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Achrei Mos-Kedoshim: Why the Reform Movement Did Not Begin in Northern Africa


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It is much more possible to talk in a fire and brimstone way to Sefardim and be effective than it is to talk in such a manner to Ashkenazim. In fact, Rav Shlomo Wolbe said that beginning already in the mid 1800’s, most Torah educators in the Ashkenazi world had decided that our generation needs more of a loving and positive approach, rather than a strong and critical one. This was not the case for the Sefardim.

Interestingly, many Sefardim who are not Torah observant will still belong to Orthodox synagogues. It is not so common for Reform and Conservative synagogues to have Sefardi members. In fact, if you look back at history, the Reform and Conservative movements originated and were maintained by Ashkenazim only. Even if many Sefardim, for whatever reasons, stopped being Torah observant in action, they never completely abandoned the proper Torah beliefs. Their heart and emotion always kept them connected to the truth even if their actions were not consistent with their affiliation.

Ashkenazim, on the other hand, are defined more with intellect and find it difficult to affiliate one way but have contradictory actions and practices. Therefore, they came up with philosophies, beliefs, and movements, such as Reform and Conservative, allowing them to rationalize their practices which deviated from Torah and tradition. Sefardim can take hardcore mussar much more easily than Ashkenazim.

Could all this be part of the reason why the divergent customs for the Haftorah for Achrei Mos/Kedoshim evolved? Even if not the conscious rationale mentioned by poskim, is there any truth to what we discussed vis-à-vis the differences in the Sefardi and Ashkenazi personalities? I’ll let you decide.

But, at least it made for an interesting discussion regarding some of the happenings of this week’s Haftorah.

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6 Responses to “Achrei Mos-Kedoshim: Why the Reform Movement Did Not Begin in Northern Africa”

  1. Rabbi Leff:

    The reason why there never was a need for non-halakhic movements among the Sepharadim is quite simple: our societies developed a horizontal approach to religious life, as opposed to a vertical one. Sephardic Judaism is Judaism of the sacred book; learning for us entails a straight reading of the entire Torah (including the Tanakh, which has fallen out of favor in the yeshivot of Ashkenaz), with an emphasis on beqiut. While our hakhamim are respected and revered, the doctrine of "daas toyreh" was never part of our experience. Tosafot, in Berakhot 31b, DH Moreh Halacha Bifenei Rabach At, give us one of the early references to a doctrine of "gadol hador," and Jacob Katz tells us that the doctrine of daas toyreh later became cemented in the 1870s, when the Church developed a doctrine of papal infallibility. In addition, an authoritarian asceticism developed among the Hasidei Ashkenaz, who were notorious for extreme forms of mortification of the flesh (not unlike German Martin Luther), such as "makkos" (self-flagellation), rolling in the snow, and other extreme physical, masochistic measures for "kapparah." This proclivity towards stringency also manifests itself in halakhic rulings, lending the Ashkenazic approach closer to that of Shammai.

    In Andalus and other Sephardic environs, there was always an openness and a realization that there is a religious imperative to know about God's world, and the riches of the arts, literature, science, and all areas of human knowledge. Sepharad created a society that was religious and humanistic, led by the teachings of Hazal, the Rambam, and others. As Rabbi Marc Angel writes on p. 175 of "Foundations of Sephardic Spirituality": "Sephardic tradition eschewed extreme positions, trying to keep as many Jews within the fold as possible. It is no accident that Sephardim never broke into various religious movements, as did the Ashkenazim."

    The religiously analphabetic world of Ashkenaz, as seen today in Lakewood, Bnei Brak, and Meah Shearim is one type of extremism which led to the extremism of the haskalah, whereas in the Sephardic world, the ideals of torah, maddah, Jewish unity, intellectual openness, peaceful, positive relations with all people, and a pleasant, lenient, halakhic approach led to a religious life that was open, tolerant, humane, intellectually vigorous, and much-beloved. Scholars like Hakham Uziel, Hakham Yosef Faur, Rabbi Angel, Yisrael Moshe Hazan, Eliyahu Benamozegh, Hakham Haim David HaLevy, and others best represent this worldview. Instead of minimializing and rejecting, we seek to accommodate and make sense of the world, and how modernity can magnify our lives while staying planted in our principles. This is the key to our religious vigor. Loving truth, taking a Hillel approach, and being receptive to all is the key to Sephardic life.

