The Rema brings a minhag to put grass and other herbage in shul for Shavuos. I've seen this practiced only once. Why don't more Ashkenazi shuls follow this minhag?

I feel some would be tempted to say that the Gra annulled this minhag, as brought in that Simman by the Mishnah Berurah. But if you look carefully, he's discussing a different minhag: to put trees in shul. That minhag was brought by the Magen Avraham, not the Rema.

  • My shul follows this minhag. Maybe we’ve seen each other before, and my shul is the one where you’ve seen this? :)
    – DonielF
    May 16, 2018 at 4:24
  • Ultimately, since this is a minhag, it could just depend on community preference. Some communities think it’s a good thing, others think not. It’s not like it’s an actual Halacha which must be followed.
    – DonielF
    May 16, 2018 at 4:25
  • I've seen this done in most synagogues that I've been in on Shavuos, fwiw.
    – msh210
    May 16, 2018 at 4:42
  • 1
    @Draizy-LeviPine The wording of the Rema, עשבים, doesn’t always refer to grass. Sometimes it means weeds. Sometimes it means flowers. It really just refers to things which grow from the ground.
    – DonielF
    May 16, 2018 at 5:32
  • 1
    Our shul has plants and flowers - not on the floor though - probably not very practical
    – mbloch
    May 16, 2018 at 6:32

1 Answer 1


While your thought, that the Vilna Gaon only prohibited trees, has become popular recently with the popularization of Christmas trees, it's not historically accurate. He prohibited greenery on Shavuot because it paralleled the greenery set up in churches (especially Orthodox ones) for Pentecost (the Christian holiday which parallels Shavuot) which commonly includes birch branches and red flowers. This is noted explicitly in his student's Chayei Adam (131:13):

והגר״א ביטל מנהג מלהעמיד אילנות בעצרת משום שעכשיו הוא חק העמים להעמיד .אילנות בחג שלהם שקורין זאלאני״ע או פינגסט״ן‏
And the GR"A nullified the custom to put up trees on Shavuot because now it's the practice of the nations to put up trees on their holiday that they call Zelelnia or Pfingsten.

That's all the Chayei Adam wrote. He never mentioned a custom about "grasses" beforehand that you can learn that he meant "trees" specifically and not "greenery", nor would such a read make sense since churches on Pentecost don't exclusively use trees. Indeed another of the Vilna Gaon's students, R' Mordechai ben Aryeh Leib, wrote (Sefer HaLikuttim):

מנהגו של החסיד שביטל העשבים בשבועות אף שהרמ״א הביאו...‏
The custom of [the Vilna Gaon] who nullified the grasses on Shavuot even though the Rama brought it.

Igrot Moshe (YD 4:11:5) also understands the Chayei Adam and Vilna Gaon to be referring to both "trees" and "grasses" because of Pentecost.

The Arukh haShulchan, after writing about the old customs of both "grasses" and "trees", concludes:

אמנם בדורות שלפנינו ביטלו האילנות והעשבים, מטעמים שידעו הגדולים שבדור.‏
However, in the generations that preceded us they nullified the [customs of] trees and grasses [because of the Vilna Gaon].

The Arukh haShulchan's assessment of common practice matches yours.

(I note though the custom is still alive and well in some communities.)

  • seforim.blogspot.com/2017/05
    – Double AA
    May 16, 2018 at 13:44
  • Fwiw the Dirshu MB says the Steipler and Rav Shlomo Zalman say the Gra doesn't apply to עשבים, but they bring the Igros Moshe and Aruch HaShulchan that you brought that it does. They add that despite his view, the Steipler (along with the Chazon Ish) intentionally set up the minhag in charedi communities in EY not to spread out עשבים.
    – robev
    May 16, 2018 at 18:47
  • @robev I told you it was popular recently :)
    – Double AA
    May 16, 2018 at 18:50
  • The Chayei Adam as I see it writes "זאלאניא שווענטע", but you left out the second word. What is that second word? Also you spelled the first word with a ע; not sure it matters.
    – robev
    May 13, 2021 at 20:03
  • @robev Alas I left no record of where I copied the text from so I don't know why the differences. I don't think it matters for the main thesis though. See the wikipedia link which calls the holiday Zesłanie Ducha Świętego where Świętego is probably the cognate of שווענטע. But I don't speak Polish or Yiddish so you should probably ask someone else.
    – Double AA
    May 13, 2021 at 20:22

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