Monday, August 31, 2009

Learning a new nusach

Our Toronto beit midrash is housed in the Clanton Park shul, which davens a nusach that varies from my own.

[There are different versions - nuschaot - of traditional prayer, most popularly Nusach Ashkenaz, Sfard and Nusach Ari. The variations between them do not touch fundamental biblical obligations, but they do include variant texts of berachot, changes in the order of the introductory “psukei d'zimra” davening and the concluding parts of davening, and a couple of elements which exist in one version and not another.]

I enjoy aspects of using this new nusach. Saying “ויצמח פורקניה ויקרב משיחיה (May His redemption sprout forth, and may His messiah come soon)” in kaddish is a big plus for me, as is the Keter version of kedushah.

But I am having trouble with tachanun. Specifically, I am having trouble with viduy and with the yud-gimel midot harachamim [13 attributes of Divine mercy].

After the morning amidah, everyone immediately launches into viduy – Ashamnu, Bagadnu, Gazalnu – the paragraph of prayer with which we acknowledge our sins and apologize for them. But everyone says it so quickly! I'm used to saying this paragraph on fast days, and in the period leading up to Yom Kippur. I'm used to adding my personal foibles and contemplating each word, thinking through the things that I have done wrong or that I have not done right, but all around me people are klopping ashamnubagadnugazalnu and they're on the next paragraph before I've gotten anywhere. [I'm not the only one; I was in a meeting with a leading Toronto posek last week, and he complained about the same thing.]

Then, after speedreading viduy, they invoke the 13 attributes of Divine mercy that HaShem taught Moshe (Sh'mot 33). I can't keep up with that recitation, either; these represent the most intimate words uttered by HaShem to Moshe, פה אל פה, directly, a formula to be invoked when seeking Divine mercy throughout the generations – and I'm going to treat them like the fine-print legalese at the end of a car commercial?

I know that the people around me, who have been reciting these paragraphs daily for all of their halachic lives, are able to concentrate on them more concisely than I can. But I can't do it. Certainly, I could say the words as quickly as they do – but what would be the point?

So for now, I'll stand silently and wait while they say these tefillot. And I'll look forward to kaddish, and answering Amen to ויצמח פורקניה ויקרב משיחיה.


  1. You should try davening in a minyan that davens Edit HaMizrach.

    I've started davening at a Sfardi shul on weekdays (convenient time and location), and on Mondays and Thursdays they have a VERY L O N G Tachanun including repeating the 13 Midot about 8 times (Tachanun can take up to 10 minutes)

    I've learned that it is easiest to say my regular shorter Ashkenaz Tachanun, then spend the next 5 minutes or so catching up on Parshat Shavua until the minyan is ready for kriyat haTorah.

  2. Interesting halachic question if it's obvious that you are not saying the 13 middot - similar to not saying aleinu with a minyan that is saying it? not saying tachanun (nfilat apaim) when a minyan is saying it?

    Joel RIch

  3. Michael-
    I hear, but I have this minyan because it's the shul where our beit midrash meets. (In truth, that will change anyway when I start doing school drop-offs and need to contort my schedule to those times...)

    Yes, I believe this is an issue. I hold my fist in place so for all the world I appear to be saying viduy.

  4. Rabbi,

    When I first started coming to Sons to say Kaddish daily, I was really feeling very lost & it was difficult for me to keep up -- even in English! After davening daily for 7 months now, I'm able to follow along now, start getting the meaning, etc. At one point early on, it dawned on me that the men who were davening so fast had probably been doing this since they were boys, and I was not brought up with davening regularly (so I stopped feeling so bad for not being able to keep up much of the time). Sometimes, I still get flustered even over Mourner's Kaddish when the others are going too fast and/or are not reciting in unison.

    Anyway, I think what you are going through is actually somewhat similar to my experience with my lack of Hebrew fluency and my inexperience with the daily service. (I do need to note, howeveer, that you were always one of the easiest of the readers to follow, going at a reasonable pace.)

    Not sure if it's relevant to what you'll teach, but this experience can help as a learning for your students to gain a little more sensitivity to people with whom they daven who are struggling (but trying not to let it show.)

  5. Two KBY-related comments:

    1) My Shana Aleph in KBY, Rav Rivlin (the mashgiach ruchani) was a mourner for much of the year, and he davened for the amud almost every davening of the year. I have certain phrases of nusach sefard davening ingrained in my mind in his deep, almost growling voice. It was quite strange when I realized more than a year later that his personal nusach is Ashkenaz.

    2) Rav Rubinstein (the posek in KBY) in one of his halacha talks after davening talked about the problem that kohanim (who just duchaned) must still get back to their seats before starting vidui, and often don't have time to say all of it. His solution was to skip Ashamnu etc. and just say Chatasi Avisi Pashati. Perhaps if you would adopt that, you could say those three words with the appropriate kavana, get to the 13 middos at the same time as everyone else, start with them, and say it slowly.

    I have a lot of fondness for nusach sefard - v'yatzmach and kedushas keser have a lot to do with it.

  6. I have a lot of fondness for nusach sefard -
    which points to a separate issue - nusach kol hayashar beinav yaaseh - more common these days in some quarters.imho a revisiting of the general issue of minhag avot would be in order.

    Joel Rich

  7. when i'm in a place that davens Nusaḥ [Pseudo-]Sfard, i respond to ויצמח פורקניה ויקרב משיחיה with the next phrase in the the Yemenite Nusaḥ, ויפרוק עמיה, although Yemenites have no אמן pause there.

  8. I have that problem even in my own nusach (I've posted my annoyance with the 15 minute Shabbos pesukei de-zimrah before; in shuls that do this make an effort to come early and to start that part of the davening earlier than they do.) During the week, I often say the Rambam's pesukei de-zimrah if I'm davening with Ashkenazim, who often speed through the hodu through az yashir too quickly for me to even pronounce the words properly, in the spirit of tov ma'et be-kavvanah me-harbot be-lo kavvanah. That would also be my humble advice to you. On the flip-side, why not just do your own vidduy at your own speed, and simply respond to the 13 middot, and not worry about how fast they're going?

  9. Joseph-
    Because I wouldn't finish viduy in time for the 13, and even if I did then I would not finish the 13 before Ashrei...

  10. I've long since given up trying to keep up with my "Kaddish minyan." (For the record, no local synagogue in my dying Jewish community gets a minyan anymore for a weekday service, so I have to take the subway to another shul to say Kaddish for my mother.) I simply made up my mind that I would davven/pray every word of the Matbeiach shel Tefillah (rough translate: the hard-core required parts of the service, from Bar'ch/Yotzer Or through the end of the Amidah), and consider anything else gravy.

    Years ago, I decided that I was so tired of being at least a page behind the chazzan/cantor of our local shul on Shabbatot/Sabbaths and the Shalosh Regalim/Pilgrimage Festivals that I would davven through the Amidah prayer at home, just so that I could davven at my own (snail's) pace.

    Like Fruma, "I was not brought up with davening regularly," and it will probably be a few more years before I can keep up. It's really quite discouraging to be just barely finished the Amidah when Mourner's Kaddish starts, but I'm getting better. I'm glad I started davvening the daily services on a regular basis a few years ago, or I'd be even farther behind.

  11. Hi Shira,

    Would you consider starting ahead of the shul? I have recommended that to people for daily minyan, with some success.