Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Differences between Shuls in Israel and America

The riddles that I posted in the last post generated some interesting answers that hadn't occurred to me!


1) Which of the Sages is quoted by name very frequently in the US - hundreds if not thousands of times daily - but never in Israel?

Many people said Rabbi Yishmael, from the end of korbanos. But that's not really accurate, you can hear that said aloud in Israel too. The answer is R. Chanania ben Akashya, quoted in countless shuls in the US in order to justify saying kaddish:
רַבִּי חֲנַנְיָה בֶּן עֲקַשְׁיָא אוֹמֵר, רָצָה הַקָּדוֹש בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְזַכּוֹת אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְפִיכָךְ הִרְבָּה לָהֶם תּוֹרָה וּמִצְוֹת, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: י-י חָפֵץ לְמַעַן צִדְקוֹ יַגְדִּיל תּוֹרָה וְיַאְדִּיר
But I've never heard this done in Israel. It seems that in America, people are more keen to have opportunities to say kaddish. I'm not sure why that is.

2) What is the significant design difference between shuls (synagogues) in Israel and shuls in the US - that is to say, there is a very prominent feature that is found in every shul in Israel that I have seen, but which is missing from many and perhaps most shuls in the US?


Many people suggested dedicated washing basins for kohanim. I guess that's a fair answer, but it's not what I was thinking of. I was thinking of something to hold your siddur. Every shul in Israel has either tables or shtenders or "lips" on the benches to hold them. But plenty of shuls in America have nothing at all - even shuls which certainly have the budget for such furniture. Why is that? It's very strange, as well as encouraging poor posture while davenning. Does anyone have an explanation for this?

28 comments:

  1. I think it's an older vs newer shul thing. Newer shuls tend to have pews that can hold a siddur. Older shuls do not as it was not the style of the church pews back in the day. Just a hunch.

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    1. its shuls vs reform temples
      every shul I've been to in america has either tables or in the older shuls a shtender on the back of the bench
      reform temples on the other hand are modeled after churches

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  2. "I was thinking of something to hold your siddur." -- I suppose you mean to say "I was thinking of something to hold your siddur *while you daven*. Right?

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  3. Lack of tables is an obvious one - they inevitably become a mess. Somebody puts their homemade shtender on it, fills it with random papers, source sheets, their tallis, a dried-out etrog, some snacks for later, etc, and declares it their makom. Or they make a stand-up shtender that then blocks everyone behind them, and it's just a mess. Most shuls don't want random stuff strewn about, and tables encourage that!

    I've definitely been to a few shuls in America with shtenders built into the back of the chairs, so I wouldn't say this is totally missing, just not quite as common.

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  4. 1) Chabad at least has the idea that on a yahrzeit you should say a certain number of kaddishes (17, I think)---doable if you recite mishnayot after every every service as well as every Kaddush d-Rabbanan and Mourner's Kaddish. But Chabad practice seems to be to recite the last four mishnahs of Mikvaot Ch. 7 (the ones that spell out Neshamah), and R. Ch. is not necessarily included in the recitation.
    2) Synagogues here probably get pews from the folks who supply church pews.

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    1. Nope, most get from kibbutz lavi.

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    2. The תהלת ה' siddur has the רבי חנניה mishnah printed after the chapter from מקואות. It was explained to me that the purpose was to say a halachah and a piece of aggadata as well, before saying the kaddish. So Rabbi Chananyah's statement qualifies as a piece of aggadatah. But, if there is no one saying kaddish for the deceased, that last derabbanan is omitted.
      --Yehudah P.

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    3. I believe the Gemara says somewhere that it's very important to connect halacha to aggadata and that, indeed, is why (I think) we say "Rav Chanaya..."

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  5. Many old-style schuls here in the US do have what with to support a siddur. For example, I davened at Breuer's (KAJ/WH) over Shabbos and they have a shtender/tashmishei tefilloh box in front of every seat in the men's section.

