Is it permitted for a practicing Conservative Jew (or others) to follow a Western Sephardic minhag (customs, other than their own family's)? I am Conservative through and through, but follow a Spanish-Portuguese minhag at home and with children and grandchildren. I don't make an issue of this in the community (which is largely Ashkenazic, not Sephardic), but prefer to attend a Spanish-Portuguese synagogue during the High Holidays if possible.I feel the two traditions are very close. Please understand, I am clear that I am a Conservative Jew. Is there any problem with this?
Insofar as whether there is a special connection between the Conservative movement and Ashkenazi practice, I do not think so but admit that this is beyond my competence as an Orthodox rabbi. Hopefully, the Conservative respondent will be able to shed some light on this. (Anecdotally, I was brought up Conservative and my father is a Conservative rabbi and we all followed Ashkenazi customs. This is probably the prevalent practice among Conservative congregations, but I do not know if it is a hard and fast rule.)
Insofar as what customs a person is allowed to follow, it is first important to divide the concept of minhag into two categories, public and private. The key rule for minhag is that a person should follow publicly that which the community he or she lives is in does (m. Pesaḥim 4:1-5, Shulḥan Arukh YD 214:2). This applies to differences between Ashkenazim and Sephardim but also to a whole slew of other practices. This concept is called minhag ha-maqom.
Additionally, people generally follow the custom with which they were brought up. Ashkenazim keep Ashkenazi practice; Sephardim keep Sephardic practice, etc. That said there has always been room for change and growth in this regard. Certainly, people who move into new communities often adopt some of the practices of that community even privately. Also, as people grow in their religious development certain practices and customs may fit better with their new perspectives.
Hence, in answer to your question I would say that there is no harm in adopting Sephardic minhagim if this feels like the best fit for your religiosity. Considering the fact that you have been doing this for years and that your family practices this way as well, I would venture to say that “facts on the ground” have established this as your family’s minhag.
Insofar as how this plays out with your community, this is a more complicated question. In pre-modern times, where there were tightknit communities, having personal practices that differed from the community in which a person lived was complex. Certainly, in shtetl life it would have been well-nigh impossible to practice differently without it causing some sort of community ripple in all but the most private matters. However, nowadays, there is a serious question whether modern communities can really be said to extend outside the walls of the synagogue.
Consequently, I suggest this overall approach: Anything synagogue related should be done according to the community’s practice. Anything personal or family-related should be done according to the Sephardic minhagim you have adopted. However, if you invite people to your home from your community – a meal for example or a home-based prayer service – you should adopt the community’s standards for this event.
Finally, you should feel free to attend whatever synagogue you wish for High Holiday services. Meaningful prayer is a very personal matter and it is nobody’s concern but your own where you pray. The one caveat I would mention is that if your own synagogue is having trouble making a minyan (prayer quorum) and you can help, you should take this responsibility seriously, albeit within reason. However, as this is rarely if ever a concern for the High Holidays, this would not seem to be a factor in your situation.
Thank you for asking your question. I think that the answer lies in the very way that you asked the question and your use of the term "minhag." A minhag, or custom, is just that. It does not have the same status as something that falls under the category of "halacha" (law). I see no problem following a Spanish-Portuguese Minhag in your home, attending a Spanish Portuguese Synagogue, or embracing certain Spanish-Portuguese minhagim as a part of your practice (particularly if these minhagim come from your family tradition).
Of course, if any of these practices run directly counter to your understanding of halacha, an understanding that I know is driven by your relationship to Conservative Judaism, then I would suggest you consider whether or not it makes sense for you to uphold these contradictory minhagim. But otherwise, I don't see any reason that you should avoid incorporating them into your practice.
Question:Is it permitted for a Conservative Jew to follow a Western Sephardic minhag?I am Conservative through and through but follow my Spanish-Portuguese Minhag at home and with children and grandchildren.I don't make an issue of this in the community, but prefer to attend a Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue during the High Holidays if possible.I feel the two traditions are very close.Please understand I am Conservative.
As a member of both the Reform and the Ashkenazi community, it is difficult for me to speak directly on this question.However, I might infer from your note that you have a Sefardi background, so I would say that you can come by your practice with valid pedigree. I presume that the issue concerns the perceptions of those more steeped in the Sefardi community with which you may choose to affiliate, as well as what you anticipate your Conservative Rabbi's reaction to be when/if s/he discovers that you have different dietary habits on Passover.
Be that as it may, I sometimes follow the dictum of Hillel, who said that we should go out and see that the people do and feel, so that we can know what a possible reaction may be.Accordingly, I asked this question to a friend who has one parent from the Sefardi community and one from the Ashkenazi community, and I believe his views are germane to the issues raised by your inquiry.I could not agree more.
Here is his response:“Yes, it is ok for someone to do that [“follow my Spanish-Portuguese Minhag at home and with children and grandchildren”].The important thing, regardless of their minhag, in my humble opinion is to pass down the traditions of our ancestors to our children.I think, each generation, we loose a little bit.A word here, a word there, a prayer, a memory, a reason, justification, and answer to a question, or whatever, and from that anyone who is going out of there way to discover those and pass them to their children is honoring our parents, almost in a ten commandments #5 sense.If we don’t make a conservative [sic – he meant a ‘conserving’] effort, then we will loose much of our heritage.And possibly worse, the differences in concepts between askenazic and sephardic will become blurred.Both cultures have such rich traditions that it would be a sad day to see them lost.
“For me personally, I am officially 1/2 sephardic and 1/2 askenazic.I admit, my practices are generally askenazic and my foods are sephardic.I am attempting to learn more about sephardic traditions and then deciding what I want to adopt and what I don't.One time I saw a sephardic person kissing their hand after he shook the hand of another.I learned that that was a traditional sign of respect.I tried that once and did not feel that fit me right.So… I too struggle and need to decide what parts I take on and what I do not.Probably too late for me to teach my children....but there is always the next go around.:)
“But the other side of the coin are the hard core individuals that believe their way is the only way.I have been in circles and feel like "I am the goy" in the room because the way I follow Judaism is not "enough." in their eyes.So, in some circles, yes, I believe your writer's method would be considered "offensive." But I think that can be controlled with the writer's lineage.If they are of judeo spanish descent…then their following would be encouraged.If not of judeo spanish descent and just "like" sephardic style, the writer would be seen as an outsider.
“I am not sure if my ideas above make sense or not.I would absolutely welcome someone who is a "sephardic" wannabe and not be offended at all.However, in some circles, perhaps the ultra orthodox or in Israel, it would be problematic.”
Again, it’s important to go out to see what the people see and want.Thanks for allowing me to quote my friend here.
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