Nov 9, 2011

Choosing: Ashkenazic vs. Sephardic

I've been meaning to post this question for quite some time (okay, since the divorce), but after talking it over very briefly with a few friends, here I am finally posting it.

Before I got married, I had the option -- as a convert -- to choose my minhagim or customs. That means that technically, because I didn't grow up with any, I had the option of choosing the lifestyle of the Sephardim. Beans and rice on Passover! And a lot of other really awesome, fascinating, unique customs that would have made me more normal in Israel than here in the U.S.

(Sephardim, oddly enough, are more strict on many things, including bishul akum, which forbids a Jew to eat food prepared by a non-Jew, something I observed when in the conversion process that I had no problem with -- this is where that "Jew turns on the flame" bit comes in handy for a non-Jew at a grocery store bakery or the like).

Then I got married, to someone with nominally Ashkenazic traditions and a strong Ashkenazic genealogy. Although he grew up not always following the no-leavening bit on Passover, he loosely identified with the Eastern European ways, considering his family came from Romania and areas around there. So we took on those customs, despite my pleas and knowing that we technically could choose our customs. We adopted our rabbi's Yekki tradition of washing our hands before both kiddush (blessing over wine) and motzi (blessing over bread), which, by the way, has a very legit and sense-making reason if you're interested.

But now, since I'm divorced, does that take me back to square one? Do I get to choose my customs? Or am I bound to the 16-month commitment to Ashkenazic traditions? I mean, I look like I'm straight-up Eastern European (note: my family hails from England and France and Switzerland), but ... until I get married (please HaShem) again, can I just have a little bit of Sephardic fun?!


I don't like the eggs, but ... 

For those of you interested in the halachos that are out there, they're incredibly confusing, and opinions are incredibly varied, but there's a great response and plenty of contradictory sources cited over at Fifth Avenue Synagogue. According to Rav Schachter, community comes before family, but how often do any of us live in a community anymore where there is a single established minhag

Can't wait to hear your thoughts!


Bethany said...

Tough call. I wish we could be Sephardi. I know that most of the hispanic and black converts I know take on Sephardi customs, and the white ones take up Ashkenaz.

What's the majority of the people who go to your shul?

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Bethany The majority? Probably Ashkenazim. We do have a lot of Sephardim, however, including a lot of Israelis. The thing about the community here is that there are a lot of people who sort of wander in and out of shul, wander from shul to shul, etc.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

A comment from MokumAlef:

Have no clue how much time needs to transpire before chosen minhagim 'stick'. That's rabbi stuff. But I find the available options interesting. Officially you can change them by marrying someone of your chosen minhag. Search only for males of certain denomination ...

When you went 'yekke' did you also do the 3 hrs between fleishigs and milchig? Here is yet another triple whammy you might want to consider: find a Dutch Sephardi, coz then you also get to wait only ONE hour between f and m.

I prefer Sephardi minhagim any time: better food, better music, better dress.

Shades of Grey said...

I think it also depends what type of person you're looking to get married to. True, Sephardic minhagim may seem attractive, but if you are looking to marry someone Ashkenazic (based on familiarity, attraction, etc - to each his/her own) I personally wouldn't want to set myself up to have those minhagim overruled in marriage to an Ashkenazic man.

I also know some Sephardic groups aren't too keen on converts for whatever reasons they established many centuries ago, though I can't claim to understand them. On the flip side, I also know many Sephardic guys who specifically want to go out with Ashkenazic looking women for reasons of personal preference, which might be connected to the fact that some of them have formerly Ashkenazic mothers.

Definitely ask your rabbi regarding your own conduct now, but knowing that you want to get married again (to the right guy at the right time, may it be sooner rather than later) this might be something you want to have in mind as you move forward in your observance.

Batya said...

Of course, ask a LORabbi, but technically you're Ashkenaz now. Not all Sfardim have easier food psak than Ashkenaz. My daughter and grandchildren are Tunisian of the easiest psak, but not all Tunisians are from that town.

Aliza "La Jewminicana" Hausman said...

You are single. I would say ask your local Orthodox rabbi. Many will say that you are Ashkenazi especially if your beis din or your rabbis have been. That's what I was told by everyone...EXCEPT the Sephardi rabbi who was going by my family history (Hispanic, Turkish).

Of course, the idea that we are what our rabbis or conversion courts are feels faulty since so few Sephardi rabbis are involved in the conversion process and depending on where you live you might not be able to find a Sephardi rabbi or congregation. We made the deal this year because of severe health issues that I would follow Sephardim customs versus Ashkenazi customs on Pesach. My husband followed his family's Ashkenazi minhag. I do know of converts who have gone through Asheknazi rabbis but chosen Sephardic customs and learned them simultaneously and eventually had a Sephardi rabbi to guide them completely after the process.

I'm not like a crazy feminist but this is a tough one for a convert and one that is often on my mind. Particularly for friends who are rigidly Sephardi but can't find Sephardi men to marry them because they are converts and then have to switch minhagim. Of course, it becomes more complicated when you have kids but I know of families where the spouses kept separate minhagim or if the wife's family was particularly prominent, they chose that way.

I also know of convert families who followed Sephardi tradition EXCEPT on Pesach because in their community, there were so few Sephardim, no one would eat at their house. In LA, I found people will eat at each other's homes and Sephardim will cook up Ashkenazi dishes for their Ashkenazi guests or the Ashkenazi guests will bring their own.

I waited 3 hours before I converted. My husband waits 6. This is hard health-wise for me because I have to feed the beast constantly. I find myself living a vegetarian lifestyle because of the 6 hours. Or only eating meal at night or on Shabbos.

