Between Yishtabach and Borchu

There are numerous references in this week’s parsha, Ki Savo, to blessings, praises and thanksgivings to Hashem. This provides excellent opportunity to discuss the brocha of Yishtabach and the Kaddish and Borchu that follow.

080512_1332_HowAreTefil1.pngQuestion #1: Between Yishtabach and Kaddish

Avraham asks: “In the shullen in which I used to daven, during the aseres yemei teshuvah we always recited the chapter of tehillim,Shir hama’alos mima’amakim,” right after Yishtabach. Someone recently told me that the reason why I do not see this custom practiced any more is because it is a hefsek in the davening. Is this true?”

Question #2: Between Kaddish and Borchu

Yitzchak queries: “Because of my work schedule, I must daven at a very early minyan. At times, we begin davening when it is too early to put on talis and tefillin, so we put on talis and tefillin after Yishtabach. Someone told me that when we do this, we are creating a problem with reciting Kaddish after Yishtabach. Is this true? And if it is true, what should we do?”

Question #3: Between Borchu and Yotzeir

Yaakov inquires: “If I need to use the facilities during davening, do I recite the brocha of Asher Yatzar after answering Borchu if I have not yet begun to say the brocha of Yotzeir Or?”

Introduction: Pesukei Dezimra, Yishtabach and Borchu

All of the above questions deal with the same general issue: what are the laws about making an interruption, a hefsek, between completing the recital of Yishtabach and prior to reciting the birchos kerias shema, the blessings that are recited before and after the shema, which begin with the brocha of Yotzeir Or. Let me begin by explaining the reason why we recite Yishtabach in our davening.

The Mishnah recommends contemplation as an introduction to praying (Brochos 30b). This experience is reflected when we recite or sing the Pesukei Dezimra, literally, Verses of Song¸ prior to Borchu and birchos kerias shema. To show how important this aspect of serving Hashem is, we find that the great tanna, Rabbi Yosi, yearned to receive the special reward granted to those who recite the Pesukei Dezimra daily (Shabbos 118b). Reciting Pesukei Dezimra properly helps elevate one’s entire tefilah to a completely different level. This has the potential to cause our prayer to soar!

Chazal established that we say two brochos, Baruch She’amar and Yishtabach, one before and one after Pesukei Dezimra. Baruch She’amar notes that we use the songs of David to praise Hashem. Since these two brochos are part of the Pesukei Dezimra introduction to our prayer, one may not converse from when he begins Baruch She’amar until after he completes the Shemoneh Esrei (Rif, Brochos 23a). This prohibition includes not interrupting between Yishtabach and the brocha of Yotzeir Or (Rabbeinu Yonah, ad locum, quoting a midrash).

The Tur (Orach Chayim 51), after citing this ruling, quotes, in the name of the Talmud Yerushalmi, that one who talks between Yishtabach and Yotzeir Or commits a sin serious enough that he loses the privilege of joining the Jewish army when it goes to war. According to halachah, prior to the Jewish army going into battle, a specially appointed kohen announces those who are exempt from warfare, which includes, according to this opinion, those who are concerned that their sins may cause them to become war casualties. The Jewish army is meant to be comprised of tzaddikim gemurim, the completely righteous, so that their merits will protect them on the field of battle. Those who are less righteous have no such guarantee, and the Torah therefore exempts them from fighting. Someone whose greatest sin is that he once spoke between Yishtabach and Yotzeir without having performed full teshuvah is too sinful a person to be allowed to serve in the Jewish army, out of of concern that he might become a casualty.

Interrupting between Yishtabach and Borchu

As I mentioned above, the questions introducing this article all deal with the laws of interrupting between Yishtabach and the beginning of the birchos kerias shema. The details of these halachos are not discussed in the Gemara, and, therefore, in order to establish what are the rules related to them, the halachic authorities needed to compare these laws to those of birchos kerias shema, which are discussed in the Gemara.

