By Ilene Rosenblum
Rabbi Avraham Yosef, Chief Rabbi of Holon and the son of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, recently declared that all newly religious Jews should follow the Sefardi tradition, regardless of their heritage.
I’ve heard this one before. Eating kitniyot, legumes on Passover and jamming to music that doesn’t have the oy oy oy refrain at first sounds enticing. But that’s ignoring the full picture. While some Ashkenazim wait anywhere between one hour and six hours after eating meat before eating dairy products, I’m unaware of any Sefardi tradition to wait fewer than six. Sefardi men also wake up before dawn to say Selichot for the entire month of Elul. That’s a lot of sacrificed ice cream and sleep for some chummus on Pesach.
Maybe the Sefardim want to gain a little more ba’al teshuva clout. In my experience, there is much less outreach from Sefardi institutions, and should a person of Sefardi descent become more observant, they often find support from Chabad or get “streamlined” into a program that doesn’t teach Sefardi customs. But I don’t think that is what is at stake here.
What is interesting is that this comment referred to Jews becoming more observant — not converts. Why not encourage the Jew to connect to his or her Jewish roots but rather to plant new ones? Although I believe the argument is flawed and otherwise problematic, it’s one thing to suggest that converts adapt a certain set of customs, it’s another to have a Jew change.
According to an article in Ynet, the rabbi explained in the halachic responses section of the Jewish website Moreshet, that in Israel one must embrace Sephardic traditions. In order to reconcile the precept that one mustn’t abandon the tradition of one’s fathers “and do not forsake the teachings of your mother,” he ruled that those born to religious parents should follow their traditions, but if a Jew has no religious background, no family tradition in halachic matters, that person must accept the Sephardic tradition and laws.
What about for someone like me, who comes from a traditional household that was clearly Ashkenazi but not Shabbat-observant? It would seem an insult to the tradition brought over by my grandparents and great-grandparents — albeit watered down in the United States — to switch to something else rather than try to revive what I do have.
While the gaps between Ashkenazi and Sephardi observance are not always so wide, it has been difficult enough keeping up with the prayers and songs I have not understood, unfamiliar phrases, doing this and not that on Shabbat, and odd customs, that it would have been an undue emotional burden to distance myself from what may be familiar, including my family!
Besides, I can’t imagine expecting to get a real tan without turning red, downing hilbe or being able to properly shake my hips. Pass the whitefish.
Check out Ilene’s blog at www.ilenerosenblum.com/blog.