03 – In What Cases Is One Permitted to Change His Nusach?

As we have learned, one must maintain his family’s minhag. The Chachamim based this statement on the verse, “Al titosh torat imecha,” meaning, “Do not abandon your mother’s teachings” (Proverbs 1:8). However, this custom is no more important than other laws, and therefore it is often superseded. For example, when a person knows for certain that he will have less kavanah praying in a synagogue that conducts services in his family’s nusach than in a synagogue in which the services are conducted in a different nusach, he should choose the one in which he can concentrate better, for kavanah is the essence of prayer.[1] However, in a case of uncertainty, it is preferable to pray in his family’s nusach, because in the long term, chances are that he will have more kavanah praying as his family does. Sometimes, when a person is young, he does not properly value his connection to his family’s nusach, though as time passes, he discovers a deep attachment to it.

An Ashkenazi who wants to pray according to the Ari’s writings, and for that purpose wishes to switch to Nusach Sephard-Chassidi, is permitted to do so. There were some prominent individuals from Ashkenaz who did this, among them the Chatam Sofer’s rabbis, Rabbi Natan Adler, and Rabbi Pinchas, the author of the Hafla’ah. Nevertheless, their families and students continued to pray in Nusach Ashkenaz, for they understood that only a specific individual who wants to pray according to the kavanot Ha’Ari is permitted to change his nusach, but it is not proper for someone who does not pray with those kavanot to do so. However, the leaders of the Chassidic movement encouraged all their followers to switch from Nusach Ashkenaz to Nusach Sephard-Chassidi, despite the fact that most of them were not familiar with the Ari’s kavanot. Indeed, prominent rabbis have vehemently disagreed with them, wondering how they could have changed their minhag, but the eminent leaders of the Chassidic movement, who were also illustrious world figures, decided to change their custom and surely had honorable reasons. Nowadays, no one objects to their practice (see She’arim Metzuyanim BaHalachah 18:4; Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim, part 2, 24).

If a person has a choice of two synagogues, one where the prayer service is conducted in his family’s nusach but where no Torah classes are organized, and another, which provides Torah study but where the people pray in a different nusach, he must consider his options. If he reasons that praying in the synagogue with more Torah will help him learn more, it is better that he pray there even though the service is not conducted in his family’s tradition. Likewise, in choosing a yeshiva, one should not choose a place of learning according to the nusach of the prayers. Instead, he should choose the yeshiva in which he can become more elevated in Torah and mitzvot.

Similarly, if a person must choose between two synagogues: one, where the congregation prays in his family’s nusach, but he is concerned that he will not be able to connect with the people because they are either too old, too young, or too few in number and another, where they do not pray in his family’s nusach, but there is a unified congregation with which he can better identify. If he feels that by joining the prayers of the latter synagogue, his connection to the Jewish religious community will intensify, thereby enhancing or at least sustaining his spiritual level, it is preferable that he pray there, even though the prayers are not his family’s nusach.

[1]. See Shut Maharam Shik, Choshen Mishpat 24, which states that even though the Magen Avraham writes that one should not stray from his family’s nusach, one is permitted to switch from Nusach Ashkenaz to Sephard-Chassidi if he so desires. He cites Chovot HaLevavot saying that one’s deep passion for a certain mitzvah indicates his deep connection to that mitzvah. All the more so, he is permitted to switch nusachim for the purpose of having more kavanah. The matter of the community’s significance, of which I will write later on, is of obvious importance. See Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim, part 4, 33.

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The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

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