Slowly Positioned

Since our parsha shares with us Yaakov’s Avinu’s prayer prior to his confrontation with Eisav, I thought it appropriate to discuss some laws of tefillah.

Slowly Positioned

Question #1: Why windows?

Why does a shul have windows? Does this not create a distraction that one should avoid?

Question #2: A ruined davening!

When traveling, is it better to daven inside the ruins of a building or to pray outdoors?

Question #3: Strange title!

What does the title of this article have to do with its topic?

Answer:

At the beginning of parshas Vayishlach, the Torah teaches that one of the ways that Yaakov prepared for his encounter with Eisav was through prayer. This provides ample reason to discuss some of the laws regarding tefillah.

In Chapter 5 of Hilchos Tefillah, the Rambam discusses many important aspects of prayer that he terms “non-essential components,” meaning that if they were not done, one has still fulfilled his mitzvah to pray. Furthermore, someone unable to fulfill these laws is required to daven without observing them.

Correct location

The Rambam groups many of these rules under a heading he calls “the proper location in which to pray” (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 5:6). We can organize these laws into the following mnemonic heading:

Set place

One should have a set place where he davens.

Low

When standing to daven shemoneh esrei, one should stand in a low place. Certainly, one should not pray while standing on top of something.

Outdoors

One should not daven outdoors.

Wall

When praying, one should face a wall.

Lodging

One should not pray in a destroyed building, called, in Hebrew, a churvah.

Yerushalayim

In the room where one is davening, some windows or doors should face Yerushalayim and should be open.

As I mentioned above, these are all categorized as non-essential components of prayer. This means that although meeting these requirements is important, circumstances may dictate that one daven without observing them. We will now discuss the details of these six categories.

Set place

A person should daven regularly in the same place, as the Gemara states: Whoever establishes a place for his prayer, the G-d of Avraham will assist him. Furthermore, upon his passing, they will say about him that he was exceedingly humble and exceedingly righteous and a disciple of Avraham Avinu (Brachos 6b). This passage of Gemara is subsequently quoted verbatim by the Rif and the Rosh, and its conclusion is quoted by all the halachic authorities.

What does the Gemara mean when it says one should pray in an “established place”? This is disputed by the rishonim. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that the main thrust here is that one should pray in a place that is specially set aside for prayer, such as a shul. On the occasions when one cannot daven in shul and one must pray at home, he should have a set place at home where he prays. This should be a place where he will not be disturbed (see Magen Avraham 90:33). However, Rabbeinu Yonah rules that there is no requirement to daven in the same place in shul, which is usually referred to as a makom kavua, since the entire shul is established for prayer. Furthermore, according to Rabbeinu Yonah, it does not seem to make any difference which shul one attends, since one is, in any event, davening in a place that has been established for prayer. According to this approach, the reason why one who establishes a place for his prayer is promised such special rewards is because he was always careful to daven in a shul. On this basis, many rishonim note that someone who is unable to join the tzibur should still opt to daven in a shul, rather than at home (Rabbeinu Manoach, Hilchos Tefillah 5:6, based on Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 8:1).

However, other rishonim have a different interpretation of “a set place” to pray. For example, the Rosh contends that even in a shul, one should have a set place where he prays. Rabbeinu Manoach explains that someone who has several shullen in his neighborhood from which to choose should not randomly daven at different ones. He implies that one should always daven in the same shul, and that this is included in the Gemara’s recommendation that one “establish a place for one’s prayer.” If we combine these two approaches, to be rewarded with the special brocha, it is insufficient for one always to be careful to daven in shul – one also must be careful to daven in the same place, in the same shul, at all times. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 90:19) concludes that one should always have a set place to daven, whether at home or in shul. By the way, this law applies equally to women – a woman should have a set place in the house, out of the way of household traffic, where she can daven undisturbed.

Low

Daven from a low place

From the well-known words of Tehillim (130:1) Mima’amakim kerasicha Hashem, “from the depths I call out to You, Hashem,” the Gemara (Brachos 10b) derives that whenever one prays, one should endeavor to do so from a low place. For this reason, in many old shullen, the place from which the chazzan davened was somewhat sunk into the floor. This is also hinted at in the words of the Gemara (Brachos 34a) when it says that the chazzan is yoreid lifnei hateivah, descends when he leads the services.

There are two reasons why one should not stand on something while praying (Mahari Abohav, quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 90):

  1. Acting this way shows a degree of haughtiness.
  2. It is distracting to do so, because the person is afraid he may fall.

Because of the second reason, the Mahari Abohav prohibits davening while standing atop furniture, even when it is less than three tefachim high, which is a subject of dispute. The Rema and the Elyah Rabbah (90:1), follow the approach of the Mahari Abohav and prohibit praying even while standing atop something lower than three tefachim. On the other hand, the Bach, the Taz and the Pri Chodosh permit this, although the Pri Chodosh qualifies that this is permitted only if the person himself will not be distracted because he is standing on something.

Under extenuating circumstances, or if the chazzan wants to daven from an elevated surface so that people can hear him, one may daven from atop a piece of furniture, as long as one is in a secure position (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 90, quoting several authorities).

Outdoors

One of the scholars of the Gemara, Rav Kahana, declared that praying in an exposed agricultural area is viewed as being an act of chutzpah (Brachos 34b). Based on this Gemara, the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch rule that one should not pray in an open area, such as a field (Orach Chayim 90:5).

Why is praying in a field considered arrogant? Rashi explains because praying in a secluded place is more conducive to humility and being in awe of G-d. This is explained by the Mahari Abohav (quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 90) as meaning that, inherently, man should be inhibited about talking to G-d, and this should manifest itself in wanting to pray in a place where one has privacy. One who davens where there is nowhere to hide implies that his relationship with G-d is chummy.

An alternative explanation why it is considered chutzpah-dik to pray outdoors is that one who does so implies that, although there are distractions outdoors, he is confident that his concentration will not be affected. This attitude implies arrogance (Magen Avraham 90:6, in his explanation of Tosafos, Brachos 34b s.v. Chatzif).

The dispute how to explain this law has halachic ramifications. For example, may one, lechatchilah, daven outdoors in a place where he will not be disturbed?

According to the Magen Avraham’s reason, this is permitted, whereas according to the Mahari Abohav, it is prohibited when he has somewhere else to daven.

According to both approaches, one may pray under the heavens, provided that he is in an area surrounded by walls, even if there is no roof (Shaarei Teshuvah 90:1, quoting Batei Kehunah, Birkei Yosef, and Mizbach Adamah).

Yitzchak in a field

The commentaries (Tosafos, Levush, Bach) ask: If the Gemara rules that it is arrogant to daven outdoors, why did Yitzchak daven in an open field (Bereishis 24:63, see Rashi)? There are many different answers to this question. According to the Bach (Orach Chayim 90), Yitzchak davened between the trees, and this is considered similar to praying in an enclosed, unroofed area. Others explain that since he was praying on Har Hamoriah, the same holy place where the Beis Hamikdash would ultimately be built, this is not considered the same as davening in an open field (Tosafos, Brachos 34b s.v. Chatzif). A third approach is that Yitzchak davened in a place where no one would disturb him (Tosafos, second answer). This last answer implies that it is permitted to daven outdoors in a place where one will not be disturbed, which, as I mentioned above, corresponds only to the second opinion in the dispute as to why one should not daven outdoors. Some later authorities prohibit praying outdoors even in an area where one will not be disturbed, because they rule according to the other reason, that of the Mahari Abohav (Mishnah Berurah, 90:11).

The Magen Avraham (90:6) rules that the halachic assumption is that travelers may daven outdoors. The Mishnah Berurah (90:11) writes that if they have an option to daven under trees, that is preferable.

Wall

The verse in Melachim II 20:2 emphasizes that Chizkiyahu, the king of Yehudah, turned to the wall to pray. Based on this, the Gemara (Brachos 5b) derives that one should not pray with something intervening between himself and a wall. The Gemara’s example is that one should not pray facing a bed. Tosafos (s.v. Shelo) explains that this law does not apply to davening facing a piece of furniture that is not regularly moved, such as a bookcase (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 90:21; cf., however, Taz 90:5, who explains this idea in a different way).

Why did Chazal advise that one not pray with something intervening between himself and the wall? The Rambam explains that this is so that one not daven facing something that will distract him (quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 90). For this reason, it does not apply to something being used to help one daven, such as a shtender, table or desk (Taz, Orach Chayim 90:5). It is also permitted to daven facing something lower than 10 tefachim or less wide than four tefachim (Rabbeinu Manoach, Hilchos Tefillah 5:6; Rema 90:21, quoting Avudraham), although there are authorities who disagree with this (Pri Chodosh; Maamar Mordechai 90:25). It is also permitted to pray facing people (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 90:21 and 98:4).

Since the Rambam rules that this law is in the category of things that are preferred but not vital, one who davened facing a bed has fulfilled his mitzvah. Furthermore, one who has nowhere to daven other than facing a bed or some other piece of furniture may do so. The Taz (90:5) rules that if the only convenient place to create a minyan requires davening with something intervening before the wall, one may do so. He contends that since the reason not to have something intervening is only to avoid distraction, one may disregard this problem when it is the best option. The Mishnah Berurah (90:63) rules according to this Taz.

Lodging

One should not pray in a churvah, a partially destroyed building. In the context of this halachah, the Gemara (Brachos 3a) presents the following anecdote. Rabbi Yosi said: Once, when I was traveling, I entered one of the wrecked hovels of Yerushalayim to pray. Eliyahu, may he be remembered for good, arrived and remained at the door of the hovel to protect me, until I completed my prayer. When I completed my prayer, I greeted him as one greets one’s teacher…

Eliyahu proceeded to ask Rabbi Yosi why he had entered a destroyed remnant of a building. Rabbi Yosi replied that he had entered in order to pray in a place that he would not be distracted by other travelers. Eliyahu answered him that he should have recited an abbreviated prayer, rather than enter a churvah to pray!

The Gemara proceeds to explain that there are three reasons why one should not enter a churvah.

Someone might suspect him of using the ruins for sinful activity.

The building might collapse.

Evil spirits might be there.

The Gemara (Brachos 3a-3b) explains that all three reasons are valid, and then elaborates on when some of the reasons apply, but not others. The halachic conclusion is that when there are at least two people and the structure looks stable, none of the three reasons apply, and they may enter the churvah. Therefore, a married couple may enter ruins that look stable, since none of the reasons apply (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 90: 8). Also, one may enter a churvah in a case of life-threatening emergency, such as when it is the only place available to provide necessary shelter from the elements.

We should note that all three reasons mentioned for not entering a churvah have nothing to do with praying. A person alone may not enter ruins unless there is a life-threatening emergency, such as the need to rescue people from an imminent building collapse.

Outdoors or in a churvah?

If someone has two options for davening, outdoors or in a churvah, where should he daven? We see from the conversation between Eliyahu and Rabbi Yosi that it is better to daven outdoors than in a ruin (Magen Avraham 90:7).

Yerushalayim

When praying in a room, some windows or doors should face Yerushalayim and should be open, as implied by the verse in Daniel (6:11): “He had windows open, facing Jerusalem, in the upper story of his house and, three times a day… he prayed to Hashem.” From this verse, the Gemara (Brachos 31a) and the Rambam derive that one should pray in a building that contains windows. It is interesting to note that the Kesef Mishneh quotes a responsum of the Rambam that the requirement that there be windows applies only to someone davening at home, but not to a shul. However, the custom is to have windows in a shul. The later authorities note that this is implied by the Zohar, and contend that the Shulchan Aruch, the author of the Kesef Mishneh, himself, followed this approach (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 90:4; Kaf Hachayim 90:19).

We should note that there appears to be a dispute among early authorities as to whether the primary reason that one should pray in a room with windows is so that one can see the heavens, or whether it is so that one look in the direction of Yerushalayim (see Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 90:4). This question will be discussed shortly.

Windows or outdoors?

What should a person do if he has two places in which he could daven, one outdoors and the other indoors in a room without windows. Since the Gemara states that it is a chutzpah to daven outdoors, the Pri Megadim rules that someone with this choice should pray indoors, in the building without windows (Eishel Avraham 90:4). This ruling is subsequently followed by the Mishnah Berurah (90:10).

Twelve windows

There is a practice that a shul has twelve windows. This is based on a Zohar (parshas Pekudei), which is quoted by the Beis Yosef (90) and the Shulchan Aruch (90:4), who says that “it is good” to have 12 windows. As long as at least one of these windows faces Yerushalayim, it does not matter in what the direction the other windows face (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 90:4; Mishnah Berurah 90:9). Some windows or doors that face Yerushalayim should be open (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 90:4).

