Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Tradition?? Tradition!!

Psychotoddler, the blogger and musician, tells us (in a post that answers one of my own) that after his Rabbi made a general request, he (PT) agreed to change his custom for shaking the lulav. At least in shul.

Annotation: Until relatively recently, all European Jews followed the Rama and had one lulav shaking custom. At the end of the 18th century this changed when some European Jews joined the Hasidic movement and embraced the customs of the Ari, a 16th century Israeli. In our day, descendants of Rama followers and descendants of Ari followers often live in the same towns and daven in the same shuls, creating all sorts of comical problems. If it all sounds like the Lilliputian battles about how to best crack an egg, you're probably right. With no Hitlers to menace us, this keeps us busy.

Why did the Rabbi ask PT to change his custom? Because he (the rabbi) thought "that it looks really bad to have a few guys swimming upstream, and really detracts from the beauty of the service." With respect, I disagree:

1 - The Arba Minim represent the diversity in Judaism. The esrog is the Jew with tamm and rayach... and so on. Why would you stage-manage the lulav service for the purpose of denying or hiding that diversity?

2 - The Rabbi argued that it's "more beautiful" when everyone does the same thing. But one could just as easily make the opposite argument. Perhaps it is "more beautiful" when we honor the customs of our parents? Maybe, it is "more beautiful" when we acknowledge that Judaism is a rich tapestry of customs and practices?

3 - PT and I agree: At the end of the week, it doesn't really matter how you shook the lulav. Though in my dark moods I worry that customs I hold dear are being used to challenge the authenticity of my Judaism, I know customs aren't law. Still, doesn't PT's Rabbi make the opposite case? When he asks his congregants to perform the ritual the way that he does isn't he saying that it matters?

What do they do in your shul, Adam?

In the shtebble, the 15 or 20 ashkenaz men shake the lulav according to the teachings of the Rama. The Rabbi, an Ari follower who always leads the hallel, even waits for us to finish before he goes onto the next verse


Annotation: This is key because, along with the difference in _how_ the lulalv is shaken, there is a difference as to _when_ the shaking occurs: Ari-followers shake the lulav twice before a paragraph of the hallel. Rama-followers shake it four times, once after each verse of that paragraph. If an Ari-follower is leading the service and doesn't wait, the Rama-followers can't shake without rushing.

On the first day of Sukkot, I suppressed a smile when an amazing image, an image that would have been impossible in another shul entered my field of vision: Simultaneously, I saw an Ari-follower and a Rama-follower teaching their sons how to shake the lulav. The Rema taught his son to shake front - right - back - left - up - down. The Ari-follower taught his son... little help, please? I confess: I don't know exactly what they do, just that it is different. In any event, each kid learned his own custom, at the same time, in the same place, and I think that's neat.

Compared to PT's shul, I like our way better: No one has to change, and we teach our kids to acknowledge and to respect diversity.


My first few years, we all did things our own way (and yes, the Ashkenazim do the naanuim at different times and more frequently).
After the Rabbi's appeal, I noticed that even the Rosh Kollel (I would dare any of you to match halachic wits with him) followed the Rabbi's lead.
I guess I'm not that hung up on this. For me, the big picture is that I'm actually in the shul with a Lulav and esrog.
Like the Squeegie men used to tell me, "I could be doing alot worse."  

R, L, F, U, D, B

During the first (and only the first hodu); 2 X Anah Hashem Hoshiah Nah; Once during ending Hodu's  

You don't do it twice at the first hodu? So only four times in all?

We Rama-followers do it 8 times in all, which is odd, because isn't it rare that the nusach sefard people say or do less? Your nusach, for example, is mostly extra words, not fewer, etc.  

Once during each hodu. It's possible there are nuschos; that's how we do it.  

Once during each hodu? But aren't there 4 hodus, in that section? And two more at the end? Per the Rama we shake at each hodu, meaning SIX shakes for Hodus (plus 2 Anahs); the Ari-niks in the shteeble seem to shake at the first one only (plus the one at the end and the two anahs)  

Sorry I wasn't clear the second time. As you say, anonymous. 4 times altogether. first hodu only, 2 anahs and once during ending hodus.  

OK, most of this way way over my head, but we had our own diversity, too, brought on by the new rabbi. All os uf "old timers" shake the lulav in the different directions while our bodies stay still (we shake the lulav "back" by doing it over our shoulder). The rabbi turns his whole body toward the four directions as he shakes. Some of the congregation followed his lead. Others just kept doing what they always did. When someone asked him if his way was "Hasidic," he said yes.

(And some of us shook one time while singing "shake your lulav" to the tune of "shake your booty". Go ahead, say it...OY!  


Yes, turning your body to face the way you are shaking is the Ari. Everyone else says to do it the way you did. I've always though the Ari's way looks holier (in a mundane sence, not the spiritual sense) becausae it calls so much more attention to itself. As someone who saw the Ari's way for the first time last week, what did you think?  


Each time, do you shake and stretch the shaking out so that you're shaking as you say both of Hodus? Or do you shake for one, and say the other Hodu without shaking?

Any idea why the Ari disagreed with the Rama? What was the underlying logic?  

I agree with your assesment that it somehow looked "holier" to do it the Ari way. It also seemed to make more sense. Why whould just the lulav face all the directions? Why shouldn't our whole selves, our whole body? We observe the commandment to dwell in the sukka with our whole self. Why not this mitzvah, too? (It does seem awkward the "old" way (Rama?) when you shake over your shoulder, or is that just me?)  

The Chasidim do it more slowly and deliberately, but less often. The Litvaks seem like they're rushing through it in order to keep up. The Chasidic way looks stranger to me, but seems more spiritual.
This is more like the hat thing to me. The important thing is if you're arguing about what direction to shake the lulav, you have a heck of a lot more in common with each other than with just about everyone else in the world, who says "what's a lulav?"  

If the litvaks look like they are rushing, it is probably because a hasid at the amud isn't giving them enough time. In a proper litvish minyan there is plenty of time to shake properly.

I agree with PT that this is not a big deal (and with Adam that it is liliputian) The hasidic way looks holy because it announces itself as holy with the gesticulating and the emphasis. That's most of what I don't like about hasidic practic. It is too self concious, too aware of itself. I like the way 21st century litvaks get it (and "it" refers to most everything) done without putting on a show. Unfortunately, in 21st century america, if you don't put on a show, (and boast about it afterwards) it doesn't seem to count.  

On Hoshana Rabbah, I attended Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side. Not only do they all do the na'anu'im the same way, but they do them in unison while singing the same tune in unison. It was the first time that I had witnessed this practice, and it greatly impressed me. There's a time for individualism, but there's a time for unity, too. Certainly, unity in divine worship is a beautiful thing.  

Beauty is subjective. I could make the opposite argument. Perhaps its a beautiful thing when diversity is recognized in divine worship. Is shivin panim l'torah just an idea, or does it have practical meaning? I don't see any reason to pretend that everyone does the na'nuim the same way, when it isn't true.  
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