A Shot in the Arm for German Orthodox Liturgy

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37 Responses

  1. Shimshon Weisman says:

    I live in Beitar Illit, and am a member of what is colloquially known here as the “Yekke Minyan” (more formally, Kehilla Adas Yeshurun). Many Yekkes who have fallen into the trap you describe (of abandoning their beautiful heritage) must feel some sense of shame in the same. Why do I say that? Because they don’t simply remain neutral. They actually poke fun (and not gentle needling) at the minyan and Yekke minhagim (while they are perfectly happy waiting three hours between meat and milk).

    We are celebrating our 11th anniversary on, I believe, Parshas Vayakhel/Shekalim, March 11-12. HaRav Hamburger will BE”H be attending and speaking. All are welcome to join us on this occasion.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Note that Goldschmidt in Switzerland has also been publishing various siddur and machzor editions that were originally published in Roedelheim, Germany.   These include editions edited by Wolf Heidenheim.  Some also contain German or English translations.

  3. A supporter says:

    R’ Gordimer, this is one of the better treatments of German Jewish heritage that I’ve seen in recent times. In addition to your important work on OO, I would love to see more analysis of the (lack of) Yekke mesorah in practice today. Please continue to elaborate on these thoughts so that we can bring this issue the attention it deserves!

  4. DavidF says:

    As a descendant of a lapsed Yekke myself, I understand the angst spoken of by Rabbi Gordimer.

    There is no question that a large portion of the blame must be laid at the feet of the early German Reformers. I think. however, that there is another, less sinister force at play too. I refer here to the lack of a central community due to the fact that Breuer’s – the mother ship of the Yekke community – is located in a neighborhood that is impractical and unaffordable. As it is, it’s hard enough getting kids ot move back to their old neighborhoods, but it’s even less likely when the neighborhood offers few apartments [no homes!] and at rents that are astronomical.

    When home base is inaccessible, it’s little wonder that the community loses it’s identity in a generation or two.

  5. mycroft says:

    One can’t forget the impact of Naziism on World Jewry. It is tough to respect a Yahadus whose leaders worshiped German culture knowing what happened.

    Of interest SRH’s hashkafa is followed by many around the world but people do not associate it with SRH-tough to take as hashkafic hero one who gave a sermon on a birthday of a poet.

    Of course, one can’t forget that KAJ itself by taking a Rabbi who rejected SRH’s hashkafa-claiming it was a horaas shah implicitly rejected German thought for Eastern European hashkafa. The  revisionism of a gadols belief on one side of Washington Heights would be an example to be followed

  6. A Schwartz says:

    One should not underestimate the influence of the Mishnah Berurah in formulating standard halachic practices throughout the Ashkenazic world. In addition, most communities outside of Brooklyn are an amalgamation of people with varying minhagim, and for the sake of cohesion, shuls have to create consistent, common, and most widely-practiced standards. A similar phenomenon occurred in Israel with the standardized nusach of tefila.

  7. Michael says:

    The Western Ashkenazic tradition is alive and well in Anglo-Jewry, including the distinctive leyning which is standard throughout Britain. Those interested in discovering more are welcome to visit our lively communities.

    • Shmuel Landesman says:

      Both the USA and England received approximately the same number of German Jewish refugees (approximately 80 – 100, 000) between 1933 and the start of WWII. In England they caused standard Nusach Ashkenaz to switch from Litvish Minhag to German Minhag, but Not in the USA. That’s because in England they now constituted about 1/3 of the British Jewish population, while in the USA it was closer to 2%. Additionally, Engalnd allowed in all the German Yeshiva bochrim and Orthodox Rabbis, while the USA didn’t. (No German yeshiva bochur was unable to escape to freedom.)

      • mycroft says:

        “Additionally, Engalnd allowed in all the German Yeshiva bochrim and Orthodox Rabbis, while the USA didn’t. (No German yeshiva bochur was unable to escape to freedom.)”

        No-clearly untrue-there are examples of those who were studying in German Yeshivot who emigrated to US after Kristallnacht.

      • Shmuel Landesman says:

        Thanks. My language was confusing. To clarify: The UK allowed in all the German Rabbinical students, while the USA didn’t allow all in , just some.

      • Ben Bradley says:

        I don’t know where your info about the UK are from, but the numbers of refugees you cite seem far too high. I was born and raised in the UK, and can tell you the proportion of pre war German refugees as is far smaller than a third. I doubt it’s more than 10%.  Most UK Jews are descended from Eastern Eurpean immigrants pre WWI. And the nusach definitely didn’t change, it was never Litvish, always German due to a quirk of history from the 1700s onwards. Hamburg in fact. The same standard siddurim were used all the way from the 19th century by most communties until the  rise of the Artscroll siddur in the last 20 years or so

      • Ben Bradley says:

        ‘Hamburg in fact’

        Sorry, Leipzig IIRC

      • Shmuel Landesman says:

        It is easy enough to look up how many German Jews emigrated to UK in the 1930’s and then look up the total Jewish population of UK at the time and do the math.