In general, it is prohibited to interrupt during the birchos kerias shema, although the Gemara mentions a few exceptions, including, at times, responding to a person’s greetings, so as not to offend him. The Rishonim dispute whether one may respond to Borchu, Kedusha, and Amen yehei shemei rabbah (in Kaddish) during the birchos kerias shema, the Maharam Rotenberg prohibiting, whereas his disciple, the Rosh, permitted it (Rosh, Brochos 2:5). The Maharam Rotenberg contended that these responses are prohibited during birchos kerias shema, because it is inappropriate to interrupt praise of Hashem in order to recite a different praise, even something as important as responding to Kaddish or Kedusha. The Rosh permitted this interruption, because he held that responding appropriately to Hashem’s praises should not be treated more strictly than responding to the greeting of a person, which is permitted under certain circumstances.

The poskim follow the opinion of the Rosh, concluding that one may answer the following responses while reciting the birchos kerias shema:

(1) Kaddish: one may answer “Amen, yehei shemei rabbah mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya,” and one may also answer “Amen” to the Chazzan’s da’amiran be’alma (at the point that we end what is called half-Kaddish. However, one may not respond to the other places in Kaddish (Chayei Adam 20:4).

(2) Borchu: One may answer “Boruch Hashem hamevorach la’olam va’ed.” This is true whether it is the Borchu that the chazzan recites before birchos kerias shema morning and evening, or whether it is the Borchu that the person receiving an aliyah recites prior to his aliyah (Magen Avraham 66:6).

(3) Kedusha: One may respond “Kodosh kodosh…” and “Boruch kevod Hashem mimkomo” to Kedusha, but one may not respond to the other parts of Kedusha we traditionally say, even the sentence beginning Yimloch (Ateres Zekeinim).

(4) Amen to Brochos: One may respond “Amen” to the brochos of Ha’Keil Hakadosh and Shema Koleinu (Rama 66:3), but not to other brochos.

Thundering applause

The poskim also dispute whether one may recite the brochos on lightning or thunder while in the middle of birchos kerias shema. The Magen Avraham 66:5 rules that one should, whereas the Bechor Shor (Brochos 13a) disagrees, contending that one should not interrupt one praise of Hashem with another. The Chayei Adam reaches a compromise, ruling that one should recite the brocha on lightning or thunder if he is between the brochos of keriyas shema, but not when he is in the middle of reciting one of the brochos. The dispute between the Magen Avraham and the Bechor Shor remains unresolved (Mishnah Berurah 66:19), and, therefore, someone who hears thunder while in the middle of one of the birchos kerias shema may choose whether to recite the brocha or not.

Between Yishtabach and Borchu

Now that we understand the accepted halachah concerning interrupting the birchos kerias shema, we can discuss the laws that apply between Yishtabach and Borchu. We should note that between the completion of Yishtabach and the beginning of Yotzeir Or can be subdivided into three points:

(1) Between Yishtabach and Kaddish.

(2) Between Kaddish and Borchu.

(3) Between Borchu and beginning the brocha of Yotzeir Or.

Although one might think that the birchos kerias shema do not begin until one begins reciting the words of the brocha, the early authorities rule that once one has said or responded to Borchu it is considered that he is already in the birchos kerias shema (Sefer Haminhag, quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 57; Rama 54:3). Thus, one may not interrupt once one has recited Borchu, except for the list of four items mentioned above.

What interruptions are permitted?

Notwithstanding the fact that it is prohibited to speak between Yishtabach and Borchu, interrupting at this point is less severe than between Baruch She’amar and Yishtabach or during the birchos kerias shema. Therefore, under certain circumstances, some interruptions are permitted. For example, if one needs to recite a brocha, it is better to do so after completing Yishtabach before answering (or saying) Borchu then during the Pesukei Dezimra. For this reason, someone who did not have tzitzis or tefillin available before davening, and they become available during Pesukei Dezimra, should put them on immediately after Yishtabach and then recite the brochos on them.

The authorities discuss several other instances and whether they are permitted between Yishtabach and Borchu, even though none of these interruptions is permitted during the birchos kerias shema. All of these permitted interruptions qualify either as tzorchei mitzvah, mitzvah requirements, or community needs. To quote the Tur (Orach Chayim 54): “One may not interrupt between Yishtabach and Yotzeir if it is not for community needs or for someone who needs to be supported from charity.” Thus, the Tur rules that although it is prohibited to talk after Yishtabach, one is permitted to make an appeal for charity at this point. Although, as we will soon see, this position is not universally agreed upon, there were other early authorities who held this way (Rav Amram Gaon, quoted by Tur; Beis Yosef quoting Kolbo #4).  The Shulchan Aruch (54:3) quotes this opinion, although he considers it to be a minority view (see also Hagahos Maimoniyos 7:70). In many places, custom was to extend this leniency to include requesting personal assistance for other needs, as we will see shortly.