This ruling prompts the following question of the Magen Avraham (90:4): Why should a shul have windows? After all, one is supposed to daven by looking downward, to avoid distraction. The Magen Avraham answers that the windows are there so that if one is having difficulty concentrating while praying, he can look heavenward for inspiration. The Machatzis Hashekel explains, differently, that one is not supposed to look out the windows. He explains that the reason for the windows is so that one realizes that, wherever he is, the tefillah travels first to Yerushalayim and then to heaven.

Conclusion

Having studied many of the laws about proper positioning in davening, let us also use the above mnemonic to realize that we should always daven slowly and meaningfully. Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three very high points: the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers.

 

How Is Our Maariv Structured?

Question #1: “Why is maariv structured differently from shacharis? In the morning, we start Shmoneh Esrei immediately after Ga’al Yisroel, whereas maariv includes two additional brochos.”

Question #2: “Why do we recite a kaddish immediately before Shmoneh Esrei in maariv, but not in shacharis?”

Answer:

The Gemara (Brochos 26b) teaches that Avraham Avinu initiated the daily morning prayer of shacharis, Yitzchak established mincha and Yaakov instituted maariv. The source that Yaakov introduced maariv is in the second verse of this week’s parshah, where it says vayifga bamakom, which is interpreted as meaning he prayed in that place. This provides ample opportunity to discuss the structure and laws of our maariv prayers.

What we call “maariv” actually fulfills four different mitzvos. The Gemara quoted above refers to only one of these mitzvos: tefillah, the prayers we recite as Shmoneh Esrei. The other three mitzvos are: reading shma (kri’as shma), required min hatorah every morning and night; remembering yetzi’as mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt; and birchos kri’as shma, reciting the blessings that Chazal instituted to surround the shma with brochos (Mishnah, Brochos 11a). These brochos, together with the shma, constitute the part of the davening between borchu and the Shmoneh Esrei.

In the morning, the birchos kri’as shma consist of two brochos prior to shma and one afterward. Birchos kri’as shma at night consist of four brochos, two before shma and two afterward. (The various places that we pause for the chazzan in the middle of these brochos do not indicate new brochos.) On weekdays, Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz add another brochah at the end of maariv that begins with the words Baruch Hashem le’olam. This brochah consists of a selection of pesukim which mention Hashem’s name at least eighteen times, corresponding to the eighteen brochos of the original Shmoneh Esrei, followed by a brochah. The chazzan then recites a half-kaddish, after which everyone begins the Shmoneh Esrei.

The Avos did not establish the Shmoneh Esrei itself, but rather the concept that one should daven three times a day. The original text of eighteen brochos, from which the term Shmoneh Esrei was derived, was created by the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah. What we call the Shmoneh Esrei includes an additional brochah, Velamalshinim, which was added later and is a topic for a different time.

Order of maariv

This above order reflects how we daven maariv today. However, at the time of the Gemara, there was a dispute concerning when one should recite the kri’as shma and its brochos – before or after the Shmoneh Esrei. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi contended that the Shmoneh Esrei of maariv should be recited first, and only then should one recite kri’as shma and its brochos. Our structure follows Rabbi Yochanan, who ruled that since the blessings surrounding the kri’as shma include one that closes with the words Ga’al Yisroel –  He Who redeemed Israel, this should be recited before Shmoneh Esrei. This is because of the concept of masmich geulah latefillah, meaning that one should mention the redemption immediately prior to beginning prayer (Brochos 4b). To quote the Gemara: “Rabbi Yochanan said: ‘Who will merit the World to Come? One who recites the brochah of the redemption immediately before he recites the prayer in the evening.’ Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, ‘The prayers are in the middle’” (Brochos 4b).

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi contends that one recites the blessings after the Shmoneh Esrei because the redemption from Egypt did not take place at night. Although Hashem smote the Egyptian firstborn at night, since the full redemption, that is, leaving Egypt, did not occur until the following morning, there is no compelling reason to mention the redemption prior to the evening prayer. In addition, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi notes that since the Torah states that one should recite kri’as shma when one goes to bed in the evening and when one rises in the morning, these two recitals should not have tefillah between them. Rabbi Yochanan contends, however, that although the Bnei Yisroel did not leave until morning, we consider the redemption to have begun at night. Therefore, even at night, the geulah should be mentioned before the prayer.

How do we rule?

Although in this instance we follow the decision of Rabbi Yochanan, this is very unusual, since we usually rule according to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi when he disagrees with Rabbi Yochanan (Tosafos, Nedarim 45a and Chullin 97a; Ramban, Eruvin 46a). Yet, in this instance, virtually all halachic authorities rule according to Rabbi Yochanan (Rif; Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 7:18; Rosh; Tur, Orach Chayim Chapters 235 and 236; Shulchan Aruch ad loc. Chapters 235:1 and 236:2. However, cf. the Shiltei Giborim quoting Rav Amram Gaon.) This is because the Gemara cites a beraysa, an earlier source of the tanna’im, which concurs with Rabbi Yochanan (Rif; Tosafos, 4b s.v. Da’amar).

Olam haba

Rabbi Yochanan’s original statement was: “Who will merit the World to Come? One who recites the brochah about the redemption immediately before he recites the prayer in the evening.” The rishonim raise the following inquiry: Does such a seemingly small act alone guarantee olam haba?

Rabbeinu Yonah provides two approaches to explain this curious statement: Hashem took us out of Egypt in order that we become His servants. One who recites the brochah of Ga’al Yisroel thereby acknowledges the tremendous kindness that Hashem performed. If an individual follows this immediately with prayer, he shows that he recognizes that the chesed that Hashem performed requires us to serve Him with total commitment. Prayer demonstrates that we recognize the good that Hashem has done for us, and that we are His servants. Internalizing and actualizing this mindset are what gains a person a place in olam haba.

A second reason is that when the Jewish people saw the miracles of the Exodus, they trusted in Hashem. Reciting the geulah describes the faith that the Jews placed in Hashem, and praying immediately thereafter demonstrates understanding that everything is because of Hashem, and that we should place our total trust in Him. Fearing Hashem and only Hashem results from having this total trust in Him. Thus, with these actions a person internalizes the qualities that will earn him olam haba.

Although the Gemara attributes this idea to Rabbi Yochanan, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi agrees that one who proceeds directly from mention of redemption to prayer merits olam haba. He disagrees only as to whether one should strive to accomplish this only with his morning prayers, or if he should do so also with his evening prayers. In the evening, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi prefers that one pray first and only afterward recite shma and its attendant brochos (based on Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah).

Why do we have interruptions?

This discussion leads us to a series of questions: As opposed to the morning prayers, where we recite the closing words Ga’al Yisroel and then immediately begin reciting the Shmoneh Esrei, three additional prayers are recited between the evening brochah Ga’al Yisroel and the Shmoneh Esrei. First, the brochah of Ga’al Yisroel is not the last brochah of the brochos that surround shma – it is followed by a brochah commencing with the word Hashkiveinu. Second, after Hashkiveinu, Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz add the brochah that begins with the words Baruch Hashem le’olam. Both these brochos are recited between Ga’al Yisroel and the Shmoneh Esrei. If it is so important to recite Shmoneh Esrei immediately after the brochah of Ga’al Yisroel, why are there “interruptions” between them?

Furthermore, in the evening, the chazzan recites “half-kaddish” before beginning the Shmoneh Esrei. This kaddish is not recited in the morning, when nothing is allowed to interrupt between geulah and tefillah. Why are these three insertions not considered interruptions between the brochah of Ga’al Yisroel and the beginning of Shmoneh Esrei?

The first of these three questions (Why is the brochah Hashkiveinu recited between Ga’al Yisroel and the Shmoneh Esrei?) already surfaces in the Gemara (Brochos 4b). There, the Gemara explains that once Hashkiveinu was established as a brochah after Ga’al Yisroel, the two brochos together, Ga’al Yisroel and Hashkiveinu, are considered one long recitation of redemption. Therefore, Hashkiveinu does not constitute an interruption between geulah and tefillah.

What does this Gemara mean?

Some rishonim explain that while Hashem brought the Angel of Death upon the Egyptian firstborn on the first night of Pesach, the Jews were afraid and prayed to Him to save them from the fate of the Egyptians. This is considered an act of righteousness, not lack of faith, because tzaddikim always think that they have sinned and, therefore, are not deserving of Divine intervention. To remember these supplications, Chazal implemented the recital of Hashkiveinu, an appeal that Hashem protect us from all misfortune. Since this entreaty originated as part of the Exodus, it retains aspects of salvation and therefore does not constitute an interruption between geulah and tefillah (Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah ad loc.).

Another interruption

Although we have now explained why Hashkiveinu is not considered an interruption between geulah and tefillah, we still do not know why the brochah beginning with the words Baruch Hashem le’olam is not considered an interruption. The rishonim devote much discussion to this question and to the origins of this brochah altogether, since it is not mentioned in the Gemara.

Tosafos (4b s.v. Da’amar) explains that, at some point in post-Talmudic history, this brochah was instituted to lengthen the davening. The reason for doing this was so that someone who arrived late for maariv would have time to catch up and finish davening and still be able to leave shul with everyone else. As the Rosh (Brochos 1:5) explains, at the time this brochah was implemented, the shullen were in the fields, and it was dangerous to walk home alone at night after maariv.

Other approaches

Other rishonim explain the origin of the brochah of Baruch Hashem le’olam somewhat differently. The approach presented by Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah requires a bit of an introduction.

The Gemara (Brochos 27b) quotes a dispute whether tefillas arvis reshus or tefillas arvis chovah, which seems to be a disagreement over whether davening maariv is required or optional. The halachic conclusion is tefillas arvis reshus. But is maariv really optional? Can one decide every night whether he wants to skip maariv?

The rishonim already note that the Gemara states that one who missed maariv must recite a make-up prayer, called a tefillas tashlumim, after the next morning’s shacharis. If maariv is optional, why must one make up the missed prayer?

In response to this difficulty, Tosafos explains that when the Gemara states that maariv is reshus, it does not mean that it is optional, but rather that it is less mandatory than other requirements. Should one need to choose between fulfilling two different mitzvos, maariv is set aside in favor of the other mitzvah (Tosafos, Brochos 26a s.v. Ta’ah). However, in all other circumstances, one is obligated to recite maariv.

The Rif resolves the problem differently, contending that, indeed, maariv is not obligatory. However, once one has decided to daven maariv, he must do so properly, meaning that, in the event that he did not daven, he would need to pray a “make-up” prayer.

Baruch Hashem le’olam

Returning to Baruch Hashem le’olam: Since reciting a tefillah for maariv was originally voluntary, Rabbeinu Yonah explains that the eighteen mentions of Hashem’s Name that constitute the prayer of Baruch Hashem le’olam were substituted for maariv and qualified as adequate fulfillment of the requirement to daven at night. A closing brochah beginning with the words yiru eineinu was then recited, followed by kaddish, and one thereby fulfilled the requirement of maariv without reciting Shmoneh Esrei. (A similar approach is presented by the Tur in the name of Rav Natrunai Gaon.)

The prayer of Baruch Hashem le’olam and the subsequent half-kaddish remained part of the maariv liturgy, even after davening a maariv Shmoneh Esrei became accepted as an obligation, and they are now followed by Shmoneh Esrei, the full kaddish and Aleinu. Reciting Baruch Hashem le’olam is not considered an interruption between geulah and tefillah, since it was originally adopted as a halachic obligation whereby one fulfills the mitzvah of prayer.

Later rishonim combine both the approach of Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah and that of Tosafos to explain the origins of the blessing Baruch Hashem le’olam. For example, the Tur explains that since the shullen were in the fields, people completed the maariv that they recited as a group while it was still daylight and ended their tefillah with kaddish. Everyone then recited the Shmoneh Esrei individually, in their own homes, after dark.

I found a similar approach in a commentary by a different rishon, Rabbeinu Manoach (commentary on the Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah, 7:18), who suggests that Baruch Hashem le’olam was instituted at a time when the Jews were not permitted to pray while standing. To avoid this, the Jews recited the verses of Boruch Hashem le’olam while sitting, recited kaddish, completed the service, and went home. Beyond the watchful eyes of the persecuting government, they recited the Shmoneh Esrei at home, while standing.