      • Ben Bradley says:

        R’ Shmuel – Baruch she’kivanti. Immigration from Germany to the UK was 40,000 according to 2 different sources I found, and total Jewish population was about 400,000. So 10% as suspected.

        I’m still intrigued as to where you saw that the nusach changed .

      • Shmuel Landesman says:

        I was told that by a wonderful Jewish businessman from London whose father was a German Chazan. Perhaps my guest was wrong. I’m open to your perspective.

      • Ben Bradley says:

        R Shmuel – Thinking it through again I suspect that your acquaintance may have been talking about a particular shul or two where that happened. The German immigrants tended to be either very shtark, which was the minority, or very unobservant, following the pattern in prewar Germany. The pre-existing UK community was fairly homogenous in having a big Jewish heart but little Jewish literacy or observance on average. So the shtark Yekkes tended to focus around a few shuls which were  not part of the mainstream communal organisation. Perhaps in a few frummer than average shuls where there was a large influx of yekkes, percentagewise, the nusach changed.

  8. aumann says:

    One can’t forget the impact of Naziism on World Jewry. It is tough to respect a Yahadus whose leaders worshiped German culture knowing what happened.

    Which leaders are you talking about? The Rabbis in Germany fought bitterly against the Reform movement and the German culture they represented.

    People who leave their masoreh, they actually follow the Reform and the German culture on their own…

    • mycroft says:

      “It is tough to respect a Yahadus whose leaders worshiped German culture knowing what happened. Which leaders are you talking about”

      RSRH for starters

      • Ben Bradley says:

        Worship is a very strong term. Talking about RSRH as worshipping German culture is wildly inaccurate. He was clear and consistent about Who we worship and that our values are derived solely from Torah. In fact that’s his hallmark throughout his writings. He certainly appreciated aspects of German culture, or really Western culture in general and and thought they had in place in chinuch. But worship? Certainly not.

        And I don’t see why it’s hard to respect the legacy of RSRH. Major features of 19th Century German culture are no different to broader Western European culture, in terms of literature, music, philosophy, science, which is the basis of the Mada of YU after all. So I’m not sure why you’re opposed to that.

      • mycroft says:

        “Worship is a very strong term”

        Fair enough

        “He certainly appreciated aspects of German culture, or really Western culture in general and and thought they had in place in chinuch.”

        Appreciate is not strong enough.See following:

        Rabbi Hirsch’s attitude to German culture
        Rabbi Hirsch’s attitude toward German was not the same as that of the
        other traditionalists of his time who were conversant in that language.
        To the latter, it was a language they knew and employed, but
        nevertheless a non-Jewish language. Rabbi Hirsch, on the other hand,
        had a deep emotional feeling for German and a strong attachment to
        German culture that also went far beyond the modest requirements set
        down by the conservative Maskilim who advocated practical subjects as
        necessitated by social and economic considerations. Rabbi Hirsch had
        been educated in a gymnasium focusing on humanistic studies.
        Influenced by the atmosphere in his family who encouraged secular
        studies, he appreciated the humanistic spirit which permeated the
        German cultural climate as well as the aesthetics. In the first of the
        Nineteen Letters, Rabbi Hirsch makes his imaginary protagonist
        remark: “How can anyone who is able to enjoy the beauties of a Virgil,
        a Tasso, a Shakespeare, who can follow the logical conclusions of a
        Leibnitz and Kant–how can such a one find pleasure in the Old
        Testament, so deficient in form and taste, and in the senseless writings
        of the Talmud?” Before Rabbi Hirsch, no Orthodox Jew had ever
        expressed such sentiments, even as a prelude to their rebuttal.
        Rabbi Hirsch was especially influenced by Hegel and Schiller. In a
        speech given in his school he founded on the centenary of the birth of
        the latter, he claimed that the universal principles of Western culture
        embodied in Schiller’s writings are Jewish values originating in the
        Torah.”

        from

        http://seforim.blogspot.com/2009/08/meir-hildesheimer-historical.html

      • mycroft says:

        “And I don’t see why it’s hard to respect the legacy of RSRH. Major features of 19th Century German culture are no different to broader Western European culture, in terms of literature, music, philosophy, science, which is the basis of the Mada of YU after all. So I’m not sure why you’re opposed to that”

        People do respect the legacy of SRH wo admitting it-he may be the most influential figure of the 19th century but almost no one admits it-suspect strongly due to the German issue.

