Friday, August 13, 2004

Kugels, friday night dinner, Shabbos concerts, upshurins... what else belongs to this motley collection of Jewish customs we call... we call... um... You know, readers, it would sure be helpful if we had a word for this motley collection of customs.

Meantime, here are a few more examples, sent in by readers:

Wachnacht: For the uninitiated, this consists of putting a knife under an infant boy's pillow on the night before his circumcision. The purpose? Scaring off monsters. Yes, the ritual has other elements aside from the knife: we say shema at cribside, distribute candies, and the baby's father keeps an overnight vigil. Still, per the Jewish Encyclopedia, it's all about the monsters.

This, incidently, is one of several customs that I, a day school/yeshiva graduate who paid attention, first discovered well after my formal education had ended.

Red String: Madanna may think it's mesorah. I'm not altogether convinced.

Shrayim: AKA the Rebbe's leftovers. The Hasidic Rebel tells a very good story about this very strange practice. Scroll to August 4 I've seen it just once, at a hasidic bris. I did not partake. No one booed.

Shul Balconies: This, I was very surprised to learn, is not a recent innovation. Woman were sequestered upstairs as long ago as the 16th century, and perhaps even earlier. (see the first comment) Smaller, house-based prayer meetings are of much more recent origin. Nonethless, the average RN says that the balconies are modern (feh!) and the shteebles are not.

Post Shachris Psalms: Many ashkenazic shuls have begun saying a chapter or two of Psalms after shachris and maariv. This practice is less than three years old. Sfardim say mizmor l'dovid, also a chapter of Psalms, after the Friday night maariv. The ashkenazic practice was introduced in response to 9/11 and several attacks in Israel. Perhaps the sefardic practice was introduced under similar circumstances. Does anyone know?

Also, I'd like to know how the sefardim reacted when this practice was first introduced. We ashkenazim, for the most part, have reacted, by ignoring the practice and walking out before the chazzan is finished. Still, I have faith in the failure of Jewish memory. I fully expect my great-grandchildren will insist the practice of saying two Psalms after shachris originated with the Ari, or maybe Amran Gaon. Kabbalistic reasons are sure to be adduced. With luck, it may even feature prominently in a story starring the Baal Shem Tov. Anyone who tries to ignore it in my great-grandchild's shul will be disgraced.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I didn't get nearly as many emails as I expected telling about forgotten Jewish practices. (I got none.) I must sit with Oma and grill her about pre-war Vienna. Again, if you know of a Jewish practice (and it could be as simple as cholent with no potatoes) that Jews no longer keep, please email baynonim at hotmail dot com. I'm drawing up a list.
Comments:

I'm pretty sure that the Beit Hamikdash had balconies for the women.  

what's the history of the kiddush club?  

Call it Judiachronism?  

I hold that chulent without potatoes is not chulent.  

Eman sounds like an Eastern European. I think the whole point is that the Eastern European monopoly on Jewish memory is underserved. The oberlanders didn't put potatos in their cholent. Who are you to tell them their cholent wasn't a real cholent?  

Skeptic:

I am MoChassid. In MoChassid's world, chulent without potatoes is not chulent. Perhaps in Septic's world it is, nebech.  

I think you have a huge amount of nerve to pass judgement on Jews and cholents that are different. And so soon after the ninth of Av. Bad eman.  

Skeptic

I'm not passing judgment (no 'e' after the 'g'). on Yiddin, CV.

I'm stating an opinion. And, in the MoChassid velt, it's the only opinion that counts.  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.  

I don't care about your opinion, and it's sKeptic, not septic, Mr. judge-mental-case.  

He's right. No potatoes is no cholent.

Cholent is beans, meat, potatoes, barley. Kishke is preffered.  

Another close minded moron. Understand: your cholent has potatoes. Kol hakovod. The Jews of central Europe had a cholent, too, a cholent every bit as valid as your cholent, but they didn't put potatoes in it. They thought potatoes were for peasents, not for city people like themselves. In their opinion, only the county bumpkins are potatoes. You don't agree. Fine. You think tastes change. Fine. Your mind is too narrow to imagine a cholent with no potatoes. Fine. But don't disparage the memory of Jews who did things differently. They were real Jews, and their cholent was a real cholent.  

Nope. Not real. You're the moron.  

Great answer. Shame you live in a big city. Some poor village wants its idiot back!  

Too bad you don't get it.

The place where they keep morons and old comebacks called and they want their...you know...

And the rubber/glue thing, too.  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.  

An exceptionally fertile source of forgotten 'minhagim', and an equally valuable source of plausible explanations for many still-current practices is the classic "Jewish Magic and Superstition", by Trachtenberg, recently reprinted in pb.  
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