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Friday, April 11, 2014

Jewish Ethnic Customs, Sefard vs Ashkenaz, Maybe Cancel Them All

Unfortunately Passover, Pesach is a very divisive holiday. There are just too many customs celebrated/observed so differently that sometimes even members of the same family won't eat at the same table.  Thank G-d it lasts only a week, because the second most divisive issue, Shmitta, Sabbatical year, can cause problems for years. I find that one so traumatic, I can hardly even get myself to blog about it.

There are two large problematic issues during Pesach, the biggest being kitniyot, aka legumes, but not exactly in the botanical sense. There are non-kitniyot eaters who do eat the derivatives, such as soy oil, though not the beans. The basic divide is between Ashkenaz (European) and Eidot Mizrach (North African) Jews, or those whose paternal lines, ancestors lived in those exiles when the customs took hold.

Ashkenaz Jews are forbidden fresh as well as dried versions of the vegetables such as peas, rice, lentils etc, but the Eidot Mizrach have a wide variety of customs depending on which rabbinic sources they follow. Our Tunisian family members eat all sorts of fresh and dried legumes and rice after multiple checking, while Moroccan neighbors are forbidden rice and some of the legumes.

In recent years there are more and more Asheknazi families who have decided whether from convenience or conviction to adopt Sephardi custom on Pesach. Rabbi David Bar-Hayim of Machon Shilo (no connection to the Shiloh where I live) has been pushing for this unifying move for quite a few years.

The basic premise of Rabbi Bar-Hayim is that when investigating the history of the minhag, custom he discovered that the most prominent rabbis of the time the custom began opposed it. They considered it a mistake. Therefore he considers it permissible and preferable to stop this incorrect practice. The big problem is that he is in a very small minority. It would take the agreement of a number of highly respected poskim, rabbinic deciders to take his very interesting points reality.

photo credit
My feeling is that cancelling divisive ethnic customs should be an all or nothing decision, especially since there are many Jewish families like my own with more than one ethnic tradition-custom. It's very common nowadays, especially in Israel for families to be multi-ethnic, Ashkenaz and a few Eidot Mizrach all mixed up. When my daughter and her Tunisian family come on Passover, they bring rice. It's permitted for them, neither chametz nor treif (non-kosher) so I don't mind it on the table. And when we visit them on Passover, the food is cooked according to Ashkenaz custom so we may eat it all.

G-d willing, all of these divisive customs will soon be history with the Coming of the Moshiach bimhairah biyamanu, speedily in our days...


Anonymous said...

"G-d willing, all of these divisive customs will soon be history with the Coming of the Moshiach bimhairah biyamanu, speedily in our days..."

Amen! Because as a Ger Tzedek I don't have a family tradition. Follow the traditions of the rabbi who converted me or the community minhag I'm living in?

LondonMale said...

I hope Masiach comes right now and answers the question of what to do about different Minhagim. Shabbat Shalom.

Batya Medad said...

a, LM, amen
One People should have one set of customs, which combines all and respects all that are consistent with the Torah.

Shiloh said...

Exactly, this coming Pesach would be a good one to start with. But everyone would cry foul if the Mashaich put an end to the rabbinical haggadah and had one which told simply the story of the Exodux without all the irrelevant commentaries. Glad I am not involved with that decision or they would reinstate stoning!. LOL, pesach sameach all.

Anonymous said...

To LondonMale and Batya:
It's totally the other way round. The Moshiach will not come until WE ourselves don't get rid of what divides us.

Batya Medad said...

I consider all of the marriages between the eidot to be a sign that Time of Moshiach is soon