A tangential point is that we see from the writings of the various rishonim that in their era both Sefardim and Ashkenazim recited Baruch Hashem le’olam as part of the daily maariv. This practice is mentioned even in Shulchan Aruch, despite the fact that he discusses usual Sefardic practice. There were individual gedolim, both Ashkenazim and Sefardim, who did not recite Baruch Hashem le’olam (Rashba, Brochos 4b, quoting Rashbam; Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, quoting Ramban; Rambam also makes no mention of it). However, the common practice today of Sefardim and the minhag Eretz Yisroel not to recite Baruch Hashem le’olam are both customs of later origin.

Should one stand for Boruch Hashem le’olam?

Thus, we see that according to all approaches, the brochah beginning with the words Boruch Hashem le’olam was included as a substitute for the Shmoneh Esrei, or, in other words, to fulfill the mitzvah of prayer. If that is so, should it be said standing?

The Rema 136:2 writes that people who are meticulous in their observance stand while reciting these pesukim, since they are a replacement for the Shmoneh Esrei. However, the Magen Avraham cites several authorities who disagree and contend that they should deliberately be said sitting. The Taz explains that if one intends to say Shmoneh Esrei, since he would fulfill his chiyuv with the 18 pesukim if he says them standing, he will be considered as having recited Shmoneh Esrei twice, which one is not permitted to do under ordinary circumstances. Therefore, he should recite the pesukim sitting, which demonstrates that he is reciting them only to fulfill the custom and not to fulfill his mitzvah to daven maariv.

However, if he has already said Shmoneh Esrei, such as if he skipped Baruch Hashem le’olam in order to start the Shmoneh Esrei together with the tzibur, one should recite these verses standing (Magen Avraham 236:2).

Kaddish at night

At this point, we can answer one of the questions mentioned at the beginning of the article:

“Why do we recite a kaddish immediately before Shmoneh Esrei in maariv, but not in shacharis?”

This practice dates back to the post-Gemara takkanah, when half-kaddish was recited after Baruch Hashem le’olam to end the public tefillah at this point, or to demonstrate that the requirements of tefillah had been fulfilled. Although today, one cannot fulfill his requirement to daven maariv with this brochah, the brochah of Baruch Hashem le’olam and the subsequent half-kaddish were left in place.

I also found an alternate answer to this question: We say kaddish in the evening, because we paskin that maariv is reshus, and therefore we need not be concerned about the interruption, whereas in shacharis, which is definitely a required prayer, we are concerned about the interruption (Tosafos, Brochos 4b s.v. Da’amar, quoting Rav Amram Gaon).

Interrupting maariv

Notwithstanding this last statement, the halachah is that one may not interrupt between the birchos kri’as shma of maariv and the Shmoneh Esrei (Tosafos, Brochos, 4b s.v. Da’amar). However, for important purposes, the halachic authorities allowed certain interruptions. For example, the Rashba (Shu”t 1:293) rules that on Rosh Chodesh, we may announce that people should not forget to say Yaaleh Veyavo, and the Mishnah Berurah (236:7) extends this heter to include that one may announce Al Hanissim on Chanukah and Purim, something that is not permitted in shacharis.

Conclusion: Was Yaakov’s prayer second rate?

The question is obvious: If each of the three prayers was established by one of our forefathers, why are two of these prayers obligatory, whereas the Gemara concludes that maariv is optional? Even if we understand the Gemara to mean, as some rishonim explain, that it is only relatively optional, meaning that one is required to daven maariv but it is more easily deferred, why does Yaakov’s prayer seem to get a second-rate standing? After all, he is considered the most chosen of the forefathers, bechir shebe’avos, so why should his prayer be considered of lesser importance?

The Pnei Yehoshua (Brochos 26b s.v. Mihu) explains that Yaakov never intended to create a new prayer at night – he meant to daven mincha! Suddenly, Hashem made the sun set and darkness fell early, in order to force Yaakov to stop at that place. Thus, Yaakov’s prayer was because he had missed mincha, not because he was trying to institute a prayer in the evening.

 

Do I say Yaaleh Veyavo, Retzei or both?

Since Rosh Chodesh falls on motza’ei Shabbos, I thought it appropriate to discuss:

Do I say Yaaleh Veyavo, Retzei or both?

Question #1: Is it Shabbos versus Rosh Chodesh?

“When Rosh Chodesh begins on motza’ei Shabbos, do I say Yaaleh Veyavo in bensching at seudah shelishis?”

Question #2: Why is this night of Chanukah different from all other nights?

“Chanukah begins this motza’ei Shabbos. If I finish seudah shelishis after nightfall, do I include Al Hanissim in bensching?”

Introduction

When we recite birchas hamazon on Shabbos, Yom Tov, Chol Hamoed, Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah and Purim, we include special prayers to commemorate the holiday: on Shabbos, a passage beginning with the word Retzei; on Yom Tov, Chol Hamoed and Rosh Chodesh, the opening words are Yaaleh Veyavo; and on Chanukah and Purim, Al Hanissim.

In a different article, I discussed whether one recites these additions when one’s meal was divided between a holiday and a weekday – i.e., one ate part of his meal on the holiday and part before or after; or when the change of date transpired between the eating of the meal and the bensching. Does one recite the special addition to commemorate the holiday when this happens, or does one omit it? We discovered that there are several opinions as to what to do. These are the earliest opinions that I found:

  1. When one bensches

The Rosh rules that one recites the version of birchas hamazon appropriate to when one bensches, regardless as to when one ate the meal. In his opinion, one who finished seudah shelishis after nightfall does not recite Retzei. Similarly, one whose Purim seudah ends after Purim does not recite Al Hanissim. The Rosh also holds that someone who completed a meal before Rosh Chodesh and bensches after it is dark should recite Yaaleh Veyavo.

  1. The beginning of the meal

The Maharam, as understood by the Bach and the Aruch Hashulchan, maintains that the text of the bensching is established according to what was correct when the meal began. Therefore, one who finished seudah shelishis after nightfall recites Retzei, since his meal began on Shabbos. (There is an exception – if he did something to declare that Shabbos is over, such as reciting havdalah, davening maariv, or even simply answering borchu, he does not recite Retzei any more, as it is therefore inconsistent to mention Shabbos in bensching.)

  1. All of the above

The Maharam, as understood by the Taz, contends that one adds the special prayer if either the meal began on the holiday or one is bensching on the holiday. Thus, one who finished seudah shelishis after nightfall recites Retzei, and someone who completed a meal before Rosh Chodesh and bensches after it is dark should recite Yaaleh Veyavo.

The halachic conclusion

The halachic consensus regarding someone who began his meal on Shabbos or Purim and continued it into the night is that one recites Retzei or Al Hanissim, following the position of the Maharam and not the Rosh.

Conflicting prayers

The topic of our current article adds a new aspect to this question – what to do when Rosh Chodesh or Chanukah begins on motza’ei Shabbos, and seudah shelishis started on Shabbos and was completed on Rosh Chodesh or on Chanukah. According to the Rosh, one should recite Yaaleh Veyavo or Al Hanissim, whether or not one ate on Rosh Chodesh or on Chanukah. However, the consensus of halachic opinion is that the Maharam’s opinion is accepted, in this topic, over that of the Rosh. According to those who understand that the Maharam ruled that one should always recite the text of birchas hamazon appropriate to the beginning of the meal, one should recite Retzei. Yet, many authorities follow the second interpretation of the Maharam mentioned above, that one adds the special prayer if either the meal began on the holiday or one is bensching on the holiday. What complicates our question is that there may be a requirement to recite both Retzei and either Yaaleh Veyavo or Al Hanissim, yet mentioning both in the same bensching might be contradictory in this instance, since the holiday begins after Shabbos ends. As we will soon see, whether or not this is a problem is, itself, debated by the authorities.

The earliest authority that I found who discusses this predicament is the Bach (end of Orach Chayim, 188). Regarding what to recite when seudah shelishis continues into Rosh Chodesh, he concludes that one should say Retzei and not Yaaleh Veyavo, because the beginning of a meal determines the exact text of its birchas hamazon. As I mentioned above, this is precisely the way the Bach understands the Maharam’s position – that the proper bensching is always determined by the beginning of the meal. Since the halacha follows the Maharam’s position, the Bach comfortably rules according to his understanding of the Maharam, that one recites Retzei and not Yaaleh Veyavo.

The Magen Avraham (188:18; 419:1) analyzes the issue differently from the way the Bach does. First, he considers the possibility that one can recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo. This is based on his understanding of the Maharam’s position that ending a meal on Rosh Chodesh or a different festival is reason to recite the holiday additions, even if the meal started on a weekday. However, the Magen Avraham concludes that one cannot recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo in this instance, because this is an inherent contradiction: If it is already Rosh Chodesh, it is no longer Shabbos, and if it is still Shabbos, it is not yet Rosh Chodesh. Since this is now a conundrum, the Magen Avraham concludes that one should follow the Rosh’s opinion, that one recites whatever is appropriate to be said at this moment, which means to recite only Yaaleh Veyavo. Magen Avraham contends that this practice is followed only when one ate bread on Rosh Chodesh. If he did not eat bread on Rosh Chodesh, then he should say only Retzei, following the Maharam’s opinion that the special prayers are determined by the beginning of the meal.

Chanukah on motza’ei Shabbos

The Magen Avraham also rules that there is a difference in halachah between Rosh Chodesh and Chanukah. When Chanukah begins on motza’ei Shabbos and seudah shelishis extended into the beginning of Chanukah, he rules that one should recite only Retzei and not Al Hanissim, even if he ate bread on Chanukah.

Why is Chanukah different from all other nights?

The Magen Avraham explains that, whereas when reciting Yaaleh Veyavo on a weekday Rosh Chodesh bensching is required, reciting Al Hanissim in bensching of a weekday Chanukah is technically not required, but optional. Therefore, when his meal began on Shabbos (which was as yet not Chanukah) and he is, therefore, required to recite Retzei, even if he continued the meal into Chanukah and ate bread then, the optional addition of Al Hanissim does not cancel the requirement to recite Retzei.

More opinions

Thus far, we have seen two opinions concerning what to do for the bensching of a seudah shelishis that extended into Rosh Chodesh that begins on motza’ei Shabbos:

(1) The Bach, that one should recite Retzei and not Yaaleh Veyavo.

(2) The Magen Avraham, that if he ate bread on motza’ei Shabbos he should recite Yaaleh Veyavo, but otherwise he should recite Retzei.

A third position is that, once it is Rosh Chodesh, one should recite Yaaleh Veyavo and not Retzei (Maharash of Lublin, quoted by Shelah and Taz 188:7). The Maharash maintains that since at the time he bensches it is Rosh Chodesh, the requirement to recite Yaaleh Veyavo is primary and preempts the requirement to recite Retzei, which he considers to be secondary, since it is no longer Shabbos.

Why not both?

The Taz (188:7) disagrees with all the above-mentioned positions, challenging the assumption that one cannot recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo. He concludes that since Yaaleh Veyavo is recited after Retzei there is no contradiction, since Rosh Chodesh begins after Shabbos ends. Therefore, one who ate on Shabbos and is bensching on Rosh Chodesh should recite both additions.

To sum up, someone whose meal began on Shabbos and is bensching on Rosh Chodesh, should:

  • recite Yaaleh Veyavo, according to both the opinion of the Rosh and that of the Maharash,.
  • recite Retzei, according to the opinion shared by the Bach and the Aruch Hashulchan.
  • recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo, according to the conclusion of the Taz,.

According to the ruling of the Magen Avraham, if he ate bread after Rosh Chodesh arrived, he should recite Yaaleh Veyavo. If he did not, he should recite Retzei.

Rabbi, what should I do?

The Mishnah Berurah (188:33), when recording what to do, implies that one should follow the position of the Magen Avraham. He then mentions the Taz as an alternative approach – that one should say both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo. This is consistent with the Mishnah Berurah’s general approach of following the Magen Avraham, except when the latter’s position is opposed by most later authorities.

The Aruch Hashulchan, on the other hand, concludes neither as the Magen Avraham nor the Taz, but that what one recites is always determined by the beginning of the meal. Therefore, in this situation, he rules to recite Retzei and omit Yaaleh Veyavo, regardless of whether one ate on Rosh Chodesh.