      • Ben Bradley says:

        I’ll grant that ‘appreciate’ may be not quite strong enough. But the only sentence indicating otherwise in that whole piece you quoted was ‘Rabbi Hirsch, on the other hand, had a deep emotional feeling for German and a strong attachment toGerman culture’ . 

        As someone who counts RSRH as a strong early, and indeed enduring, influence in the process of becoming shomer mitzvos, I must say the German issue never troubled me at all. And I don’t believe I’ve ever come across anyone who has an even slightly Hirschian weltanschaung who has expressed distaste for RSRH’s world due to the German connection. That’s a sample size of 1 but anecdotes can be revealing.

        Maybe it’s a generational thing. My generation (thirtys/fourtys) don’t have much if any animosity to things German that I’ve ever come across.

  9. Shmuel Landesman says:

    Rabbi Gordimer:

    As usual, I am touched by your beautiful love for and sensitivity towards Mesorah.

    However, the decline of authentic German Kehillos has not taken place in a vacuum. It is not just the German Kehillos. My paternal family is Hungarian Ashkenzic. Where are those Kehillos today?

    Vien, Nitra, Pupa, Tzelem, etc…, which were Ashkenazic, have become completely chasidish.

    The Litvishe Yeshivos are primarily populated by descendants of Hungarian Jews.

    The piyutim don’t speak to us today because we don’t understand them, plus, we won’t recite them without understanding them like our grandfathers or great grandfathers did. Plus, the yeshiva world skips them as do the young Israels.

    • Reader says:

      “Vien, Nitra, Pupa, Tzelem, etc…, which were Ashkenazic, have become completely chasidish.”

      In terms of Vien and Nitra, those words are not correct.

      Vien branches in Boro Park and Monsey daven Ashkenaz. Even at the first branch in Williamsburg, which mostly went over to Sfard a few years ago, there is still at least one (early) minyan that davens Ashkenaz.

      Various Nitra branches also daven Ashkenaz, such as the one in Boro Park, for one example.

      There are other outposts of Hungarian Ashkenaz that persist as well.

      While it is definitely true that there has been some Hassidification, Hungarian Ashkenaz has not totally disappeared, despite what some people would like you to believe.

      • Shmuel Landesman says:

        My point is that even if several of them still daven nusach Ashkenaz they dress like chasidim, their leaders are not longer called Rabbonim, but REbbes, etc….

         

      • Reader says:

        It is more complicated than that. The tzibbur is not monolithic.

        Visit some of the old Oberland minyonim/botei midrash and you will see for yourself. I wonder if you have actually done so in recent years, as I have.

        It is important to see the actual reality with your own eyes, rather than relying on sometimes slanted reports.

      • Shmuel Landesman says:

        I would love to. Can you recommend a couple for me to visit?

      • Joe Hill says:

        It isn’t monolithic, but Shmuel Landesman point that a large segment of the Oberlander kehilos, probably a majority, has adapted Chasidish minhagim, terminologies, modes of dress, etc. is essentially accurate.

    • Reader says:

      “The Litvishe Yeshivos are primarily populated by descendants of Hungarian Jews.”

      Source for that claim?

      Are you claiming that for R. Gordimer’s yeshiva as well (Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon)? While it may be true in some cases, the background of talmidim can vary substantially in different locations and institutions, so such sweeping generalizations should be handled with caution.

      • Shmuel Landesman says:

        Only 7% of Jews in Lithuania and 1.6% of Jews in Poland survived the Nazi conquest. About half of Hungarian Jews survived. (I understand it’s because the Nazis didn’t invade Hungary till 1944, while the first 2 countries they invaded in 1939 and/or 1941.)

        I suspect it’s less so at YU.

      • Reader says:

        The statistics given (which require some adjustment, e.g. especially re Poland) are only part of a picture. There were other Jews who emigrated in earlier decades as well, for example.

        There are also many people who have mixed roots. Such unions became a lot more common after war and migration. If a talmid is a child of a marriage between Hungarian and Polish then, how is he classified? Product of a Polish-Litvish union?

      • Shmuel Landesman says:

        {The statistics given (which require some adjustment, e.g. especially re Poland) are only part of a picture. There were other Jews who emigrated in earlier decades as well, for example.
        There are also many people who have mixed roots. }
        The statistics are from “Eyewitness to History” by Ruth Lichtenstein.

        I personally have mixed roots and descend from Jews who emigrated from earlier decades.

        I was just explaining how Litvaks are a small minority today in Litvishe yeshivos.

