As we have learned, one must maintain her ancestral custom. The Sages based this statement on the verse, “Al titosh torat imekha” (“Do not abandon your mother’s teachings”; Mishlei 1:8). However, custom is not more important than other laws, and therefore it is occasionally superseded. For example, if one knows for certain that she will have less kavana praying in a synagogue that conducts services in her ancestral nusaĥ than in a synagogue where services are conducted in a different nusaĥ, she should choose the place more conducive to kavana, for this is the essence of prayer (Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 6 n. 2). However, in a case of uncertainty, she should preferably pray in her ancestral nusaĥ, because in the long term it seems that she will have more kavana praying in this way. Sometimes young people do not properly value their connections to ancestral nusaĥ but discover deep attachment to it over time and regret having changed it.
If one has a choice of two synagogues, one where prayer is conducted in her ancestral nusaĥ but where there are no Torah classes, and another that provides Torah study but conducts prayers in a different nusaĥ, she should evaluate the situation as follows: If she estimates that praying in the synagogue with more Torah classes will lead her to greater Torah study, it is better that she pray there even though the service is not conducted in her ancestral nusaĥ; despite the importance of preserving customs, Torah study is of paramount importance. Likewise, when choosing a yeshiva or other learning environment, one should not base the decision on the nusaĥ of the prayers there. Rather, she should choose the institution that will best teach her Torah, character, and mitzvot.
If one has a choice between two synagogues, one where the congregation prays in her ancestral nusaĥ but where she is concerned that she will not be able to connect with its congregants, whether because they are too old, too young, too few in number, or any other reason, and another where they do not pray in her family’s nusaĥ but there is a stronger community where she can better connect to the congregants, she must make a judgment. If she feels that praying in the latter synagogue will strengthen her connection to the Jewish religious community and raise or at least sustain her spiritual level, she should pray there, even though they do not pray in her ancestral nusaĥ. 1
- Although these laws primarily pertain to men, who are commanded to pray in a synagogue, it is still important for women to know them too because often women help their husbands make these decisions. These laws also pertain to single women, divorcees, and widows who pray in the synagogue.
Peninei Halakha: Prayer 6:3 explains that the reason that Ĥasidim switched from the Ashkenazic nusaĥ to the Ĥasidic nusaĥ known as Nusaĥ Sepharad was in order to use Arizal’s special intentions (kavanot) in their prayers. It also presents the view of those who opposed this change. Sections 6 and 7 of that chapter discuss one whose parents pray in Nusaĥ Sepharad but who has grown accustomed to the Ashkenazic nusaĥ. Must they pray in Nusaĥ Sepharad like their parents, or may they pray in the familiar Ashkenazic nusaĥ, which was indeed the ancestral nusaĥ until 200 years ago? In practice, one who is uncertain regarding this matter should ask his rabbi. Ibid. 8 also explains that Ashkenazim who have grown accustomed to praying with the Sephardic pronunciation need not return to the Ashkenazic pronunciation according to the accepted ruling. ↩