Imagine holding two different worship services, with two different prayerbooks and vastly different melodies, in the same building in earshot of one another. Then imagine the joy of holding services in a separate, comfortable space while participating in other events as one of two vital parts of a whole congregation.
When Congregation Beth Jacob of Irvine expanded into a second building in 2011, it created a separate worship space for its Sephardic minyan. A year later that group also got a rabbi to lead that minyan and do many other things for the congregation and the community.
Rabbi Tal Perez, and his wife, Ayala, and their six children came all the way from Jerusalem to Irvine. Today the multi-talented Rabbi Perez heads a Kollel program of yeshiva-style learning, teaches other classes at Beth Jacob, serves as a Torah scribe, performs as a mohel for circumcisions, acts as a mashgiach to check that the laws of kashruth are maintained and assists in parental and family counseling.
Rabbi Perez led a second night Passover seder completely in Hebrew, and he has held a variety of events that showcase Sephardic customs throughout the year. He welcomes people from Beth Jacob’s Askenazic/Modern Orthodox minyan – as well as people from all over the community – to wander into the only Sephardic services in Orange County.
In fact, Rabbi Perez goes to great lengths and great distances to perform his various duties. After performing the brit milah ceremony in various parts of the world, Mohel/Rabbi Tal Perez traveled from the Beth Jacob community in Irvine to the capital of the tropical island of Tahiti, Papeete. It took him five days to get there in order to circumcise the baby son of a Jewish family living on the island.
It may be a tall order, but Rabbi Perez is a warm and deeply committed rabbi who says he is “motivated by the opportunity to make a significant and lasting impact on Jewish life in Orange County.” He is convinced that Beth Jacob is his “calling,” or true purpose.
What Is Sephardic Judaism?
Sephardic Jews are the Jews of Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East and their descendants. The adjective “Sephardic” and corresponding nouns Sephardi (singular) and Sephardim (plural) are derived from the Hebrew word “Sepharad,” which refers to Spain. Sephardic Jews are often subdivided into Sephardim, from Spain and Portugal, and Mizrachim, from Northern Africa and the Middle East.
Until the 1400s, the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa and the Middle East were all controlled by Muslims, who generally allowed Jews to move freely throughout the region. It was under this relatively benevolent rule that Sephardic Judaism developed. When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, many of them were absorbed into existing Mizrachi communities in Northern Africa and the Middle East.
Most of the early Jewish settlers of North America were Sephardic. The first Jewish congregation in North America, Shearith Israel, founded in what is now New York in 1684, was Sephardic and is still active. Philadelphia’s first Jewish congregation, Congregation Mikveh Israel, founded in 1740, was also a Sephardic one, and is also still active.
The beliefs of Sephardic Judaism are basically in accord with those of Orthodox Judaism, though Sephardic interpretations of halakhah (Jewish Law) are somewhat different than Ashkenazic ones. The best-known of these differences relates to the holiday of Pesach (Passover): Sephardic Jews may eat rice, corn, peanuts and beans during this holiday, while Ashkenazic Jews avoid them. Sephardic Jews also have different customs for other holidays and different traditional foods. For example, Ashkenazic Jews eat latkes (potato pancakes) to celebrate Chanukah; Sephardic Jews eat sufganiot (jelly doughnuts).
Sephardic Jews have a different pronunciation of a few Hebrew vowels and one Hebrew consonant, though most Ashkenazim are adopting Sephardic pronunciation now because it is the pronunciation used in Israel. Sephardic prayer services are somewhat different from Ashkenazic ones, and Sephardim use different melodies in their services.
Source: Judaism 101: Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews