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Peninei Halakha > Prayer > 06 - Nusach: Wording of Prayer

06 – Nusach: Wording of Prayer

01 – The Differences in Nusach

Following the exile from the Land of Israel, and the scattering of Jewish communities, distinctions were created among the diverse ethnic groups (eidot) regarding the wording of the prayers. In the main prayers, those instituted by Anshei Knesset HaGedolah, such as Birkot Keriat Shema and the Amidah, the differences are very slight. Even in the main passages of the Korbanot (sacrificial offerings) and Pesukei d’Zimrah, which were established during the time of the Talmud and the Geonim, the disparities are minor. The modifications are more noticeable, however, in the supplements added during the period of the Rishonim, such as additions to the Korbanot passages and prayers concluding the service. What was customary to include in Spain was not necessarily accepted in Ashkenaz, and vice versa. This is especially apparent in the liturgy for the High Holy Days and Festivals, composed during the time of the Geonim and Rishonim. Hence, we find completely different piyutim (poems) in the High Holy Day prayers of the Sephardic and Ashkenazic services.

It is proper that every Jew continue in his family’s custom. Even if he knows that a certain nusach is more precise, the continuation of tradition is more important than the accuracy of one word or another.

The Ari HaKadosh clarifies the differences in wording and style between Sephardim and Ashkenazim. He explains that there are twelve windows in the heavens corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel and the prayer of each tribe ascends through its particular gate. That is the enigma of the twelve gates mentioned at the conclusion of the book of Ezekiel (Sha’ar HaKavanot p. 50, 4; Magen Avraham 68:1; Mishnah Berurah 68:4).

Additionally, distinctions exist among the ethnic groups regarding the pronunciation of certain Hebrew letters, e.g., tzadi and kuf, as well as vowels, such as, kamatz and cholam and each group must continue its custom. If, however, people change their nusach, they still fulfill their obligation, for all the existing Jewish traditions relating to the reading of letters and vowels are permitted for prayer (Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim, part 3, 5; additionally, even regarding the wording of the Chalitzah ceremony in which, according to all opinions, every letter must be enunciated, one may fulfill his obligation in any ethnic accent).

02 – No Nusach Should Be Considered More Preferable than Another

The Chida writes in the name of the Ari that the Sephardic nusach ascends through all twelve gates. Therefore, in his opinion, Ashkenazim are permitted to switch to the Sephardic wording of prayer (see Yabia Omer 6:10; Yechaveh Da’at 3:6). However, the Chassidim claim that their nusach (Nusach Sephard-Chassidi) is of higher quality. They maintain that the prominent Chassidic authorities investigated numerous wordings and formulas of the Kabbalah, and selected the best among them. Those who pray in Nusach Ashkenaz assert that their custom is the most meticulous, for it was passed on from person to person as far back as Shimon HaPakuli. Furthermore, the foundation for the Sephardic minhag lies within the Amora’im and Geonim of Babylon, whereas the basis for the Ashkenazic minhag originates with the Amora’im and Geonim of Eretz Yisrael who were more proficient in Agadah, Chochmat HaSod, and nusachim of prayer. (Incidentally, that is the reason for the similarities between Nusach Ashkenaz and the original Yemenite nusach [Baladi], for both were influenced by the Geonim of Eretz Yisrael.) The Yemenites, too, claim that their nusach is more precise, for the Jews of Yemen, in all their years of exile, did not wander. Instead, in response to the persecution that the Arabs inflicted, the Yemenite Jews intensified their devotion to Torah and observed their customs with extra stringency. Indeed the Yemenite Torah scrolls were found to be closer in accuracy to the nusach of the precise Keter Aram Tzova.

In summary, every minhag possesses its own advantages and it is not in our power to determine which minhag is more praiseworthy. As the Chatam Sofer writes (responsa 1:15), all nusachim are equal. He maintains that the Ari composed his kavanot for Nusach Sephard-Chassidi because he was accustomed to praying in that nusach. However, if a person like the Ari were to have resided in Ashkenaz, he would have written his kavanot based on Nusach Ashkenaz.

