Monday, August 20, 2007

From Germany to Poland - Sim/Shalom/Rav

David Ziants commented on my post on the Retzei bracha in its Eastern (Bavel -> Edot haMizrach) and Western (Eretz Ysrael -> Ashkenaz) variants:

At Shabbat Mincha Nusach Ashkenaz (according to the Gr"a) there is "Sim Shalom" at yet there is no birkat haCohanim. Also we we still say "Sim Shalom" on morning fast days when we don't do Birkat HaCohanim (probably because of being in distress).

Thus I would conclude (according to Nusach Ashkenaz):
a) Sim Shalom always at Shacharit
b) Sim Shalom at other times only if there is k'riat hatora.

I think things are not necessarily as you have them here.

Here we get into another source of variation: Eastern vs. Western Ashkenaz. Germany vs. Poland. While the texts don't vary so much, minhag still does - what to say when. The Siddur Eizor Elyahu, (EE) a Siddur HaGra [of the Vilna Gaon] edited by R' Yehoshua Cohen zt"l and yblcht"a R' Isaiah Winograd, has a truly excellent set of notes documenting, from old printed and manuscript siddurim, what the "original" Nusach Ashkenaz was.

According to the notes in EE, western Ashkenaz said Sim Shalom at Shabbat Mincha, while Poland said Shalom Rav at Mincha. To quote the Rema (R' Moshe Isserles, Cracow, 16th century) in Orach Chaim 127: "We are accustomed to say at Shacharit 'Sim Shalom', and also every time we say 'Elokeinu ...' [the priestly blessing]. Otherwise we say 'Shalom rav'. Some say at Shabbat mincha, 'Sim Shalom', because the paragraph includes 'in the light of Your Face you gave us...', which is the Torah, which is read on Shabbat afternoons."

Old siddurim of the Western Rite have Sim Shalom, old siddurim of the Polish rite have Shalom rav. Testimony from students of the Gra tells us that he himself davened Nusach Poland, whatever the modern siddurim in his name say to do. The editors of EE thus brought both versions at Shabbat Mincha - one as Nusach Germany, one as Nusach Poland.

Many machzorim have Sim Shalom for Shabbat Mincha on Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur. I wonder if this is included as a survival of "Old Ashkenaz" as we also say "Oseh hashalom" at the conclusion of the bracha, which is certainly the Old Ashkenaz (and Eretz Yisrael) phraseology, instead of our current "Hamevarech et amo yisrael bashalom". Alternatively, it could be a simple unconscious bias of machzor editors, who often base themselves on German archetypes, since they tend to be better-edited and -annotated than other sources. Also, until the 1700s, Eastern-Ashkenaz machzorim were printed mostly in Western Europe, where the presses were (Furth, Amsterdam).

As for not saying Birchat Kohanim on some fast days (we do say it on the minor fast days, just not on Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av) - I could equally speculate that for those days, there are special considerations. For Yom Kippur, there's the whole Avodat Yom haKippurim, which confers blessing on the whole nation, and for Tisha B'Av, we avoid anything that might give happy memories of the Temple.

It may even be simpler than that, looking at the notes in the Heidenheim machzor (Roedelheim 1815 3/e, reprinted Feldheim 2005) - birchat kohanim must be undertaken in simcha, a mourner can't say it, so perhaps since we have customs of mourning on Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur (where it's not so much mourning as nervousness), we can't say Birchat Kohanim out of "distress", as you say.

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