Religious Observances at Etz Hayyim


As what tradition may have been intact (after 2300 years or so) was emphatically broken when the last proper kehillah or Jewish community was destroyed in 1944 Etz Hayyim remained, ignored and all but forgot until 1995 when work began on its renovation.  Whereas we might long for and even try to recreate ‘tradition’,the fact is that a break in tradition is a break no matter how one looks at it. One can do a cosmetic job of making it look real – but in fact what is created will never be strong.  Even the vague hope that perhaps a sufficient number of Jewish households would eventually settle in Hania to make the creation of a proper Kehillah possible. has not been realized.  Etz Hayyim remains without a Hallachically defined community and as the Synagogue was primarily de-dedicated in 2000 as a place of prayer (in the Greek used by Hellensitic Jews – a ‘prosefxei’), we kept to this as much as possible.  However, unlike that period of rich and creative activity of Hellenistic Jews in the Diaspora prior to the destruction of the IInd Temple in 71 CE, contemporary Judaism appears to suffer dyspepsia and we have many queries as holidays approach.  Most of these have to do with kashrut and many others as to our observance.

Officially we are defined as Jews in Greece as ‘Orthodox’ though this term has none of the ramifications that it has in Europe, the US, UK and Israel where the term (nowhere found in Torah) is a counter to what the self defined Orthodox may see as heterodox Judaism – Conservative, Reform, Liberal etc.. We have none of these niceties  either Greece or Turkey. In both, for the most part, we follow the minhag of the Sephardim and are thus ‘traditional’ but how this is interpreted has not creatively evolved. Contemporary Jewish leadership is in the hands of lay-men (presidents of communities etc..) and rabbis are few.  Hence the matter of observance is somewhat personal and at times, quite lax. Etz Hayyim is open as a place of prayer for all Jews regardless of sectarian affiliation.

Men and women sit as they please – legs should not be crossed if possible by either sex.  The two Ezrath Nashim are not used – though can be if there is a need or an agreement is reached prior to the beginning of services. (This is not usual in Greece).

At Et Hayyim we have weekly Kabbalat Shabbat services on Friday evenings.  Service books are provided and based on the traditional Spanish and Portuguese ritual. Most is in Hebrew with full English translation and there are some Ladino portions as well.  It has been our custom to have Erev Shabbat Kiddush after the ‘Aleynu’.  This is not usual in Greece but we do it in order to give the tourist Jews who have no access to kosher wine or hallot the opportunity to fulfil the mitzvah. (This is not usual in Greece). It is usual that individuals are called upon to read portions of the service…women included.

As there is only rarely a minyan of tourist Jews we do not have Shabbat Prayers on the Saturday and lack of attendance has obviated the practice that we had  for Havdalah.

On the first day if the week (Sunday) the Synagogue is open for Shahrith prayers at 9 in the AM.  We have available talletoth and tephillin as well as siddurim in Hebrew and according to the ‘Mizrahi’ tradition also used by Sepharadim in Israel.  We do have Reform and Conservative siddurs on hand if they are needed.

PESAH – We have managed to create our own Haggadah for Pesah after many years of experimenting with other haggadoth.   We have a very large attendance at the Seder and invite participation – and have followed closely the injunction that we invite non-Jews to share this feast with us.  Thus the text that we have put together invites questioning – about freedom, contemporary forms of slavery, political, nationalistic and personal forms of violence to others etc.. Matzah are usually brought from Israel as is kosher wine.  The proper meal is vegetarian as we do not have access to kashruth  facilities and hence fish oriented.

SUKKOTH – The Sukkah is erected in the north courtyard of the synagogue.  After arvith prayers it is blessed formally and a buffet dinner is served around and in it.  The lulav and etrog are prominent and during the following days are available for persons who wish to fulfil the mitzvah-as are mahzorim.

MIKVEH – Arrangements for using the mikveh must be done at least a day in advance. The mikveh is very old and fed by underground springs and quite cold!

Tisha B’Av i not normally observed. Tu B’Shevat is a time when we invite many people who are not Jewish to participate with us at the Seder.

As we do not have an active community Purim Esther is usually quiet, We have inaugurated a special Purim in commemoration of the survival of the two Fires of 2010.


We do not have a rabbi or hazan usually hence Erev Rosh Hashannah and the intermediate days as well as Yom Kippour are especially challenging.  We have found in the past that there is a quite active interest in attending services.  The difficulty has been to find a via media in terms of Jewish observance – we can have Orthodox. Liberal, Reform, Conservative, non-allied and sentimentally oriented or even indifferent Jews all in attendance together.  Hence we have put together a service book that incorporates the material drawn from the traditional Spanish and Portuguese mahzor as well as other mahzorim.

A dinner is usually served after Rosh Ha Shannah evening prayers and the Synagogue is open the following AM for those who wish to pray the full service. At the beginning of this, (9:00 AM) as is the case during all of the month of Elul the Shofar is blown.

Yom Kippour services are dominated by the evening service central to which is the Kol Nidre and the Neílah service. The actual day has proper and specially worked out prayers as well as meditations.  Books are provided for persons who wish to have a more intense examination of themselves

The Fast is broken by all members who participate in the courtyard of the Synagogue after Neilah.

Thank you- N. Hannan-Stavroulakis

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