Italian Word of the Week MINHAG

italicsBy Daniela Gross

The word “Minhag” comes from Hebrew, specifically from the verb “nahag” that means a particular way of behaving or a system of customs, and it is largely used in any Italian Jewish Community to indicate the ritual used during services. It can sound weird, because the Italian Jewry is not so large, but the different areas of the country have their own Minhag, with their own chants, styles and texts, and they jealously preserve it.

This diversity is deeply rooted in the ancient and complex history of Italian Jewry. The ritual of the Jewish community of Rome is already specifically mentioned in the Talmud. However, after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, Rome’s “Minhag” rituals absorbed important influences from the Sefardic traditions while in Central and North Italy it is closer to the Askenazi. But, this arrangement doesn’t preclude other crossovers and intermixing.

So, for instance, in an area near Turin – in Asti, Fossano, Moncalvo – the Jews have ever since prayed according a particular Minhag, the Apam, born from a combination of the ancient French, Provencal, and German rites. On the other hand, in Trieste, in North East Italy, for the last century people have prayed alternating the Ashkenazi rituals during Shabbat and Sefardic ones during the week days. Here, as in the other Italian communities, the Jewish world is an impressive melting pot.