Even if we were to know that a particular minhag is more precise, it would still be proper for each person to continue his own minhag, for even the less accurate minhag surely possesses advantages that the others do not exhibit. Only after the Sanhedrin is re-established will we be able to institute a uniform nusach, which will include the benefits of each minhag. Though, even then, there will be room for different emphases in the additional prayers and varying melodies, corresponding to the twelve gates; each community according to its ways.

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.

04 – Immigrants and Communities that Migrated

In the past, when the distance between communities was great, Ashkenazim lived in Ashkenaz, Sephardim in Spain, and Yemenites in Yemen. Any person who moved to another place would adopt the minhag of his new place and practice the customs of the local Jews regarding halachah and prayer. For example, people with the family name “Ashkenazi” follow the Sephardic customs yet are called “Ashkenazi” because they migrated from Ashkenaz to Spain. Likewise, families that migrated from Spain to Ashkenaz accepted upon themselves the Ashkenazic customs. Even if, over the course of time, many people migrate to a community and become the majority there, as long as they arrive as individuals, they are outweighed by the community in which they settle, and must practice according to the custom of the new place (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah 214:2; Orach Chaim 468:4; Mishnah Berurah 14).

The law is similar regarding a woman who married a man from a different ethnic group. She is considered someone who migrated from her community to his. She must abide by his practices, whether they are more strict or lenient, and she need not perform a hatarat nedarim (an annulment of vows) (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim, part 1, 158).[2]

When an entire community migrates to another place, since it is its own entity, it does not need to conform to the customs of the people there (Bei’ur Halachah 468:4). Even if the original people are the majority, as long as the new ones are united as an independent community, they should continue their initial minhagim. Similarly, that is the law in Israel today. By Hashem’s grace we merited a great ingathering of Jews from the Diaspora (kibbutz galuyot). Myriads of differing ethnic groups arrived, including talmidei chachamim, and each and every ethnic group founded its own synagogue. Therefore, no ethnic group is invalidated in regard to another and each must preserve its own minhagim.

[2]. However, if her husband does not mind, she may continue to pray according to her previous nusach (Halichot Shlomo 1, note 7). Nevertheless, it is proper for her to switch to her husband’s nusach before her children reach the age of understanding, so they will not be confused why their parents are praying in different nusachim (Tefillah Kehilchatah 4, note 4).However, if her husband does not mind, she may continue to pray according to her previous nusach (Halichot Shlomo 1, note 7). Nevertheless, it is proper for her to switch to her husband’s nusach before her children reach the age of understanding, so they will not be confused why their parents are praying in different nusachim (Tefillah Kehilchatah 4, note 4).

05 – Praying in a Minyan Conducted in a Different Nusach

Some poskim say that when a person who is accustomed to one nusach goes to pray in a minyan held in a different nusach, he must pray according to the nusach of the minyan he is attending, because the individuals must follow the majority. If he practices according to his own minhag in front of the people in the congregation, it constitutes a transgression of the prohibition “lo titgodedu” (fragmenting the nation into divergent groups). This prohibition disallows having one court of law (beit din) with some judges who rule according to the method of Beit Shamai and others who rule according to Beit Hillel, so that the Torah will not be divided into two seemingly different Torahs (Yevamot 14a, according to the Rif and the Rosh). Hence, the people of one synagogue should not pray in two different nusachim. Furthermore, the Chachamim teach (Pesachim 50b) that a person must not stray from the custom of a place so as not to generate dispute (Pe’at HaShulchan 3:14).

According to most poskim, one is permitted to pray in his family’s nusach those parts of the prayer service that are recited silently. Since the differences are not noticeable, there is no fear of dispute, nor is there any transgression of the prohibition, “lo titgodedu.” However, prayers recited aloud should be prayed in the nusach of the minyan so as not to create controversy and disparity among the members of the congregation.[3]

One who must regularly pray in a minyan conducted in a different nusach, e.g., because he moves to a place in which the only minyan prays in a different nusach or because he prays in the minyan that will strengthen his religiosity, is permitted to decide whether to pray in its nusach, or adhere to his own family’s custom, reciting the parts said aloud like the congregation.