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  6. With regard to the first riddle, we may need to be more specific as it is likely the observations are limited to ashkenazi shuls and related מנהגים. In general, the halacha is אין מרבים בקדשים. Having said that, I have noticed in many shuls with some sort of chassidic tradition that there is a desire to encourage creating opportunities to say additional kaddishes, particularly in light of the correlation of kaddish to mourners and potential benefits inured to a נשמה upon recitation (chabad shuls where I have davened are preoccupied with this in particular). Without any basis other than conjecture, one theory could be that the minhagim of davening in Israel are heavily influenced by מנהג הגר״א and likely never developed this tradition. American shuls are an amalgam of various מנהגים, typically rooted in the customs brought over from the Jews who predominantly founded the congregation. 100 years ago this was easier to discern: the Hungarian shul, the Romanian shul, the Galicianer shul etc. These distinctions are less clear today with the abundance of shteible, break away minyanim, the “other” shul etc. but depending on the origination of using חנניה בן עקשיע to ensure אגדתא would be said prior to קדש דרבנן, the historical roots of this custom may be subtly manifested in this distinction between US and Israel shuls.

    The second riddle is an interesting one. I think it really depends on how broad of an exposure to American shuls you have had. My suspicion is that the majority of shuls you have attended are those that have invited you to speak or those in communities where you have been invited to speak. These communities likely are on the spectrum of modern orthodox to yeshivish, but not what might constitute traditionally חרדי. If you visit many shteibles, small shuls modeled after shteibles, חרדי shuls and others, they often have shtenders, tables and the nifty shtender cum talis bag holders popular in Israel. The shuls in the communities you have been to borrow design concepts from a host of influences, the common denominator being a deviation from some of the traditional styles or even design concepts possibly borrowed from reform and conservative synagogues, which have in turn been borrowed from church design concepts. Not to mention that no place for a siddur also enables more seating room for shuls that pull in mass numbers. The shtender cum talis holder is an interesting evolution because in many ways it serves a uniquely Jewish purpose, likely designed and fabricated by Jews. The shul designs you refer to are not specifically Jewish and could be manufactured by Jew and gentile alike. To wit, the pew style seats commonly found in the more grandiose traditional orthodox shuls could easily be found in the pews of a church. As such, abundance of Israeli manufacturers make these styles more readily available in Israel than America. Ironically, the shul you were in this Sunday morning has those Israeli style shtender cum talis bag holder seats, but you didn’t have s chance to daven in the main sanctuary to observe. Alas, shiur was great nonetheless!

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  7. The R. Chanania ben Akashya quote is said all the time in Sfardi shul's in Israel. Anyone who ever stepped foot in a sfardi minyan would know that. It would be nice if people familiarized themselves with other Jewish customs besides for their own.

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    1. That doesn't change his main point that there's a difference between Israel and America in this regard. You know what else would be nice? If people would disagree a little more nicely :)

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    2. @ Rodef
      with you on that one. this is a great blog with interesting posts that deservedly generate lots of discussion and (I'm not referring here to harav Didi) some unpleasant abuse if you dare to present a view that is different.

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    3. Rodef, Please explain how it doesn't change the main point, nowhere did the Rabbi mention Ashkenazy or Sfardi shul's. Also Didi isn't disagreeing he is just stating facts.

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    4. @Boozie
      The tone of his comment certainly appears to be one of disagreement; not sure how else you would interpret the comment. With regards to your request to clarify, it seems to me that Reb Slifkin is simply commenting on a trend he has observed. Perhaps the practice is more widespread than what he has seen, but that doesn't change the fact that there seems to be a difference in practice between some communities in this regard.

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  8. In Israel, virtually every Sfardi shul throws in a Rabbi Chananya ben Akashya now and then! You need to get out more.

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  9. In Ashkenazi shuls in Israel this is true, but in Sephardi ones the is a lot of "Rabbi Chanania".

    The joke goes that an Ashkenazi Rav comes to a Sephardic synagoge and hears all the time: "Rabbi Chanania..." and says:
    "One does not have to say Kaddish for every little piece of Torah."
    "Is this Halacha?"
    "Yes."
    "Rabbi Chanania..."

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  10. Surprised by your answer to both questions:
    I have seen many shuls in Israel that quote Rabbi Chanaya Ben hakashya, The shul we have at work (in israel) has a a halacha or 2 (or 3 if we are still waiting for a minyan) before Mincha, and always quote that Bariyta.

    With regard to the second point, I heard from a manager at Kibbutz Lavi that before they started selling to the States, most established shuls ordered their furniture from either a place that makes chairs for churches (no bookstand, but maybe s small place to leave a sidur at the back of the chair, and sometimes will put a Magen david on the end of wach row so it doesn't look to chrch-y) or movie theater chairs (no where to rest or store books, but at least have folding chairs)
    The cartoon picture you attached to this post looks like they have Church Furniture.
    Also, many shuls in Israel do not have permanent furniture, or the room is multi-purpose, so they just have plastic chairs (with nowhere to put a book).

