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THE SHABBAT CUSTOMS OF THE S&P Rabbi Johnny Solomon

Spanish and Portuguese Jews are a distinctive sub-group of Sephardim who have their main ethnic origins within the converso groups and who shaped communities mainly in Western Europe and the Americas from the late 16th century on. There were Spanish and Portuguese merchants, many of them conversos, in England at the time of Queen Elizabeth I. In the time of Oliver Cromwell, Menasseh ben Israel led a delegation seeking permission for Dutch Sephardim to settle in England. By the time of Charles II and James II, by 1656 a congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews had a synagogue in Creechurch Lane. Around this time Shabbetai Zvi was born. Having studied Kabbalah he sought out a self-proclaimed "man of God," Nathan of Gaza, who declared Shabbetai Zvi to be the Messiah. Messianic fervor took hold of communities that had no immediate experience of persecution and bloodshed as well as those which had. Not only did Shabbetai Zvi gain militant adherents in his native Turkey and in the Near East, but even in such cosmopolitan European cities as Venice, Livorno, and Amsterdam leading rabbis and sophisticated men of affairs were caught up in the messianic frenzy. However, on September 15, 1666, Shabbetai Zvi, brought before the Sultan and given the choice of death or apostasy, prudently chose the latter. The apostasy shocked the Jewish world. Leaders and followers alike refused to believe it. Many continued to anticipate a second coming, and faith in false messiahs continued through the eighteenth century. In the vast majority of believers, revulsion and remorse set in
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and there was an active endeavor to erase all evidence, even mention of the pseudo-Messiah. In 1701, Bevis Marks Synagogue was opened and subsequently other S&P communities were established. It was in the early 19th century that Sir Moses Montefiore became such a dominant figure in the Jewish Community. He was respected and almost worshipped for his tireless efforts for religious freedom. He used his wealth to help the poor, Sephardi and Ashkenazi alike, in many ways at home and abroad, in the Holy Land, travelling extensively, undeterred by difficulties or discomfort. He built and endowed the beautiful little Synagogue at Ramsgate near his country home and, on the death of his beloved Judith in 1862, established the Judith Lady Montefiore College. It was in 1884 that ShemTob Gaguine was born in Jerusalem to a famous Morrocan Rabbinical Dynasty. By age 28 he was the Dayan of the Beth Din of Egypt where he remained in place for 7 years. However, he then moved to the UK where he was a Rabbi in Manchester and Dayan of the Bet Din. In 1920, Rabbi Gaguine was appointed Ab Beth Din of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews , and in 1926 Rabbi Gaguine was appointed principal (Rosh Yeshivah) of the Judith Montefiore Theological College, Ramsgate. By the way, it was at this time that the College then moved to London where it trained a range of Rabbis. However, the college closed after some years but was revived in 2005. During his time in Ramsgate, Rabbi Gaguine was industrious. He wrote numerous articles and studies. However, his magnum opus is his 7 volume Keter Shem Tob, some published in 1934 and the final 3 volumes being published posthumously by his son after Rabbi
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Gaguine s death in 1953. This work attempts to rationalize and explain 'the rites and ceremonies and liturgical variants' between Ashkenazim and the Sefardim of both the East and West. The work was received warmly by the great Torah leaders of the day, many of whom wrote approbations including Sefardi Chief Rabbi of Israel (then, Palestine) Yaakov Meir and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook. This work is unique, with the comments of Rabbi Gaguine following the order of our daily prayer book, published by Rabbi Moses Gaster, and frequently comparing our customs to those of our sister community in Amsterdam. More interesting than the record of rituals are the sources Rabbi Gaguine uses to explain how our customs developed. Despite some of his conclusions being more conjecture than fact, this work is of profound historical importance to our community and enlightening for anyone interested in what we do and how we do it. Keter Shem Tov was reprinted in 1998 and can also be accessed online for free. Now tonight I hope to look at some examples from the Keter Shem Tov that explain our customs relating to the Shabbat prayers, and in so doing, hope to explain how the history of the S&P community is reflected in its prayerbook and its customs. Let us begin by speaking about the architecture of S&P shuls. One thing that distinguishes an S&P shul from other Ashkenazi or Sefardi shuls is the absence of a Parochet on the aron kodesh. In Vol. 1 p. 232 of Keter Shem Tov, Rabbi Gaguine states: It is a universal Jewish custom to cover the Heichal or the Aron with a
