Volume 56 Number 58
                   Produced: Sun May 17 11:48:41 EDT 2009

Subjects Discussed In This Issue:

Congregational Minhagim and behavior
        [Carl Singer]
Local customs
        [Shmuel Himelstein]
A plurality of customs
        [Harlan Braude]
Plurality vs. Minority (2)
        [Martin Stern, David Ansbacher]


From: Carl Singer <carl.singer@...>
Date: Fri, 15 May 2009 06:29:05 -0400
Subject: Congregational Minhagim and behavior

(Formerly "A plurality of customs")

There are some congregations that have formal charters that spell out
broad brush policies - such as "orthodox" (Whatever that means at the
moment.), "Mechitza" (How high?), etc. -- and civil courts have dealt
with breeches of same. I doubt that many such documents go to the level
of detail sufficient to resolve all disputes.

I find that most annoyances (and I use the term advisedly) that occur
during the davening or within the operation of a congregation fall very,
very far below the threshold of the situation that Martin Stern is
confronted with. Martin's situation is not only severe, but it is
(fortunately) relatively rare.

{With apologies to Martin, I am not addressing his situation - just that
the discussion lead me to the following:}

Addressing the "annoyances" as I've dubbed them. For these I think of a
"customer service" model -- does the congregational leadership listen and
does it respond appropriately?

I'm sure many of us could fill pages with complaints. (Has anyone spoken
up at a board meeting with "I'm really happy the gabbaim asked plony to
daven last Shabbos" or "The pace of davening yesterday morning was just
right.") But, again, key is how does the congregational leadership
respond each congregant.

Many times I find myself focusing more on the leadership response then on
the circumstances of the issue. Has the leadership given appropriate
respect and "ear" to the person bringing the issue.



From: Shmuel Himelstein <himels@...>
Date: Fri, May 15, 2009 at 3:47 AM
Subject: Local customs

If you want to see what the different customs of various Jewish Edot are,
go to:


This is the Web version of a book put out about 30 years ago by the
religious department of the Israeli Ministry of Education. It is all in
Hebrew. It is divided up by both a) Edot and b) festivals, etc.

There is one custom listed there that I have never understood. It states
that when Moroccan Jews hide the Chametz before Bedikat Chametz, they
hide, along with the Chametz, little pieces of liver. No one that I have
asked has known why this is so.

Shmuel Himelstein


From: Harlan Braude <hbraude@...>
Date: Fri, May 15, 2009 at 11:07 AM
Subject: Re: A plurality of customs

In Vol. 56 #56 Russell Hendel wrote:

     Why not have a similar idea for shule squabs. Why not REQUIRE
     synagogues to put in their charter that "We endorse lack of
     tolerance for violations of LO TONU (causing anguish) and respect
     Din Torah when violation have caused damages (I havent worked out
     all details)"

     My point is why not put our BELIEFS into the SYNAGOGUE charters
     and make srue that SYNAGOGUE monetarily obligate themselves to
     recompense members who have been violated (e.g. by refunding
     dues). A Rabbi over a synagogue with such a charter would think
     twice before abusing someone

I empathize with Russell and others on this point, but there comes a
point where legislation and penalties are superfluous. Must an Orthodox
synagogue explicitly insert a copy of the Torah (Shulchan Aruch?) in
it's charter and state that it won't tolerate violations? Such
redundancy borders on the inane.

If a synagogue and the Rabbi it hires has no respect for Din Torah,
perhaps its time to find (found?) another synagogue.

On the other hand, it's seems perfectly reasonable for the same
synagogue to put in its charter that it accepts the authority of a
particular Beis Din or organization for adjudicating disputes.


From: Martin Stern <md.stern@...>
Date: Fri, May 15, 2009 at 6:56 AM
Subject: Re: Plurality vs. Minority

On Thu, 14 May 2009, Yisrael Medad <ybmedad@...> wrote:

> As for Martin's query about what to do, from his description of the
> case, it would seem that he is in the minority of the synagogue and
> that there is an opposing position in the plurality.  If Martin is the
> only German customs inspired member left, let us surmise, could he
> have the power to deny the schule the right to alter its character
> within the Orthodox framework?  At some point, he must give in. Life
> exists even outside the Beth Din.

As Yisrael should have understood from my position statement in 56#54, I
am open to persuasion about any change but this would not seem to
satisfy the rabbi and his supporters.

Perhaps I should explain a bit of the history behind the dispute so that
the documents I submitted can be seen in their proper context.

In Spring '05, the current rabbi offered his resignation and a small
clique took advantage of this to get a rabbi appointed who would further
their agenda of changing the ethos of the shul, though this background
motivation was carefully hidden. As a result their preferred candidate
was appointed and he began by calling a general meeting at which we were
supposed to vote on his proposals which were not disclosed in
advance. In the event there was no vote as the rabbi simply stated "I am
in charge and what I say goes.  If you don't like the changes I am
making, you go and daven elsewhere."

Because of this, 8 members distributed a letter (below) to the
membership suggesting that there might be a more amicable way of making
progress. I must admit drafting the letter though it was originally
proposed by someone else and represented the views of all the
signatories. However within days of its distribution I received a letter

"In the light of recent events, we regret that we have been left with no
choice but to inform you that, until you accept unconditionally the
authority of the rav and all his decisions pertaining to the shul and
unreservedly apologise to the rav you will not be welcome in shul and
your membership is hereby suspended."

I consulted some senior rabbanim in Manchester and was told that they
had no right to write in these terms and that I should simply ignore the
letter and continue attending as usual.

Through intimidation and general unpleasantness, about half the regular
membership of about 30 were eventually driven out and most others who
had reservations were cowed into silence, producing a majority in favour
of his program, a technique familiar to students of mid-20th century
European history.