The chazan leading the prayer service in a synagogue employing a nusach that is different from his own must pray according to the minhag of the place because he is praying as the people’s emissary. However, for the silent prayers, he may pray according to his own minhag.[4]

[3].The prayers recited silently may be prayed in one’s own nusach. However, the Kedushah, which is recited out loud, should be prayed in the chazan’s nusach, as written in Shut Sho’el U’Meishiv Edition 3, 1:247, Meishiv Davar 1:17, Shivat Tzion 5, Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim, part 2, 23, and Minchat Yitzchak 7:5. Regarding Pesukei d’Zimrah, Birkot Keriat Shema, and Nefillat Apayim, the poskim are uncertain. According to the Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim, part 2, 23, since one is permitted to say Pesukei d’Zimrah out loud, it is better that he says them in the chazan’s nusach. Similarly, concerning the matter of Nefillat Apayim on Mondays and Thursdays, there is a difference in custom. According to Nusach Sephard, we put our heads down before Tachanun, and according to Nusach Ashkenaz, after Tachanun. The Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim, part 3, 89, writes that one may not stray from the custom of the place because it would be noticeable. However, the widespread custom is that every person prays according to his minhag. Since it is known that there are many different minhagim in prayer, the prohibition of “lo titgodedu” is not applicable in this case. Yet, those praying in a nusach different from that of the chazan should not call attention to themselves by praying out loud, as mentioned in Tefillah Kehilchatah 4, notes 23 and 26. However, the Yabia Omer, part 6, 10, maintains that even prayers which are recited out loud should continue to be prayed by each person in his own nusach and there is no fear of “lo titgodedu” nor controversy because everyone knows that different minhagim exist. Nonetheless, even according to his opinion, it seems that one should not actually recite those prayers aloud, because if he does, he incites controversy.

In practice, the person praying is permitted to choose a nusach – his or the chazan’s – however, for the more noticeable prayers, it is proper to pray according to the chazan’s nusach. Further, see Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim, Part 4, 34, outlining the aspects of the prohibition to pray according to different minhagim in one synagogue.

[4]. However, Yabia Omer, part 6, Orach Chaim 10:8, discusses a mourner who is accustomed to praying in one nusach and comes to a place in which the people pray in a different nusach. If they let him lead the prayer service according to his nusach, he can lead. If not, it is better that he does not lead the prayer service and that he prays silently according to his own nusach. However, most poskim do not agree. The Igrot Moshe, part 2, 29 and part 4, 33, maintains that even while praying silently he must pray like the congregation because the silent Amidah prayer was intended as preparation for Chazarat HaShatz. The Halichot Shlomo 5:19 responds to this, saying that since he is reading from a siddur, there is less need for preparation.

06 – Preserving Minhagim versus Strengthening the Community

The preservation of minhagim, in addition to maintaining the nusach of the prayer, entails upholding the pronunciation of the prayers. Each community – the Yemenites, the Sephardim, and the Ashkenazim – pronounces the prayers according to its own particular dialect. In addition, l’chatchilah, it is proper that each ethnic group continue to pray in its own traditional tunes (see Rama, Orach Chaim 619:1). Clearly, it is permissible to introduce new melodies. However, in the main part of the prayer, the traditional tune that was sanctified throughout the generations should be preserved. For that reason, a person must initially pray in a synagogue which conducts the service in his family’s nusach.[5]

Judaism is comprised of numerous different minhagim. The nusach of the Sephardim is divided into many customs. Concerning matters of halachah, the key distinctions are evident between those who practice according to the Shulchan Aruch and those who follow the Ben Ish Chai. Furthermore, there is a specific nusach for Jews from North Africa. While the differences in nusach and halachic matters among those from North Africa and Iraq and Syria are relatively minor, their melodies contrast more strikingly. Even among the immigrants from North Africa there are such distinct disparities in melody, so that Algerians sound dissonant to Moroccans; and to Jews from Libya, both Algerians and Moroccans sound off-key. To perfectly preserve the numerous minhagim, there would have to be individual synagogues for immigrants from Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, and Morocco, as well as differing synagogues for immigrants from Iraq, Syria, Persia, and Turkey.

Among Ashkenazic immigrants there are different minhagim as well, the primary distinction being between the Chassidim and all remaining Ashkenazim. Still, there are other significant differences in types of diction and melody. The tunes of those who pray in the Nusach Ashkenaz from Western Europe are completely different from the tunes in the Nusach Ashkenaz from Lithuania. Furthermore, regarding diction, there are at least four variations of pronunciation – those of immigrants from Lithuania, Poland, Galitzia, and Hungary. Different sects of Chassidim also have varying minhagim and distinct melodies. Additionally, among the Yemenites there are two main nusachimBaladi and Shami.