  2. Rabbi Leff:

    The reason why there never was a need for non-halakhic movements among the Sepharadim is quite simple: our societies developed a horizontal approach to religious life, as opposed to a vertical one. Sephardic Judaism is Judaism of the sacred book; learning for us entails a straight reading of the entire Torah (including the Tanakh, which has fallen out of favor in the yeshivot of Ashkenaz), with an emphasis on beqiut. While our hakhamim are respected and revered, the doctrine of "daas toyreh" was never part of our experience. Tosafot, in Berakhot 31b, DH Moreh Halacha Bifenei Rabach At, give us one of the early references to a doctrine of "gadol hador," and Jacob Katz tells us that the doctrine of daas toyreh later became cemented in the 1870s, when the Church developed a doctrine of papal infallibility. In addition, an authoritarian asceticism developed among the Hasidei Ashkenaz, who were notorious for extreme forms of mortification of the flesh (not unlike German Martin Luther), such as "makkos" (self-flagellation), rolling in the snow, and other extreme physical, masochistic measures for "kapparah." This proclivity towards stringency also manifests itself in halakhic rulings, lending the Ashkenazic approach closer to that of Shammai.

    In Andalus and other Sephardic environs, there was always an openness and a realization that there is a religious imperative to know about God's world, and the riches of the arts, literature, science, and all areas of human knowledge. Sepharad created a society that was religious and humanistic, led by the teachings of Hazal, the Rambam, and others. As Rabbi Marc Angel writes on p. 175 of "Foundations of Sephardic Spirituality": "Sephardic tradition eschewed extreme positions, trying to keep as many Jews within the fold as possible. It is no accident that Sephardim never broke into various religious movements, as did the Ashkenazim."

    The religiously analphabetic world of Ashkenaz, as seen today in Lakewood, Bnei Brak, and Meah Shearim is one type of extremism which led to the extremism of the haskalah, whereas in the Sephardic world, the ideals of torah, maddah, Jewish unity, intellectual openness, peaceful, positive relations with all people, and a pleasant, lenient, halakhic approach led to a religious life that was open, tolerant, humane, intellectually vigorous, and much-beloved. Scholars like Hakham Uziel, Hakham Yosef Faur, Rabbi Angel, Yisrael Moshe Hazan, Eliyahu Benamozegh, Hakham Haim David HaLevy, and others best represent this worldview. Instead of minimializing and rejecting, we seek to accommodate and make sense of the world, and how modernity can magnify our lives while staying planted in our principles. This is the key to our religious vigor. Loving truth, taking a Hillel approach, and being receptive to all is the key to Sephardic life.

  3. Asher Meza says:

    According to Rabbi Rakefet of YU (Israel Division) das torah actually began in the Agudah Convention of 1917 as a ploy by the Rabbis to cement their authority on the Jewish people. Before then the term was never used, with the Exemption of the 1 time it appears in shas, in Chullin when referring to a tradition of removing the sciatic nerve.

  4. Asher Meza says:

    I agree with your statement regarding most Sephardim prior to the 13th Century but today the opposite is actually true. Remember it was Sephardim who gave the Zohar to the world and even till today (among Hareidi circles) it is Sephardim who are the most mystically (kabalistically) inclined. This is clearly the case with the Sephardim who live in Israel which make up the bulk of religious Sephardim. Granted their american counterparts seem to take a more rational approach mainly due to their high levels of assimilation among most of their brothers in the diaspora but since the 14 century this hasn't been the case.

  5. Asher Meza says:

    Honestly if one had the choose between the Tosafot and the Zohar, its better to choose Tosafot. Which is the main difference between Sephardic and Ashkenazi synagogues today.

  6. I am not against the Zohar I am Sephardic by the way question what did Maimonides think of it?

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