Tag Archives: sephardi jews

An egalitarian, Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Ugandan service? Sign. Me. Up.

I just posted this on the New Voices Magazine blog and I thought y’all might be interested too:

Today, in New Voices Magazine, Carly Silver writes about Sephardic student life, or lack thereof, at Columbia University.

Though the picture is mostly bleak, one group mentioned in the article stands out, New Yachad City. Part of Columbia University Hillel, New Yachad City tries to create services that are more reflective of the diversity of world Jewry.

They lead student excursions to different synagogues around New York City, typically off the beaten path. They also host their own monthly service. This month’s New Yachad City Friday night service is this week and I think I’m gonna go.


Alternative, egalitarian, multi-traditional Kabbalat Shabbat service in Earl Hall on Friday, October 28th at 6 PM. Welcome in the Sabbath with Shabbat tunes from Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Bnai Jeshurun Synagogue, Abudaya Jewish community and much more. Experience Shabbat services in a different way and learn about world Jewry while praying! Everyone is welcome!

If you’re planning on coming, let me know in the comments.


LimmudPhilly: In which a Sephardic Rabbi answers a bunch of questions

I went to LimmudPhilly and wrote a bunch of posts. Here’s a guide to them.

On Sunday at LimmudPhilly, Rabbi Albert Gabbai did a session on Sephardic Jewry. Unlike a lot of Limmud sessions that have some highly specific point they’re getting at, Gabbai, the rabbi at Sephardic Philly shul Congregation Mikveh Israel (founded 1740!), was just sort of talking a rather tangential fashion about Sephardi Jews. Then he took questions from a rather dumbstruck group of rather Ashkenazi Jews.

Here are my notes, with an emphasis on what he had to say about ritual and liturgy:

  • Who is Albert Gabbai? He’s been the rabbi at CMI for like 20 years. He is of Baghdadi descent (see this for more on Philly’s other Baghdadi rabbi), but he grew up in Cairo. And his mother in law is from Livorno.
  • Azose's siddurim

    Sephardi Siddurim: I inquired about which Seph. siddurim he recommended. He recommended David De Sola Pool’s classic Seph. siddur and current Seatle Seph. cantor Isaac Azose’s siddur. Here’s an article that I haven’t read that compares the two.

  • Syrian ArtScroll whaaaat? He also mentioned that some Syrian Jews went to ArtScroll for a siddur. I said that sounds disastrous. He agreed. He thinks it wasn’t published under the ArtScroll name though. I’m guessing they went to ArtScroll for layout help or something like that. Still. Terrible.
  • Year 68, not 70: According to Seph. tradition, the second Temple was destroyed in the year 68, not the year 70.
  • Ladino is not a language: He was quite adamant that Judeo-Spanish is a language and that Ladino is merely a translation of either Spanish into Hebrew or Hebrew into Spanish–it was unclear which way. He also mentioned Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian, Judeo-French, Judeo-Italian–and of course, Yiddish. He emphasized that all were written in Hebrew characters and then cracked a joke about how American Jews all transliterate Hebrew into English all the time.
  • Seph. Jews arrive at conclusions! He was quite adamant–this became a recurring theme of the session–that Seph. Jews arrive at conclusions and Ashkenazi Jews just talk and talk and discuss and discuss and never settle anything. (So?) In support of this, he mentioned that the major law codes–Shulchan Aruch and Mishneh Torah–are Seph. creations.
  • Seph. Jewish scholars are cooler: Rashi takes midrash even it if makes no sense, he says. Ramban (seph., of course) is more logical. And Ibn Ezra might be called the first modern biblical critic.
  • Seph. Jews study secular stuff: While there are Ashk. yeshivot that don’t study science etc, Seph. Jews all follow the Ramban, who says that you must study science and philosophy.
  • They hang their mezuzah straight: The original tradition was vertical or horizontal. Ashk–who, he pointed out, never like to settle the argument–compromised and hang it at an angle. But Seph. say, “No compromise! Either, or!”
  • He is very punny: While explaining why Seph. Jews eat beans and rice during Passover, he mentions spelt. Someone asks what that is. He says, “Spelt. S-P-E-L-T. There, I just spelt it!”
  • Different legal fiction for lighting candles: I have to say, I think the Sephardim have it right on this one. There is a problem: One cannot light fire on Shabbat. One cannot say a blessing after the act being blessed has been performed. And candles must be lit at the start of Shabbat and the act of lighting them must be blessed. Ashk. Jews work around this by lighting them, then covering their eyes and saying the blessing. Then, they open their eyes and–surprise!–the candles have been lit. Sephardim just light them shortly before Shabbat and announce that it is now Shabbat and begin acting as though it it. As Gabbai pointed out, you can’t delay Shabbat, but you can welcome it into your home early.
  • How many times around the groom? Germans brides go 3 times around the groom. Polish brides go 7 times. Seph. brides don’t go at all. Which is great because it gives some precedent for eschewing that bizarre practice altogether
  • If there are too many reasons, there is no reason: That thing about going around the groom was the first example of Gabbai’s favorite thing: pointing out a minhag with no real reason. “If there are many reasons, he said, there is no reason.” I like this guy.
  • No white for wedding: They don’t wear white for their weddings, they don’t fast before their weddings and they don’t avoid seeing their intended for any arbitrary period before their weddings. He mentioned that there is Talmudic tradition that the bride and groom are cleansed of their sins before the wedding. “You can still have sins forgiven if you don’t wear a white coat!” he said.
  • Tefilin inward: Seph. wrap their tefiling inward instead of outward. Apparently, Lubavitchers do this also. He said they have many Seph. traditions because Kabbalah is of Seph. origin.
  • No yizkor: It started in 1648 after the Chmielnitzky massacre in Europe, so Seph. never picked up the tradition. He wondered to us whether German shuls have it, since the massacre was in Poland. “You have to go to a real Yekke synagogue to find out!” he said.
  • Bride buys groom a talit: The bride buys the groom a new talit for the wedding, though Seph. boys begin wearing their first talit when they’re six. During Sheva Brachot, the bride and groom stand wrapped in the talit together. I think that’s nice.
  • Yahrtzeit: They say Kaddish from the Shabbat preceding the anniversary of the loved one’s death through the day of the anniversary. So if the anniversary is on Tuesday, they say it Shabbat, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and then they stop.
  • No cantors! A Seph. chazan, according to Rabbi Gabbai, has only one job: to pass on the tradition as he has received it. So melodies, he says, don’t change. “Not a cantor!” he emphasizes. Seph. nusach is in a major scale, not a minor one like Ashk. so it’s happier and more uplifting.
  • A very ancient nusach: Some melodies are from Spain, but for some things, such as Az Yashir and Ps. 92, the nusach is pentatonic, which means it’s very ancient. It’s similar to the Greek Orthodox Church music, which purports to be so ancient that it’s from the Temple.
  • No chaos! To avoid chaos, Seph. always roll to Torah to the proper place ahead of time.
  • And no Kabbalat Shabbat either! In the Amsterdam Seph. community, the reaction to the disappointment of Shabbetai Tzvi was to remove Kabbalat Shabbat, by association. But they kept Lecha Dodi!
  • Persians do what? Persian Jews whip each other with scallions during the seder.
  • If you chew it long enough… He said that they use lettuce for the bitter herb. “It you chew it long enough, it gets very bitter.” Whatever. Lettuce is for sissies. Real Jews use magenta horse radish!
  • Lemon juice? He also claimed you can use lemon juice instead of salt water.

