Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Yeshiva's Minhag Over Your Family's?

A Jewish wedding ceremony, like many other religious rites and ceremonies, is governed by many laws and customs.  One such instance is the period of yichud -- seclusion -- that the bride and groom spend together right after the chuppah

It should be pointed out, however, that this is *only* the case for Ashkenazim.  When a Sefardi couple gets married, they do not go to the yichud room.  For them, yichud is performed when the couple goes home after the ceremony.  In fact, Rav Yitzchock Yosef considers the idea of a yichud room during the wedding so repugnant that he called it "ugly" and "vulgar."  I don't think it's proper for a Rav to call a mainstream Ashkenazi minhag "ugly" and "vulgar" I made my point on that in the linked post)-- but that's really beside the point.  The main point for our purposes is that there are strong opposition in at least some Sephardi circles against the practice of going into the yichud room.

With this background information, we can look at a recent event.  Rafi, over at Life In Israel, reports on a recent wedding where a Sephardi couple was married.  The chosson attended an Ashkenazi yeshiva and his Rosh Yeshiva and friends from the Yeshiva were in attendance.  The Rosh Yeshiva directed that the chosson and kallah should go immediately after chuppah to the yichud room, in accordance with the Ashkenazic custom.  The chosson refused, intending to follow the custom of his family and the new bride's family.  When the chosson refused, the Rosh Yeshiva announced that he was leaving and ordered all the bochrim from the yeshiva to leave with him.  Fortunately, Rav Raphael Cohen, a guest at the wedding knew someone at a local Sephardi yeshiva, where they had the boys stop learning and go be mesameach (make merry with dancing) the chosson and kallah.

To me, there are some very troubling aspects to this story:

1.  Since when does the minhag of the yeshiva overrule the family minhag of the bride and groom?  Do they also expect their Sephardi students to refrain from eating kitniyos on Pesach in their homes?  Would they say that it's all right for an Ashkenzi student attending a Sephardi yeshiva to skip the yichud room?  I don't think so.  Minhagim have long been observed on the basis of inheriting them from your family, not on the basis of what yeshiva you attend.  Perhaps there is some basis after all to the fear that some Sephardim in Israel have that their minhagim and other cultural attributes are being slowly eroded by the Ashkenazim.

2.  Ultimately, a wedding is valid, even according to Ashkenazim, if the chosson and kallah never go into the yichud room during the wedding.  As long as there are witnesses that they went home together (and were alone together) after the wedding, the wedding would be 100% valid.  On the other hand, embarrassing the bride, groom and their families is a transgression of a Torah prohibition.  How could the Rosh Yeshiva possibly think that his custom (or the custom of his yeshiva, if you will) possibly overrides that?

The Wolf

UPDATE (3/17/11):  A commentator has offered an alternate version of the events.  I have no way of knowing which is true or not, so take your pick.


Anonymous said...

That's what happens when you assimilate.

ProfK said...

More troubling to me is the timing and place of the incident. Is this student the only Sefardi Jew the rosh yeshiva has ever met or heard about? Has he never heard that there are definitely minhag differences between Ashkenazim and Sefardim across a whole spectrum of practices? Common sense would dictate that he should have asked his student what kinds of minhagim were going to be in place throughout the wedding. If he had a problem with the minhag of no yichud room after the chupah this should have been stated well before the wedding.

We are told to be m'sameach choson v'kallah at a wedding and that nothing should disturb their joy.They are to be treated like a king and queen at their wedding. How do you reconcile that edict with making what is nothing less than a public spectacle/scandal with negative and hurtful vibes?

G*3 said...

> Do they also expect their Sephardi students to refrain from eating kitniyos on Pesach in their homes?

Yes. I think this Rosh Yeshiva would.

> Would they say that it's all right for an Ashkenzi student attending a Sephardi yeshiva to skip the yichud room?

Of course not. Ashkenazi Eastern-European minhagim are considered the norm. I wrote a post a while back about this phenomenon:

The poor couple. Having guys from another yeshiva come was a good idea, but it’s not the same as having your friends there.

> Is this student the only Sefardi Jew the rosh yeshiva has ever met or heard about?

