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Is there any resource which details the minhagim of so-called Spanish-Portuguese Jews (the original Sephardim)? Knowing what little I know of their havarah, as well as their relative closeness to the western Ashkenazi tradition (considering the wide differences) I have often wondered what their minhagim are and how they differ from Ashkenazi and Mizrachi minhagim.

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Pretty similar to teimonim as they both went by rambam – MoriDoweedhYaa3qob Jul 13 '14 at 14:52
@MoriDoweedhYaa3qob, not sure about that, although I've never been to a true esnoga, admittedly, the closest I've come to nusa7 Teimon is from an Adeni Shami who once lejned haftarah at my schul. – Noach MiFrankfurt Jul 13 '14 at 14:57
Speaking of which, @MoriDoweedhYaa3qob, I know this is unrelated, but do you know the tying pattern for Shami tzitzit? Do they follow the Rambam? The Ben Ish Chai? The General Sephardi minhag? – Noach MiFrankfurt Jul 13 '14 at 14:57
Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Noach MiFrankfurt Jul 13 '14 at 22:27
up vote 2 down vote accepted
  • History

There were several (many) nusakhoth among the Jews of Spain and Portugal before the expulsion from the Spanish realms (including Southern Italy and several other European possessions) in 1492.

In Spain itself, there were several streams. In Castilla and Andalusia, the Rambam was widely accepted. Although, he may not have been exclusively accepted. The Zohar itself was redacted in Castilla, Guadalajara by Moises de Leon in the 13th Century - demonstrating a kabbalistic stream already apparent then. Other prominent rabbis of less kabbalistic (Sefer ha-khinukh), and the more mystically oriented RambaN.

The siddurim used varied from region to region and even city to city. The Shulkhan Arukh was not yet written, and thus, like in other parts of the Jewish world, there was surely much diversity in practice in Spain and Portugal.

Nevertheless, over time the diversity was lessened and several standardized nusakhot emerged. The Spanish-portuguese is one of them.

For various historical reasons, today it is the minhagim, liturgy and siddurim that are the most unchanged since Spain. This is largely due to the fact that the Spanish-Jewish exiles of Greece are low in number today and not much remains except among a few congregations (and in any case much was transferred between the two groups). The exiles that went to Turkey and other parts of the Mediterranean were heavily influenced by the students of the Arizal (a different stream of kabbalah than just pure Zohar of Moises de Leon).

  • Modern Practice

Rich well developed musical liturgy

Today, S&P tend to have a well developed liturgy that is musically inclined and have tunes for specific prayers for specific times of the year. This is probably also the case among Western Ashkenazim and Iraqui Jews. However, today, for various reasons, authentic Western Ashkenaz and Iraqui is hard to find. So, S&P has emerged as one of the few remaining rich cantoral traditions among the Jews.

Less kabbalistic

The siddur is similar to edut ha-mizrakh but devoid of any kabbalistic prayers or kavanoth.

Older text, simpler and shorter at some points, longer sometimes

The text is also older, so for example, you will not find a second paragraph of Alenu, as you will among Ashkenazim and other Sephardim.


Some references to Spanish words in the service. Dignity and decorum very important in synagogue (no walking in between the Teba and the Heikhal while services are held - unless its part of the service!). Congregants dress mostly formally but not haredi, nor hasidic. No black hats, unless its a top hat (usually only for special occasions). Clean shaven or neat beards. They have no such custom to wear only black and white. Various waiting times between meat and milk (1, 3, and 6 hours depending on location or family origin). Different minhagim regarding tefillin tieing, light color talet and embroidery. They also have their own way of pronouncing hebrew traditionally. And various minhagim depending on the time of the year (haggim, fasts, etc.).


For various reasons, the role of the Rabbi and Dayan in the S&P community is limited compared to other traditions. This is because the ultimate authority rests on the Mahamad (the Council of Elders of the Congregation), who set the policy. However, the rabbis and dayanim have right of consent and advice - but can be replaced if they are unpopular. One of these restrictions, is that no Mahamad has authorized a rabbi or dayan to write an authoritative code regarding S&P practice, halakha or minhagim.

In practice, the Congregations are comparable to what may be similar to "modern orthodox." However, no official dogma or hashkafa exists - except a concern for being rooted in tradition and a tolerant and modern outlook on life. In this sense, it is truly Sephardi. It seems as long as people maintain the minhagim of the Synagogue service, their private outlook on Judaism or halakha is accepted, or at least tolerated.


All of the following sources are imperfect, because as I said before, no authoritative code was ever allowed to be published. But they are helpful as a rough guide to the S&P. The best source is joining an S&P community near you, or visiting one.

  • A Treasury of Sephardic Laws and Customs by Herbert C. Dobrinsky (limited to the practices of S&P Shearith Israel NYC - which is not entirely representative of other S&P communities).

  • Keter Shem Tob, by Rabbi Shem-Tob Gaguine (in Hebrew only). A translation is being done by rabbinical students. http://www.ketershemtob.com/

  • Fountain of Blessings, by Dayan Toledano, 4 vols. 2009. Has mainly Sephardi halakhot but does bring down some S&P practices, and Ashkenazi contrasts.

  • London Sefardi Music & Minhagim (of this community). http://sites.google.com/site/londonsephardiminhag http://www.spmusic.org

Amsterdam minhagim - http://www.chazzanut-esnoga.org/

Other sites - http://www.sandpcentral.org/ - Numerous books cited, synagogue locations, etc. on wikipedia entry: Spanish and Portuguese Jews.

Facebook - Please be respectful and limit yourself to informed questions! Join the following groups: Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Music & Liturgy

The Foundation for the Preservation of the Western Sephardic Tradition

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Daniel, authentic western Ashkenazi niggunim can still be found. Iraqi niggunim are likewise also likely easy to locate. – Noach MiFrankfurt Mar 19 '15 at 13:23
Noach, where are these synagogues? I know of only Broyers in Washington Heights/NYC. – Daniel Romero Mar 20 '15 at 16:12
In terms of Ashkenazi niggunim, there are the schuls affiliated with R' Hamburger's Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz and unless I am much mistaken, Shearith Israel of Baltimore. Orach Chaim in NYC also preserves some of the Western Ashkenazi nigggunim, such as the one for LeDavid Baruch (which I have heard is extraordinarily similar to the S&P niggun). – Noach MiFrankfurt Mar 20 '15 at 16:18

Refer to Keter Shem Tob, by Rabbi Shem-Tob Gaguine (1884-1953). The Spanish-Portuguese are not "original" Sephardim. Spanish-Portuguese Jews are descended from those who lived in Spain/Portugal until the 1600's, when they were able to travel abroad (to Amsterdam, for example) and were able to live as Jews. Since they had little Jewish knowledge they studied with Levantine Jews who were descended from those who fled Spain and Portugal on or about 1492 and 1497, respectively. Many differences in the Spanish-Portuguese prayers result from an avoidance of qabbalistic influences (especially in reaction to the travesties of the Shabbatai Sewi incident).

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Hello Hayyim, and welcome to Mi Yodeya! Thank you for your great answer to this question, +1 – Shokhet Oct 3 '14 at 18:51
Please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features. – Shokhet Oct 3 '14 at 18:52

I think this book might be a useful resource: A Treasury of Sephardic Laws and Customs by Herbert C. Dobrinsky


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