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Is Chabad Ashkenazic or Sephardic in its customs, Hebrew pronunciation, etc.?

Is Chabad Ashkenazic or Sephardic in its customs, Hebrew pronunciation, etc.?

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The answer to your question is both and neither. Allow me to explain:

Chabad, as well as all other chassidic groups, finds its roots in Eastern Europe, which was the home to much of Ashkenazic Jewry. As such, initially, most of Chabad’s adherents were of Ashkenazic origin.

Historically, however, Sephardic Jews were always more mystically inclined than their Ashkenazic brethren, as evidenced by the fact that the majority of the famed Jewish mystics were Sephardic. Thus Sephardic traditions and customs have always placed greater emphasis on the mystical, and are more in line with Kabbalistic tradition.

Chassidism in general, and specifically Chabad Chassidism, places a great emphasis on Kabbalistic teachings. For this reason, the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, incorporated many Sephardic traditions into the primarily Ashkenazic practices of his Eastern European constituency. Many of these differences involved the order and wording of the prayers.

Since chassidic tradition incorporates many elements of Sephardic tradition, the prayer text used by chassidim actually came to be known as nusach sephard (“Sephardic version”), while the prayer text of the “real” Sephardim is commonly referred to as nusach sepharadi (prayer version of the Sephardic Jews), or nusach edot hamizrach (version of the eastern communities).

So the answer is that, for the most part, Chabad tradition was always Ashkenazic with a Sephardic twist.

I would point out that although Chabad did originate in Ashkenazic lands, the philosophy of Chabad is not any more Ashkenazic than it is Sephardic. The core principles of Chabad—the focus on chochmah, binah and da’at (wisdom, understanding and knowledge), in one’s service of G‑d—are equally important to all Jews. Today there are many Sephardic Jews affiliated with Chabad, many of whom have maintained their Sephardic backgrounds and complemented them with Chabad teachings and traditions.

Indeed, the Rebbe was asked several times by Sephardic Jews who had adopted chassidic practices whether they should alter their Sephardic Hebrew pronunciation in favor of the Ashkenazic pronunciation prevalent amongst Ashkenazic chassidim. The Rebbe responded that there is no reason for them to do so; to the contrary, he advised them to maintain the traditions of their ancestors.

Yours truly,

Rabbi Menachem Posner

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org. He lives with his family in Montreal, QC.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Discussion (12)
October 7, 2011
Jewish Customs
Part 2:

There is no wrong doing in Judaism to bring our ancestors tradition and give a different flavor to the prayers without changing or modifying the content, as long as there is no modification, there’re all kosher and equal. We should learn from one another and follow all major teachings like Tanya, Rambam, Kabalah and many more to elevate ourselves and people around us, like a garden which is composed of different flowers with different color and smell and all together as one is what makes the garden to be called a garden. That's my understanding of Chabad.

