Monday, February 27, 2006

mimetic tradition

R' Haym Soloveitchik made the whole notion of "mimetic tradition" popular in certain circles, yet mimeticism for its own sake becomes absurd, as illustrated by the joke here:
My feelings on this are split. I do not come from a background with strong particular minhagim passed down to me, so I feel like I don't lose much by adopting for example, a minhag or nusach haGR"A. My wife is descendent from a chain of yekkes, so if I were her, I would probably feel more guilt at not adhering strictly to those minhagim and the psak of the Rama. I do not understand how people who do not come from strong backgrounds come to adopt mimetic minhagim even when it leads to kulos. For example, if you read the gemara straight, there is no excuse not to eat in sukkah on Shmini Atzeres. If someone who has grown up his entire life in a chassidic community with those minhagim, I can understand learning the gemara in a way that is dochak to preserve the received mimetic tradition. However, if an outsider decides to join such a community, how can they intellectually justify abandoning the gemara to preserve a tradition they do not have? In other words, if one is born into a received tradition, then I can appreciate that outweighing a text, but if one is left to one's own devices to choose, why should one choose a mimetic tradition over a received text?


  1. Anonymous11:27 AM

    If you are talking about changing minhagim - it is a complicated question. Before Chasidus spread in Eastern Europe, my bet is that most Jews there davened nusach ashkenaz, how did they change it?

    Or, consider a baal teshuva. He may have left an ashkenaz background and came back by being drawn to a chasidic sect. Is it so illogical for him to adopt the minhagim of this sect? He may indeed now choose to daven sefard and tie tefillin differently and not sit in the succha on Shemini Atzeret. I wonder Psak he would get if he went to a beis din to ask about this.

    By the way at Rav Rakeffet has 1.5 hr long shiur on sitting in a succah on Shemini Atzeret from the litvish and chasidish points of view.

  2. Many of the chassidishe poskim discuss the change of minhagim (with respect to nusach hatefillah, the Noam Elimelech and Divrei Chaim come to mind). So there was an attempt at justification or at least an acknowledgment of the problem. A ba'al tshuvah may not be the best example, because he/she may not yet have been exposed to the relevant "standard" minahgim or psak to know what a deviation is.

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