It is certainly permitted to recite the brocha upon hearing thunder at this point in davening, and most authorities permit one to recite Asher Yatzar at this point (Mishnah Berurah 51:8. However, see Chayei Adam [20:3], who prefers that one not recite Asher Yatzar until after Shmoneh Esrei.)

At this point, we can answer one of the questions we raised at the beginning of this article: “If I need to use the facilities during davening, may I recite the brocha of Asher Yatzar after answering Borchu, provided I have not begun to say the brocha of Yotzeir Or?”

The answer is that one may recite Asher Yatzar before answering Borchu, but if one has already answered Borchu, he should wait until after Shemoneh Esrei before reciting it.

Before Kaddish or after?

In a situation when one may interrupt after Yishtabach, is it better to interrupt before reciting Kaddish or after Kaddish and before Borchu? This exact question is discussed at length by the Darchei Moshe, the Rama’s commentary on the Tur (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 54:1):

“The custom is to make a mishebeirach for the ill between Yishtabach and Yotzeir; and occasionally, someone shouts [at this point in the davening to call attention to the need] to bring someone to justice, and these are considered mitzvah needs. (The Rama codifies this last practice in his comments to Shulchan Aruch 54:3.) However, I do not understand why the custom is to do so before Kaddish, and then after the interruption to recite Kaddish. Since this Kaddish refers back to Pesukei Dezimra, as I will explain in Chapter 55, we should not interrupt before it. Furthermore, one following this practice no longer has a basis to recite Kaddish afterwards, since it now no longer concludes the Pesukei Dezimra.” The Rama then quotes the Kolbo (6), who says that if one did, indeed, interrupt between Yishtabach and Kaddish, then one should say Borchu without Kaddish. The Kolbo suggests another option for someone who interrupted after Yishtabach — he should recite three or more pesukim of tehillim and then say Kaddish.

On the basis of this Kolbo, the Rama, with the agreement of other talmidei chachamim, changed the practice in his city. However, he subsequently retracted this decision, because he found a more authoritative source that followed the original practice of interrupting before Kaddish rather than afterwards. The Or Zarua quoted a teshuvas ha’geonim that someone who began davening when he did not yet have a talis should stop after Yishtabach, recite the brocha, and put on the talis. However, if the community had already begun Kaddish, he should not interrupt at all. Thus, we see that if one needs to interrupt at this point in the davening, it is better to do so before Kaddish than afterwards. The Rama continues that this position is in line with the kabbalistic works that hold that one should not interrupt between Kaddish and Borchu. (By the way, the Rama himself was heavily steeped in Kabbalah, and authored a work on the topic.)

The Rama then concludes that it is best to avoid any interruption at all, and he cites that, in Prague, they had stopped all interruptions after Yishtabach. In a community which has the custom to interrupt, the Rama concludes that the best procedure is to interrupt after Yishtabach and before Kaddish, and that the chazzan should recite a few pesukim after the interruption prior to saying Kaddish, combining the positions of the Or Zarua and the Kolbo (Darchei Moshe 54:1; Rama 54:3).

At this point we can now answer Yitzchak’s question that we mentioned above:

“Because of my work schedule, I must daven at a very early minyan. At times, we must begin davening when it is too early to put on talis and tefillin, so we put on talis and tefillin after Yishtabach. Someone told me that when we do this, we are creating a problem with reciting Kaddish. Is this true? And if it is true, is there a simple solution to the problem?”

The “someone” who corrected the procedure was familiar with the opinion of the Kolbo. However, the Rama concludes that this is not a halachic concern, and that the procedure followed in Yitzchak’s shul is fine.

