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Is it appropriate to adopt minhagim that have historically not been observed by your community?

Examples

  1. Ashkenazim pointing to the sefer Torah, usually with the pinky, during hagbah (after Krias HaTorah) is apparently a non-Ashkenazy minhag and that is mentioned by Me'am Loez and Rav Chaim Philaggi's sefer (Be'er Mayim Chaim). [The popularity of this minhag among Ashkenazim has grown significantly in the past few decades.]

  2. Litvaks to get Psicha when expecting a child as discussed by Chida. Historically (according to many pre-WWII Europeans) they did not have the minhag of opening the Aron Hakodesh when expecting a child.

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It's an Ashkenazy minhag now, isn't it? –  Double AA May 4 at 3:29
    
@DoubleAA I would not call it an Askenazy minhag just because some Ashkenazim have adopted it...especially since Rav Elyashiv and Rav SZ Auerbach frowned on the practice as Gersholn Gold linked –  Yoni May 4 at 3:35
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2 Answers 2

Rabbi M. M. Poliakof זצ"ל in his Sefer Minhagei Lita brings an interesting perspective.

By adopting Chumras and Minhagim one breaks one's chain of Mesora.

After a while, the concept of Mesora will become meaningless, if we don't guard it meticulously.

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How does that break the Mesora? My Mesorah is that Minhagim sometimes change. I think my Mesora is the traditional one, given Jewish legal history. –  Double AA May 4 at 13:19
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@Danny Schoenman does Minhagei Lita cite a basis for this? Observe that. no one in the world said Lecha Dodi or Kabbalas Shabbos as we have it before Arizal and Rav Shlomo Alkabetz. Was it wrong to adopt that practice according to him? Who decides? The public at large, rabbis or only by universal acceptance like vaad arba haaratzos? –  Yoni May 4 at 14:22
    
@Yoni, he does not cite a source. However the example you provide may be the "exception to prove the rule", as it was adopted by almost all of Klal Yisrael. (Though even that took time.) –  Danny Schoemann May 5 at 6:22
    
@DoubleAA, "minhagim may change" for various reasons; they seem to have a life of their own. The Minhagei Lita is objecting to changing one's Minhag every time one sees a Minhag one "likes". –  Danny Schoemann May 5 at 6:25
    
@DannySchoemann You don't mention that in the answer (or explain why that should be more of an insufficient criterion than any other). –  Double AA May 5 at 6:32
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A minhag may certainly be adopted as long as it does not conflict with one's existing minhagim.[1] For example, if you have the minhag to refrain from kitinyot on Passover, you cannot adopt the Sephardi minhag to eat rice at the seder. However, a minhag like saluting the sefer torah during hagbah with the pinky does not conflict with any Ashkenazi minhag and thus "importing" it presents no problem.

Let's take a more interesting case, though. Would it be permissible for an Ashkenazi synagogue to adopt the custom of the having the priestly blessing on every Sabbath? At first glance, this would appear to be acceptable under the reasoning I provided above, because the custom is to have the blessing on Yom Tov, and Ashekenazi synagogues in Eretz Yisroel have adopted this. However, in fact, the minhag, which like most very well-established minhagim is legalistically codified somewhere,[2] states that we are only to have birchas hakohanim on Yom Tov, and therefore, although it would seem that it is permissible, it is actually not so simple: this is why Chabad, for all their enthusiasm for Sefardi minhagim, did not adopt this one.[3] Minhagim can be annulled, of course, although doing so often requires the supervision of a rav and, in the case of adopting foreign minhagim, the hassle might not be worthwhile.

[1] R' Dovid Fink shlita gave this over to me in a shiur where he also mentioned that one should specifically intend to NOT adopt any new minhagim, because they effectively create new halakha for one to follow and potentially violate. According to most poskim, following a valid new minhag even once with the kevanah that you are taking it on causes it to become your minhag: the Baal HaTanya uniquely holds that it requires three different instances.

[2] It was just read to me out of a book. I believe it is Sefer Minhagim, which is the Chabad codex morium.

[3] Source: my LOR, a small-town Chabad shliach.

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Actual citations from sources like sifrei poskim is invaluable. Also, one might claim that pointing to Torah is not Ashkenazi minhag and one should not "pollute" one's mesorah. –  Yoni May 4 at 6:59
    
@Yoni Are the people claiming this claiming that it is a bad move for philosophical reasons or that it is actually forbidden? –  Tatpurusha May 4 at 7:19
    
probably some people in each camp. –  Yoni May 4 at 15:03
    
@Yoni I can understand discouraging this from a philosophical perspective, but under what grounds would it be actually assur as such, if one isn't "forsaking the Torah of one's mother" by giving up existing minhagim? –  Tatpurusha May 4 at 16:57
    
I guess one can argue that Mesora means preserving your heritage. Adding to the heritage is not preserving it. To wit, if I preserve my mother's cholent recipe except that I add jalapeno to it, I am sure she will not say it is her cholent recipe! –  Yoni May 4 at 20:54
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