Friday, August 10, 2012

Yekkes and Sefardim

I daven at two shuls back home. One of the shuls has a relaxed tone. The other has lots of traditions that it adheres to punctiliously. For example, they always begin davening exactly "on time," that is, if Shacharit is scheduled to begin at 6:45, they begin exactly at that time. They have a digital clock that keeps exact time. Someone watches the clock and when it indicates the scheduled time, the Gabbai directs the prayer leader to begin. They also have other minhagim (traditions). For instance, the prayer leader has to wear a jacket, or, if he has no jacket, a tallit. A man who has Yartzeit says kaddish by himself after Aleynu during Shacharit and Ma'ariv (although someone in Shloshim--30 days after burial, also says this kaddish).

This shul has been identified as having a "Yekke" outlook. A Yekke is a person from German speaking lands who strictly adhere to certain traditions. (See

The above cited Wikipedia page cites a well-known story of a Yekke that reflects this attitude of punctiliousness: "A Yekke says to his wife on the evening of 4 December, 'I'll be home from synagogue services a little late tonight.' Explanation: at the evening prayer on the 4th of December, the words 'Tal U'matar' (dew and rain) are added to the prayers for the upcoming winter season. The addition of these two words causes the Yekke to be 'late' coming back home."

I've grown to appreciate the "Yekke" mentality. You know when the prayer service is going to start. You can calculate almost to the minute when it's going to end. For people who need a sense of order and regularity, this shul works perfectly for them.

I have not found this "Yekkeish" outlook at shuls in Israel. For instance, all the shuls I've prayed at (except one) have analog clocks. Also, there is no Gabbai who makes sure that the prayers start exactly on time. In addition, the shul dress code is very relaxed here. Back home at the Yekke shul, a man who is wearing sandals is not allowed to daven from the Amud (lead prayers). Here, no one seems to care what kind of footwear one is wearing. Back home, some people wear suits and ties to shul, even during the week. In Israel, I have only seen a very few wearing ties, and only on Shabbat, and the ties are often loosely hung around the neck.

On my first day in Israel, I had the complete opposite experience at the shul of Sefardim, Jews from Arab countries. (I wrote about this shul in an earlier post, see According to the schedule which I checked after the morning service, Mincha was scheduled for 7:20. But when I showed up at this time, it had been moved to 7:00 and so I missed it. Then Ma'ariv, the evening service, which was scheduled for 8:00, did not take place until 8:50 because there was a ceremony for the installation of a new Sefer Torah (Torah scroll). They had taken out all the Torah Scrolls, there was music and speeches accompanying their entrance into the shul, and then bidding to see who would get the honor of being the person to put the new Torah into the Ark. (The winning bid was 360 shekels, about 90 dollars.) I hung around hoping the evening service would finally get underway, though I had thoughts of leaving. Here I was, used to services starting on time, waiting and waiting just to pray a 10 minute service and say kaddish.

One of the things that makes Israel such an interesting and exciting place is its diversity. It's a country made up of Jews from so many places and backgrounds. This diversity has resulted in a variety of shul traditions. The Jewish community in New York is much more homogeneous. Davening in shul on a regular basis in Israel has been a learning experience. As usual as my time in Israel nears its end, I'm filled with mixed emotions, looking forward to being back home in my familiar surroundings and sadness to leave this land and its people whose emotional hold on me only seems to grow each time I'm here.

1 comment:

  1. There are yekkish shuls here in israel. See the machon moreshes ashkenaz website for more information