A BT goes to his Rabbi and says “Rabbi, I’m a Baal Teshuvah and since my father wasn’t religious, I don’t have any minhagim.” The Rabbi, with a hint of a grin, slowly shakes his head from side to side and says “That’s not true.” The BT doesn’t understand. The Rabbi continues: “Your father didn’t stand for Kiddush, right?” “And your father didn’t wear tefillin on Chol HaMoed, right?” OK, bad joke but a good introduction to the subject of Baalei Teshuvah and minhagim.
It seems that there are at least three prominent opinions on the minhagim of baalei teshuvah:
1. The pick and choose opinion which basically says that a BT does not need to follow any particular set of minhagim. He or she can choose which minhagim are meaningful to him. This opinion is most likely partially based on the fact that (in America, at least) there is no one single prominent minhag. Of course, if someone is living in a particular community within which the entire community practices one particular set of minhagim, such as in a chasidishe community or a strong German kehillah he or she would most likely be encouraged to accept such minhagim upon himself;
2. The BT should accept upon himself the minhagim of his or her Rav. This has clear practical advantages such as observing the practice of those minhagim and inquiring about the way such minhagim are conducted. It may also help speed integration; and
3. The BT should research the minhagim of his father’s ancestors based upon either actual knowledge from family members or research into the prevalent minhagim in the geographic locale from where his father came. This has the advantage of connecting to one’s past in a manner that is often of great importance to particular BTs.
Two personal notes regarding my own minhagim. I used to stand for Kiddush on Friday night. I’m not quite sure why but it’s most likely because that is the most prominent minhag I had seen. While learning shulchan aruch and its supercommentaries, it appeared to me that it seemed most proper to stand for “vayechulu…” since this paragraph is considered testimony which is given while standing (even those who state that it is not necessary to stand advise a small seated rise for the first four words) and most proper to sit for the actual Kiddush (either because that more practically attaches the Kiddush to the meal or because it more formally establishes a group and provides those listening with more kavanah). I asked my Rav whether I should continue making Kiddush as I had in the past or whether I should employ the seemingly more “preferable” method. My Rav inquired with others and advised me that, since my usual method was not based upon any family or community minhag, I should stand for vayechulu and sit for the remainder of Kiddush. So, that’s what we do.
The second personal note regards a minhag I had read about where immediately after making havdalah, the family gives tzedakah so as to start the new week with a mitzvah. I thought that this was a beautiful, meaningful minhag and so decided, bli neder, to do it in our home. Now, when we set up for havdalah, we place a tzedakah box on the table. Immediately after havdalah, we pass around coins to the family and any guests so that we can all start the week with a mitzvah.
I’d be interested in hearing how others have approached/been advised to approach the issue of minhagim.
Originally Posted 11/28/2007