    (as an aside, the shul where I grew up, in Wellington New Zealand had book stands with a box to store books / Tallesim, I think that the furniture was custom made in the 60s, it certainly pre-dates the current building which was build in the mid 70s)

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  11. One more thought why Rabbi Kakashiya followed by Kaddish may be more common in the States than in Ashkenazi shuls in Israel.
    I think in Chutz la'aretz people make a bigger deal about kaddish, many people ONLY go to shul in order to say kaddish (I have been to minyanim in Chutz L'Artetz where 70-80% of the people are saying Kaddish).
    In Israel it is common to have no one saying kaddish, or at the most 1 or 2 people (less than 10%).
    If the only reason people are going to shul is to day Kaddish, it makes sense to try to increase the number of Kaddashim said...

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    1. 100% Same in the UK. Diaspora middle-of-the-road orthodoxy has become a shabbat luncheon club. Our shul, one of the biggest in the UK, has hundreds of people on shabbat, but struggles during the week.

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  12. As others have written, Sephardim in Israel routinely say Rabbi Chananya and kaddish.

    Amongst Askhenazim, they already recite a kaddish derabbanan after the daily recital of pitum haketoret at the end of shaharit. In the Diaspora, Ashkenazim don't recite pitum haketoret daily, so they need to recite some other d'var torah if they feel the need to recite an extra kaddish.

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  13. Heh. Growing up and attending a specific shul in Manhattan and then a specific shul or two in NJ, I always was jealous of the shuls that did have built in shtenders, and I had never been to Israel (until post-HS). Here are my views based on my personal experience:

    1) very old shuls and very new shuls may have built in shtenders - to match what they had been doing in the old country and because darn it now we can afford it! The ones built in the "in-between times" are mostly chairs. Tied to this is #2...
    2) the money - built in shtenders are way more expensive than simple chairs or benches. Though if that were the primary element, more Israeli shuls would NOT have them. As a counter to this one, please see #3...
    3) What about those that do not have shtenders but have tables instead? Israeli shuls are less, er, sticklers for decorum. In Israel, it may be more common for shuls to have tables between the rows. In the US, tables do not fit with the décor of a "fancy" sanctuary (which is why one MAY find them in the room where hashkamah minyanim take place - often these rooms are less fancy or they double as a Bais Medrash). Similarly, shteilblach may have more tables. Alternatively, maybe it's a space thing - shuls that have more floor space can fit shtenders/tables into the pews, while others do not.

    I would like to support the church pew supplier idea except that I cannot exclusively, given that most of the shuls I have seen without siddur-supports use chairs and not pews/benches!

    One thing about chairs though, American chairs used usually have horizontal bars across the top that at least can be used as a partial resting spot. Israeli shuls that use chairs use stackable plastic things that are round and weigh nothing, so placing a siddur on the back of one does not help in the slightest!

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  14. "It seems that in America, people are more keen to have opportunities to say kaddish. I'm not sure why that is."
    Kaddish is a classic example of a practice that has gained prominence far in excess of it's actual halachic import. 500 years ago, few mourners said it, now it's the linchpin of aveilus, with aveilim trying to be chazzan so they can say "extra kaddishim". Some shuls actually post a list of who has the priority of "chiyuv" to be chazzan. It is quite silly, as no one has a "chiyuv" to be chazzan.

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  15. I think it dates back to the old Shuls that we’re used only for davening and never learning and the davening back then was more of a spectator sport type of service with chazanim that went very long so there were comfortable chairs with no place t to put a Sefer so not to get distracted. You can still meet some old timers who insist that’s the way a shul should b and tables are for a Bais Medrash

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  16. In new york city, a synagogue needs a certain amount of parking spots for each fixed seat it has. Even though people don't drive to shuls and shtiebels on shabbos. So they have folding tables as a workaround.

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    1. Not true for NYC. NJ has an interesting negotiation with zoning board about this (they feign ignorance of not driving to shul on shabbat). Same for LA.

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  17. Throughout my high school years in Israel, whenever we went on trips or picnics, at the end of the meal, before Birkat Hamazon, one of the girls would inevitably say - "We can't eat together without a d'var torah" whereby another girl would respond, "ר' חנניה בן עקשיא אומר רצה הקב"ה לזכות את ישראל ..." etc.

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