“Browsing for free” on JDate.com, with commentary

Crossposted to New Voices

I’ve been bemoaning my singleness to my friends a lot lately. Being a college senior who knows he’s gonna move–but not very far–in May is a weird position to be in. People keep telling me to try online stuff, which I don’t have any problem with, philosophically. It does, however, seem odd to me to do online dating while I’m in college. But last night I was slightly convinced by a friend.

So I went on JDate a few minutes ago to see what’s what. I clicked on “BROWSE FOR FREE” and quickly realized that there was commentary to be made. So I started over, typing up my comments as I went.

jdate-1-you-are-a-looking-for-a2I suppose it’s quite convenient that JDate predicted that I’m a straight male. Is it magical or does it assume everyone’s a straight male?  What happens to people who want to identify themselves as something other than a [Man/Woman] seeking a [Man/Woman]?

jdate-2-type-of-relationship-and-current-status1I have questions. Not snarky questions, as regular readers will no doubt assume, but real questions from a place of curiosity. Are there actually people who look for a “Friend” on dating sites? Or is “Friend” a codeword for something? And what activities might one engage in with an “Activity Partner?”

jdate-3-habits-and-kashrutI’m sure I’m more concerned with the finer points of Jewish ritual/denominational/philosophical/ideological/etc identity than most, but I these kashrut options seem limited. Where’s eco-kashrut? And why do we insist that kashrut is a matter of degrees? It’s not as though there’s a definitive list of things that one does to keep kosher, and some people do all of them and some people do none of them and some people are on a spectrum in between.

And how do I indicate which of these things I care about? I drink regularly with friends, but I don’t care how often she (whoever she is) drinks. I don’t smoke, and I care a lot about whether she does. And I care some, but not a whole lot about whether she keeps kosher. I wish there was one of those “Indicate how strongly you feel about X, by choosing a number 1-5, where 5 is ‘I care a lot’ and 1 is ‘I don’t care at all'” things.

jdate-4-education-work-and-ethnicityIf I’m graduating in May, how misleading is it to claim that I have a BA?

Without wading into the issue of what constitutes an ethnicity, this list of possibilities is beyond outrageously limiting. It assumes that all Jews are either Ashkenazi or Sephardic or don’t care enough to list an ethnicity. Obviously, most Jews in America are Ashkenazi-descended, and if you add Sephardic, that takes care of almost everyone. But it doesn’t account for all Jews by birth.