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parokhet both outside and inside. And this is the custom in Israel, Syria, Turkey and Egypt as well as in Morocco. However in London their custom is to place the parokhet only inside and not on the outside, and in Amsterdam not to have a parokhet either on the outside or inside with the exception of the night of the 9th of Av when they hang a black parokhet as a sign of mourning. And the Ashkenazi custom is the same as that of Israel and Morocco . After stating these divergent customs, Rabbi Gaguine then attempts to explain how each custom developed. Regarding the custom of London where they only cover the heichal on the inside, it would appear that this was done in Spain and Portugal out of fear and terror of the Catholics during their persecution. They forbade them to adorn synagogues with magnificent and beautiful curtains and they (the Jews) were therefore compelled to remove the external parokhet so that if suddenly they would come to investigate if they were praying, they would see that there was simply a basic cupboard in a room. When both Holland and England opened their gates and allowed Jews to settle therein, giving permission to build synagogues, they did not have the courage to restore the crown to its former glory and therefore left the heichal bare without a cover. What this means is that despite living over 500 years after the Spanish Inquisition, the aron kodesh in Lauderdale Road, Bevis Marks etc. reflects the fear of our ancestors at that time. Let us now move onto the liturgy itself. You will find that in between the Mizmor LeDavid (Tehillim 29) and Lecha Dodi, many sefardim siddurim include the mystical prayer called Ana BaKoach. Tradition ascribes this prayer to the Mishnaic teacher
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Rabbi Nechunia Ben Hakanah. It contains 42 words , the initials of which form the secret 42 letter Name of God. However, in the older Ashkenazi siddurim and the S&P tradition, this prayer is not included. Rabbi Gaguine addresses this omission in Keter Shem Tov, Vol. 1 p. 183 and writes that whilst he has not found a reason given in early Rabbinic writings, it was probably omitted given that it was instituted to be included on the basis of Kabbalistic teachings during the time of the Ari z l. I mentioned earlier on that following the trauma of Shabbtai Tzvi, there was an active endeavor to erase all evidence, even mention of the pseudo-Messiah or any other prayers connected to Kabbalah. This is a classic example. In most Ashkenazi communities, Kiddush is recited in synagogue on a Friday night. However, this is not done amongst S&P communities. Rabbi Gaguine addresses this in KST Vol. 1 p. 199. Whilst it may appear that the S&P communities are not acting in line with the law, this is in fact not the case. Whilst communities have done so for many centuries, this is halachically problematic as one should not recite Kiddush in a place where a meal is not being eaten. Some permit this because it was said that when placed on the eyes, the wine would provide healing, and other reasons are also offered. However, given that this rationale was seen to be a defence of an improper custom, the S&P do not recite Kiddush in shul. However, it is fascinating to note that Kiddush was recited in Moses Montefiore s synagogue in Ramsgate. Rabbi Gaguine explains that he had heard from the elders in the community that this was done to
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appease Lady Judith Montefiore who was born to an Ashkenazi family and was used to this practice. We will now move on to discuss the Baruch She amar which is addressed in KST Vol. 1 p. 37 Rabbi Gaguine notes that it is the custom of the London and Amsterdam S&P communities to recite the long version of Baruch Sheamar, whilst the Oriental Sefardic communities and Ashkenazic communities recite the shorter version consisting of 87 words. Rabbi Gaugine begins his study of this prayer by making it clear that we do not know who wrote Baruch Sheamar. However, there is a tradition mentioned in the Tur that a manuscript fell from heaven on which was a prayer of 87 words. However, Rabbi Gaguine then notes that this tradition was cited by those who wished to poke fun at Judaism. Instead, Rabbi Gaguine suggests that this explanation is an oversimplified version of what took place. The Men of the Great Assembly took 10 excerpts from the Talmud that describes God with the words Baruch Sheamar to reflect the 10 commandments, or alternatively, 13 excerpts to reflect the 13 traits of God. They then drew a lottery, like how the land of Israel was divided, to decide the order in which this new prayer would be constructed with the results being comparable to have fallen from heaven. It would appear that the Rambam s version of Baruch Sheamar most resembles that of the longer S&P with a few variations. However, mystics such as Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz felt that there was an allusion to the shorter 87 word Baruch She amar in the phrase Ketem Paz = refined gold that appears in a number of pesukim in Tanach.
