I was sent an article last week that reported a strange incident in the Knesset. During a debate about tax exemptions for rooms adjoining synagogues, the discussion turned from substance to personal attacks. In this case, the verbal barrage claimed that Ashkenaz women don't go to shul (synagogue). If you're wondering where this bizarre charge originated, you're not alone. As someone who knows both Ashkenaz and Sephard families whose female members attend services, I don't understand the charge either.
This individual demeaned another person with words and will use that same mouth to pray to God? As the Chafetz Chaim points out, when someone speaks lashon hara (evil speech), their prayers are unable to reach God. If someone wants their prayers to have a positive effect, they must speak from a mouth that does not engage in lashon hara. In all likelihood, this politician just couldn't tolerate opposition to his view and simply used the Ashkenaz-Sephard issue as a distraction. Unfortunately, this doesn't only happen during political debates. Adults engage in small-minded, child-like behavior all too often. Instead of using one's mind and staying on topic, when someone can't defend their position, they typically resort to petty, personal attacks. It's called small-mindedness for a reason.
This case brings up the whole idea of Ashkenaz vs. Sephard. I have never quite understood what the big deal was anyway. Some of our ancestors came from Europe, others from Spain or elsewhere, and each brought their own Jewish customs. To believe that either Ashkenazim or Sephardim are the only ones who have it right completely misses the point. Ashkenazim and Sephardim differ in many ritually significant ways, but that should never affect how we ethically treat one another. All that is necessary is for each of us to follow our family's ritual customs (or in the case of many married women, take on those of their husbands), and at the same time follow the universal ethical code outlined by the Torah.
It might help to recall the four questions asked by the Heavenly Court after we die:
One of the questions isn't whether you were Ashkenaz or Sephard.