פרסומי ניסא – Publicizing the Miracle(s)
One of the highlights of Chanukah in Washington Heights is the candlelighting at K’hal Adath Jeshurun (KAJ/”Breuer’s”) and the singing of Maoz Tzur by the KAJ choir between Mincha and Maariv. (Please click here, here and here for videos.) This event, aside from being inherently inspiring, undoubtedly inspires various thoughts and feelings on the part of all who attend.
Here are a few of the things that come to mind each year at this time as I look across KAJ and reflect:
That there is probably no other congregation on earth whose history is so identified with Chanukah. An unswervingly devoted group of about a dozen Orthodox Jews who struggled to preserve Torah in Germany almost a century and a half ago in the face of unprecedented assimilation, hiring a dynamic, unapologetic rav and master spokesman (R. Samson Raphael Hirsch) as its leader and seceding from the religiously-compromised communal structure, to emerge as the primary and leading force of Torah in Western Europe, quickly developing into a major congregation of hundreds of families with an extensive chinuch system, igniting a glorious renewal and rededication of Avodas Hashem. The modern-day embodiment of the Chashmona’im and the story of Chanukah. Boundless thanks to Hashem that this congregation was uniquely spared from the Churban of European Jewry.
Preservation of minhagim. Every move and every note is performed precisely as was done in Frankfurt, where the congregation originated. In חזרת הש”ץ (Repetition of the Amidah), the chazzan carefully ascends an octave, slows down and raises his voice as he recites the words שובר איבים ומכניע זדים, as well as על הצדיקים and הטוב שמך ולך נאה להודות (references to the Chanukah victory, the Chashmona’im, and the requirement to offer special thanksgiving to Hashem for the deliverance and miracles of Chanukah). Likewise, the final phrases of על הנסים (“For the miracles”) are chanted with a special, celebratory musical motif. Commenting on the Torah’s presentation of the mitzvah of the Menorah, Chazal laud Aharon for not deviating one iota from that which he was commanded: ויעש כן אהרן – להגיד שבחו של אהרן שלא שינה (“And Aharon performed it accordingly [kindling the Menorah]” – Vayikra 8:3 – The Torah praises Aharon, for he did not veer from the command; he adhered to the mitzvah precisely.) The chazzan at KAJ, as he kindles the menorah with yiras shamayim, precision and care, manifests this same visage of Aharon. (Adherence to the exact Mesorah of the congregation was emphasized by Rav Soloveitchik zt”l, who explained that the traditional musical nusach (rendition) provides the proper interpretation for the words of tefillah. Concerning the Yomim Nora’im, Rav Soloveitchik stated: “The Mesorah of the Nefesh, of experiencing God, is expressed in halachic terms by the Remo, who rules (אורח חיים תריט:א) that one may not alter the liturgy and tunes used by one’s congregation on the High Holidays. The liturgy and tunes employed by each community affect one’s emotional response to the High Holidays and constitute the Mesorah of the Nefesh.“)
Personal inspiration. Although the Gordimer family hails from Telshe and Minsk, and my family’s minhagim are those of northeast Europe (Lita), one of my maternal great-grandfathers came from Germany, from a small town near Brandenburg. He, along with his parents and brothers, moved to Galicia (southeastern Poland-western Ukraine), where he married into a local family with deep Chassidic roots. Nonetheless, in the face of the Haskalah movement making its way east, this “Yekkishe” great-grandfather of mine remained the most religiously-committed of the clan. My great-grandfather brought his family to America in 1920, and as they did not have a menorah with them as they left Europe, my great-grandfather, insistent to light Chanukah candles, carved potato skins into makeshift candleholders and lit for the family en route. Although I never met this great-grandfather, his commitment serves as a personal inspiration. He is my family’s personal connection to the beautiful German-Jewish Chanukah observances that we are privileged to attend this and every year.
May the traditions of Chanukah continue to enlighten and inspire us all and compel us to commit further to our Mesorah.
א פרייליכען חנוכה/Happy Chanukah/חנוכה שמח
“One of the highlights of Chanukah in Washington Heights is… the singing of Maoz Tzur by the KAJ choir between Mincha and Maariv… Every move and every note is performed precisely as was done in Frankfurt, where the congregation originated…The liturgy and tunes employed by each community affect one’s emotional response to the High Holidays and constitute the Mesorah of the Nefesh.”