However, if strictly safeguarding the minhagim will bring about the dismantling of the community, it is preferable to forgo the preservation of the customs. In general, when a community is unified, and it arranges Torah study for men, women, and children, and people perform acts of kindness for one another, it succeeds in keeping its members committed to Torah and mitzvot. On the other hand, when a community lacks unity and a communal dedication to Torah, its members become are weak and above all, its children are adversely affected.

Although l’chatchilah every person should pray according to his family’s minhag, if this necessitates the establishment of dozens of small synagogues, making it difficult to assemble a minyan and organize regular Torah classes, it is preferable that ethnic groups with similar minhagim merge to form a stronger community. For example, all Jews from North Africa should pray together and if that is not sufficient, then all people who pray in the Sephardic nusach should pray together.[6]

Therefore, in each and every place, it is necessary to weigh the pros and cons, i.e., the importance of preserving the minhagim against the significance of establishing a strong, solid community. When there are enough families from the same ethnic group living in one place, enabling them to establish a large synagogue while preserving the traditions of their minhagim, all the better. But when the number of families is insufficient, it is best that they join a group with customs similar to their own, provided that they form a strong congregation. If the consolidation of similar ethnic groups will not be adequate to ensure a strong community, it is better that all the members of the differing groups – Sephardim, Ashkenazim, and Yemenites – merge to become one community. This issue requires serious consideration, and for that reason, it is up to the mara d’atra, the primary rabbi of the place, to resolve such matters.

[5]. In the opinion of the Rashdam 35, the warning, “Do not abandon your mother’s teachings,” does not apply to minhagim, rather only to laws. Therefore there is no concern in changing one’s nusach of prayer. However, the Hagahot Maymoniyot, based on the Yerushalmi, writes that we are not to switch our family’s nusach, and the Magen Avraham 68:1 cites his opinion as the halachah. That is the opinion of the majority of poskim as well. In practice, concerning an issue of law, it is more important to preserve the minhag. However, regarding non-law-related matters, such as liturgy, and even more so melodies, it is possible to be more lenient in changing them.
[6]. In addition to this, even though it would be proper that every group preserved all its own minhagim and melodies, there is also a positive aspect to the merging of the Diaspora communities in Israel. Since a person does not necessarily choose a place to live based on his ethnicity, a situation is already created in which the similar nusachim can consolidate. Today most Ashkenazim practice that way; people with different traditions pray together.

07 – Those Accustomed to a Different Nusach

Sometimes the question arises regarding how a person should practice when his father, who is a member of one ethnic group, becomes accustomed to praying in a nusach of a different ethnic group. Should he pray in the nusach in which his father currently prays or in the nusach of his father’s ethnic group? As a general rule, the obligatory minhag is that of the ethnic group and not one’s father’s individual minhag. However, when the son prefers to continue in his father’s adopted nusach, or because he finds it difficult to change, or for any other reason, he is permitted to continue praying in his father’s nusach. Since this question poses implications on other issues, it is best that one consult with his rabbi on this matter.

A similar dilemma arose among members of Chassidic families, who learned in Lithuanian yeshivot and became accustomed to praying in Nusach Ashkenaz. When they left the yeshiva, they deliberated whether to continue praying in Nusach Ashkenaz as they were taught in yeshiva, or return to praying in Nusach SephardChassidi, the minhag of their parents.

The rabbis of the Ashkenazic minhag taught that, in principle, they must continue praying in Nusach Ashkenaz, for in the past, all Ashkenazic Jews prayed in Nusach Ashkenaz, and only 200 years ago did the Chassidim change their nusach. Even though now, after such a long time, all Chassidim will not be instructed to return to pray in Nusach Ashkenaz, still, it is best that those Chassidim who already became accustomed to praying in Nusach Ashkenaz continue to pray that way, because it is their ancestors’ original nusach. However, the Chassidic rabbis insisted that they must continue in the Chassidic nusach, reasoning that since prominent Chassidic authorities have instructed those who prayed in Nusach Ashkenaz to switch to the Nusach SephardChassidi, in congruence with the writings of the Ari, all the more so, anyone born into a Chassidic family must continue praying in the Chassidic nusach.