Anonymous said...

All this discussion concerning minhag and sephardi vs. ashkenazi is very interesting but I think it's important to keep in mind what the halacha says.
Concerning kitnyiot on Pesach the Rambam is clear: "There is no forbidding (non-hamets items) on account of hamets on pesach. Rather, five species of grain only (are hamets on pesach), and they are two species of wheat; wheat and spelt, and three species of barely; barely, oats, and rye. But kitniyot, such as rice, millet, beans, lentils and the like, they are not hamets. Rather, even if you were to knead rice flour or the like in boiling water and cover it until it rises like hamets, it is permissible eat (what you might make from this). There is no rising, only a foul smell." Mishneh Torah, Hamets u'Matsa 5:1.
(Sorry for the rough translation)
While minhagim are very nice and can add great depth and meaning to our Judaism, the halacha is our bottom line and ultimately what we are obligated to. The differences between ashkenazim and sephardim are of little consequence. In fact, I am sephardi and my wife is ashkenazi. She wont eat kitnyiot on pesach and we manage to do just fine.

Mottel said...

A couple things to keep in mind:

1. Being a sefardi goes way beyond Dafina and kitniyot on Pesach. The reality is that A. Kitniyot is far from a simple deal for sefardim. Many do not eat it, and among those that do, it's necessary to check it multiple times before cooking on Pesach. B. Beyond Bishul Akum, there are many Sefardishe Chumros etc. (It's worth noting that for Sefardic women to cover their hair in certain manners and not others, Rav Ovadia Yosef is of the opinion that unmarried girls should also cover their hair.)

2. And far more importantly, switching minhagim is far from a simple thing. It is something that must be done with the proper guidance of a rav and well thought out. Loud mouths on both sides will claim that their tradition is the legitimate path. Forget them. That being said, you should not rush into anything at all . . .

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, going through your rice before Pesach is far less strenuous than many make it out to be :)
Also, while its true that there are some sephardim who do not eat kitnyiot on Pesach, their reasoning's for refraining from kitnyiot are NOT halachic. For example, Moroccan's won't eat chickpeas because in Arabic, chickpea is Humus which sounds like Hamets. Hey, more power to them, but this is silly superstition not halacha.
I think Mottel makes some good points. If particular minhagim speak to you, you should study them, learn where they came from and why they were observed in order to make informed decisions as to what you will incorporate into your Judaism. That being said, there is no reason why you should feel limited as to what minhagim you will or wont observe.

Mottel said...

In general I'd be careful not to call minhagim, any of them, superstitions.

I think it's most important to stress that one shouldn't mix and match customs.

Anonymous said...

There are customs and there are superstitions. I'm simply calling a spade a spade. Superstitions don't cultivate anything worthwhile, only foolishness.
Nobody is advocating a haphazard mix and match of customs. But its clear that Jews have developed customs based on new historical circumstances and/or ideologies. As long as said customs don't violate halacha, there is nothing wrong with enriching one's Judaism by learning different customs and incorporating them if they see fit and if they can commit to them.

Mottel said...

While I don't know specifics about this particular custom, I can tell you that it hardly seems like a superstition to me.

1. While it definitely seems derived from a folk etymology, it could be a g'zeira done to avoid any potential confusion among the masses and chashashos of chametz.

2. There is a general zehirus to not mention sin on Rosh hashana, Chametz on Passover etc.
Just as nuts that share a gematria are not eaten on rosh hashanah (brought down in Shu"A) not eating Humus makes sense.

Anonymous said...

" could be a g'zeira done to avoid any potential confusion among the masses and chashashos of chametz."
Clever...but highly unlikely. Arabic speaking Jews knew the difference between Humus (chickpeas) and Hamets. There was no concern of confusion. Even if there was, what is a more rational approach, make an inexpensive, staple, and permissible food item assur on Pesach; or, simply teach people how to distinguish between types of beans (which aren't even a grain) and the 5 forbidden species that will make Hamets?
Further, to say Humus on Pesach is not mentioning Hamets. They are two different words in two different languages which mean entirely different things.

Mottel said...

Other such g'zeiros exist. Even with the linguistic differences, since such a movement would come from/addressed initially to the the (ignorant) masses, the potential for confusion could be very real.

You say "Even if there was, what is a more rational approach, make an inexpensive, staple, and permissible food item assur on Pesach; or, simply teach people how to distinguish between types of beans (which aren't even a grain) and the 5 forbidden species that will make Hamets?"
Please keep in mind that kehilos in Ashkenaz banned kitniyus for that very reason . . .

Such plays on words between languages are common when it comes to simonim. In any event the problem would be the association between the two words. If people associated the word humus with Chametz, one would ostensibly avoid it so as to refrain from mentioning what is forbidden...

Anonymous said...

Again, Arabic speaking Jews, especially in countries where chickpeas were an every day part of their diet knew the difference. "The ignorant masses", wow, tell us how you really feel! I don't appreciate the superstition that is behind this custom but I don't believe the Moroccan's were just too stupid to be able to tell the difference.
"Please keep in mind that kehilos Ashkenaz banned kitiyus for that very reason..."
I'm fully aware of this, and also believe it is an unnecessary stringency.
"Word plays and simonim"? Come on, we're playing games now. Should I refrain from saying "Kulo" (all or all of "it/him") in Hebrew because it just so happens to be similar sounding to a crass way of referring to someones behind in Spanish? Humus is not Hamets, period.

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