March 28, 2022

Yevamot 15

It is possible that you have an accent that clearly informs those who speak with you about the location where you grew up. For example, those from Glasgow have a particular accent, as do those from Liverpool, and in terms of the US the New York accent is very distinct, as is the accent of those from Boston.
However, there are people who live in one place but then move to others, and as a result, they blend the accent of the location where they were raised with the accept that they have adopted in their new location. Admittedly these accents are harder to unpack and identify, but what they convey is the possibility that someone can carry dual identities in the same manner that someone can be a dual passport holder.
I mention this as a preface to my thought on today’s daf (Yevamot 15b) because I am not only a dual passport holder in terms of citizenship (UK & Israel), but also a dual minhag (custom) passport holder. What I mean by this is that while I am sefardic by birth, and while I follow certain sefardic traditions that I observed in my home, I grew up praying in an Ashkenazi shul and receiving halachic guidance mostly reflective of Ashkenazic traditions, and as a result I blend these two traditions in a similar way that someone who moved from Liverpool to New York might have a blended accent. Both are part of me, and both are needed for me to be me.
At times, people are confused by what I have just said because they feel that a Jew can be ‘only’ one of the other. But while there are Bostonians who don’t leave Boston, and Glaswegians who don’t leave Glasgow, there are people who move and who are therefore influenced by, and become citizens of, more than one place.
Having explained all this I’d like to turn to today’s daf where we are taught about Rabbi Yochanan HaChorani who was a disciple of Shammai, but who nevertheless performed all his deeds in accordance with Beit Hillel. For some people this duality seems impossible – because how could Rabbi Yochanan identify with one group, yet follow the laws of another? But the fact is that while it may seem that Rabbi Yochanan is unique, there are – in fact – may people like him who are comparable dual passport holders and who may more strongly identify with one group, but who adhere to the laws and strictures of the other.
Sadly, most halachic handbooks are just written for those who hold only one minhag passport – which make them imperfect resources for those who come from, and who identify with, multiple traditions. And this is why I believe it is so important to acknowledge the many people in this world like Rabbi Yochanan who – like those with a blended accent – have a blended minhag identity.
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