33 - Disputes, Conflicts and Arguments part 3

The mitzva of lo sisgodedu, which literally means that we should not cut ourselves in grief, includes the issur of creating factions within a community, breaking it into separate groups.

We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chusim for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.



Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Forgo something you feel is due to you when asking for or receiving it would cause a conflict. 


Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.

Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #33


PART 3 – Differing Practices


The mitzva of lo sisgodedu, which literally means that we should not cut ourselves in grief, includes the issur of creating factions within a community, breaking it into separate groups.  Within each city, the bais din can decide how halachos on any particular issue are applied and establish the local minhag of the community. Practically speaking, the prevalent opinion is that two different batei din may have different customs within the same city.  The issur, according to this more accepted view, is to have two opposing rulings within the same bais din. 

When someone travels from his home to another town with differing customs, if his move is a permanent one he should follow the local customs.  If it is temporary, he should adopt the stringencies of the host town while unobtrusively continuing to observe the stringencies of his native town.  But when being more stringent than the locals, one should be careful to hide one’s stringencies, since flaunting one’s extra chumros in a place where they are not practiced can easily cause friction.

Extreme care should be taken not to diverge from the local custom, since this can easily lead to machlokes.  Even in the case where the local custom is to prohibit something that is absolutely permissible, we are still not allowed to conduct ourselves in the permissible way in front of those who prohibit the practice.  In communities that include families of different origins, there may be no fixed practice in certain areas of minhag, and presumably, retaining different customs in these areas will not result in machlokes.  

When a girl gets married, the rule is that she accepts all of her husband’s customs, whether they are more or less stringent than her previous customs.  Many opinions make an exception for the special mitzvos of the woman, for example, candle-lighting, and rule that she retains the minhag of her mother.  These rules do not extend to chumros that her husband has taken on that are neither obligations nor customs.  It is generally accepted that the husband does not impose his chumros on his wife, unless she understand the implications fully and wishes to accept them of her own accord.

(Excerpted from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rav Yitzchok Silver)

Story(based on a true story)

The Yomim Noraim were approaching rapidly in our relatively new community.  We’d been there for only a year and a half, but already my husband Shmuel had grabbed his job as youth director by the horns, creating programs and making a connection with the older community members as well.  Not everyone trusted the new guy with his new ways, but a lot of the kids seemed happy and connected.

Rosh HaShana had been hard our first year.  I was used to the davening from my old community, full of upbeat and soulful tunes we all recognized from our everyday listening.  Here, the elderly chazzan sang more traditional melodies from the old country.  It was difficult for me to connect at first, but by the end of the holiday I began to warm to the niggunim, allowing myself to fall into them and send my tefillos upward.    

This year would be different.  Less than a week before Rosh HaShana, Shmuel got a call.  Mr. Schneider’s health had taken a negative turn, and he would not be able to daven for the amud.  He had been davening mussaf on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur for decades, and nobody else in the community could manage it, at least on such short notice.  They had heard that my husband had once davened shacharis in our old community-could he manage mussaf?

He accepted happily.  With a refuah sheleima to Mr. Schneider, Shmuel hung up and went straight for his machzor and began practicing.  As I cooked, I listened to the age-old tefillos repeated over and over, set to the music of some of the most beautiful songs on Jewish CD’s that had come out in recent years.  I particularly recognized the “Hayom haras olam” we had sung in our old shul for the past five years, since a popular album came out that year.  It had been the song everybody loved, and they connected to it every year afterward.

I was worried, though.  Sure, I would be happy.  But this community was used to more traditional niggunim.  I asked Shmuel about it, but he was less concerned.  

“Firstly,” he said, “the ba’al tefilla must feel and connect to his davening.  When I daven this way, I have a better davening, which is better for the community because I am their shaliach.  Plus, I know that the kids will connect more this way as well.  These niggunim excite and move them during the year; I’m sure it will help them now, at this important time.”

I wasn’t so sure, but I kept quiet.  Days later, as Shmuel began the repetition of his first Rosh HaShana mussaf, I stood waiting to see what would happen.  He began the first song, and as I looked around, people looked up from their machzorim in confusion.  Then they looked back down and resumed davening, as if to say, “Oh, right, the new guy, may Mr. Schneider be well.  He may be a little different here and there.”

But Shmuel wasn’t a little different; he was a lot different.  And, as shul let out, I could not avoid the grumbles. 

“For fifty years we davened this way.  What, it’s not good enough for him?” said the woman behind me.  

“I know,” answered her companion.  “Now I wonder what he’s teaching our kids during all those activities.  Maybe I should stop sending them.”

I ran to find Shmuel quickly, but found him in what looked like a deep conference with the rav of the shul.  Finally, he broke away and found me.  We gathered our guests, some of whom had awkward expressions as they followed us, and walked home almost in silence.  Just before we reached our house, Shmuel peeled off with a quick excuse, and reappeared at home ten minutes later.  We began our meal with stilted conversation.

As I we ate the appetizer, Shmuel took advantage of a lull in conversation and announced to me, and our listening guests, that we would need to go to tashlich a little later than planned.  “I stopped by Mr. Schneider’s house,” he explained, “and it turns out he’s feeling well enough to spend the afternoon teaching me his niggunim so I can use them tomorrow.  I don’t know if I’ll get them all, but I’m going to do my best.”

“Sounds good to me,” I said, noticing that the atmosphere at the table had relaxed.  The word around tashlich later on was that Shmuel had not been able to hook up with Mr. Schneider in the time frame he had, but now was working hard to continue in the community’s way.  That seemed fine to them.

The davening the next day was a bit more stilted, less practiced, but it was more appreciated.  And the kids came to the youth groups as before.  Having learned a lesson, Shmuel began to ask the rav about any particular minhag hamakom before he taught halachos, and weeks later a neighbor thanked me for helping her son in school.  “His teacher kept insisting that you can’t wash for hamotzi before Kiddush on Shabbos, but your husband found our family’s way in a book on German minhaggim and sent it to him.  The teacher taught it to the whole class!”

Now we are really part of the community, not just newcomers.  We have learned that there is rich tradition here, with at least as much for us to learn as there is for us to teach.

Discussion Question Options:

How do we connect rationally and emotionally to minhagim?

How can differing minhagim split a community?  

How can a community be cohesive when it contains many differing minhagim?  What steps can be taken to help that cohesiveness?

Stretch of the Week:

Ask or learn about a custom that is different from yours.


Stretch Of The Week