Since there are many conflicting positions as to which additions to recite when Rosh Chodesh begins on motza’ei Shabbos, many people avoid eating bread after nightfall. They eat all the bread that they intend to eat towards the beginning of the meal, and upon completing the seudah, recite bensching including Retzei and omitting Yaaleh Veyavo. This approach follows the majority of halachic authorities (Bach, Magen Avraham, Aruch Hashulchan, Mishnah Berurah [according to his primary approach]), although it runs counter to the opinions of the Maharash and the Taz. Those who want to avoid any question recite birchas hamazon before the arrival of Rosh Chodesh.

Conclusion

In our daily lives, our hearts should be full with thanks to Hashem for all He does for us. Birchas hamazon provides a regular opportunity to elicit deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done in the past and does in the present. All the more so should we should acknowledge Hashem’s help on special holidays.

 

 

Praying for a Rainy Day when Traveling to or from Eretz Yisroel in November

Whereas in chutz la’aretz ve’sein tal umatar (the prayer for rain added to the beracha of Boreich Aleinu in the weekday shemoneh esrei) is not recited until the evening of December Fourth (this year; the exact date varies), people in Eretz Yisroel began reciting this prayer on the Seventh of MarCheshvan. This difference in practice leads to many interesting shaylos. Here are some examples:

Question #1:

Yankel, who lives in New York, is in aveilus, l”a, for his father, and tries to lead services at every opportunity. He will be visiting Eretz Yisroel during the month of November. Does he recite the prayer according to the Eretz Yisroel practice while there? Which version does he recite in his quiet shemoneh esrei? Perhaps he should not even lead services while he is there?

Question #2:

Does someone from chutz la’aretz who is currently attending yeshiva or seminary in Eretz Yisroel recite ve’sein tal umatar according to the custom of Eretz Yisroel or according to the chutz la’aretz practice?

Question #3:

Reuven lives in Eretz Yisroel, but is in chutz la’aretz on the Seventh of MarCheshvan. Does he begin reciting ve’sein tal umatar while in chutz la’aretz, does he wait until he returns to Eretz Yisroel, or does he follow the practice of those who live in chutz la’aretz?

In order to explain the halachic issues involved in answering these shaylos, we must first explain why we begin requesting rain in Eretz Yisroel on a date different from that in chutz la’aretz.

The Gemara (Taanis 10a) concludes that in Eretz Yisroel, one begins reciting ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, whereas in Bavel one begins reciting it on the sixtieth day after the autumnal equinox. (The Gemara’s method for calculating the autumnal equinox is not based on the solar year, but on a different calculation. The reason for this is beyond the scope of this article.) Someone who recites ve’sein tal umatar during the summer months in Eretz Yisroel must repeat the shemoneh esrei, since this request in the summer is inappropriate (Taanis 3b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 117:3).

WHY ARE THERE TWO DIFFERENT “RAIN DATES”?

Since Eretz Yisroel requires rain earlier than Bavel, Chazal instituted that the Jews in Eretz Yisroel begin requesting rain shortly after Sukkos. In Bavel, where it was better if it began raining later, reciting ve’sein tal umatar was delayed until later. This practice is followed in all of chutz la’aretz, even in places where rain is not seasonal, or where rain is needed earlier — although the precise reason why all of chutz la’aretz follows the practice of Bavel is uncertain (see Rashi and Rosh to Taanis 10a; Shu”t Rosh 4:10; Tur and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 117, and my article on reciting ve’sein tal umatar in the southern hemisphere).

LOCAL CONDITIONS

If a certain city needs rain at a different time of the year, can they, or should they recite ve’sein tal umatar then? The Gemara (Taanis 14b) raises this question and cites the following story:

“The people of the city of Nineveh (in contemporary Iraq) sent the following shaylah to Rebbe: In our city, we need rain even in the middle of the summer. Should we be treated like individuals, and request rain in the beracha of Shma Koleinu, or like a community and recite ve’sein tal umatar during the beracha of Boreich Aleinu? Rebbe responded that they are considered individuals and should request rain during the beracha of Shma Koleinu.”

This means that an individual or a city that needs rain during a different part of the year should recite ve’sein tal umatar during the beracha of Shma Koleinu, but not as part of Boreich Aleinu.

NATIONAL CONDITIONS

Is a country different from a city? In other words, if an entire country or a large region requires rain at a different time of the year, should its residents recite ve’sein tal umatar during the beracha of Boreich Aleinu? The Rosh raises this question and contends, at least in theory, that a country should recite ve’sein tal umatar in Boreich Aleinu. In his opinion, most of North America and Europe should recite ve’sein tal umatar during the summer months. Although we do not follow this approach, someone who recites ve’sein tal umatar at a time when his country requires rain should not repeat the Shemoneh esrei, but should rely retroactively on the opinion of the Rosh (Shulchan Aruch and Rama 117:2). Similarly, someone in chutz la’aretz who recited ve’sein tal umatar as part of Boreich Aleinu in error after the Seventh of MarCheshvan should not repeat Shemoneh esrei afterwards, unless he lives in a country where rain is not necessary at this time (Birkei Yosef 117:3; cf. Shu”t Ohalei Yaakov #87 of the Maharikash,  who disagrees.).

With this introduction, we can now begin to discuss the questions at hand. What should someone do if he lives in Eretz Yisroel but is in chutz la’aretz, or vice versa, during the weeks when there is a difference in practice between the two places? As one can imagine, much halachic literature discusses this shaylah, although I am surprised to report that I found no discussion concerning this question dating back to the Rishonim. I found three early opinions, which I quote in chronological order:

Opinion #1

The earliest opinion I found, that of the Maharikash (Shu”t Ohalei Yaakov #87) and the Radbaz (Shu”t #2055), discusses specifically an Eretz Yisroel resident who left his wife and children behind while traveling to chutz la’aretz. (In earlier generations, it was common that emissaries from the Eretz Yisroel communities traveled to chutz la’aretz for long periods of time to solicit funds.) These poskim ruled that if the traveler is leaving his family behind in Eretz Yisroel, he should begin reciting ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, following the practice of Eretz Yisroel, regardless of whether he himself was then in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz la’aretz. However, if he is single, or alternatively, if he is traveling with his family, then when he begins reciting ve’sein tal umatar depends on whether he will be gone for the entire rainy season. If he leaves Eretz Yisroel before the Seventh of MarCheshvan and intends to be gone until Pesach or later, he recites ve’sein tal umatar according to the practice of chutz la’aretz. If he intends to return before Pesach, he recites ve’sein tal umatar beginning on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, even though he is in chutz la’aretz.

The key question here is, what is the criterion for determining when someone recites ve’sein tal umatar? These poskim contend that it depends on his personal need. If his immediate family is in Eretz Yisroel, it is considered that his personal need requires rain already on the Seventh of MarCheshvan. Therefore, he begins reciting ve’sein tal umatar on that date, even should he himself be in chutz la’aretz (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:102).

Opinion #2

The Pri Chodosh (Orach Chayim 117) quotes the previous opinion (of the Maharikash and the Radbaz) and disputes their conclusion, contending that only one factor determines when the traveler begins reciting ve’sein tal umatar – how long he plans to stay abroad. If he left Eretz Yisroel intending to be away for at least a year, he should consider himself a resident of chutz la’aretz (for this purpose) and begin reciting ve’sein tal umatar in December. If he intends to be away for less than a year, he should begin reciting ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan. Furthermore, the Pri Chodosh states that whether one leaves one’s immediate family behind or not does not affect this halacha.

These two approaches disagree fundamentally regarding what determines when an individual recites ve’sein tal umatar? According to Opinion #1 (the Maharikash and the Radbaz), the main criterion is whether one has a personal need for rain as early as the Seventh of MarCheshvan. According to Opinion #2 (the Pri Chodosh), the issue is whether one is considered a resident of Eretz Yisroel or of chutz la’aretz.

According to this analysis of Opinion #2, a resident of chutz la’aretz who intends to spend a year in Eretz Yisroel begins reciting ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, whereas, if he intends to stay less than a year, he follows the practice of chutz la’aretz (Pri Megadim; Mishnah Berurah; cf. however Halichos Shelomoh, Volume 1 8:28 pg. 107). However, according to Opinion #1, he would being reciting ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan if he or his family intend to spend any time during the rainy season in Eretz Yisroel.

Opinion #3

The Birkei Yosef quotes the two above-mentioned opinions and also other early poskim who follow a third approach, that the determining factor is where you are on the Seventh of MarCheshvan. (See also Shu”t Dvar Shmuel #323.) This approach implies that someone who is in Eretz Yisroel on the Seventh of MarCheshvan should begin praying for rain, even though he intends to return to chutz la’aretz shortly, and that someone who is in chutz la’aretz on that date should not, even though he left his family in Eretz Yisroel.

Dvar Shmuel and Birkei Yosef explain that someone needs rain where he is, and it is not dependent on his residence. Birkei Yosef points out that if there is a severe drought where he is located, it does not make any difference if he lives elsewhere; he will be a casualty of the lack of water. This was certainly true in earlier generations, when water supply was dependent on local wells. Even today, when water is supplied via piping from large reservoirs, this opinion would still rule that the halacha is determined by one’s current location, and not one’s permanent residence.

Opinion #3 (the Birkei Yosef’s approach) is fairly similar to that of Opinion #1 (the Maharikash and the Radbaz), in that both approaches see the determining factor to be temporary need and not permanent residency. However, these two opinions dispute several details, including what is the ruling of someone in chutz la’aretz whose family remains in Eretz Yisroel. According to Opinion #1, this person begins ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, whereas Opinion #3 contends that he begins only when the other bnei chutz la’aretz do.

Why does Opinion #3 disregard his family being in Eretz Yisroel as a factor, whereas Opinion #1 is concerned with this fact? Birkei Yosef explains that praying for rain for one’s family when one is in chutz la’aretz is praying for an individual need, which one does in Shma Koleinu, not in Boreich Aleinu, since the rest of the community there has no need for rain. Opinion #1 presumably holds that praying for Eretz Yisroel when I am in chutz la’aretz is not considered praying for an individual, even though my reason to pray for rain in Eretz Yisroel is personal.

After analyzing these three conflicting opinions, how do we rule? Although the later poskim, such as the Mishnah Berurah, refer to these earlier sources, it is unclear how they conclude halachically. (See Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 6:38, which contains a careful analysis of the words of the Mishnah Berurah on this subject.) Thus, an individual should ask his Rav what to do in each case.

TRAVELING AND RETURNING

What does one do if he travels and returns within these days? Assuming that he began to recite ve’sein tal umatar on the Seventh of MarCheshvan because he was in Eretz Yisroel (and he followed those opinions that rule this way), does he now stop reciting it upon his return to chutz la’aretz?

This question is raised by the Birkei Yosef (117:6), who rules that he continues reciting ve’sein tal umatar when he returns to chutz la’aretz.

What does one do if he is reciting ve’sein tal umatar, and the community is not, or vice versa — and he would like to lead the services? Birkei Yosef rules that he should not lead the communal services; however, if he forgot and did so, he should follow his own version in the quiet Shemoneh esrei and the community’s version in the repetition (Birkei Yosef 117:8). However, Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach permitted him to lead the services, following the community’s practice in his public prayer and his own in his private one (Halichos Shelomoh 5:21; note that according to Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:23, 29; 4:33 he should not lead the services.).

Let us now examine some of the shaylos we raised above:

Question #1:

Yankel, who lives in New York, would like to lead services when visiting Eretz Yisroel during the month of November.

According to all of the opinions involved, when davening privately Yankel should not recite ve’sein tal umatar until it is recited in chutz la’aretz, since he does not live in Eretz Yisroel, does not have immediate family living there, and was not there on the Seventh of MarCheshvan. As explained above, according to most opinions, he should not lead the services, since he is not reciting ve’sein tal umatar and the congregation is, whereas according to Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach, he may lead the services. According to Birkei Yosef (Opinion #3 above), if he is in Eretz Yisroel on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, he should begin to recite ve’sein tal umatar then, since he now has a need for rain; he should continue to recite this prayer even when he returns to chutz la’aretz. However, in this case, when returning to chutz la’aretz, he should not lead services, according to most opinions, since he is reciting ve’sein tal umatar and they are not. If he forgot and led the services, he should recite ve’sein tal umatar in the quiet Shemoneh esrei but not in the repetition.

According to the Pri Chodosh (Opinion #2 above), if he is in Eretz Yisroel on the Seventh of MarCheshvan, he should not recite ve’sein tal umatar, since he lives in chutz la’aretz. Following this approach, he should not lead services when in Eretz Yisroel, but he may resume when he returns to chutz la’aretz.

