Nusach Ashkenaz is a style of Jewish religious service conducted by Ashkenazi Jews, originating from Central and Western Europe.
It is primarily a way to order and include prayers, and differs from Nusach Sefard (as used by the Hasidim), and still more from the Sephardic rite proper, in the placement and presence of certain prayers.
Nusach Ashkenaz may be subdivided into the German or Western branch ("Minhag Ashkenaz"), used in Western and Central Europe, and the Polish/Lithuanian or Eastern branch ("Minhag Polin"), used in Eastern Europe, the United States and by some Israeli Ashkenazim, particularly those who identify as "Lithuanian".
In strictness, the term "Minhag Ashkenaz" applied only to the usages of German Jews south and west of the Elbe, such as the community of Frankfurt am Main. North-Eastern German communities such as Hamburg regarded themselves as following "Minhag Polin", though their musical tradition and pronunciation of Hebrew, and some of the traditions about the prayers included, were more reminiscent of the western communities than of Poland proper.
Leopold Zunz claimed that the Ashkenazi rite is descended from the ancient rite of Eretz Yisrael, while the Sephardi rite is descended from Babylonia. Haham Moses Gaster, in his introduction to the prayer book of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, made exactly the opposite claim. To put the matter into perspective it must be emphasized that all Jewish liturgies in use in the world today are in substance Babylonian, with a small number of Palestinian usages surviving the process of standardization: in a list of differences preserved from the time of the Geonim, most of the usages recorded as Palestinian are now obsolete.
The earliest recorded form of the Ashkenazi rite, in the broadest sense, may be found in an early medieval prayer book called Machzor Vitry. This however, like the Siddur Rashi of a century later, records the Old French rite rather than the Ashkenazi (German) rite proper, though the differences are small: the Old French rite survives today only in the form of certain usages of the Appam community of North-West Italy. Both the Old French and the Ashkenazi rites have a loose family resemblance to other ancient European rites such as the Italian, Romaniote and Provençal rites, and to a lesser extent to the Catalonian and Old Spanish rites: the current Sephardic rite has since been standardized to conform with the rulings of the Geonim, thereby showing some degree of convergence with the Babylonian and North African rites.
Medieval Ashkenazi scholars stated that the Ashkenazi rite is largely derived from the Seder Rav Amram Gaon and minor Talmudic tractate Massechet Soferim. This may be true, but does not support a claim of Babylonian origin as argued by Haham Gaster: as pointed out by Louis Ginzberg the Seder Rav Amram Gaon had itself been heavily edited to reflect the Old Spanish rite. The Ashkenazi rite also contains a quantity of early liturgical poetry from Eretz Yisrael that has been eliminated from other rites, and this fact was the main support for Zunz's theory.
- Tefillin are worn on the intermediate days of festivals (except on Shabbat). (The original custom was to wear tefillin for the entire Shacharis and Musaf services, for weekday New Moon and the intermediate days of festivals.)
- Separate blessings are said for the arm tefillin and the head tefillin.
- The second blessing before the Shema begins "Ahavah Rabbah" in the morning service and "Ahavat Olam" in the evening.
- In the summer months the second blessing of the Amidah contains no reference to dew or rain (Sephardim insert the words morid ha-tal, "who makes the dew fall").
- The kedushah of the morning service begins "neqaddesh et shimcha", and the kedushah of musaf (the additional service for Shabbat and festivals) begins "na'aritz'cha ve-naqdish'cha".
- There is one standard wording for the "Birkat Ha-Shanim", with only small variations between summer and winter.
- The Birkat ha-Kohanim (or Barechenu, which is a substitute for it) is said in minhah (the afternoon service) of fast days in general and not only on Yom Kippur.
- The last blessing of the Amidah is "Sim Shalom" in the morning service and "Shalom Rav" in the afternoon and evening services. (In congregations which follow German or Israeli Ashkenaz customs recite Shalom Rav at Shabbat Mincha as well, because of the afternoon Torah reading.)
- The Torah scroll is lifted and displayed to the congregation after the Torah reading rather than before.
- It is customary to stand for Kaddish.
- En Kelohenu concludes with a stanza about the making of incense.
- Adon Olam has only five stanzas.
- The morning service on Shabbat concludes with the Shir Ha-Kavod (song of glory)
- It is a binding custom to avoid rice or beans on Passover.
- Blessings are said over all four glasses of wine at the Passover Seder.
- Seliḥot do not begin until the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah.
- One set of Hanukkah lights is lit by each member of a household.
- The shammash is used to light the other Hanukkah lights.
- Lowenstein, Steven M. (2000). The Jewish cultural tapestry: international Jewish folk traditions. Oxford University Press. p. 270. Retrieved 2009-06-16.
- Prager, The Early Years of London’s Ashkenazi Community
- Leopold Zunz, Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden, historisch entwickelt, Frankfurt am Main 1892
- Preface to the Book of Prayer of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation, London, 1901: reprinted in 1965 and subsequent editions.
- Lewin, B. M., Otzar Ḥilluf Minhagim.
- Davidson, Charles, Immunim Benusaḥ Hatefillah (3 vols): Ashbourne Publishing 1996
- Ginzberg, Louis, Geonica: New York 1909
- Goldschmidt, Meḥqare Tefillah u-Fiyyut (On Jewish Liturgy): Jerusalem 1978
- Kalib, Sholom, The Musical Tradition of the Eastern European Synagogue (2 vols out of projected 5): Syracuse University Press 2001 (vol 1) and 2004 (vol 2)
- Reif, Stefan, Judaism and Hebrew Prayer: Cambridge 1993. Hardback ISBN 978-0-521-44087-5, ISBN 0-521-44087-4; Paperback ISBN 978-0-521-48341-4, ISBN 0-521-48341-7
- Reif, Stefan, Problems with Prayers: Berlin and New York 2006 ISBN 978-3-11-019091-5, ISBN 3-11-019091-5
- Wieder, Naphtali, The Formation of Jewish Liturgy: In the East and the West
- Zimmels, Hirsch Jakob, Ashkenazim and Sephardim: their Relations, Differences, and Problems As Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa: London 1958 (since reprinted). ISBN 0-88125-491-6
- Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz Site devoted to the Western Ashkenazi (and specifically German) tradition
- http://www.thebookpatch.com/BookStoreDetails.aspx?BookID=19123&ID=0da30d3e-df41-4b72-bdbe-ee301d7f0000 - a German Rite Nusaḥ Ashkenaz siddur compiled by Rabbi Rallis Wiesenthal with help from Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz and K'hal Adas Yeshurun-Jerusalem
- K'hal Adas Yeshurun Cantorial music in the Western Ashkenazi tradition
- What was considered Nusach Ashkenaz throughout the years
- http://www.shulmusic.org Choral music in the Western Ashkenazi tradition
- Sages of Ashkenaz database