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However, in this instance, whilst the S&P communities distanced themselves from kabbalistic practices, it would appear that variations existed in Baruch Sheamar from an early period as evident from the writings of the Avudraham. It is also worthwhile noting the custom of the London and Amsterdam communities to include a mention of Shabbat, or the specific Yom Tov in the Baruch Sheamar. Let us now address the interesting issue of Birkat Kohanim in S&P communities. Later on I will explain why this is performed during the Shacharit service whilst most other communities do so in the repetition of the Musaf. Rabbi Shem Tov Gaguine notes that it is the custom in London that the priestly blessings be recited by the Shaliah Tsibbur alone, except for Yamim Tovim, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur when the Kohanim lift their hands (to bless the congregation). However, it is the custom in Amsterdam that each Shabbat the Kohanim lift their hands. This too is the custom in Morocco. However, in Israel, Syria, Turkey and Egypt the Kohanim have the custom of lifting their hands every day. However, the Minhag Ashkenaz is that this is only done on Yamim Tovim, although the Ashkenazim who have settled in Israel have followed the custom of the Sephardim (there) who bless the congregation each day, and this too is the Yeminite custom. It would seem from here that our custom should be for Kohanim to bless the congregation only on Yamim Tovim, Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur. So what has changed?

In Mishna Megillah we are told that when a Minyan is present, the Kohanim should bless the congregation. However, this custom slipped, apparently because it was the custom for Kohanim to immerse in a mikveh prior to blessing the congregation, and this was difficult to do each day in particular during the winter months. Therefore the custom developed to perform Birkat Kohanim only on a Yom Tov. Others have argued that the Birkat Kohanim ceased to be performed each day when the Jews were exiled. A Kohen must bless the congregation when they are B Simha happy, and this cannot be done when in exile. Even on Shabbat such Jews are troubled, and cannot find the true inner peace to perform this mitzvah. However, a number of these suggestions have been dismissed, and Rabbi Gaguine therefore provides more practical reasons why the London and Amsterdam community did not perform Birkat Kohanim each day. He notes that the reason for this is because it was difficult to find a Minyan for the weekday services, and furthermore even so, some in the community profaned the Shabbat in public due to their business pressures, and so in London they left it that the Kohanim would only bless on a Yom Tov in order that the process of Birkat Kohanim would not be entirely forgotten. However, in the Amsterdam community, they recited Birkat Kohanim each week. The reason for this was, according to Graetz, due to the close affiliation of the Dutch community with Shabbetai Tzvi. His followers said that soon we will return to Zion and rebuild the Temple and the Kohanim will return to their service, and therefore they began to perform Birkat Kohanim each week. Despite the origins of this
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custom, Rabbi Jacob Sasportas reached the conclusion that the custom should remain as it is, and therefore it remains a permanent reminder of this perplexing period of history. So why do the S&P now practice of reciting Birkat Kohanim each week? It would appear that the influx of Oriental Jews to our community who were used to a daily Birkat Kohanim, resulted in a compromise of a weekly blessing from the Kohanim. Alternatively, perhaps our Messianic aspirations have expressed themselves in a more frequent priestly blessing. I will now move onto another famous omission in the S&P prayerbook. That being the Brich Shme. Rabbi Gaguine writes that it is not the custom of the London and Amsterdam communities to recite Brich Shme when the ark is opened on Shabbat whilst this is done within the Oriental Sefardic communities and the Ashkenazic communities. Brich Shme, which literally means Praised be the Name is a kabbalistic prayer written in Aramaic. The prayer is quoted verbatim in the Zohar where we are told that when the Torah is taken out in public to be read from, the heavenly gates of mercy open and Divine Love awakens; therefore it is fitting one should recite Brich Shme . This prayer was adopted by synagogues in the time of the Ari z l when he came to Tsfat. This spread within Israel, Syria, Egypt and Turkey, but as Rabbi Gaguine writes, the prayer grew wings and spread across all of the Ashkenazic communities. However, the European Sefardic communities did not accept the institutions of the Ari which is why it is omitted in our liturgy.