Question #2:

Does someone attending Yeshiva or seminary in Eretz Yisroel, recite ve’sein tal umatar according to the custom of Eretz Yisroel or according to the chutz la’aretz practice?

The answer to this question will depend upon which of the above-quoted authorities one follows. According to Opinion #1 (the Maharikash, the Radbaz) and Opinion #3 (the Birkei Yosef), they should follow the practice of Eretz Yisroel, since they need the rain, while in Eretz Yisroel, even though they are not permanent Israeli residents. According to Opinion #2 (the Pri Chodosh), if they are staying for less than a year, they follow the practice of chutz la’aretz, whereas if they are staying longer, they should begin reciting it from the Seventh of MarCheshvan. Several people have told me that Rav Elyashiv ruled that they should recite ve’sein tal umatar while they are in Eretz Yisroel, unless they intend to return before the end of the rainy season.

Question #3:

Reuven lives in Eretz Yisroel, but is in chutz la’aretz on the Seventh of MarCheshvan. Does he begin reciting ve’sein tal umatar while in chutz la’aretz, does he wait until he returns to Eretz Yisroel, or does he follow the practice of those who live in chutz la’aretz?

According to Opinions # 1 and #2, he should follow the practice of those living in Eretz Yisroel, but for different reasons. According to Opinion #1, the reason is because he knows that he will return to Eretz Yisroel during the rainy season and therefore follows the practice there. According to Opinion #2, since he left Eretz Yisroel for less than a year he is considered an Eretz Yisroel resident.

Although it would seem that the Birkei Yosef (Opinion #3) would hold that he should not recite ve’sein tal umatar until the bnei chutz la’aretz do, it is not absolutely clear that he would disagree with the other poskim in this case. One could explain that he ruled only that one follows the bnei chutz la’aretz if he is there for an extended trip, but not if he is there for only a few weeks that happen to coincide with the Seventh of MarCheshvan. For this reason, when someone recently asked me this shaylah, I ruled that he should follow the practice of those dwelling in Eretz Yisroel. Subsequently, I found this exact shaylah in Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer (6:38), and was very happy to find that he ruled the same way I had. (However, Halichos Shelomoh 8:19 rules that he should recite ve’sein tal umatar in Shma Koleinu and not in Boreich Aleinu.)

CONCLUSION

Rashi (Breishis 2:5) points out that until Adam HaRishon appeared, there was no rain in the world. Rain fell and grasses sprouted only after Adam was created, understood that rain was necessary for the world and prayed to Hashem for rain.  Whenever we pray for rain, we must remember that the essence of prayer is drawing ourselves closer to Hashem.

 

Keeping My Feet Together

Many articles on various Rosh Hashanah topics are available for reading or downloading under the headings “Rosh Hashanah,” “Shofar” or “Tashlich.”

Keeping My Feet Together

Question #1: Proper posture

“The Shemoneh Esrei on Rosh Hashanah is very long. Is it sufficient that I stand with my heels touching, or must my feet be side-by-side touching their entire length?”

Question #2: Standing straight

“Why do we keep our feet together during kedushah but not when responding to kaddish?”

Question #3: Kaddish together

“Is it required to have one’s feet together when reciting kaddish?”

Answer:

Fulfilling the mitzvah of davening requires that we observe many halachic details. The Rambam organizes these laws under two headings: essential and non-essential components. In Chapter 4 of Hilchos Tefillah, he lists five essential components of prayer, meaning the Shemoneh Esrei. These are:

1) Cleansing one’s hands before prayer

2) Having one’s body properly covered

3) Praying must be in a place that is clean and without inappropriate odor

4) Not davening when one senses bodily needs

5) Having basic, proper intent and focus

The Rambam calls these five requirements “essential,” which means that a prayer missing any of these qualities does not fulfill the mitzvah and one is required to recite it again. Someone who cannot meet these requirements is exempt from praying until he can meet them. Therefore, it is preferred that someone unable to fulfill the basics of these requirements miss the prayer rather than recite a tefillah that violates these laws. Many of these topics are available for reading or downloading on RabbiKaganoff.com

Non-essentials

In Chapter 5 of Hilchos Tefillah, the Rambam lists eight non-essential components of prayer, meaning that these are important aspects, but one fulfills the mitzvah to pray even if they are entirely missing. These eight aspects are:

  1. Standing during prayer
  2. Facing the Beis Hamikdash
  3. Correct positioning
  4. Appropriate attire
  5. Proper location
  6. Volume
  7. Bowing
  8. Prostrating

The Rambam notes that these requirements are not essential, and that, therefore, someone who failed or was unable to do them has fulfilled the mitzvah to daven. Furthermore, one who is unable to fulfill any of these aspects should daven anyway. Therefore, although davening while properly attired is very important, one who will be unable to dress appropriately should daven and observes this law only to the extent that he can under the circumstances.

Correct positioning

One article cannot cover all the laws of these rules, so here we will discuss one aspect of the requirement to position one’s body in a certain way. The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:4) states the following aspects of positioning one’s body:

When standing to daven shemoneh esrei, one’s feet should be together and alongside one another.

One’s eyes should be facing downward, yet his heart should be directed upward, as if he is standing in heaven.

One’s hands should be resting on one’s heart, with the right hand atop the left, standing in fear and awe like a servant before his master.

One should not place his hands on his hips.

As I mentioned above, although these factors are important components of proper prayer, they are not essential, and one who neglected to do them has fulfilled the requirement to pray (see Mishnah Berurah 95:1; Kaf Hachayim 95:2). Therefore, someone who cannot put his feet together should daven without his feet together, rather than not daven at all (Kaf Hachayim 95:3).

Feet together

The Rambam states: “When standing to daven shemoneh esrei, one’s feet should be together and alongside one another.” The basis for this ruling is the Gemara (Brachos 10b) which mentions this requirement based on the following. In Yechezkel’s opening prophecy, he shares with us a vision of the heavenly courts, describing the feet of the angels as veragleihem regel yesharah, literally, “their feet were a straight foot” (Yechezkel 1:7). According to Targum and one interpretation of Rashi, the verse means that the angels stood in a way that their feet lay one alongside the other. The Gemara explains that when we daven we should also have our feet aligned, which Rashi explains to mean that one foot should be alongside the other so that they appear as one “foot.”

This passage of Gemara leaves one puzzled. Indeed, Yechezkel reports to us that the angels stood with their feet together. But why is a person who is praying required to emulate the position of the angels? Are we also required to pray while flying, as the angels sometimes do?

A simple approach

On a simple level, one could explain that standing with one’s feet together makes one feel somewhat vulnerable and therefore humble, and that this position allows one to fulfill davening with trepidation and humility (Levush, Orach Chayim 95:1). However, although this approach seems to supply a good reason for us to have our feet together when we pray, it does not seem to explain what the Gemara was saying since this has nothing to do with the fact that the angels stand this way.

The latter question is discussed by an early commentator, the Rashba (in his commentary to the Gemara Brachos), who writes the following:

“I was asked by someone who is an enemy of our people [probably someone trying to proselytize among the Jewish people]: Why do we keep our feet together when we pray, and what proof is being brought from the holy bearers of the divine chariot to someone praying?

“I responded as follows: ‘There are two major reasons for this. The first reason is that man’s body was created with limbs — his hands and legs — whose purpose is to enable him to reach and acquire what he wants and to distance himself from harm. The hands bring him items of pleasure, push away from him harmful items, and are what he uses against his enemy in warfare. His feet move him great distances in a very short time, and enable him to escape from harm.

“It is essential to prayer that a person realize that none of these abilities are man’s own activities and they will not save him without G-d’s help. Everything is dependent on G-d’s will. In order to entrench this idea in one’s soul, one must place one’s feet together when praying, to symbolize that his feet are completely bound and paralyzed. They are without any ability to flee from danger. This forces man to realize that all his abilities of locomotion are only because G-d helps him.” This reason is quoted by the Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 95 in the name of a much later authority, the Mahari Abohav.

The Rashba continues: “The same is true with one’s hands. The Gemara teaches that in times of difficulty, Rava would fold his arms when he prayed… This position demonstrates that it is as if one’s arms are bound and one is without help except for Hashem.”

The Rashba then adds: “There is another reason why we assume the position of the angels when we pray: The human species, whose purpose is to recognize the Creator and to praise He who created man from nothing, has a specific responsibility to serve G-d and to keep His commandments. Man is an angel, an emissary, placed on earth, just as the celestial angels serve and recognize their Creator. Mankind can therefore be called malach” (as he is in Malachi 2:7), which means G-d’s messenger. Thus, the Rashba explains that placing one’s feet together, whether performed by man or by angels, demonstrates a lack of ability, thereby recognizing that all our strength at all times comes from Hashem. We are also showing that we are, indeed, comparable to angels, since we are fulfilling G-d’s mission on Earth. To quote the Zohar (parshas Pinchas #229), “The Holy One, blessed is He, said: Those who pray with their feet together like the angels, I will open the gates of the Sanctuary for them to enter.”

There is yet another reason why we pray with our feet touching, side-by-side, which is that when we are talking to Hashem, it is essential that we be fully and exclusively focused. This places us on the levels of the angels who are always focused exclusively on their Divine mission.

Is regel a foot?

After explaining why we pray in a position similar to that of the angels, the Rashba adds: “You should realize that the word regel has a double meaning, for it means not only the foot but it also means cause (as in Bereishis 33:14 and 30:30). According to this interpretation, the verse in Yechezkel 1:7, veragleihem regel yesharah, should be translated as their cause is a straight cause, meaning that the angels consistently follow the path of truth.

“In this manner, someone standing and praying before Hashem must abandon thoughts of himself, and focus completely on the prayer he is reciting. Concentrating all his energies on this goal develops him such that everything he does, all the time, should be only for the purpose of strengthening his body in order to serve Hashem. Placing his legs together demonstrates having a straightforward cause directed toward the purpose for which he was created — to serve G-d. For this reason, man can be compared to the chariot that bears Hashem’s presence into the world.”

Should the front of the toes be separated?

Having established the basis for the practice that one’s feet should be together when reciting shemoneh esrei, we find a discussion in the rishonim whether the feet should be slightly separated in front. Rabbeinu Yonah quotes some who hold that the tips of both feet should not touch, so that it appears like a calf’s foot with its split hooves. Rabbeinu Yonah disputes this, saying that the requirement is only that the feet be together like one foot — there is no mention of making one’s feet look like a split hoof.

Nevertheless, we still find a dispute among early acharonim whether one should lechatchilah stand with a slight split at the front of one’s toes or not. The Olas Tamid writes that this is preferred. However, the Yeshuos Yaakov disagrees, contending that one should not have one’s feet slightly separate. He notes that the angels cover their feet that look like those of a calf so as not to be reminiscent of the eigel hazahav, the Golden Calf. Therefore, we should deliberately not have our feet look like this, reasons the Yeshuos Yaakov.

The Yerushalmi

Having quoted the passage of the Talmud Bavli that explains how we should stand when we pray, we should be aware that there is also a passage of Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 1:1) regarding this issue. There, the Yerushalmi quotes a dispute between Rabbi Levi and Rabbi Simon, one of whom held the same opinion as the Bavli that one should daven with one’s feet pressed together and the other holding that, when davening, one should assume the position that the kohanim did when walking in the Beis Hamikdash. There, the kohanim took very small steps such that the big toe of one foot was next to the heel of the other when they walked.

Since in a dispute between the Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi we rule according to the Bavli, it would appear that the dispute recorded by the Yerushalmi is halachically irrelevant. The commentaries are thus surprised to note that the Tur quotes the Yerushalmi, leading the Beis Yosef and the other commentaries to question why the Tur does so. Many answers are proposed to explain the Tur’s position. I will quote here two of them, whose answers yield halachic ramifications.

The Bach explains as follows: In his opinion, halachah requires that one daven with one’s feet in one of the two positions advocated by the Yerushalmi. The Bach contends that if one’s feet are in neither of these positions one has not fulfilled the requirements of prayer. The Tur agrees that it is preferable to place one’s feet alongside one another, since we rule as the Bavli does. However, he quotes the Yerushalmi because someone who failed to position his feet in either of these positions is required to daven again. Furthermore, someone who cannot align his feet alongside one another should position them so that the toe of one foot is alongside the heel of the other. Thus, although we follow the ruling of the Bavli that one should daven with the two feet alongside one another, it is also important to know the conclusion of the Yerushalmi, which is why the Tur included this information.