An interesting irony is that “the Maoz Tzur tune that is by now considered to be “traditional” in most parts of the Jewish world, is an adaptation of a German folk song”(chazzanut.com). As R. Adlerstein explained in “Lipa, Lead Belly, and Adar”(3/08), “I see no reason to stop singing Mishenichnas Adar, or the Protestant hymn we know as Maoz Tzur. I believe they serve as cultural examples of עמון ומואב שטהרו בסיחון. “
If we preserved all of our minhagim the way Yekkim preserve those in Tefilla, the yeshiva world would 10% (or some much smaller number) of its current size. How many of us would be eating glatt meat? Plus even the Yekkim have changed minhagim. They recite Kabbalat Shabbat, amongst many other changes.
By the time of WWII most of the austritt community in Frankfurt was no longer religious. All that austritt meant to them was that they would not pray in the same synagogue as the ostjuden.
I hear the point of your article but there is certainly a lot of historical hyperbole in it.
Unfortunately, this comes at the price of exclusivity. I’ve davened at KAJ a few times and felt like I could simply not “join in” with the tefillot.
(The nusach and mood are quite different than those of Eastern European/most American shuls. It can be hard to adjust to. I feel the same way when I daven at Sephardic minyanim. It is a function of what one is used to. – AG)
The German community values traditional behavior wrt to various items but changes ( sometimes radically ) wrt to others. They have modified their Torah im Derech Eretz stance substantially consistent with their shift to the right, have modified their anti- Israel/Zionism stance, etc. The claim by R. Shimon Schwab that he represented the true views of RSRH were decisively debunked by Prof. Katz as far back as the 1930’s and Prof. Leiman half a century later. I believe these changes matter more than synagogue service minhagim.
As a proud member of the Israelitische Religionsgesellschaft Zürich, also known as Kehal Adas Jeshurun, also an offshoot of the original KAJ of Frankfurt, I was glad to read this article and to listen to the candlelighting at KAJ Washington Heights.
I would just add that in our kehilla, the baal tefillah in the beis knesses is required to daven with the yekkishe prounuciation (ow, not oy or oh) and there is a goodly number of kehilla members whose everyday pronunciation in lashon kodesh is yekkish. Leining is done in the yekkishe trop… and all announcements are made in German, naturally. We and our sister congregation in Basel probably sound the most like our Frankfurter mother kehilla.
(I am far from a scholar of German-Jewish customs, but I believe that “oh” is how the Cholam was pronounced in Frankfurt, as explained by R. Hamburger in Shoroshei Minhagei Ashkenaz. He explains that “au” was used in other German communities, as far as I recall. – AG)
I think it’s a case of everyone to his own.
I also remember with fondness the Hadlokas Neiros at Munk’s (aka Golders Green Beth Hamedrash) together with the recitation of Mizmor Shir Chanukas Habayis LeDovid after Hadloko.
It’s difficult to re-kindle (excuse the pun) those memories, but I have been attending Ohel Moshe on Kings Road in Manchester, where they said Yotzros on Shabbos Chanukah with gusto (no, not the name of the Chazzan), with the highlight being the special tune for Shabbos Chanukah for the Me’orah (said before Ohr Chodosh), listen at http://www.kayj.net/nusach-internal/mm/25830.mp3.
“(I am far from a scholar of German-Jewish customs, but I believe that “oh” is how the Cholam was pronounced in Frankfurt, as explained by R. Hamburger in Shoroshei Minhagei Ashkenaz. He explains that “au” was used in other German communities, as far as I recall. – AG)”
R. Hamburger wrote that “oh” was the original Frankfurt pronunciation (and the correct one), and that “au” was imported from northern Germany (Rav Hirsch ZT”L used “au”, as he was from from Hamburg, so his kehilla followed his practice).
R Gordimer once again hits the nail on the head. For those of us who live in the US, unless you daven in a kehilah like KAJ, the best alternative is when I walk down my block on the way home and see so many menoras in the windows.
Yasher Koach for this, very warm, very personal. Makes me want to visit KAJ for a Mincha-Maariv,
If you come from that kehilla , I am sure it is nostalgic. A few men tried very hard to establish a kehilas Ashkenaz in Baltimore but they had to give up. First of all, not all German origin Jews daven the nusach and tunes of KAJ. Our venerable Congregation Shearith Israel which has been in existence since the 1850’s had a different set of tunes. Even today, under Rav Yaakov Hopfer, we still sing several of these ,when we take out and return the Torahs and for Yigdal. If we had stuck to the old ways, we would have an empty museum instead of a living shul. For some reason, which I am sure you can explain, unlike Chassidim, most second generation German jews who went to lakewood,etc. have no desire or interst in davening like KAJ. The whole ambiance is gone from the next generation. Not only that, but they all will tell you that Rabbiner Hirsch would be against Torah Im Derech Eretz if he were alive today.Why have the Satmar produced doros and the Yekkes not?