It says in the introduction of the English Tehillas Hashem siddur (in the name of the Maggid of Mezeritch - Likutei Amarim 133) that each tribe has its own Nusach (and the Nusach Arizal is the Shaar Hakollel for all tribes).

Is there a list of which tribe has which Nusach, and why don't Kohanim and Levyim pray with their Nusach?


The fact that Kohanim and Leviyim do not pray in their own Nusach, and the reason the Arizal made Nusach Arizal is because:

1 - Most of us do not know which Shevet we come from.

2 - We do not know the Nusach each tribe had.

  • 1
    With regards to point #1, Levyim do know from which Shevet they come. Feb 17 '12 at 1:54
  • 1
    As I wrote - most of us Feb 17 '12 at 1:59
  • 1
    Do you have a source for point 2?
    – msh210
    Feb 17 '12 at 2:46
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    @msh210: it's kind of implied in the teaching of the Maggid of Mezeritch on this subject (Likkutei Amarim 133). He says: אמנם בזמן הזה שאינם ידועים השבטים (והראי׳ שיש כהנים ולוים בינינו והאיך יהי׳ לכולנו נוסחא אחת) ע״כ יאחז כל איש דרכו של האר״י ז״ל - "nowadays when the tribes aren't known (and, as proof, we have kohanim and leviim among us, so how could we all have one nusach?), everyone should follow the Arizal" - implying that even the kohanim and leviim don't know which nusach pertains to them, and that's why they use the same one as everyone else.
    – Alex
    Feb 17 '12 at 3:04
  • @GershonGold The Arizal did not make that Nusach for people who don't know which שבט they came from - rather those who did not know if they were ספרדים or קאטלונים. Oct 9 '17 at 12:16

It is unlikely that this Chassidic thought is intended to be taken literally. The first prayer books appear from Amram Gaon and Natronai ben Hilai Gaon in the mid-800's CE. The founding texts of our central prayers today are first mentioned in the Talmud. For instance, the central prayer of the שמונה עשרה is traditionally attributed to Rabban Gamliel, circa first century CE. As noted in the above Wikipedia link, according to one opinion in the Talmud, the Amidah and some other prayers such as Kiddush and Havdalah may be attributed to Members of the Great Assembly, אנשי כנסת הגדולה, an institution existing from ~150 BCE - 70 CE.

In any event, prayer in a formal sense certainly did not exist before the dispersion of the Ten Tribes around 720 BCE. The few prayers that we know to exist, such as the Bikkurim prayer for first fruits, the Shma prayer, etc. are all recorded in the Torah and therefore the text is Biblically mandated and cannot be altered.

It is likely that that this kabbalistic thought is expressing the idea that each individual and each group has a unique perspective to lend to prayer, and their prayers should thereby reflect one's unique contribution, both in terms of kavanot, one's private intent during prayer, and even in terms of reciting additional prayers of one's own composing, such as insertions at שמע קולנו or as exemplified by the likes of Rabbi Natan of Breslov's Likutei Tefilot. This seems to be implied by the first appearance of this idea of individual prayers of tribes which is found in the writings of the Holy Ari:

יש שינויים רבים בין סידורי התפילות, בין מנהג ספרד ובין מנהג קאטלוניא ובין מנהג אשכנז וכיוצא בזה; הנה בעניין הזה אמר לי מורי [=האר"י] ז"ל שיש ברקיע י"ב חלונות כנגד י"ב שבטים, וכל שבט ושבט עולה תפילתו דרך שער א' מיוחד לו; והוא סוד י"ב שערים הנזכר בסוף יחזקאל. והנה אין ספק, כי אם תפילות כל השבטים היו שוות, לא היה צורך לי"ב חלונות ושערים, וכל שער יש לו דרך בפני עצמו; אלא ודאי מוכרח הוא, שכיוון שתפילותיהם משונות, לכן צריכים שערים מיוחדים לכל שבט ושבט. כי כפי שורש ומקור נשמות השבט ההוא, כך צריך להיות סדר תפילתו. ולכן ראוי לכל אחד ואחד להחזיק כמנהג סדר תפילתו כמנהג אבותיו, לפי שאין אתנו יודע מי הוא משבט זה ומי הוא משבט זה, וכיוון שאבותיו החזיקו במנהג ההוא, אולי הוא מן השבט ההוא, הראוי לו אותו המנהג, ועתה בא לבטלו, ואין תפילתו עולה למעלה, אם לא בדרך הסדר ההוא" (שער הכוונות, דף נ, ד, מ"א סח, א, מ"ב סח, ד)‏

The key point by the Ari is: <<... It is clear that if the prayers of all the tribes were equal, there would be no need for 12 windows and gates, with each gate having its own separate path; rather it's proven that since the prayers are different for each, therefore, there needs to be individual gates for each tribe. Because according to the root and source of the souls of the tribes, accordingly their prayers are arranged. Therefore it is appropriate for each one to be consistent about his tradition's arrangement of prayers similar that of his father's tradition....>>

  • I'm confused about your dating of the Great Assembly, of which Ezra was a member.
    – yoel
    Feb 19 '12 at 16:54
  • As noted, my source was the Wikipedia article listed above [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Assembly]. That Wikipedia article lists its source as the Jewish Virtual Library [jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/Great_Assembly.html] . There are few classical Midrashic and Talmud sources about the Great Assembly and many of them conflict regarding the details. It seems that there is quite a bit of confusion regarding the matter -- perhaps this could be a source for a new question? :)
    – ChaimKut
    Feb 20 '12 at 9:51

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