Several authorities note that, according to this approach, the Tur’s interpretation of the topic has him in dispute with the Rambam’s ruling, quoted above, that positioning is never essential to prayer, and that one fulfills the mitzvah of davening with one’s feet in any position. Since they see no evidence that such a dispute exists, they are reticent to create one on this basis and instead suggest other approaches to resolve why the Tur quoted the Yerushalmi. Notwithstanding this conclusion, some authorities opine that someone who davened with his feet apart should daven a voluntary prayer (called a tefilas nedavah), to make certain that he fulfilled the mitzvah (Olas Tamid). Later authorities reject this approach and rule that one should assume that he fulfilled the mitzvah (Kaf Hachayim).

Another approach

The Aruch Hashulchan suggests a different explanation why the Tur presented the Yerushalmi’s discussion. He explains that the Tur wants us to realize that someone who is unable to have his feet together for whatever reason, but who can assume the alternative position of having his toe touching his heel, should daven in the latter position. According to this approach, everyone accepts that these rules are all only lechatchilah and that one who davened with his feet in a completely different position has fulfilled the mitzvah, bedi’evid, after the fact.

Sitting with your feet together?

Is someone who must pray from a sitting position, either because of health reasons or because of travel, required to daven with his feet together? The Pri Megadim rules that he should still keep his feet together while davening. He further explains that someone who must daven while sitting should not lean backwards or to the sides while praying, and should also be careful not to stretch or cross his legs while davening, because these positions all convey an air of conceit.

All or nothing?

At this point, let us refer to the first question with which I opened our article: “The Shemoneh Esrei on Rosh Hashanah is very long. Is it sufficient that I stand with my heels touching, or must my feet be side-by-side touching their entire length?”

From what we have seen, it is clear that the proper position for davening is to have one’s feet side-by-side and touching their entire length.

Kedushah

At this point, let us address the remaining of our opening questions:

“Why do we stand with our feet together during kedushah but not when responding to kaddish?”

“Is it required to have one’s feet together when reciting kaddish?”

By way of introduction, let me quote a discussion from a late rishon, the Terumas Hadeshen (#28). He quotes the following question:

“Should an individual align his feet when he responds to the chazzan’s kedushah?”

To which he answers, “It appears to me that he should, since the prayer states, We shall sanctify his name just as they sanctify His Name in the highest heavens, and in the heavens they recite the kedushah with a ‘straight foot,’ as the verse reads ‘their feet were a straight foot.’ We should attempt to act like the angels to the best of our ability; there is neither conceit nor foolishness in our doing so. Indeed, this is the proper way to act.” This answer of the Terumas Hadeshen is quoted subsequently by all the authorities, and is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 95:4).

Borchu

Although none of the reasons mentioned above applies to reciting Borchu, that is, we are not trying to compare ourselves to angels, nor is it the ultimate prayer; nevertheless, the custom is that Borchu is recited with one’s feet together. This custom is recorded by some late authorities (Aruch Hashulchan). Therefore, one should align one’s feet when reciting Borchu. However, since there is no halachic source that requires reciting Borchu with one’s feet together, one should not admonish someone who recites Borchu with his feet apart.

Kaddish

I have found no early source that requires one to have one’s feet together while reciting kaddish. Although it is standard practice that people recite kaddish with their feet together, since there does not appear to be an early halachic source for this practice, one should not admonish someone who fails to do so.

Conclusion

Understanding how much Chazal were concerned about the relatively minor aspects of davening, such as how we position our feet, should make us more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three very high points — the three times that we daven, and from these three prayers we gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day.

 

Personal Supplications on Shabbos and Yom Tov

In Parshas Eikev, the Torah tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu prayed for the Jewish people. Would he have been permitted to do this on Shabbos? And would he have been permitted to pray for the needs of an individual on Shabbos, or perhaps just for the entire community?

Personal Supplications on Shabbos and Yom Tov

Question # 1: Harachaman Hullabaloo

“I know that some people do not recite the harachamans at the end of bensching on Shabbos, but I was raised saying them. Am I doing something wrong?”

Question #2: The Monotonous Mishebeirach Mode

Iam Impatient calls me with the following question: “Can we do anything to reduce the number of mishebeirachs in our shul? It is taking longer and longer, and I find the delay quite disturbing.”

Question #3: Kibud Av versus Kavod Shabbos

Michal’s father asks her to arrange a minyan to daven on his behalf on Shabbos. May she?

Question #4: On Shabbos morning, Shlomoh asks the shul’s gabbai. “My father will be having surgery this week. Can we say a chapter of Tehillim on his behalf after davening when everyone is still in shul?”

Answer:

In several places, the Gemara mentions that one may not pray for individual needs on Shabbos (e.g., Taanis 19a; Bava Basra 91a; Yerushalmi, Shabbos, 15:3). At least two reasons are quoted for this prohibition. Some sources include it under what the Navi Yeshaya (58:13) commanded when he declared, Vechibadto mei’asos derachecha mimetzo cheftzecha vedabeir davar, “You shall honor the Shabbos by not performing your own matters, seeking out your own needs and speaking of them” (Vayikra Rabbah 34:16; Rashba, Shabbos 113a). This proscription is usually simply called dabeir davar.

A second opinion

Others prohibit praying for personal requests on Shabbos because it violates one’s oneg Shabbos. Praying for personal needs causes one to focus on what troubles him, which leads a person to be sorrowful (see Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 30:12 and Ran, Shabbos, Rif page 5b). Shabbos is to be a day of joy.

According to both reasons, dabeir davar and oneg Shabbos, we now understand why, on Motza’ei Shabbos, we insert the passage atah chonantanu, which is a declaration of havdalah ending Shabbos, in the fourth brocha of shemoneh esrei, which is the first of the weekday brachos. The reason is that we may not recite the middle brachos of the shemoneh esrei until we have recited havdalah (Yerushalmi, Brachos end of 5:2; Shu”t HaRashba #739; Magen Avraham 294:1). Someone who forgot to recite atah chonantanu and realizes while in the middle of shemoneh esrei may continue the shemoneh esrei, but should not add any personal supplications to his prayer. The reason for this ruling will be explained shortly.

“Provide us, sustain us…”

If personal supplications are prohibited on Shabbos, how can we say in our bensching the personal requests to Hashem “Provide us, sustain us…”? The same question exists in many of the prayers that we recite on Shabbos, such as the Yehi ratzon prayer we recite at the end of the morning birchos hashachar. How are we permitted to recite this prayer on Shabbos?

This question is asked in the Gemara Yerushalmi, which I quote:

We learned: It is prohibited to pray for one’s needs on Shabbos. Rabbi Ze’eira asked Rabbi Chiya bar Abba, “When reciting the bensching, may one say ‘Tend to us, provide us with livelihood’ [re’einu, zuneinu, in the third brocha]?” Rabbi Chiya bar Abba answered him that this is permitted because this is the standard structure of the brocha (Yerushalmi, Shabbos 15:3).

Thus, the Yerushalmi introduces a new idea: that something that is a standard part of a tefillah or brocha may be recited on Shabbos, a concept called tofeis brocha. For this reason, we do not modify the words of bensching or the other brachos that we usually recite.

What is the logic behind permitting tofeis brocha? This is still a request that should be prohibited for one of the two reasons mentioned above.

I found three interpretations to explain why we may recite a prayer that is included in a tofeis brocha.

I. Distorted brachos

The Korban HaEidah, one of the primary commentaries on the Yerushalmi, explains that tofeis brocha is permitted because of concern that changing the wording on Shabbos might cause one to get confused and recite the entire brocha incorrectly.

II. Changing the nusach

The Rivash (Shu”t HaRivash #512) explains the reason for tofeis brocha is because one does not change a text established by Chazal. Thus, the prohibition against making personal requests on Shabbos never applied to standard texts. The Rivash then extends this idea even to selichos and piyutim – and it is for this reason that when we recite these passages on Shabbos that falls on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we recite the exact same text as we do when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall on a weekday.

III. Familiarity breeds content

Others provide yet a third reason to explain why one may recite a supplication that is incorporated in a tofeis brocha: something that one says regularly does not cause him suffering (Kuntrus Bakashos BeShabbos page 3, quoting Yafeh Mareh and Atares Paz 1:2:2). This approach assumes that the reason we may not pray for personal supplications on Shabbos is not because of the takkanah of dabeir davar but only because of the reason of oneg Shabbos.

Harachaman Hullabaloo

At this point, we can already discuss the first question raised above:

“I know that some people do not recite the harachamans at the end of bensching on Shabbos, but I was raised saying them. Am I doing something wrong?”

No, you are in good company, together with many well-respected poskim. The Mishnah Berurah (188:9) rules that one may recite the harachamans on Shabbos – they are also considered tofeis brachos.

Some authorities extend the lenience of tofeis brocha considerably, ruling that the prohibition against reciting supplications on Shabbos applies only to a prayer that one constructs oneself, but does not apply to any standardized prayer (Shu”t Rav Pe’alim, Orach Chayim 2:46).

Pikuach nefesh

Aside from the situation of tofeis brachos, there is another case when one may recite personal supplications on Shabbos, and that is when the situation is one of pikuach nefesh, life-threatening emergency. Just as saving lives supersedes Shabbos and most mitzvos of the Torah, so one is permitted to pray for deliverance when faced by an immediate life-threatening emergency. For example, the Mishnah (Taanis 19a) teaches that one prays on Shabbos that Hashem save the people when a city is surrounded by invaders, when a river overflows, or when a boat is floundering at sea.

The same is true for an individual.  Just as pikuach nefesh of an individual supersedes Shabbos, so, too, praying for an individual’s deliverance in a life-threatening circumstance supersedes Shabbos when it is a sakanas hayom – a circumstance that presents an immediate, life-threatening emergency (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 288:9, 10). Therefore, if someone is very seriously ill and his life is in immediate danger, we say Tehillim and pray on his behalf, even on Shabbos. However, if the person is seriously ill but not in immediate danger, we do not say Tehillim for him on Shabbos, but wait until after Shabbos. Thus, the Mishnah Berurah (288:28) rules that a woman giving birth or a woman who gave birth within the past week are both considered sakanas hayom, and one may pray for them on Shabbos.

Out-of-town ill

Is one permitted to daven on Shabbos for an ill person who is not in his city? Why does it make a difference where the ill person is?

Some authorities contend that since one does not know if his condition is a sakanas hayom, these prayers might be desecrating Shabbos unnecessarily (Maharil cited by Machatzis HaShekel 288:14). The accepted practice follows those who permit these prayers, considering them a safek pikuach nefesh (Nachalas Shivah).

Can I get rid of all those mishebeirachs?

At this point, let us examine a different one of our opening questions.

Iam Impatient asked: “Can we do anything to reduce the number of mishebeirachs in our shul? It is taking longer and longer, and I find the delay quite disturbing.”

I mentioned above the dispute as to whether the prohibition of personal supplications on Shabbos is because of the law of dabeir davar, meaning that one should not discuss this-worldly matters on Shabbos, or it is because of oneg Shabbos — praying for personal needs may cause one to become sorrowful. Is there any difference in halachah between the two reasons?

Indeed, there are some differences in halachah that result from this disagreement. One dispute that results is germane to whether one may recite a mishebeirach for an ill person on Shabbos. The standard text for this mishebeirach when recited on a weekday includes a short prayer that the ill person should have a complete recovery. Logically, it should be prohibited to recite this on Shabbos, since it is a private request. Yet, some early authorities rule that when the ill person is not nearby, one may recite these mishebeirachs on Shabbos, reasoning that one does not become sorrowful when reciting a mishebeirach for someone not present (responsum of Rav Yaakov Beirav, in Shu”t Avkas Rocheil #11). This line of reasoning assumes that the prohibition of praying for personal requests on Shabbos is because it causes suffering.

However, several other authorities prohibit reciting a mishebeirach for ill people on Shabbos, expressly stating that it is forbidden because of dabeir davar (She’ei’las Yaavetz #64; Gra”z, Orach Chayim 288:9). The She’ei’las Yaavetz prohibits reciting a mishebeirach for the ill on Shabbos except for a choleh who is in the category of sakanas hayom. He also prohibits reciting these mishebeirachs for an additional reason that will make Iam happy: Yaavetz contends that they are prohibited because they inconvenience the community by delaying the services (tircha de’tzibura).

A compromise position rules that one may recite a mishebeirach for ill people on Shabbos provided that one modifies the text, and instead of closing with a prayer for a swift recovery, one blesses the ill person, and then makes a statement that on Shabbos we are not permitted to cry out, but recovery is soon to come (Magen Avraham 288:14).