In practice, since there are differing opinions, the person posing the question may choose how to practice. Still, it is best to consult with one’s rabbi on this matter.[7]

[7]. The position of the rabbis who pray in Nusach Ashkenaz is brought in Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim, part 2, 24, as well as in Tefillah Kehilchatah, in the name of Rav Elyashiv. Their opinion is that Nusach Ashkenaz is the nusach in which it is proper for all Ashkenazim to pray. However, Rav Elyashiv adds in the next paragraph that one who has regularly prayed in a different nusach since he was born, and it is difficult for him to change, may continue praying in the nusach to which he has become accustomed, for that is what the Chazon Ish and Rabbi Yaakov Kanievsky have taught. The opinion of the Chassidic rabbis is widely known.

08 – Ashkenazim Who Pray with a Sephardic Pronunciation

A similar question arose among Ashkenazic immigrants from the dati-leumi (national-religious) community. Approximately three generations ago, with the beginning of the gathering of the exiles, a need was felt to consolidate the Diaspora communities and to restore the Jewish nation to its Hebrew language. For unification purposes, the Sephardic pronunciation was chosen. Even though Maran HaRav Kook ztz”l, and many other poskim, are of the opinion that each ethnic group must preserve its own accent in prayer, in actuality, since the spoken Hebrew and the Hebrew learned in schools were in a Sephardic pronunciation, the Sephardic accent became imbedded in the prayer service too. Indeed, many leaders of national-religious educational institutions, acting in accordance with the rulings of a few rabbis, instructed their Ashkenazic students to pray with Sephardic pronunciation.

There are some rabbis who spoke strongly against the Ashkenazim who changed their accent. Some taught that even people who find it difficult to pronounce all the prayers in an Ashkenazic pronunciation should at the very least pronounce Hashem’s Name in that manner, because the pronunciation of Hashem’s Name in the Ashkenazic accent has greater grammatical advantages (Har Tzvi Orach Chaim 1:4; Az Nidberu, part 3, 48:1, according to the Chazon Ish).

However, in practice, most rabbis do not encourage their students to change their pronunciation. Since the Sephardic accent is just as acceptable as the Ashkenazic, and everyone is used to it, there is no obligation to return to one’s original accent. Moreover, if the effort to change one’s pronunciation will disrupt his kavanah in prayer, it is preferable not to change it. It is best that one who already prays in a Sephardic accent also say Hashem’s Name that way so as not to mix accents. There are even those who are concerned that one who combines accents b’dieved does not fulfill his obligation (Rav Yosef Henkin; She’arim Metzuyanim BaHalachah 18:5). Therefore, it is customary to recite the whole prayer service, including Hashem’s Name, in the Sephardic accent.[8]

[8]. Mishpatei Uziel, Orach Chaim 1, maintains that it is proper for all the ethnic groups to pray in a uniform nusach and accent. Maran HaRav Kook commented on this, saying that every ethnic group must preserve its own minhagim. He continues that one who changes his accent is considered like “one who recited [the Shema] and was not meticulous in enunciating the letters,” for even though he fulfills his obligation, he should not do so l’chatchilah. That is the opinion of most rabbis, among them Minchat Yitzchak 3:9, and 4:47, 4, and Az Nidberu, part 3, 48:1. However, a number of Sephardic rabbis, including Yaskil Avdi, part 2, Orach Chaim 3, and Yabia Omer, part 6, Orach Chaim 11, write that an Ashkenazi is permitted to switch to the Sephardic accent. They praise the Sephardic nusach and note that since it is spoken today in the Holy Land, it is therefore proper to pray in it. However, it is noteworthy that the spoken accent today is less precise than the original Sephardic accent, for today’s spoken accent does not differentiate between a tet and a taf, between a kuf and a kaf degushah, between a tafdegushah and a taf refuyah, or between a kamatz and a patach. From a certain standpoint, it is the worst of all the pronunciations, for it does not have the virtues found in the Ashkenazic dialect, and it is missing a few of the advantages present in the Sephardic dialect. Nevertheless, Yabia Omer does not comment on this.In any case, after people have already become accustomed to the Sephardic accent, even according to those who maintain that in principle one must revert to his family’s nusach, if it is difficult to do so, and it will disrupt one’s kavanah, one need not revert to the Ashkenazic nusach. That is what my teacher and rabbi, HaRav Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook, ztz”l, maintained. Furthermore, he mentioned that there are things which are accepted by the community even though the Chachamim are not pleased with them. He also said that something good comes out of this: members of different ethnic groups can pray together, and unity is increased.

