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Our Traditions

Sephardic Jews' worship practices remain close to those of their ancestors. Within the Sephardic tradition, there is one spectrum of thought and opinion. Sephardic synagogue worship is Orthodox or Modern Orthodox in its form; it is without Reform or Conservative streams.

Sephardic Jews adhere to the basic tenets of Judaism in the same way as do Ashkenazi Jews. Prayers are the same for both, but the Sephardim add certain psalms and poems that reflect the rich and varied cultures from which they came.  The most prominent differences lie in liturgical expression.

TORAH SCROLLS

Sephardic Torah scrolls are kept in ornate cylinders (tikim). They are held upright in the aron ha-kodesh and while they are being read on the bimah.  When they are removed from the aron they may be embellished with rimonim, silver finials often hung with tiny bells. Some few Sephardic synagogues, such as those following the Turkish tradition, install their scrolls on rollers (atzie chaim) and cover them with cloth mantles; these are similar to those used in Ashkenazi communities, and in these cases the scrolls are opened and read while lying flat on the bimah

At MDSC we read from upright Torah scrolls. We house our scrolls in tikim of carved wood with applications and etchings of gold and silver, and we crown them with rimonim. At MDSC, as at other synagogues that follow the Sephardic customs of Morocco, the Levant and the areas of the Mediterranean, the Torah case is carried from its place in the hechal, placed on its base, and read in its vertical position.  

HEBREW SCRIPT

The shape of the Hebrew letters used in all ritual objects that contain Hebrew writing (Torah scrolls, mezuzot, tefillin) differs a little. In medieval times, there were varieties of Hebrew characters; each community developed its own distinctive style of calligraphy.

Today’s Sephardic scribes use the Vellish script, while those in the Ashkenazi tradition use the Beit Yosef script. These are somewhat similar, although a few letters are distinctly different, for example tet, lamed and shin characters:

Sephardic Vellish     

Ashkenazi Beit Yosef 

 

There is a tiny difference between the text of a Sephardic Torah and that of the Ashkenazim. The difference resides in but one letter out of 304,805. 

The word דכא (meaning crushed) is found in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 23:2. Traditionally, in Ashkenazi scrolls this same word is written דכה.

The word is spelled with the aleph in the Aleppo Codex. The authoritative nature of the Codex is now acknowledged by most scholars. Some Ashkenazi scrolls are now being written using that spelling.

 

TA’AMIM

Sephardic cantillation is distinctive in the way it echoes the tones and melodies of the lands where Sephardic Jews were immersed in Muslim cultures. The services of Shabbat and the Holidays contain no “operatic” interludes. Our ta’amim have a sweet simplicity that encourages participation by all present. The hazzan leads the congregation rather than performing sections of the liturgy alone.

 

TEFILLIN

 In the ritual of wrapping tefillin in the morning, Sephardim typically say one bracha for both the arm and head tefillin.  They sit while putting on the hand tefillin and rise only for head tefillin.

Sephardim do not put on tefillin on the chol hamoed days of a festival – and on fasts they pray mincha with tallit and tefillin. 

All traditions regarding the wrapping of tefillin for prayer are respected in our sanctuary and we fully support visitors when they choose to follow their own minhagim.

 

TALLIT

The tzittzit on the corners of a tallit are unique on Sephardic tallitot.  Between the five knots the strings are wound 10, 5, 6, and 5 times respectively – for the letters in the Hebrew for God's name, hashem.  Ashkenazim wind the strings 7,8,11 and 13 times respectively.

In 17th century Amsterdam at the Esnoga (the Portuguese Sephardic synagogue), the tzizit of tallitot of each worshiper was checked on entry. This practice effectively barred (for a short while) Ashkenazi co-religionists!  In contrast, we at MDSC warmly welcome all Ashkenazi and Sephardi visitors.   

 

 

 

PIZMONIM

Pizmonim are songs most often expressed in the Syrian and Iraqi traditions. Many are based on biblical text. They are classified according to the maqam, a classification system of Arabic melodies. Pizmonim are  heard throughout the year, and Shabbat morning prayers may be sung in a maqam selected for its relevance to the parashah. They may also be authored for special occasions, such as a wedding or a bar or bat mitzvah. Many songs have been written for the brit milah in Maqam Saba; sabi is an Arabic word for baby boy. Here is a sample of such a sung melody.

http://www.sephardichazzanut.com/3.Pizmonim/06.Sabah/Atta_Ahubi.mp3 

 

DIVERSITY

Sephardic practices and and forms of worship reflect the rich culture of many lands. Forms of devotion shaped through the centuries and throughout the Sephardic world have converged to become a rich and colorful tradition. Magen David maintains a Sephardic focus, but our congregation is a delightful mix of people from at least 18 countries, and includes many members from Ashkenazi backgrounds. In this dynamic environment we come together to enjoy Judaism and the Jewish way of life. We welcome diversity, and consider it one of our most important strengths. All are welcome to learn with us and to pray with us. 

Fri, February 23 2024 14 Adar I 5784