyyutim tunes.

I don't want to hide that deep inside, there's a small nagging voice asking if the kind of change that shuls like my two undergo has anything to do with the state of things in the second type of community, but still I got a tad more relaxed about israelisation and chareidisation.

1. There's also a Lubavitcher missionary around, a nisech Sfard minyen, a mainstream Artscroll/Israeli-style minyen in an old-age home, some Liberal second-Sunday-in-month-or-whatnot minyen, and the extremist Reform guys where even the Liberals won't go. (back to text)

2. In Germany today, the vast majority of the Jews are neither traditional nor of pre-war German extraction, so the question of a Yekkishe minnek in most places doesn't really come up. (back to text)

3. I filed an application for asylum there at least for those Shabbosem on which the choir performs. It was complied with, and behold, I'm not the only hardcore Yekke there. (back to text)



Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

What's the problem with the choir?

Sunday, November 05, 2006 2:12:00 PM  
Blogger Phillip Minden said...

What's the problem with the choir?

It's not a problem of quality - they're good, but that the pieces are like concert pieces, so the tzibber [congregation] isn't part of the service, but develops into a concert audience. In single cases, other problems can be there, too, for instance when they sing kaddish [a part that is said by a single person, and the others answer to it].

They also often repeat words an phrases, which is normale in classical and pop music, but rather not allowed in services, in the extreme case because it might look like they proclaim a multitude of gods or tôres, and in less extreme cases because it's senseless babbling.

Like a person that wants something from another, and asks "Can you, you, you, givgivgive me a couple of. OF!! ofofofofof. Of dol. Of dol. Of dollars? Of. Ofofofof. Dol. You. Youhoohoohoo. Oy: of!" (OK, the composed equivalents sound nice, but you get the idea.)

Sunday, November 05, 2006 2:27:00 PM  
Blogger Phillip Minden said...

I heard the babbling moshel idea above from R' Arie Folger shlit"e beshem R' Bleich shlit"e beshem R' Soloveitchik zetza"l, originally about someone trying to get a loan approval in a bank.

Monday, November 06, 2006 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

One of the things that always offended me about choirs is the separation into those who sing, and those encouraged to worshipfully and silently appreciate the splendid performance.

A congregant is, logically, required to be a participant, not a sheep. Where is the commitment and involvement to being a wallflower?

Monday, November 06, 2006 10:50:00 PM  

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