Shanah Tova vGamar Khatima Tova, may this year be the year that together we work harder than ever to be able to see the coming of Moshiach BenDavid.
Dr. Eli BenDavid
Haifa, Israel
October 7, 2011
Jewish Customs
Part 1:
I'm a mizrahi Jew who’s been following Chabad for over 13 years. As an example, I use Chitas everyday; however, I still love singing the teffilas like mizrahis and that’s the way I could have kavanah while davening. The beauty of Chabad is that it unites all branch of Judaism and at the same time gives the flexibility to maintain our tradition, we had many Asheknazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi Jews davening all together and praying as one entity. Seeing different hair color and hearing tefilas with different pronunciation while reading Torah and Siddur is like being in heaven and seeing and smelling different flowers, each has its own beauty and uniqueness which was created by ribono shel olam for a purpose.I appreciate R’ Posner’s article which concludes with Rebbe’s view. I do believe there is only one branch of Judaism and that is the one thought by Moshe Rabeinu. So we all are on the same boat who’s departed from one point and will arrive at its final destination B"H. Part 2 coming:
Dr. Eli BenDavid
Haifa, Israel
September 25, 2011
One Jewish World!
In view of this new world, it is imperative that both come together as one. The new technology helps us achieve this giant step towards each other. However, It is also very important that each one keeps their traditions as they are both so inspiring and beautiful. We can learn from each other and apply this knowledge to our benefit as a Jewish people. I have seen in the past how heartbreaking it was for both sides to be divided, it is time to join forces especially facing our enemies.
Feigele
Boca Raton, Florida
September 22, 2011
Ashk not how to Sepharate
After having moved to B'er-Shev'a באר שבע from Philly, I usually prayed (& joined ) Nusahh Spharad congregations. My late father {ז"ל} informed me that his dad had also davened that way in Strawberry Mansion. This city is overwhelmingly North African & East Med. There is everything else, too. Ethiopian, Indian, Yemenite, Central Asian, etc. We ought to remember that circa 200 years ago there were approximately200 different prayer traditions just in Italy. Even today, there are many variations within each of the 'big 3' just as in who eats what on Passover. There are the variations regarding the Qhadeesh. קדישץ (When, who-wording) The refrain of אמן -ברוך הוא for which I use one at times and the other at other times. As we approach the day to heed the call of the horn יום ה שופר; I reminded of the variations as per how it is sounded. e.g. Is Teruah staccato or just nearly so. Several subtle variations in Shvareem. There are variations even in Tequiya. Please discuss?
Z'ev זאב בן אהרהם Freed
באר שבע, ישראל
September 22, 2011
Chabad is Ashkenazic or Sephardic ...?
Thanks Rabbi Posner for the article. Chabad illuminates my path filling up many gaps regardless if I am of Ashkenazic or Sephardic tradition. It's a pity and sad to learn that some Rabbis still make differences or question one or other tradition.
Yosii Mondelli
September 22, 2011
Oy Veh and Alleluyah!
Here we go again with siblings bickering, Even someone pretending being more Jewish than others!!! How so? Was Abraham Ashkenazic or Sephardic? Does G-d divide us in two different categories? You are what and where your parents came from and how they survived to stay Jewish, being one or the other.
In view of this new world, it is imperative that both come together as one. The new technology helps us achieve this giant step towards each other. However, It is also very important that each one keeps their traditions as they are both so inspiring and beautiful. We can learn from each other and apply this knowledge to our benefit as a Jewish people. I have seen in the past how heartbreaking it was for both sides to be divided, it is time to join forces especially facing our enemies.
Feigele
Brisbane, Australia
September 22, 2011
Benyamin Uriah's comments
.As an Ashenazii who is married to a Sephardi, I have experienced first-hand the rich cultural heritage that both groups have contributed to our nation. It's important to point out that neither group has supremacy over the other, certainly not in HaShem's eyes, so to speak -- and whoever acts otherwise is sorely undermining our unity, which we know (historically) is a cause of internal strife and HaShem's displeasure, G-d forbid.
Therefore, as distressing as Mr. Uriah's comment is about misdirected Ashkenazim questioning his legitamacy as a Jew due to his Sephardi heritage, so is it most unfortunate that he was taught that Sephardic Jews are "more Jewish" than their Ashkenazic brethren.
We must remember that the distinction between the 2 groups came about as a result of the Diaspora and our long Exile, which we are propagating by such tragic comments as "My group is better than yours"!
I hope Mr. Uriah realizes this and has risen above any hurtful remarks.
Anonymous
Jerusalem, Israel
September 22, 2011
Ashkenazic or Sephardic custom or other branch?
I read a lot of discussions about this topic. People argue whose custom is more important, who follows / keeps more Jewish heritage. This debate was also transferred to the religious schools: separated Sephardi and Ashkenazi schools. Why can't all leading Rabbis come together and make some constructive change to combine all orthodox branches. Our division as any division is not good. We need to be United. A reason why we have so many branches is gone, communication makes us closer to each other.
M.M.
Jerusalem, Israel
September 21, 2011
Two traditions
I recently was asked to fill out a form, during a concert of Iranian Jewish chanting, prior to Rosh Hashona. The questionnaire asked whether I was Sephardic or Ashkenazi in terms of Jewishness. I had trouble answering this, because of the split in my background, as part of my family is Ashkenazi and the other part, Sephardic. It was really the first time, strangely, that I had to think about this, and both were correct.

I found this piece on Chabad very interesting and informative. Certainly so many of the articles are about Kabbalah, the spiritual roots of Judaism.

It's interesting for us all, to investigate our past, because many of us, I believe, are related to people who were rabbis and religious leaders and somehow, I think this is passed on. I know many in my family were famous Kabbalists and rabbis. Sadly for us all, so much information and knowledge was destroyed by the pogroms and of course, the Holocaust.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
September 19, 2011
Don't judge a movement based on a Rabbi. There are many Chabad rabbis who embrace sephardim and settle in countries so EVERYONE has a place to daven. Chabads movement is not meant to "change" everyone to become Chabad, only to provide a place where any Jew can go and feel at home.
Chabanika
Los Angeles
chabadsola.com
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