Oct 7, 2008

the difference between russian and sefardi Jews

The train from Tel Aviv to Bet Shemesh also has a regular minyan. It is not quite as famous or as popular as the minyan from Bet Shemesh to Tel Aviv, but a minyan there is nonetheless. The minyan I am talking about is the mincha minyan (soon to be maariv, as sunset gets progressively earlier).

So I go to the car where the mincha minyan meets, because I had not yet davened. Sitting there is a sefardic fellow with no kippa talking on his cellphone.

Some background before I proceed. The minyan meets in an area between the last two cars. At times there are other people there as well. Sometimes they leave when the minyan starts and move to a different part of the train, and sometimes, more often actually, they stay there. Most people know the minyan is going to be there, and it does not bother them. The minyan asks nobody to move, even when at times there are women there, and at times they are inappropriately dressed. As well, the minyan asks nobody to stop talking.

So the minyan starts and this sefardic fellow is sitting there talking on his cellphone. As soon as we started shemoneh Esrei, he disconnected his phone call, stood up, covered his head with his hand, and waited. When we said the kedusha, he answered along with us. When davening was over, he made his phone call.

On the other hand, in the middle of the repetition, at the other end of the minyan, a Russian gfellow appeared because he had wanted to scream at somebody on the phone. I guess he did not want to do it in his seat, so he came to the area of the minyan to scream at his friend. From about halfway through the repetition until the end of mincha, this Russian fellow was standing there screaming(in Russian) into his cellphone at somebody.

There is the difference between a sefardi non-religious person, and a Russian non-religious person. The Russian comes from no background. he probably had no idea what we were even doing, nor that he was possibly disturbing us.
The sefardi, while also not religious, knew what we were doing, and felt it important that he should be respectful during the services even though he was not part of them.


  1. Great post,

    I believe that there is (almost) no such thing as a "non-religious" Sfaridi, at least there wasn't until recently (it is possible that the state school system has beat any religious feeling out of some sfardi youth).

    I remember a number of years ago I was at a Heina of a friend of ours who was marrying a Sfardi fellow (I think he was Moroccon), there were about 200 people there, except for us all were immediate family (2nd cousin or closer).

    Very few of the men there had kippot, several had earrings or other piercings.

    My father in law asked the father of the groom if it would be OK to make a small minyan for ma'ariv in the corner - well "OK" was the wrong word, as soon as we started ma'ariv almost all the men present joined us, many had kipot in their pockets and those that didn't put a napkin on their head, and almost all knew Tfilat Arvit B'al Peh, how many Ashkenazi Jews can daven ma'ariv without a siddur?

  2. RAFI:

    do you think the contrast between a sefardi and russian is fair? isn't it more appropriate to distinguish between sefardi and hiloni? in my impression russians are not that different from hilonim in this context.

    also, as i've said before, in my (admittedly outsider's) view the masorati (with a lower-case m) sefardi will be a thing of the past within another generation.

  3. Rafi,
    Did you mean observant as opposed to religious. The Sfardi guy sounds pretty religious but not so observant, and the Russian guy sounds neither. What do you expect from growing up in freezing cold mother Russia.
    But there is one striking similarity between the history of the russians and the sfardim in that both of them had very, very strong religious, observant histories which were taken away by them from force. As Americans (myself included) we often tend to judge (in my experience especially russians) but we have NO concept what its like to be observant in a society that outlaws it. We are silver spoon children in the context of religious freedom. Thank G-d the surge of interest in the torah, G-d, and spirituality is leading many whose parents and grandparents were torn away from the holy torah to return to it in a healthy, happy, joyous way.

  4. LOZ - I picked russian and sfardi because those were the two people I saw it happen with.
    you might be right about next generation, but for how long have people been announcing the demise of the future of the kollel system, yet it only seems to be getting bigger...

    anonymous - very good point about us growing up in a place of freedom and not understanding how hard it is to be observant. That is definitely the reason why they are so ignorant.

    LOZ - what is a typical hiloni? the sfardi hilonim tend to be more masorati. The ashkenazy hilonim, by the way, tend to just ignore the minyan but also know what it is. They respect our space. They might not move, and they might not stand up for kaddish or kedusha or cover their head, but they will almost always remain quiet so as not to disturb us.

    The difference is much more acute when comparing Russians who are much less aware of what the minyan is.


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