What is the single most widely practiced minhag (religious Jewish practice that's not mandated by halacha) among Jews in the United States today? By "widely practiced" I mean practiced by the most people.

  • Do you mean any religious Jewish practice that's not mandated by strict Halacha? Do you mean versino of prayers? – Isaac Moses Oct 17 '10 at 18:50
  • I mean the former. – WAF Oct 17 '10 at 18:53
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    The truth is that this is an amazing question, as many people confuse Minhag and Halacha. I am taking a stab at the answer, however I would not be surprised if I am incorrect. – Gershon Gold Oct 17 '10 at 20:23
  • Is this question limited only to the US or to all of Chutz L'Aretz? – Gershon Gold Oct 20 '10 at 3:07
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    I only had the US in mind. But I'm sure a question about Chutz La'Aretz in general could be interesting. – WAF Oct 20 '10 at 20:03

11 Answers 11


Hands down it is - not saying Birchas Kohanim on a daily basis

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    Great answer! Even completely unaffiliated Jews do this. <wry smile> – msh210 Oct 19 '10 at 3:47
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    But the sephardim don't do this (i.e. they say birkat kohanim). – Chanoch Oct 19 '10 at 14:18
  • @Chanoch, true, but, alas, something unaffiliated and Reform Jews do outweighs by far what religious S'faradim do with respect to "most widely practiced". – msh210 Oct 19 '10 at 15:02
  • Although the Sefardim do say Birchas Kohanim there are way more Ashkenazim in the diaspora than Sefardim – Gershon Gold Oct 19 '10 at 17:17
  • Gershon, I think that we all say it on a daily basis, we just don't duchan daily :) – Noach MiFrankfurt Dec 24 '15 at 23:47

I think there are two questions here:

  • What custom is most widespread among observant American Jews that is less common in other countries?
  • Name something post-Talmudic that most American Jews, observant or not, keep.

For the latter category, I think we could point to the Jewish customs of mourning, which are observed overwhelmingly across the spectrum of observance. Most notably, saying Kaddish! (Post-Talmudic.)

For a custom that is, let's say, post-Shulchan Aruch, I would say covering the mirrors in a shiva house. Some say this was simply a matter of covering the mirrors in rooms where prayers would be held (we don't pray facing a mirror), but Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveichik argued that this was a version of a Talmudic custom regarding repositioning all the beds in the house -- they're both ways of expressing the loss of humanity experienced.

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    I've been in Shiv'ah houses - even Orthodox ones - in which mirror were not covered. It surprises me every time I encounter it, but I don't believe the custom is as widespread as you believe it is. – Seth J Jul 21 '11 at 18:04

Are we including minhage sh'tus? How about gift-giving on Chanuka?

Edit: See https://judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/3572 — apparently it might not be a minhag sh'tus.


Yizkor is a big one.

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    However it is also done in Eretz Yisroel and all other countries. The question is widespread American Minhag – Gershon Gold Oct 19 '10 at 17:18

Keeping Yomtov Sheini, which now that we have a set calendar is only an obligation due to minhag avoseinu. Yet, it still has the full force of mandated halacha. (Thank you Shalom!)

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    But has the full force of Rabbinic law – Shalom Oct 18 '10 at 18:44
  • Shalom, true. A very important distinction. I did not read the question very well. – Yahu Oct 20 '10 at 0:33
  • L'havdil, the Reform got rid of y"t2 – Noach MiFrankfurt Dec 24 '15 at 23:49

I'd bet it's the Pesach Seder.

  • You mean the aspect of the "seder" that is exactly 15 rhyming steps long? Many parts of it, after all, are mitzvos. – WAF Oct 18 '10 at 0:54
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    Sitting down for a meal on Pesach night and calling it a Seder. – Isaac Moses Oct 18 '10 at 1:43
  • I think eating a meal on yom tov is a matter of halacha, no? or do you mean only the calling-it-seder part? – msh210 Oct 18 '10 at 3:00
  • Most steps of the seder are mandated by halacha. I bet you could only find a couple parts (like the song) that weren't mandated by halacha. – Chanoch Oct 18 '10 at 20:45
  • @Chanoch - IIRC, me'ikar hadin, the only things that must be said aloud at the seder are "pesach" "matzah" and "maror". – Adam Mosheh Jun 6 '12 at 16:32

Well one I can think of offhand is reading the Haftorah on Shabbos. But I'm sure there are plenty more.

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    Most Jews in the US have probably never heard of a Haftarah, ba'avonoteinu harabim. – Isaac Moses Oct 18 '10 at 0:45
  • It's not necessarily the majority of U.S. Jews who are the significant sample here. It's the largest set of U.S. Jews adhering to the same minhag. There must be better statistical terminology to describe this distinction. – WAF Oct 18 '10 at 0:53
  • More to the point, reading the haftarah is also required by halachah. Maybe you mean "reading the same haftarah" (since, most weeks, almost all minhagim do use the same section)? – Alex Oct 18 '10 at 4:51
  • Halacha? But it was started because there was once a decree that we couldn't read the Torah... – yydl Oct 18 '10 at 20:35
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    True, but it remained as halachah afterwards (see commentaries to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 284:1). – Alex Oct 18 '10 at 21:52

Celebrating (purposely using very vague term), wrongly (Halachicly) or rightly Yom Kippur.

  • What do you mean? – Yahu Oct 18 '10 at 18:22
  • They recognize some significance to the day – SimchasTorah Oct 19 '10 at 2:32
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    Attending "services". – YDK Oct 19 '10 at 4:01

What about candle lighting 18 minutes before sunset?

  • Many Chasidim light 15 minutes before sunset and many others light 20 minutes before sunset – Gershon Gold Oct 21 '10 at 23:53
  • Reform Judaism doesn't necessarily maintain that kabbalat shabbat is taluy on shkiat hachammah. (and by extension, Reform Jews, a majority of American Jewry) – Adam Mosheh Feb 28 '12 at 5:18

Blowing Shofar in Elul is a Minhag which I think all follow.

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    It's not universal among sephardim - though many have minhagim to blow the shofar in conjunction with selichot, there are many who do not have a minhag to blow at all in Elul. – Chanoch Oct 18 '10 at 20:44

Bathing on Friday.

מצוה על כל אדם לרחוץ בכל ערב שבת פניו ידיו ורגליו בחמין. ואם אפשר, ירחץ כל גופו בחמין.‏

קיצור שולחן ערוך, סִימָן ע"ב, סעיף י"ב

  • Laafukei Isreal? – Double AA Mar 14 '13 at 16:09
  • @DoubleAA I'm not touching that one. – Seth J Mar 14 '13 at 16:13
  • But isn't that essential to this being an answer? It can't be a universal practice like: waking up. – Double AA Mar 14 '13 at 16:14
  • @DoubleAA, fine. North Americans, including (especially?) Jews, have a reputation, as opposed to their peers in Europe and the Middle East, of being hygienically meticulous. Hence, this is the only custom I can think of that might rival Gershon Gold's example. – Seth J Mar 14 '13 at 16:32
  • @DoubleAA, What about sleeping extra? – Seth J Mar 14 '13 at 16:35

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