To Conform or Not to Conform that is the Question

As a Sephardi baal teshuva I am continually faced with this question. When I began my path of teshuva I couldn’t even find a Sephardi siddur or a book about Sephardi halacha. There was nothing to guide me on my quest. I approached the rabbis I knew, who of course were all Ashkenazi, and they suggested I daven Ashkenazi and adopt Ashkenazi minhagim since that would make things easier and simpler and since the majority of Jews in North America are Ashkenazi the likelihood is I’ll end up marrying an Ashkenazi boy. I took their advice and bought my first siddur, an artscroll. I davened from it for years.

It wasn’t until I went to Eretz Yisrael and became bas bayit by a Sephardi family that I would have the chance to daven from a Sephardi siddur. I instantly felt a connection that I had never felt before and when I would go to Sephardi shuls the tefillahs came alive. I began to learn about my own traditions, halachot and minhagim. It was an amazing experience. I went to a Sephardi seminary and ended up marrying a Sephardi boy.

My husband is a very proud Sephardi and now that we are back in chutz l’aretz where the Ashkenazim dominate and we are a part of a ‘’yeshivish’’ community we are constantly faced with issues of whether or not to conform. Do we pronounce things the Ashkenazi way or stay true to our own culture? A heartfelt ‘’Shabbat Shalom’’ is bound to spark some odd looks, whereas ‘’Gut Shabbes’’ goes unnoticed. Eating kitniyot on Pesach, I can just imagine the stares I’d get buying rice in the grocery store during Pesach! Then there is the issue of sheitels, it is not a Sephardi custom to wear them and of course most Sephardim my husband included are against them. In order to conform to our community (not to mention I work in the secular world) I do wear a sheitel.

Overall what I have found is that it’s important to conform to some degree if you want to fit in, and be a part of a community. However conforming doesn’t mean you must lose your identity. We have to pick and choose our battles and there are some areas of frum life in which it may be better to conform and in other areas you can stand out and be a little different.

10 comments on “To Conform or Not to Conform that is the Question

  1. Basi unfortunately there aren’t any Sephardi gadolim who agree with wearing a sheitel but many Sephardi women have chosen to wear them for various reasons:

    This is NOT TRUE! the R’ benzion uziel TZ. his wife went out with a wig and women who are sephardi have so halacha for the issue…

    I am sooooooo happy you posted this. I am not B.T but a Ger and converting where I did and having my background it was clear I would be Sephardi!
    I have been looking for the perfect siddur..its been hard to find the right one…
    Being single and only wanting to marry sephardi has been hard.
    I think it goes without saying …. I say hold on to the very rich Sephardi minchagim!

  2. I am an Ashkafardi….Dad was ashkenazi…spoke Yiddish…Mum a Turkish Spanish / Portuguese …speaks Ladino. I grew always feeiling deeply Sephardi…I look it too….after all I think the food is nicer….the body language of Sephardim I related too more easily….it seemed less intellectual and more ” heart “….though there are plenty of Sephardi scholars nonetheless.
    When I became a baal teshuva I struggled….and still do ….in the Ashkenazi majority….find it hard to find my place….i feel like an outsider….an Ivri….there is a lesson in that…a good one I think.
    Lately some Sephardi shuls are becoming Ashkenazified….very intellectualised….and less “inner self”.
    My older Brother feels as I do…he too is a returnee. We talk about it and realise that Hash-m has given us a task to find out who we are…as individuals in the light of Tor-h .
    We get the best of all ….Sephardi…Ashkenazi…Lubavitch…Chassidish too….we can take the best from all of Yiddishkeit…..I just wish that people were more careful about how they speak about Sephardim…calling us Arabs…or ridiculing our Minhagim…..very shallow really…but such is our test.
    Purim Sameach

  3. Moshe
    Do you have a source for Rav Abba Shaul’s allowing sheitels?

    We actually foloow the ben ish hai and in modern areas that he didn’T posken on we follow Rav Abba shaul.

    You are right there are alot of books available in English I think the point I really wanted to convey is that the average Aish or chabad rabbi doing kiruv doesn’t neccessarlily know that or know how to point someone in the right direction and if you don’T live in NY or somwhere with a strong sephardi presence you wonT’ walk into a store and find these things. It took me 5 years to collect a set of machzorim. Fortunately I speak French, English, and get by farely well in Ladino and Hebrew. So for me finding stuff is not such a problem now that I know where and how to look but when I was first starting out everyone said by artscroll. Which brings me to another point…why doesn’t artscroll make a sephardi siddur?

  4. Many, many sefaradim wear sheitels and it is done with rabbinic approval. Rav Bentzion Abba Shaul writes that it is completely permissible (and if I remember correctly, preferable) to wear a sheitel.

    As for books — in the past ten years, there has been an explosion of sidurim and halacha books in English for sefardim.

    Note: Not all sefaradim follow Rav Ovadia Yosef. This is a common misconception. There are many views out there.

  5. Thank you Yaakov for the information I will definitely consider visiting there at some point.

    Basi unfortunately there aren’t any Sephardi gadolim who agree with wearing a sheitel but many Sephardi women have chosen to wear them for various reasons.

    Steve, my comment in regards to Sephardi books was for a beginner someone just starting out. For myself I have learned in seminary and my husband spent 4 years in yeshiva before learning in kollel we are pretty much bucky in sephardi halacha but it is a much more difficult process to get that way because when you are starting out very few people can or will direct you in the right direction.

  6. BS”D
    Although I’m ashkenazi, and keep all the ashkenazi minhagim, pronounce things ashkenaz, etc., I’m very in favor of sefardim keeping their minhagim, saying Shabbat Shalom, etc. When a sefardi person says to me “shabbat shalom,” I always respond, “Shabbat Shalom, Gut Shabbos.”

    With some of these issues, like the sheital thing, maybe you could go to a sefardi godol or at least a very choshuv rav, and ask about them.

    I hope you stay proud of being sefardi and I hope I provided a bit of chizuk.

    Take Care,

  7. Shirah:

    I would suggest that you contact people in the Ateret Torah School and community (Flatbush, Brooklyn, NY). They have successfully raised proud, committed ‘yeshivish’ Sefardi children and adults.
    I taught and spent five summers with many of their children.
    They have an excellent school and network.

    Good luck!

    Yakov Horowitz
    Monsey, NY

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