And what about converts? Am I “Mixed Ethnic” because one of my parents converted and the other is Ashkenazi? Or did she become Ashkenazi when she converted (whatever that would even mean!)?

Is the implication of this that Jews only wanna date Jews from a similar background? I again find myself wanting some way to indicate how much each of these factors matter to me.

I have settled on “Will tell you later” as a way of protesting this question, which feels pretty silly.

jdate-50-backgroundAt this point, I’m pretty sure I’m not doing this in the spirit any of it was intended, but this stuff is important enough to me that I’d like be able to indicate it with more accuracy than the available choices allow me to.

Literally, my “religious background” is Reform, but the wording of some of the options here seem to indicate that this question is not actually about background, but about current practice. Many of these could be backgrounds, but “Baal Teshuva” isn’t a background as at all, but a conscious choice that one might make after childhood–childhood being what the word “background” suggests to me.

Again, as with the ethnicity question, anyone outside of the other options offered up here is forced to pick “Another Stream of Judaism.” That would include anyone that is observant (broadly defined), but prefers “Just Jewish” and anyone that goes with something like Pluralist or Post-Denominational. It also strikes me that this is probably the more appropriate place for Sephardic to be an option, given that all of these denominations are outgrowths of the Ashkenazi sphere.

This is a seriously troubling question to me. As I’m writing this, I’m waffling back and forth in my mind about selecting Reform or “Another Stream.” I call myself Reform, but most wouldn’t look at my observance and call it Reform, so that’s potentially misleading. “Another Stream” is probably closer to what I outwardly appear to be.

I want to be able to check off boxes and I want one of them to read “Other” and give me space to type a couple extra words. Why doesn’t this question give the option of “Will tell you later?”

I think I’ll take the question literally and pick Reform.

jdate-55-how-often-to-shulWhat about people who go more frequently than “Every Shabbat?”

Then it asks me for my country and zip code. Whatever.


OK. I haven’t had a username for something other than my real name since the last time I used AIM, which was probably in eighth or ninth grade. I’m a total loss. I also don’t know how to “pop” in such a way that it will help elucidate “what makes me ME” (to use their abuse of capitals).

After ten minutes have passed and I’ve consulted with a few housemates, I’ve made a decision. But I’m not going to tell any of you want it is.

Also, it would be pretty awesome if you could list your Hebrew birthday on JDate.

Then there’s e-mail and password. Whatever.

jdate-7-describe-myselfYeah, this part is completely nerve-wracking. There are two kinds of people in the potential audience for this:

1). There are people who would read an accurate description of my personality and interests and think, “This guy sounds like an asshole” or “This dude just sounds boring,” but would actually like me if they met me. I know this because I know real people who fall into this category.

2). There are people–fewer than there are in group 1, but they exist nonetheless–who would read an accurate description of my personality and interests and actually be interested.

The question is how to craft a description that plays to both of these groups of people, both of which I’m interested in. This has stopped being a slightly humorous exercise and become significantly intense.

OK, an hour and help from three housemates later, I’ve written something that isn’t completely objectionable about myself.

Now I’m gonna think about whether this is worth spending any real money on.

How to transport yourself to a synagogue in ancient Israel ten days a year

The real point of this post: Should I buy this siddur?

The Soferet, Jen Taylor Friedman, has a delightfully contorted post about all of the liturgical maneuvering over the centuries that has led to a minute change in the Amidah and Kaddish during the Ten Days of Repentance. The full post, which is fascinating to me, is here. But I’ll try to summarize a bit.

Apparently, it was the tradition in the old, largely lost, Palestinian rite to conclude the blessing for peace in the Amidah with the line “Baruch atah Adonai, oseh hashalom,” blessing God as maker of the peace. The standard line, at least since the period of Geonim, has been “Baruch atah Adonai, oseh shalom,” blessing God as maker of peace–no definite article.

Over time, these two lines flew in and out of the Ashkenazi nusach for the Ten Days about eleventy-seven times, as far as I can tell. At some point, it came out of the Amidah, and the definite article reappeared in Kaddish, as some kind of compromise. And now it’s in both the Kadish and the Amidah, quite unnecessarily, it would seem.

The real point of this post is two-fold:

1. I discovered while flipping about in a couple of siddurim and machzorim, trying to keep up with the liturgical acrobatics in Jen’s post, that I need a good, modern, Hebrew-English Sephardi siddur. I’m open to suggestions. The one I’m leaning toward getting soon is Siddur Zehut Yosef, by Hazzan Isaac Azose, one of the leaders of Seattle’s large Sephardic community. It’s got some Ladino in it and it’s the record of a specific congregation’s minhag, both of which are pluses in my sefer. Thoughts, anyone?

2. Someone needs to collect all of what we know today about the ancient Palestinian liturgical rite into one reference siddur.