The prevalent custom in most places today follows the last approach, and that is why, in many shullen, mishebeirachs are recited for the ill even when it is not a sakanas hayom. Of course, this ruling, which is probably the practice in Iam’s shul, is what is upsetting Iam.

Some authorities add an additional factor in favor of the reciting of the mishebeirach: it is considered a special merit to pray for someone during, or immediately after, the reading of the Torah. To quote the Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Deah 335:12): “If one has a family member who is ill… the custom is to pray in shul during kerias haTorah for those who are sick, for then Divine Compassion is aroused.”

In answer to what is the best thing to do, I refer to a responsum of an earlier authority, the Rivash (Shu”t HaRivash #512) on a related topic: whether one should recite Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos of Rosh Hashanah, Shabbos Shuvah and Yom Kippur. After noting the different customs that he saw in several communities, and explaining the reasons why reciting Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos does or does not violate the prohibition against reciting personal requests on Shabbos, he concludes that one should follow the prevalent local custom. Similarly, regarding whether one recites a mishebeirach on Shabbos, he should follow established community or shul custom.

May I pray for personal spiritual requests?

The Mishnah Berurah (288:22) permits praying on Shabbos for spiritual help or for any other request that is not a result of difficult circumstances. It seems that this should be permitted according to both reasons mentioned above. According to the first reason, one should not pray on Shabbos about one’s own needs, but spiritual needs are Hashem’s realm. According to the second reason, most people do not become saddened regarding their spiritual failings and “troubles.”

Based on the above, on Shabbos one may recite the prayer of Rav Nechunia ben Hakanah requesting divine assistance for one’s Torah learning (Halichos Shlomoh, 14:11).

Yom Tov versus Shabbos

Does the prohibition against requesting personal supplications apply only on Shabbos, or does it apply equally on Yom Tov? This topic is discussed by the halachic authorities in a variety of places.

The Magen Avraham (128:70) notes that although the custom among Ashkenazim outside Eretz Yisroel is to duchen only on Yom Tov, some communities do not duchen when Yom Tov falls on Shabbos. He suggests the reason for this practice is because the members of the congregation recite the prayer for bad dreams when the kohanim duchen, and that, if the kohanim duchen on Shabbos, people will say this prayer on Shabbos, which violates the prohibition against reciting personal supplications. The Magen Avraham states that there is no concern with reciting this prayer on Yom Tov, notwithstanding the fact that it qualifies as a personal supplication. Although he certainly agrees that one may not recite personal supplications on Yom Tov, he rallies evidence that there is a difference between Yom Tov and Shabbos regarding the severity of this prohibition. After all, we omit reciting the prayer Avinu Malkeinu on Rosh Hashanah when it falls on Shabbos, yet we have no problem with reciting Avinu Malkeinu when Rosh Hashanah falls on a weekday. We could similarly demonstrate this difference between Yom Tov and Shabbos from the fact that we recite certain personal requests and the 13 midos of Hashem when we take out the sefer Torah on Yom Tov, but refrain from reciting these prayers when Yom Tov falls on Shabbos.

However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 576:12) implies that there is no difference between Yom Tov and Shabbos – that personal requests are prohibited equally on both days, a position reiterated by other later authorities (Shu”t Rav Pe’alim 2:46). It appears that Ashkenazim and Sefardim differ as to the accepted position. Ashkenazim follow the ruling of the Magen Avraham and are more lenient on Yom Tov, whereas Sefardim are stricter about reciting personal requests on Yom Tov.

Kibud Av versus Kavod Shabbos

At this point, I would like to address the third question asked above: “Michal’s father asks her to arrange a minyan to daven on his behalf on Shabbos. May she?”

To answer this question, I refer to a responsum on a related topic from Rav Moshe Feinstein.

On the last day of Pesach, someone who was seriously ill, but not a sakanas yom, requested that the members of a shul pray on his behalf. They then recited a few chapters of Tehillim on his behalf and recited the appropriate prayer. After Yom Tov, they were able to ask Rav Moshe whether they had done the correct thing.

Rav Moshe ruled that although this was not a sakanas yom, since the ill person himself had requested that they pray on his behalf, and he was in a situation of general pikuach nefesh, it was proper that they prayed on his behalf. Although ordinarily one may not pray on someone’s behalf if it is not a sakanas yom, in this situation we do pray on his behalf out of concern that he would become upset, which could aggravate his precarious condition. This concept is called shelo titrof daato, that the ill person should not become distressed, and is used in several different halachic contexts.

However, Rav Moshe notes, this ruling applies only when the ill person himself made the request. If family members ask that people pray on his behalf on Shabbos, one should not accede to their request, if it is not a case of sakanas yom (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:105).

At this point, I would like to refer to the last question I raised above: “On Shabbos morning, Shlomoh asks the shul’s gabbai. “My father will be having surgery this week. Can we say a chapter of Tehillim on his behalf after davening, when everyone is still in shul?”

The answer to the question is that since there is no sakanas hayom here and the ill person himself was not the source of the request, one should not say Tehillim and daven for him until after Shabbos.

Conclusion

The words of Yeshaya that include the words dabeir davar are read as part of the haftarah that we recite on Yom Kippur. There the Navi concludes “If you remove your internal yoke from yourself, pointing fingers at one another and evil speech… then Hashem will always guide you… if you refrain from doing your matters on My holy day… you honor it by not performing your own matters, seeking out your own needs and speaking of them. Then you will delight with Hashem and I will mount you on the highest places on Earth. I will feed you the heritage of your father Yaakov, for Hashem has spoken.”

 

Poetic Controversies

Ashkenazim and Sefardim recite very different kinos on Tisha B’Av and different piyutim on most other occasions. This provides an opportunity to discuss:

Poetic Controversies

Question #1: How many machzorim?

“I am a Sefardiyah by birth, and recently became engaged to a wonderful Ashkenazi man who gave me a beautiful, five-volume set of machzorim. I looked at my new set of machzorim and could not find the selichot recited in Elul anywhere in the Rosh Hashanah machzor, nor in any of the other volumes. Where will I find them? I also could not find any volume for Tisha B’Av, but I also could not find those prayers in the Ashkenazi siddur my chatan bought me.”

Question #2: The Italian connection

“Why are so many of our piyutim written by Italian authors?”

Introduction:

Our prayers have been enhanced by the inclusion of many religious poems written by various authors over the years. During the yomim nora’im, virtually every Jewish community recites piyutim, poetic liturgy, as part of the davening. We also prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with the recital of selichos, which also includes piyutim. Such famous and standard prayers as Yigdal, Adon Olam, and An’im Zemiros all qualify as piyutim. The zemiros that we sing at our Shabbos meals are also piyutim, as is Dvei Haseir, written by Dunash, recited prior to bensching at a wedding or sheva brachos, and Yom Le’yabasha, written by Rav Yehudah Halevi, that is chanted at a seudas bris. And do you know of a community that does not begin Shabbos by singing Lecha Dodi, written by Rav Shlomoh Alkabetz?

At one time, in Ashkenazic circles, the davening of all the yomim tovim, all special Shabbosos, and even Purim and Tisha B’Av was graced with piyutim specially suited to the occasion. The themes, history and emotions of each season and special day were expressed through these beautiful writings.

In the last generation, the recital of piyutim is definitely on the downswing. When I was young, during the birchos kerias shema of maariv on Pesach, Sukkos and Shavuos, most shullen recited piyutim, a custom that is in most places not observed today. About the only shullen where I hear this being practiced today are chassidishe minyanim or those following the nusach Ashkenaz traditions of the old German communities.

In the yeshivish world, what is left over from our long tradition of these piyutim are the zemiros of Shabbos, the piyutim recited during yomim nora’im, the kinos, and the selichos.

One interesting exception that has survived is the recital of Akdamus at the beginning of kerias haTorah on Shavuos, which is still recited in every Ashkenazi shul I have ever attended. (Sefardim do not recite Akdamus, as I will soon explain.)

Kinos versus selichos

Since I mentioned the remaining use of piyutim for both selichos and kinos, it is interesting to note a difference between the selichos and the kinos of Tisha B’Av. Although the same basic structure of selichos is followed by most Ashkenazic communities, different practices developed concerning which selichos are recited on which days and in what order. The differences are significant enough so as to make it necessary to make sure that one has a copy of the selichos that follows the exact minhag followed by the shul that one is attending.

On the other hand, with very slight differences, the same kinos for Tisha B’Av are recited virtually universally by all the different communities of Ashkenaz.

Ashkenazim and Sefardim

I once attended Rosh Hashanah davening with a Sefardic minyan, and I can advise someone doing this to have a Sefardic machzor handy, which I did not. Although many different customs have developed among various Ashkenazic communities, the same sources and the same style of piyutim are used by all. However, the piyutim recited by the Sefardim are completely different. Very few of the piyutim recited by Sefardim are familiar to Ashkenazim and vice versa. For example, the writings of the Italian school of paytanim (authors of piyutim) who figure so significantly among the Ashkenazim are never part of the Sefardic prayer. Similarly, Rav Elazar Hakalir, who figures so predominantly in the Ashkenazim’s prayer, is not used by the Sefardim. Most of their piyutim are of relatively late vintage and from four authors. The predominant paytanim used by the Sefardim are Rav Shelomoh ibn Gabirol, Rav Yehudah Halevi, Rav Moshe ibn Ezra and Rav Avraham ibn Ezra, all of the Spanish school of talmidei chachamim.

It is also interesting to note that in the Sefardic custom, fewer piyutim are recited, which is surprising, since the Jews of medieval Spain were far more noted for their poetry than were the Ashkenazim. Still, Sefardim recite piyutim as part of the selichos, during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur davening and on Tisha B’Av, which Ashkenazim call the reciting of kinos. By the way, although Sefardim say far less piyutim than Ashkenazim, they do say selichos after all five tefilos on Yom Kippur as well as piyutim before kedusha.

How many machzorim?

At this point, we can address one of our opening questions.

“I am a Sefardiyah by birth, and recently became engaged to a wonderful Ashkenazi man who gave me a beautiful, five-volume set of machzorim. I looked at my new set of machzorim and could not find the selichot recited in Elul anywhere in the Rosh Hashanah machzor, nor in any of the other volumes. Where will I find it? I also could not find any volume for Tisha B’Av, but I also could not find this in the Ashkenazi siddur my chatan bought me.”

The answer to this question is interesting. In the customs of bnei Ashkenaz, every day’s selichos is completely different from every other day. Although the Sefardim recite selichos the entire month of Elul, they have no separate selichos book. This is because they recite the same selichos every day, and the selichos are usually included in their Rosh Hashanah machzor. A Sefardi set of machzorim might include three volumes: one for Rosh Hashanah, one for Yom Kippur and one for Tisha B’Av. Since they do not recite piyutim on the other holidays, the printers did not always find it worthwhile to produce machzorim for those days, since a standard siddur and chumash suffice. Others include a fourth volume, which is for all three regalim.

On the other hand, when a publisher sells an Ashkenazic set of machzorim, he includes a volume for each Yom Tov because each Yom Tov had its own special piyutim. However, the selichos recited on fast days, during Elul and aseres yemei teshuvah, and the kinos recited on Tisha B’Av are not included in a set of machzorim and are sold as separate volumes.

History through piyutim

There is a tremendous amount of history that can be derived from learning about the authors of our piyutim. We get quite an education as we see where the wandering Jew has found himself over the centuries of our dispersal. Here is a sampling of the names and geographic areas of some of our predominant paytanim, organized according to the periods of history. In all likelihood, many of our more common piyutim predate even the earliest dates I have mentioned here. However, since we are without any means of dating them, I have omitted them.

Bavel

Some of our piyutim are known to date back to the era of the geonim 1200-1300 years ago. Among the authors of this period we find Rav Sa’adia Gaon, Rav Nissim Gaon, and Rav Amram Gaon.

The early Italians

Not long after the period of the geonim that I just mentioned, there was a period of significant production of piyutim that dates back to the late 9th century in Italy. Among the many Italian paytanim of this era whose works we recite are a grandfather and grandson both named Amitai, Shefatyah, who was the son of one Amitai and the father of the other, Zevadyah, and Rav Shlomoh Habavli. (Historians do not know for certain why he was called Habavli, since he lived in Italy. The most obvious explanation is that either he was originally from Bavel or that his family origins were there. This would be similar to someone with obvious German roots carrying the family name Pollack, or someone of eastern European background with a family name of a central or western European city, such as Shapiro, from the city Speyer in western Germany, because of some earlier family history.)

