Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Losing our religion


By heritage I'm mostly Ashkenzic. But in my heart, I'm Sephardic. I think it might have something to do with Sephardic ancestors or maybe it's that I'm drawn to the Spanish language (and, by extension, or perhaps it's Spanish by extension, Ladino). I've been in love with Sephardic (and Mizrahi) culture since I knew there was a difference between Ashkenazic and Sephardic.

The Sephardic (and Mizrahi) cultures grew around the Mediterranean area where the weather is similar to that of Israel. Ashkenazic culture grew away from the Mediterranean area, in the more Northern areas of Europe (like Germany, Poland, Lithuania and Russia, all in colder climates than Spain, Turkey, Morocco, etc. where the Sephardic culture grew).

Because of the change of venue, Ashkenazic Jews often had to come up with other customs. An example of this is Marror (bitter herb for the Passover Seder -- in the Talmud, romaine lettuce is the preferred Marror but because Jews moved to areas of the world where romaine lettuce would not be available in April (around the time of year Passover occurs), the current more popular Marror in Ashkenazic communities is grated horseradish root.

Unfortunately, Ashkenazim (and I am officially Ashkenazic) have a tendancy to be chauvinistic (in this specific case I don't mean sexist, even though a lot of Orthodox and "black hatter" Orthodox have a tendancy to be sexist too). That is, they think only their way is right.

Often, the Sephardic way of doing things is different from the Ashkenazic way. Sephardim follow the Shulhan Arukh, a book of Halakha (Jewish Law) written by Rabbi Yosef Caro in the 16th Century. It didn't take long for the Ashkenazic community to start adding on to this work.

The biggest issue in this regard is that since Ashkenazim are woefully uninformed about Sephardic customs, they often interpret Sephardic customs, culture and halakha as being inferior in some way to their "brand" of observance.

I see this happen in just about every Sephardic community -- Sephardim often have to defer to the Ashkenazic way of doing things. Sephardim, consequently, are forgetting their customs and observances.

Since the Sephardic way is often the way of the Mediterranean area and, hence, the original Israel custom, it is important that these customs be preserved. It is wrong for Ashkenazim to treat Sephardic customs as substandard. It is wrong for Ashkenazim to push their ideas and opinions on Sephardim. But it is equally wrong for Sephardim to allow it. Sephardim should stand up to Ashkenazim.

When Moshiah comes, he will be the one to figure out which is the appropriate custom. In the meantime, all customs and variations of Halakha need to be respected. Always.

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