The Yabia Omer 11:6, quotes Rabbi Unterman, the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, in saying that the Ashkenazim who became accustomed to praying in the Sephardic accent should not be compelled to revert to the Ashkenazic pronunciation. That is how they were educated and they are comfortable in this accent, because it is widespread throughout the whole country. The Yabia Omer adds that it is preferable that they pray in the spoken dialect, for in that way the youth will feel more of a sense of belonging to the synagogue and the prayer service. One may add that even if a person stands before a king, he will talk in the accepted dialect, and he will not begin to precisely pronounce the letters. We learn many of the laws of prayer from an individual who stands before a king using the kal vachomer principle.

09 – Members of Different Ethnic Groups Praying Together

In many places, members of all the different ethnic groups pray together. That is the accepted practice in many yeshivot, so as not to cause a daily schism between the students, as well as in small communities which do not have enough people for each group to maintain a large minyan to pray and learn Torah.

In the past, in order to refrain from disrupting the prayer service and creating separate minhagim within the same synagogue, the congregation would establish one nusach according to the majority (see Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim, part 4, 34). However, in our society, where people are familiar with and accustomed to the different minhagim, in many places it is customary to give each ethnic group expression in the prayer service. Usually, the congregation follows the chazan. For example, if the chazan is Sephardic, he will pray in the Sephardic nusach, and if he is Ashkenazic, he will pray in the Ashkenazic nusach. There are places that even if the chazan is Yemenite, although his pronunciation varies greatly from the norm, he prays in his Yemenite dialect. Since all the minhagim are acceptable and known to all, there is no fear of “lo titgodedu,” and it is not likely to incite controversy.

That is how we practice in Har Berachah. When there are major differences between the minhagim, it is our custom to follow the shorter nusach. For example, on “Bet-Hei-Bet” (fast days enacted on Monday and Thursdays by some ashkenazic authorities), when the Ashkenazim customarily say Selichot, we do not recite them communally, since the Sephardim do not follow this custom. Similarly, Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) is not recited before Kabbalat Shabbat, though it is the minhag of many Sephardim. Likewise, we do not recite all the passages of the Korbanot (sacrificial offerings) out loud in the minyan, as is the Sephardic tradition. Those who wish to say them recite them individually before the prayer service. However, when the extension to the prayer service is not burdensome, the congregation follows the chazan; for instance, at the end of the prayer service, when the Sephardim prolong the recital of the Psalm of the Day and the Pitum HaKetoret, or the Tachanun of Mondays and Thursdays.

The Sephardic minhag is that the chazan recites all the Psalms and Birkot Keriat Shema out loud, in order to fulfill the obligation for a person who does not know how to read. Nevertheless, the prevalent custom is that even the Sephardic chazanim say only the conclusion of the mizmorim and berachot out loud. This is because nowadays everyone knows how to read, and the recital aloud prolongs the duration of the prayer service and disrupts the kavanah of some of the people praying.

As a general rule, regarding prayers recited out loud, the congregation follows the chazan, while concerning prayers recited silently, each person prays according to his individual minhag. Nonetheless, it is unnecessary to be meticulous concerning this, and one who wishes to pray in the chazan’s nusach is permitted to do so, for that is the opinion of some poskim. One who wishes to pray in his own nusach, even those passages recited aloud, is permitted to do so, as long as he says them quietly, so as not to disturb the congregation and accentuate the differences between him and the chazan.

When the Sephardic chazan recites the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy three times in the prayers of supplication (tachanunim) of Mondays and Thursdays, it is proper that the Ashkenazim follow along with him.

To conclude, in all these situations, in which the benefit to the community and to the prayer service are weighed against the preservation of nusachim, the mara d’atra, the primary rabbi of the place, must determine what is best.

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