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Earlier on I noted that it is the custom in S&P communities not to repeat the Musaf Amidah on Shabbat and therefore Birkat Kohanim is recited during Shacharit. Let us now consider why this is the case. Rabbi Gaguine writes that it is the custom in both London and Amsterdam not to repeat the [Shabbat] Musaf Amida. Instead, we say the first three brachot out loud, followed by the Kedusha, and then we recite the final three brachot aloud. The exceptions to this are the Musaf of the first day of Pesah, the eighth day of Sukkot and the Musaf of both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur because on such says different prayers are inserted in the repetition. However in Israel and in Egypt, Syria and Turkey it is the custom to repeat the Amida throughout the year, and this too is the practise throughout Ashkenazic communities. In fact, as explained elsewhere in the Keter Shem Tob, this is our custom for the weekday Minha. The question is why we shorten the Amida on these occasions? Rabbi Gaguine cites the responsa of the Rivash (Rabbi Yitzchak Ben Sheshet Perfet) who is of the opinion that despite it being more appropriate to repeat the Amida, those from Aragon had the practise not to do so because they were illiterate and were unable to recite the Amida from a siddur without great effort. It was therefore decided to create what has become known within the Askenazic discourse as the Hoiche Kedusha. In fact, Rabbi Gaguine notes that it would appear from the description of the Rivash that this was done for all the Amidot throughout the year. He then cites the responsa of the Rambam who argued that Hoiche kedusha was considered to be the wisest option in synagogues: because when the Shaliach Tzibbur repeats the Amida out loud,
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whoever has already prayed and therefore fulfilled their obligation then turns around to speak with their friend and when others less familiar with the prayers observe this, they do the very same, and by doing so the very reason why there is a repetition becomes obsolete . The Rambam s son not only echoed his fathers sentiments, but expressed how his father s decision was so significant that not even one authority challenged it during his lifetime. Rabbi Gaguine therefore explained that the reason why the London and Amsterdam communities adopted this custom was because many of the greatest scholars who travelled to Amsterdam in the 17th century came from Aragon and the surrounding areas who has this custom. Let me conclude with a brief analysis of the fascinating prayer of Aleynu. The Aleynu, which is recited at the end of each of our services, is one of the most misunderstood and mysterious tefillot in our liturgy. Rabbi Gaguine analyses this prayer in Keter Shem Tob Vol. 1 pgs. 103-106. HOW WE DIFFER? The Spanish & Portuguese communities of London and Amsterdam begin with the words Aleynu Leshabe ach it is our duty to praise ending with Ve al Ha aretz Mitachat Ein Od and upon the earth beneath, there is none else . However, the Sefardim of Israel and Syria, as well as Ashkenazim, recite a second paragraph beginning with the words Al Kein Nikaveh Therefore we put our hope , ending with Adonai Echad Ushemo Eachad is One and His name will be One . In addition to these differences, there has been a significant debate about the inclusion of a further phrase, based on Isaiah 30:7 and 45:20,
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which reads: Shehem Mishtahavim etc. for they bow down to vanity and emptiness and pray to a God that cannot save in the first of these paragraphs . Both the London and Amsterdam S&P communities include this phrase in the full-text, whereas other communities either omit this entirely, or print it in parentheses. WHY DO WE DIFFER? Rabbi Gaguine begins by noting that the reason why we omit the second paragraph of Al Kein could be due to the concern of Tircha D Tzibbura putting unnecessary strain on the community with the reason that both other Sefardic and Ashkenazic communities including it being due to the comment of Rabbi Moshe Ben Yehuda Makhir (16th Cent.) in his Seder HaYom that this prayer contains profound mysteries and suggestions, and its power is great. Interestingly, the Aleynu in all customs begins with the letter Ayin and ends with the letter dalet (just like the first line of the Shema), spelling the word Ed witness , as this prayer is a clear proclamation of God s kingship. However, we are then told as to why the Spanish & Portuguese communities of London and Amsterdam include the phrase Shehem Mishtahavim etc. for they bow down to vanity when others either leave it in parentheses of omit it completely. Rabbi Gaguine notes that all historians are aware that in the year 1399 the apostate Pesach Pitri gave evidence to the ruling Christians that the word Varik emptiness (see above) has the same numerical value (316) as Yeshu, and argued that this prayer was meant to slander and curse their messiah. In fact, he added that when Jews recite this prayer, they spit on the floor out of disgust to reiterate this message. Due to

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this the Jews suffered great persecution, which is why this line was omitted. Interestingly, Rabbi Gaguine notes that the Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, (1555-1630) author of the Shnei Luchot HaBrit , cites the practise of some communities spitting during the recitation of the Aleynu prayer, responding that this is utterly forbidden and we should strongly object to such practices. In fact, Rabbi Gaguine states that was aware of this practice during his lifetime. However, no Sefardic community ever behaved as such, showing great reverence to the fact that a synagogue is a miniature sanctuary where spitting is forbidden.

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