The Rosh Yeshiva is a Spehardi himself.

Garnel Ironheart said...

There is a drive in the Chareidi Ashkenazi world to create a uniform type of "Orthodox Judaism" that will be considered the only legitimate form of Torah observance. To that end, any variant of Orthodoxy that does not conform will be declared illegitimate or hounded into conformity.
Hence you have efforts by Roshei Yeshivah, even Sephardi ones, to change centuries old minhagim because the Ashkenazi counter-minhag has been declared to be the only legitimate one. That's why you see Sephardi Chareidim wearing black hats and suits. That's why this rabbi ruined his student's wedding. Why would he tolerate the student's obviously lack of frumkeit? Why would he participate in something that the Torah obviously forbids?
It's my guess that within 25 years kitniyos will be outlawed amongst Sephardim, they'll all start waiting 6 hours after meat and within 50 years claims will be made that those minhagim were only ever performed out of ignorance of the real way they should have behaved.

Sam said...

The R"Y has a right to refuse to participate in a ceremony he believes isn't properly following halacha. (Even if there are other valid shittos that disagree with him and hold it is a proper ceremony.)

G*3 said...

> The R"Y has a right to refuse to participate in a ceremony he believes isn't properly following halacha.

He may have been within his rights to do what he did, but what he did isn’t right.

Ezzie said...

While the RY's actions seem really wrong, #1 is actually not such a clear cut question. Minhag has in the past gone by community - I've heard that while people usually take on their husband's minhagim upon marriage, that's because wives used to move to live by their husbands. But when for whatever reason a husband moved into the in-laws' community, he would adopt their minhagim and not his wife adopt his.

My father has sometimes noted picking up certain minhagim of his in one of the yeshivos he was in as well.

It could be that the RY felt it an affront that the bochur was not following the minhagim of the Yeshiva of which he was a part, and that that was a slap not just at him but at the whole yeshiva, though I think the reaction a bit extreme.

jrs said...

Even if the rosh yeshiva really, ridiculously, "felt it an affront that the bochur was not following the minhagim of the Yeshiva"---was the young man's wedding really the appropriate time & place to [very obliquely] rebuke for this 'offense'?

This was an *outrageous* act of insensitivity, arrogance, just inexcusably bad behavior---from one who's supposed to lead by example. If the story did indeed happen just as told here, the RY is just another hotheaded kano'i.

On another note: tho I suppose it falls in the "easy for me to say; I wasn't there" category---I cannot imagine leaving my friend's wedding because my rosh yeshiva told me to, for such an inane reason.

len said...

And people are wondering why so many are going OTD...we have completly lost our way

Ezzie said...

JRS - Agreed; I'm just explaining that the reasoning behind being upset isn't so obviously wrong. Just the walkout seems to be.

Yitzchak said...

This is terrible, but not particularly surprising to me. The idea that Ashkenazi minhagim are the only legitimate ones is hardly new. A guy I knew in college came from a Sephardi family that kept kosher and ate kitniyot on Pesach. When he was kiruved by Aish, they told him that he had to stop eating kitniyot in clear violation of a well-preserved family minhag. They also told him that kitniyot and chametz were basically the same thing, so he needed to throw out his kitniyot in the same way he would his chametz. He then went around harassing other Sephardi students who wanted to continue eating kitniyot and pressuring them into giving up their minhag. It was pretty disgusting.

Sam said...

I further note the source of this "story" are some internet reports. The facts and details could widely differ from the report by both false inclusion and exclusion of relevant points, even assuming there is any basis to this story at all.

Sam said...

If the story indeed occurred, is it possible that the R"Y and the Choson had implicitly or explicitly agreed beforehand that the R"Y only attends weddings on the condition that certain minhagim he holds of are adhered to? (And that the Choson is free to conduct his wedding otherwise -- sans the R"Y presence.)

Perhaps the Choson "pulled a fast one" thinking he could get away with it once the R"Y is already there? Or perhaps there was a change in plans for a legitimate reason, but (for whatever reason) the R"Y was not informed of it beforehand, despite his conditional attendance.

shaya g said...

It happens here in the states all the time. As a yekke who went to a RW litvish yeshiva, I met many others who dropped various minhagim. 3 hours was eating treif. talis under the chuppah was just weird. trench coat over kitel became the norm. All these changes due, not always due to overt pressure, but mainly to pressure a bochur feels in order to fit in, and/or endear himself to his RY.

Nice Jewish Guy (signed out) said...

"Orthodox" Judaism is imploding.

aaron said...

I'm sickened to hear stuff like this.Not only was this rosh yeshiva way off base,but by telling his talmidim to leave,he tried to indoctrinate them into the same oafish behavior.If he felt the way he did,he could have left quietly by himself and kept his mouth shut.But noooooo;he had to make a big deal about it to others to the point of embarrassing a Chosson and Kallah.Real nice what they're teaching today at yeshiva,ain't it?I guess I must have missed that when I went to Yitzchok Elchanan 40 years ago.

Avram in MD said...

Hi Wolf,

I did not read the post you linked about the wedding, so perhaps I am not privy to all of the details that you have; however, I feel compelled to respond based on the information provided in your blog post.

I am not intending to state that ruining the simcha of a chosson and kallah is acceptable, but it seems that a lot of details were left out. Only one side of the story was told.

I agree that family minhagim should be kept; however, from the details provided it appears that the chosson asked his Rosh Yeshiva to officiate the wedding, not just to attend as a guest. If I were to ask a Sefardic Rav to officiate a wedding, I would expect that the Rav would do so according to Sefardic customs. If Ashkenazic, then by Ashkenazic customs. It seems strange (and disrespectful) to me for a chosson to ask his Rosh Yeshiva to officiate his wedding, and then refuse his instructions - in public, in front of a minyan of his talmidim no less. Perhaps walking out on the wedding may not have been the choice every Rav would make, but it seems to me that the chosson possibly, whether intentionally or not, publically shamed his Rosh Yeshiva. And not on a small matter, on a matter where insults have been hurled at Ashkenazim (as you wrote initially).

Perhaps if this chosson wanted to make his chasuna by Sefardic minhagim, he should have asked his Sefardic Rav to officiate.

Avner said...

Rather impolite to tell a story without portraying the facts.

My brother-in-law was at the wedding, The chattan was a talmud of the Yeshiva, but on really shaky ground. He was a trouble maker. To impress the the Kallah's family he begged the Rosh Yeshiva to be mesadar kedushin. The R"Y agreed but had a few stipulations first if he was to be mesadar the chupah/kiddushin would be held in accordance to to regular yeshiva minhag. (not with his personal but rather set minhag of the yeshiva)
The bocher after pleading and promising, refused in front of the crowd to follow instructions. The R"Y gently reminded the Chatan of his promise, to which the Chatan smirked and laughed.
At this point the R"Y felt that as Kavod haTorah to the yeshiva and his position at teh yeshiva, it would be best if he and the rest of the talmidim left.
Shame on you Wolf for spreading Lashon hara on Klal Yisroel.

BrooklynWolf said...


Thank you for posting your version of the events. I have modified the post to show that there is an alternate version of what happened.

Shame on you Wolf for spreading Lashon hara

Doctor, heal thyself.

The Wolf

Dovy said...

can anyone even begin to picture a TRUE gadol -- a Reb SZ Auerbach, a Reb Moshe, a Reb Yakov, the Amshinover, the Bluzhover, etc. doing something like this RY did? Case settled.

David Zeiger said...

Dovy -

No. A Reb SZ, Reb Moshe, Reb Yakov, the Amshinover, the Bluzhover, etc. would in all likelihood been wise to this troublemaking Choson enough not to agree to go in the first place. They would have in all likelihood smelled a rat.

Wolf -

It's interesting that some folks (e.g. Sam, March 04, 2011 3:55 PM above), who were dan lkaf zchus the R"Y (even though they didn't know the story), suggested a possibility roughly along the lines that the eyewitness related to Avner above.

yagayaga said...

even before I read avners explanation I was bothered by the fact that your story had some big holes in it, yet commenters were quick to jump in and condemn the RY. Without knowing all the facts.
THAT is Orthodox Judaism imploding!

When we dont have respect for our leadership or are at least willing to say "I dont know all the facts, the RY is a learned person and he WAS there. I assume he had a valid reason for doing what he did"
(i am not naive, and have had some dissapointment vis a vis certain leaders) yet I feel it is important to give the benefit of the doubt.

Anonymous said...

UPDATE (3/17/11): A commentator has offered an alternate version of the events. I have no way of knowing which is true or not, so take your pick.

Why did you believe, lock stock and barrel, the first version you heard? And what gives you the right to advise anyone to "take your pick" on which version? Loshon hora rules plays no part in your life?

Josh said...

Avner said....
"Shame on you Wolf for spreading Lashon hara on Klal Yisroel."

And is the story you told anything but Loshon Harah? The only difference between your version and The Wolf's is that you maligned the chosson (terribly), while he made the RY actions of that day look bad.

I can't imagine why you think that restoring a RY's honor by dragging a bochur/chosson through the mud is kosher. As Wolf said, Doctor heal thyself- but while I believe he said it in response to your malignment of himself, I include your own storytelling of this "event" in the irony.

BrooklynWolf said...

but while I believe he said it in response to your malignment of himself,

No, I meant it the way you did.

I don't consider criticism of me to be maligning, as long as it's done respectfully. He might not have expressed it as I would have with the "Shame on you...," but he is allowed to criticize me (within the bounds of decency).

My "doctor, heal thyself" was strictly for the reason you pointed out... that in the same comment where he is criticizing me for saying LH, he himself did the very same thing.

The Wolf

TSB said...

Without determining which of the two stories is correct, one would think that in this situation (indeed in any wedding), if one has an ounce of seichel the chosson should discuss the issues well before hand with the mesader kiddushin, who is in effect the poseik of the wedding. If the mesader cannot agree with a particular custom, then he has the chance to bow out in advance. (Whether to have yichud is a serious halakhic shayloh, more serious than, say, wearing a tallis under the chuppah.)

Prior to my wedding, I had such a discussion with my RY. I asked him whether perhaps we could skip tenaim, since they really mean very little in the modern context. He demurred, saying that we should follow what everyone else does. Had I surprised him by not bringing tenaim to the wedding hall, I think he would have had very good reason to be angry at me and leave the wedding.

Ya'akov said...

First of all, I have no idea if the events were as in the first or second cases, or possibly a third. However, it seems to me a sad commentary that the first version is entirely believable based on other, verifiable behavior of "Torah Leaders" of various sorts.

If the first version is true, the Rosh Yeshiva may well have given this bochur a wonderful wedding gift by revealing his nature in a way so extreme as to allow him to move on to a new teacher without guilt or doubt. Had the Rosh Yeshiva's character been revealed bit-by-bit it the bochur would have felt obliged to find an excuse for each transgression against him until he was so invested in the man as to be trapped. Please keep in mind that, as I said above, I do not know if this story is accurate but I cannot discount it as unbelievable.

If the second case is true, I have a question. Why would the Rosh Yeshiva demand that the bochur follow a minhag not his own? This *sounds* to *me* like chutzpah. If this bochur, and his kallah are Sephardim, what right does he have to demand that they do something not part of *their* mesorah? Once again, I don't know if the second account is accurate but I have no problem imagining that a Rosh Yeshiva would do such a thing, I just don't have any idea what *valid* reasoning he could bring,

Now I realize that I am not allowed to criticize anyone who happens to be a Rosh Yeshiva. I realize that someone simply rising to that position indicates special status and authority but frankly I deny that authority. I am interested in *merit* not circumstance.

If people want to take on the mantle of Torah, and claim to be the sages to which it refers, they are going to have to prove it beyond the sycophantic appellation of "Rosh Yeshiva". When we use the honorific "Rabbi" today, it does NOT mean the same as it did when there was סמיכה. Today its value is not self-evident.

I have met R"Y who are excellent men of Torah, whether or not we share the same hashkafa. I have known R"Y who are middling men with a desire for power. It may be un-orthodox to say so, but these are men with all the failings concomitant with being a human, as well as the potential to bring Torah to the world.

The bottom line is that the story, in either form, is believable, and in either form is it not what I call Torah, and, I hope, many others feel the same way.