Sunday, 30 June 2013

minhag avoseinu b;yadeinu

Ben;s been reading this book, called ‘shorashei minhagei ashkenaz’. It’s a one-volume English summary of a three-voluime Hebrew work recording the traditions and origins of those traditions of Ashkenazim, so that they are not entirely forgotten and lost in the wave of homogenous artscroll-isation sweeping over us.

Amongst other things, he’s discovered from this book that a hachnasat sefer torah used to always be held on a Shabbat, or on shavuos. The recent practice (within the last 100 years) of holding it on a Sunday was entirely frowned upon and squashed as a radical, chukkas-hagoy-type practice.

Also, a baby would get his/her secular name at a special ceremony, called (I mayb e getting this word wrong) a chol-kreit. The secular name they would be given wasn;t just the same as the names of the non-Jews amongst whom they lived; it would be a Yiddish version of the Hebrew/Jewish name they’d already been given, thus someone who had been named shlomo would be named zalman at his chol-kreit, someone named dov would be named ber, etc. as you can work out, this is evidently where the practice gradually sprang up from of giving a baby two names – shlomo zalman, dov ber, menachem Mendel – which are the Hebrew and Yiddish versions of the same name. funny, isn’t it, that nowadays people give Yiddish names to their children as their Hebrew/jewish names….

Another example: the chuppah we use now is not the authentic chuppah. Couples would stand together draped in the same tallis. The chuppah we use nowadays at a wedding derived from the canopy that was held over the heads of important people, asuch as at a hachnasat sefer torah. For a while, a couple would stand draped in a tallis AND under a canopy…then gradually the draped in a tallis part died out. I find it hard to imagine having that kind of chuppah nowadays; I think if people were to revive it, they would be shouted down as trying to overturn our mesorah and introduce pritzus-dik (a chassan and kallah standing under the same tallis? Close enough to touch? Already before the chasunah’s completed? It’s so not tznius) innovations.

So what I learned from this is that Jewish practice can change extremely dramatically, over a very very short space of time. We think of the way we do things as somewhat inviolate, not easily amenable to change, and that to change Jewish practice is a serious thing which requires a good reason and official approval from several leading rabbonim. It turns out that this is not the case.

Final quote from Saki (hamayvin yavin who that is): "Not that i ever indulge in despairing about the Future; there have always been men who have gone about despairing of the Future, and when the Future arrives it says nice, superior things about their having acted according to their lights."

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