This stand off went on for about a year after which they decided to post
guards to prevent my entry. I was left with little choice but to resort
to a Din Torah. The first meeting was called for 22 July '07 but was
postponed because they claimed that they needed more time to brief a
legal representative. In the end the first session took place on 4
November, 15 weeks later. Only three members of the executive turned up
and, when challenged, claimed they had not realised that all would be
required to do so. The rabbi's absence was noted since his input would
have been essential.  One of them signed the shtar birurim accepting the
BD as a court of arbitration "on behalf of the Executive and Rov" (his
words written in his hand on the shtar) and we proceeded a preliminary
discussion of the case.  Since we could not proceed to the substantive
case of my expulsion we adjourned, having first agreed that the Dayan
should decide on the question of shul's minhagim in the interim.

Despite efforts to call a resumed meeting, the other side prevaricated
so he issued the psak, that I posted previously, on 11 Feb. '08. A few
days later, the rabbi's representative wrote back that he "did not agree
to participate in this Din Torah and is not prepared to do so ... [he]
was not and is not prepared to put his Halachik decisions to a court of
appeal."  (Incidentally, on his own admission, he did not have hatarat
hora'ah when he took the post and, to the best of my knowledge, still
does not.)

This response is surprising on several counts. If he had had any
reservations about this, it would have been expected that he would have
written to the Beth Din to say so and not simply have ignored its
original summons. Such behaviour would have been considered contempt of
court in civil proceedings.

Furthermore it is hardly likely that there had not been discussions
between him and the Adass Yeshurun Executive between the sending of the
original summons for a hearing on 22 July '07 and the actual meeting
over three months later in which he could have clarified to them his
opposition to the case being heard under the auspices of the Manchester
Beth Din.

However, there was no way his highly unlikely claim could be disproved
so the whole case collapsed. The only way forward would be to issue
civil proceedings in the Crown Court but that would lead to the Chillul
Hashem of unpleasant publicity in the non-Jewish press which I would
wish to avoid at all costs.

Martin Stern

8 May '06
Dear Member,

We write to you in response not only to the recent letter circulated
with the summer timetable but also the worrying trends we perceive in
our shul over the last year or so.

As is fairly obvious, something is seriously wrong when at least six
members (almost 15%), who joined relatively recently because of our
unique ethos and participated regularly in our activities, have left,
and no new members have joined, in such a short period, resulting in a
noticeably much emptier shul at almost every tefillah. This trend is
likely to continue as more members become disenchanted with the
authoritarian approach of our executive who have made changes without
first even trying to win over a consensus among the regular mitpallelim.

While some changes may be necessary, it is our belief that they should
be only those that fit into the general ethos for which the shul was
established and, then, only once such a consensus has been established.
An example of a beneficial innovation was the introduction of a short
Dvar Torah on the sedra by the Rov on Friday evenings between minchah
and maariv in the winter when Shabbat comes in early.

The argument that the shul is declining because its Teutonic style does
not appeal to the children of members is not entirely correct; the major
factor inhibiting attendance is that they no longer live in the
area. All non-Chassidic shuls, not just in Broughton Park, have suffered
from this problem.

Though the executive consider that making changes which will transform
the shul from a 'Yekkishe' style to a more 'Yeshivishe' one will bring
in new members, we are very doubtful whether this will be the case. The
shul will still have a reputation based on its past which will take many
years to change, by which time it may well have ceased to exist,
especially in the light of the current rate of attrition.

We also feel that trying to be 'like all the other shuls' is an
intrinsically flawed approach. We consider that it would be better to
build on our own basic ethos of Torah im derekh erets, which has
attracted new members in the past who felt more at home with it than the
style in other shuls despite not coming from a German Jewish
background. No one will respect us if we pretend to be anything other
than what we are. We have a unique approach to Yiddishkeit which does
attract others and we should do the 'market research' needed to identify
them rather than chasing the mirage of a 'Yeshivishe welt'. In any case,
why should anyone wish to join an imitation of a 'Yeshivishe' shul when
they can join a genuine one.

Having consulted with our Rov, we feel that everything must be done to
remove the ill-feeling caused by the executive's failure to consult with
the general membership on these fundamental matters. He agrees that this
can only be done if there is a moratorium on change so that matters can
settle down. Accusations that some members are motivated by selfishness,
and demands that they should leave the shul if they will not accept
their program unconditionally, can only have exactly the opposite effect
and should not be allowed to exacerbate the situation.

It should be recognised that, despite differences of opinion, we all
sincerely wish to see the shul succeed in the future as a centre of
Torah and tefillah, contributing to the overall vibrant growth of the
local Jewish community. Imputation of base motives to those with whom
one disagrees as to how it can best be done is hardly the way to achieve

Yours sincerely
8 named members

Sent: Friday, 15 May, 2009 12:32:12
From: David Ansbacher <dansbacher@...>
Subject: Re: Plurality vs. Minority

In reply to Yisroel, I was also expelled from the Shul in question for
expressing my objection to the changes to nusach and minhogim that they
put into effect. Many other members voted with their feet (approximately
50% of the regular mispallelim).

My father z'l was one of the founder members of the shul after being
released from Dachau concentration camp in December 1918 and escaping
hell. I had davened in the shul all my life. Although under the
circumstances, I had given up my membership, I still attended two shiurim
in the shul, one of which I have attended for forty years.
I received a letter from the executive of the shul, telling me that I am
barred from the building and must no longer attend these shiurim.
Maybe now you get a clearer picture of what we are up against.
The shul was unique in Manchester for its minhogim, nusach and niggunim
and I have not yet found another shul here where I would feel

So much for plurality.

David Ansbacher


End of Volume 56 Issue 58