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Minhagim for Converts (Bnei Menashe)

Minhagim for Converts (Bnei Menashe)

By Rav David Lhungdim

Minhagim: A convert is free to choose which set of Jewish customs (minhagim) the convert wishes to adopt (Ashkenazi, Sephard, Sephardi, Edot Hamizrakh, etc). A convert is under no obligation to adopt the customs of their biological homeland (so a gentile born in Ukraine need not adopt minhag Ashkenazi) as long as the convert adopts an existent halachic culture (Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh le Gerim, introduction).

Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l indicates that a convert in Israel ought to become Sephardi (Yekhave Daat 5:33 see also Kitzur Yalkut Yosef Dinei Orez O.C 453:12-14), but this limitation is not accepted by the Ashkenazi community.

Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach wrote that a convert should choose a community to join and adopt that community practices (Halikhot Shelomo, Moadim pg. 91).

HaRav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l, wrote regarding those who refrain from eating rice and Kitniyoth on Pesach and they continue to practice their minhag in Israel, can their children change their minhag after they come to live in Eretz Israel and follow the leniency according to Maran and Geonei Sefarad, like the minhag of Eretz Israel, or should they continue the minhag of their forefathers.

It's written in Pesakhim (50b), that the children of Bishan were accustomed to going from Tzur to Tzidon on eve of Shabbat, (Rashi explain that the eve of Shabbat was a market day) their children came to Rabbi Yokhanan, and ask our forefather were able to accustom themselves to refrain from going from Tzur to Tzidon, but we can’t, Rabbi Yokhanan told them that your forefather has accepted that custom, and it is written: “hear my son…and do not part away from the instruction of your mother.”

The Rivash wrote that a community can pass an enactment for them and for their children as we see them in the story of the incident of Givah in the Book of Judges (Bava Bathra 121a), see also Ramban on Pesakhim (50b), and about the son of Bishan Rabbi Yokhanan told them that their forefather has accepted the custom and they should accept that custom, and if their forefather could not rule an enactment for their children how come it be forbidden for the children to go against the customs of their forefather…thus according to this rule it is forbidden for the children to follow leniency against the customs of their forefather, as it is written do not forsake the instruction of your mother.

But the truth is there is no proof from here because only if the whole community in the city follows a certain stringency, their children are obligated to follow that custom but if only a certain family in the city follows some stringency their children need not follow such custom of their forefather, as the book "Masa HaMelekh” wrote one need distinguish the difference (56), even though the children of Bishan are obligated to follow the custom of their father (Pesakhim 50b)it seems that the children need to follow their forefather custom, because of the verse “do not forsake the instruction of your mother”, we see in our days, that if the father observes some stringency the children need not observe that stringency, go and learned from the city of Slonika that many Rabbis accepted and observe the custom to fast two days of Yom Kippur (as the ReMa wrote in Siman 624), their children after them did not observe that custom. See also what Mar Ukva said in Khulin (105a) that his father abstain from milk after he eat meat until the next day, but he abstain from one meal to another meal, therefore it seems that only when the whole community in the city accepted certain stringency as we found in the incident of the children of Bishan, the minhag (custom) also fall upon their children after them like vows as the Rivash wrote, but if a certain individual follows certain stringency their children after them need not follow such custom…

There is a way to observe the leniency of the law that we mention… according to what Gedolei Akharonim wrote, only if the majority of the community in the city accepted a minhag, their children are not permitted to follow a leniency view, because of “don’t forsake the instruction of your mother,” which would not apply to individual minhag. Thus wrote Rabbi Yosef Khaim in his Responsa “Rav Pealim” (Yore Deah Siman 23) a stringency Minhag of observing by an individual, or minhag which is not clear whether the whole community accepted or not, their children need not continue to follow such minhag of their forefather…(see also Shulkhan Gevoa Siman 453 end of Saif Katan 5, and Responsa Meat Maim end of Siman 79) and about the ruling that we mention even if all the community practice the stringency rule when they are outside the land of Israel, when they come to settle in the land of Israel with the intention not to return to outside Israel, they are permitted to follow the leniency that is minhag of Eretz Israel, as Maran rule in his Responsa “Shut Avkat Rokhel” (Siman 212).

Therefore a person can follow leniency in Eretz Israel since Maran is Mara Deathra (Rav of the Place) in Israel and many in Israel have accepted the ruling of Maran, thus their children in Eretz Israel need not follow their forefather minhag which they practice outside Israel, for out of Tzion will come to Torah, and they are permitted to eat rice and Kitniyoth and it good to do (hatara) annulment of vows (for detail see Yekhave Daat khelek 1-2siman 12, Kitzur Yalkut Yosef Siman 453:13).

Ger Tzedek (proselyte) that convert to Israel, should follow the ruling of Maran HaShulkhan Arukh, whether it be stringency or leniency, even if his forefather were from the land of Ashkenazi, and even if his father was from Ashkenazi country and his mother was a gentile since he did not have all relations with his father, he needs to convert, thus he should follow the minhag of the place of where he gets his convert, and the Rav of the place, that is Maran for we have accepted his ruling, therefore he should pray according to the Nusach of Sephardim and Eduth Mizrakh since it is the accurate Nusakh according to Ariz”l of blessed memory. (Kitzur Yalkut Yosef 453:14, for details see Yabia Omer Khelek 6 siman 10).

Conclusion: A convert can choose any existing minhag and adopt that minhag whether it be Ashkenazi, Sephardic, etc (Kitzur S.A for Gerim by Rabbi Mikhael Broyde, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach on Halikhot Shelomo Moadim pg 91), but according to Harav Ovadia Yosef and other Poskim a convert should follow the ruling of Maran Ha Shulkhan Arukh and pray according to the Siddur of Nusach Sephardim and Eduth Ha Mizrakh, therefore, for converts like us, the Benei Menashe, I think it is preferable to accept and follow the Sephardi minhag so as to avoid dispute among our great Rabbis. (To be continued).

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