         

  10. Weaver says:

    I think a main reason for the assimilation of German-American Jewry into yeshivish/Modern Orthodox circles is a simple one: they are just not that different from those communities – the same way that Jews from Hungarian, Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian origins have become more or less indistinguishable from one another today.

    Chassidish and Sephardic Jews are far more different sociologically, culturally and religiously from general Ashkenazi Jewry, and have thus retained separate communities.

     

  11. Ben Bradley says:

    I suspect it’s down to the way culture works. Culture is a really deep embedded collection of subtle, and not-so-subtle, behavioural and emotional responses shared by people from a particular community. Some cultures are very deeply embedded and people actively look to mix with people of similar culture. That’s certainly true of sephardim. Chasidim have the added impetus of the ideological centrality of community and the Rebbe.  Other historical communities had a culture which turned out to be less deeply embedded and most Yekkes found themselves merging into the general ashkenazi world through lack of cultural impetus not to, regardless of their particular tunes and minhagim. It takes a really dafkanik to maintain minhagim in the face of cultural assimilation, and most yekkes found they just weren’t as dafkanik as they were reputed to be…

    Or to put it another way, take a yekke out of Germany and the culture won’t last another generation, because the culture was just a feature of one place and time.

    By the way it’s not just just the yekkish culture and minhagim which have disappeared. The current ashkenazi world of minhagim is a post war conglomeration of bits of different pre war communties, more Litvish (in the actual old Lithuanian sense) in the charedi yeshivas, more yekkish in the UK, baalebatish America has developed its own set of norms, and more Gra-like in E’Y. But there’s really nowhere which solidly retains the minghagim of Vilna , or Hamburg, or Warsaw etc etc.

     

     

     

  12. dr. bill says:

    I am certainly no expert, but it occurs to me that German orthodoxy had multiple strands going back (significantly prior) to the generation of RSRH ztl whose contemporaries both Rav Hildesheimer ztl and Rav Bamberger ztl were openly and critically at odds with his POV.  I don’t know how their positions reflected forward.  The bias against both of these Torah giants in the eastern European world is not insignificant.
    In more modern times, it is clear that the rigors of academic talmud, require broad familiarity that few develop outside the yeshivah; I am in awe of those who develop such expertise otherwise.  Both RYYW ztl and Rav Kaplan ztl are prime examples of gedolim who added significant academic perspective to their backgrounds developed at slabodka as they transitioned to Hildesheimer.  The German rabbinate required a much broader set of intellectual and other skills that did not allow German rabbis to develop the deep but narrow skills of Lithuanian talmudists.  Is that a result of having to compete with the reform movement?  Very likely, but more broadly perhaps the result of a changed environment outside of just the Reformers.
    I find it interesting that Slabodka’s most talented talmid was so attracted to academic methods.  Had he lived, RYK ztl thought he would have revolutionized the derech haLimmud.
    It also significant that Rav Schwab ztl (for a long period) redefined RSRH.  Despite its clearly acknowledged revisionism, its impact appears to have taken hold in the Breuer community.
     
    Well before this siddur you highlight that I look forward to getting, I received as a gift a reprint of a siddur published in Germany in 1925 by Rav Bulka ztl’s father, which I cherish.  I may be foolhardy, but I have such respect for such efforts that I value the places where it differs from other texts.

    • mycroft says:

      “I am certainly no expert, but it occurs to me that German orthodoxy had multiple strands going back (significantly prior) to the generation of RSRH ztl whose contemporaries both Rav Hildesheimer ztl and Rav Bamberger ztl were openly and critically at odds with his POV.  I don’t know how their positions reflected forward.”

      Probably Rav Hildesheimer  had more followers of his viewpoint in orthodox Germany than SRH had of his. It is my impression that was true until the Holocaust

      “It also significant that Rav Schwab ztl (for a long period) redefined RSRH.  Despite its clearly acknowledged revisionism, its impact appears to have taken hold in the Breuer community”

      So much so that I have spoken to some who went to their day school through 12 and could spend all their years there wo hearing anything about SRH.

      “Well before this siddur you highlight that I look forward to getting, I received as a gift a reprint of a siddur published in Germany in 1925 by Rav Bulka ztl’s father, which I cherish”

      It is my impression that in general what we refer to as Yekke minhagim reflect those of Northern Germany-Southern Germany in tfilah followed much more closely to standard Ashkenazic practice.

  13. Joe Hill says:

    There had, in the past, been efforts to establish a KAJ kehila / shul in the Boro Park/Flatbush vicinity. I’m not sure why it didn’t work out but it is certainly still a worthwhile endeavor as many of the Yekkesh community do reside in that vicinity.

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