Kaddish before Musaf

There is a very interesting side point that results from this above-quoted Rama:

In a place where the rabbi delivers a sermon prior to Musaf, the custom is to do so before Kaddish. Is there any problem with reciting Kaddish, although there is now a huge interruption between the recital of Ashrei and the Kaddish?

Whether the chazzan may immediately recite Kaddish should depend on the above-cited dispute between rishonim. Just as the Kolbo ruled that the chazzan may not recite Kaddish once he interrupted unless he recites a few verses prior to saying Kaddish, here to, the chazzan must recite a few verses prior to reciting Kaddish. According to the Or Zarua, an interruption after the recital of the verses does not pose any problem with saying Kaddish afterward. Since the Rama concluded this way, one does not need to be concerned, and that is the basis of the custom.

Az Yashir after Yishtabach?!

Prior to addressing the last remaining question, we need to discuss a curiosity. The last Biblical passage cited as part of Pesukei Dezimra is Az Yashir, the Shiras Hayam that the Jewish people sang as praise to Hashem, after witnessing the miracles at the crossing of the Red Sea, the Yam Suf. The Tur (51) and the Avudraham explain that this passage is included immediately before Yishtabach, because it contains fifteen mentionings of Hashem’s holy Name, thus corresponding to the fifteen praises of Hashem that are stated in Yishtabach.

Others cite a different, but similar, idea: that we complete Pesukei Dezimra with Shiras Hayam, because the four-lettered name of Hashem is mentioned eighteen times between the words Vayehi Be’ashmores (that precede Az Yashir in the Torah) until the end of the Shiras Hayam. This adds up to a total of 72 letters of Hashem’s name and, thereby, represents a very high level of kedusha (Beis Yosef, 51, explaining Orchos Chayim).

By the way, these two allusions are not conflicting, but complementary. One explains Az Yashir as the introduction to Yishtabach, and the other makes it a representative of the entire Pesukei Dezimra as an introduction to the Shemoneh Esrei.

Notwithstanding the fact that it is now standard practice to include Az Yashir, the earliest versions of Pesukei Dezimra did not include any recital of Az Yashir, and others recited it after Yishtabach. For example, the Rambam’s Seder Hatefillos (located at the end of Sefer Ahavah in his Yad Hachazakah) places Az Yashir after the recital of Yishtabach.

With this introduction, we can now address one of the questions asked above:

“In the shullen in which I used to daven, during the aseres yemei teshuvah, we always recited the chapter of tehillimShir hama’alos mima’amakim’ right after Yishtabach. Someone recently told me that the reason why I do not see this custom practiced any more is because it is a hefsek in the davening. Can that possibly be true?”

Here is the background: The Magen Avraham (54:2) quotes the Arizal that during the aseres yemei teshuvah one should add Shir hamaalos mima’amakim after Yishtabach. The Magen Avraham then asks why this is not considered a hefsek. In response to this concern, the Dagul Meirevavah notes the Rambam’s placement of Az Yashir after Yishtabach; thus, it is curious to understand what was bothering the Magen Avraham. (One could also mention the Tur and others, who noted the custom of making charity and other communal appeals after Yishtabach as proof that reciting Shir Hama’alos should not be considered an interruption.)

Presumably, the Magen Avraham feels that adding Az Yashir is not a hefsek, since it is praise of Hashem, which is the same theme as the entire Pesukei Dezimra. We may, therefore, add other praises to Pesukei Dezimra. However, Shir Hama’alos is being added as a supplication, and the Magen Avraham considers this to be an interruption at this point in davening. And, although the Tur and Rama mention a custom of interrupting for communal or mitzvah needs, today, the prevalent practice is to not interrupt, as the Rama himself preferred. We could then conclude that although one may add quotations and passages from Tanach that praise Hashem both to the Pesukei Dezimra and immediately afterwards, one should not add passages that are being used as supplication, and that this is the reason why some did not observe this practice. However, those who do recite Shir Hama’alos Mima’amakim are following the practice of the Arizal, and should continue to do so.


The Ramban (Commentary to Shemos 13:16) explains: “All that Hashem desires from this world is that Man should thank Him for creating him, focus on His praise when he prays, and that the community pray together with concentration: Mankind should gather together and thank the Lord who created them, broadcasting: We are your creations!