Early Ashkenaz

The word Ashkenaz is associated with Germany, and the historical origins of these practices are usually traced to the Jewish communities that lived a thousand years ago in the Rhine river valley. The most famous three of these communities were Speyer, Worms and Mainz. Many of our piyutim are authored by gedolim of this period, including Rabbeinu Gershom, Rabbi Shimon Hagadol of Mainz and Rav Meir ben Yitzchak, the chazzan of Worms, who was the author of Akdamus. By the way, this will explain why Sefardim do not recite Akdamus on Shavuos, since its author lived after the time that Sefardim and Ashkenazim were physically separated into different areas.

Spanish

Beginning around this era is the Golden Age of Spain, which included much writing of piyutim. The major body of the attributable piyutim recited by the Sefardim goes back to this period, most of it written by Rav Shlomo ibn Gabirol, Rav Yehudah Halevi, Rav Moshe ibn Ezra, and Rav Avraham ibn Ezra, as I noted above. Ashkenazim do recite some piyutim from these authors, for example, Shomron Kol Titein, recited in the kinos of Tisha B’Av, authored by ibn Gabirol, and Tziyon halo Sish’ali, also one of the kinos, and the above-mentioned Yom Le’yabasha by Rav Yehudah Halevi, recited commonly at a bris. By the way, you will find Yom Le’yabasha  in your Ashkenazi machzor for Pesach, where it exists as the piyut to be recited at shacharis of the seventh day of Pesach, immediately before the brocha of Ga’al Yisroel.

Later Ashkenaz

In this era, many of the piyutim were written by rishonim who are familiar to us from their halachic and Talmudic writings. These include several baalei Tosafos, such as the Rivam (Rashi’s grandson and the older brother of Rabbeinu Tam), Rav Elchanan, Rav Yehudah Hachasid, Rav Yitzchak Ohr Zarua, the Maharam, Rav Yosef Bechor Shor, Rav Yoel Halevi (the father of the Ra’avyah).

The Italian angle

Having studied a quick overview of the various places where our paytanim lived, we can now explain why Ashkenazim recite many selichos and other piyutim written by the early Italian paytanim, whereas the Sefardim do not recite piyutim from these authors. The answer is that the ancestors of what came to be called Ashkenazic Jewry probably predominantly migrated northward from Italy, bringing with them their customs and their piyutim that had been written during this early golden age of piyut.

Rav Elazar Hakalir

No discussion of piyutim is complete without presenting Rav Elazar Hakalir, who authored the lion’s share of the kinos we recite on Tisha B’Av, as well as many of our other piyutim, including Tefillas Tal and Tefillas Geshem, the piyutim for the four special Shabbosos (Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and Hachodesh), and many of the yotzros for Yomim Tovim. We know absolutely nothing about him personally — we cannot even date when he lived with any accuracy. Some Rishonim place him in the era of the Tanna’im, shortly after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, identifying him either as Rabbi Elazar ben Arach (Shu”t Harashba 1:469), a disciple of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, or as Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai’s son Elazar, who hid in the cave with his father (Tosafos, Chagigah 13a s.v. Veraglei; Rosh, Berachos 5:21; Shibbolei Haleket #28). On the other hand, others date Rav Elazar HaKalir hundreds of years later.

We do not know for certain what the name “Kalir” means. Since there are several places where he used the acronym “Elazar berabi Kalir,” it seems that his father’s name was Kalir. However, the Aruch explains that “kalir” means a type of cookie, and that he was called hakalir because he ate a cookie upon which had been written a special formula that blessed him with tremendous erudition (Aruch, eirech Kalar III).

Many of Rabbi Elazar Hakalir’s piyutim and kinos require studying rather than reading, since they rely on allusions to midrashim and historical events. Many commentators elucidated his works, attempting to illuminate the depths of his words. Often, his ideas are expressed in difficult allusions, and the story or midrash to which he hints is unclear or obscure. They certainly cannot be understood without careful preparation. Someone who takes the trouble to do this will be awed by the beauty of the thoughts and allusions.

When did he live?

Most assume that Rav Elazar HaKalir lived in Eretz Yisrael, based on the fact that we have no piyutim written by him for the second day of Yom Tov (Tosafos, Chagigah 13a s.v. Veraglei; Rosh, Berachos 5:21.) However, the yotzros of the second day of Sukkos clearly include Rav Kalir’s signature and follow his style. Could it be that Diaspora Jews moved yotzros he wrote for the first day of Yom Tov to the second day? This approach creates another question: Since the yotzros recited on the first day of Yom Tov were also written by him, would he have written two sets of yotzros for Shacharis on Sukkos? There are other indications that he did, indeed, sometimes write more than one set of piyutim for the same day, and this approach is followed by the Shibbolei Haleket (#28).

Kalirian controversy

Notwithstanding the brilliance and prevalence of Rav Kalir’s piyutim, reciting them was not without controversy. No less a gadol than the Ibn Ezra stridently opposes using Rav Kalir’s works. In an essay incorporated in his commentary to Koheles (5:1), the ibn Ezra levels extremely harsh criticism of the piyutim authored by Rav Kalir. He divides the nature of his arguments into four headings.

Simplicity of language

Ibn Ezra notes that prayers should be recited in simple language that can be understood on a very basic level. After all, the goal of prayer is to understand what one is saying. Since piyutim are usually intended to be forms of prayer, one should not recite any prayer whose intent is not obviously clear. Because of this criticism, Ibn Ezra advises reciting the piyutim written by Rav Sa’adia Gaon, which are written so that they can be understood in a very literal way.

Mixed language

Ibn Ezra’s second criticism of Kalir is that he mixed into the Hebrew of his piyutim vocabulary whose basis is in the Gemara, treating Talmudic language on the same level of Hebrew as that of Tanach. As Ibn Ezra notes, the Gemara says loshon mikra lechud uloshon Talmud lechud, which he understands to mean that the Hebrew used by the Gemara should be treated as a different language from that of Tanach. Therefore, one should not mix the two languages together when reciting prayers.

Grammatical creativity

The third criticism of ibn Ezra is that he is unhappy with Kalir’s creative approach to Hebrew grammar and structure, allowing poetic style to influence the Hebrew that he used. Ibn Ezra also criticized Kalir’s creation of new words by changing masculine words to feminine and vice versa for poetic effect or to accomplish his allusions.

Use of midrashim

Ibn Ezra’s fourth criticism of Kalir is that his piyutim are filled with midrashim, and that these should not be included in one’s prayers.

Ibn Ezra notes that there were those who took issue with his criticisms, since Kalir had passed on many years before and would be unable to respond. Ibn Ezra himself dispenses with this disapproval by noting that prayer must be whole-hearted, and how can one pray when one does not understand what one is saying? Ibn Ezra notes that when Rav Sa’adia wrote piyutim, he steered clear of these four problems.

In fact, Sefardim do not recite piyutim of Rav Kalir, whereas among Ashkenazim, he is the single, most commonly used paytan.

Response to ibn Ezra

We should note that the Shibbolei Haleket saw this essay of the ibn Ezra and quoted selections from it, but he omitted any of the ibn Ezra’s criticism of Rav Kalir’s writings.

Furthermore, none of ibn Ezra’s criticisms should be taken as casting aspersion on Rav Elazar Hakalir’s greatness. Shibbolei Haleket records that when Rabbi Elazar Hakalir wrote his poem Vechayos Asher Heinah Meruba’os (recited in the kedusha of musaf of Rosh Hashanah), the angels surrounded him with fire (quoted by the Magen Avraham at the beginning of Siman 68). Similarly, R’ Chaim Vital writes that his teacher, the Arizal, recited only the piyutim written by the early paytanim, such as R’ Elazar Hakalir, since they are based on kabbalah.

Which seder ha’avodah?

This dispute between Ashkenazic practice and Sefardic manifests itself in the choice of piyut used for the seder ha’avodah recited towards the end of musaf on Yom Kippur. Dozens of piyutim explaining the seder ha’avodah were written, some dating back to the time of the Gemara, some perhaps earlier. Notwithstanding the antiquity of some of these pieces of poetry, the ones currently used are of relatively late origin. Ashkenazim recite Amitz Koach, which is highly poetic and difficult to understand. On the other hand, Sefardim recite Atah Konanta, which is written in clear Hebrew.

Conclusion

Now that we have had an opportunity to appreciate some of the background to our piyutim, it should motivate us to utilize our davening better to build a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three very high points — the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers.

 

Shul Shaylos: The Rulings of the Gadol of Brownsville

Since Bilaam’s agenda included destroying all our shullen, it is an appropriate week to discuss:

Shul Shaylos: The Rulings of the Gadol of Brownsville

Question #1: Keeping them Waiting

“Unfortunately, some of those who attend my morning minyan come late, so that the minyan usually forms around Borchu time. Should the chazzan wait until ten people are ready to begin the quiet shemoneh esrei together?”

Question #2: Dwindling Minyan

“For many years, I have attended a minyan that is now severely dwindling. In addition, not all the attendees are capable of davening, and, therefore, there are usually less than ten people praying at a time. Should I continue to attend this shul, or should I begin attending another shul, where there will be a minyan of people who all daven together?”

Question #3: Lowering the Bar

“Some of the ladies who attend our shul are now aging, and it is difficult for them to climb the steps to the ezras nashim, the ladies’ section. May we take part of the downstairs men’s section, place a mechitzah between it and the men, and make it into an auxiliary women’s section?”

Introduction: The Gadol of Brownsville

What do the above questions have to do with a gadol of Brownsville? Actually, there were many great talmidei chachamim who lived in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn during its heyday as a Jewish neighborhood. This article will discuss two shaylos that were asked of a world-class gadol who served as a rav in Brownsville, Rav Moshe Rosen. Rav Rosen is usually known by the name of a series of sefarim he authored, the Neizer Hakodesh, which plows original ground on the entirety of Seder Kodoshim, and also includes volumes on Pesachim, Yoma, Makkos and Niddah.

Rav Rosen was born in the 1870’s in Brainsk, in Polish Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). After marriage and five years of kest (the equivalent of kollel that existed for promising young talmidei chachamim in pre-World War I Eastern Europe), he became rav in Kveidan, a town near Kovno, Lithuania, where he remained through World War I before he moved to America. Even in his youth, he was a profound talmid chacham – as early an author as the Sedei Chemed quotes Rav Rosen with tremendous respect.[i]

In Europe, while yet a young man, the Neizer Hakodesh exchanged halachic correspondence with such luminaries as the nineteenth century’s poseik hador, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector, the Or Somayach, the Chofeitz Chayim, Rav Chayim Ozer Grodzensky, Rav Itzele Ponovitcher and Rav Menachem Ziemba.[ii] The Ponovitcher Rav, Rav Yosef Kahaneman, said that the Neizer Hakodesh’s Torah scholarship and brilliance was in the league of the greatest gedolim of Europe, an opinion that was echoed by another Lithuanian gadol, Rav Yechezkel Abramsky.

One of the other gedolim who knew and admired Rav Rosen when he was still a young man in Europe was the Chazon Ish, whose rebbitzen was a native of Kveidan and where he (the Chazon Ish) resided immediately after his marriage. One short anecdote demonstrates the respect the Chazon Ish had for the Torah greatness of Rav Rosen: Shortly after World War I, the Chazon Ish wanted to print a new edition of the very difficult mesechta, Keilim, with three commentaries, those authored by Rav Chayim Ozer, the Chazon Ish himself and the Neizer Hakodesh.[iii] Apparently, this initiative never saw fruition.

At the beginning of World War I, the Eastern Front of the war — between Germany and Russia — passed right through Kveidan and its environs, and most of the Jews fled to avoid the battlefront. Since no other rav was nearby, the Neizer Hakodesh remained in the area to oversee the chesed and mitzvos that needed to be performed. By the end of the war, there was no Jewish community left in Kveidan,[iv] and the Neizer Hakodesh relocated to America, where he settled in Brownsville.

Once in New York, the Neizer Hakodesh became the first Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. Among his early talmidim, was a young man named Avraham Pam, future Rosh Yeshivah of Torah Vodaas and future Chairman of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah. In a later period, the Neizer Hakodesh would test (farher) the talmidim of Yeshivah Chayim Berlin. Decades later, he was also involved in the organization of the yeshivah Beis Hatalmud of Bensonhurst and of Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood.

Upon arriving in America, