[Avodah] Minhagim for Baalei Teshuva

Kenneth Miller kennethgmiller at juno.com
Thu Mar 28 14:01:22 PDT 2013

R' Micha Berger wrote:

> Minhag is supposed to be by location. It's only because the
> norm has become that few locations have a minhag hamaqom
> that our ancestors' location became determinant -- we have
> no local custom to switch to, so we stick with the one we
> came from.

Maybe. Let me offer a different idea, for which I have little or no evidence:

"Al titosh Toras imecha." (Mishlei 1:8) I've heard this often as the source for not deviating from minhagim. (For example, Chochmas Adam 40:13.) This is clearly a family-oriented pasuk (though I concede that it seems to be matriarchal, and not the patriarchal that I might expect).

The issue is complicated, though, because for millenia, the average family stayed in the same area for many generations. There was very little practical difference to the question of whether minhagim are by family or by location, except for the unusual case of someone who moved far away. This *did* happen on occasion, and the halacha *did* discuss what to do, and the answer was that if the move was to be permanent, then the minhagim would change to the ones of the new location.

This SEEMS to fit what R' Micha is saying, that "Minhag is supposed to be by location." But is that really the ideal, or is it merely a concession to practicality? I would like to suggest that minhagim really ought to be by family, but if that means that you'll be a small minority, then -- as R"n Chana Luntz so eloquently explained in another thread -- the situation is not easily tolerable.

According to this idea, it would be quite reasonable for minhagim to ideally follow the family, yet follow the location in practice for millenia, until recent centuries, when large-scale immigration allowed communities to reconstitute themselves in new locations, so that the family minhag could continue. But I concede that I have absolutely no evidence for this, other than the pasuk in Mishlei. Perhaps someone can offer other ideas pro or con?

> I would therefore think that someone who has to adopt
> minhagim needs to pick a community to affiliate with, and
> follow theirs consistently. Since the idea of minhag is
> to belong to something.
> I am not as sure as RAM that this is usually the BD who
> was megayeir him.

Sorry, I never intended to give the impression that I was "sure" about this at all. I don't even remember where it was that I heard about a ger following those who were megayer him.

[begin rant] But I do have what to say about baalei teshuva: I have too many memories of being frustrated by seforim and rabbis who told me to find out what my father's and grandfather's customs were. (For some reason, tefilin on Chol Hamoed sticks in my mind. Did they really think my grandfather would remember such an obscure practice?) After learning for some years, that frustration turned to anger and resentment when I realized how easily they could have said that people from these areas tended to do this, while people from those areas tended to do that. [end rant]

Akiva Miller
How to Sleep Like a Rock
Obey this one natural trick to fall asleep and stay asleep all night.

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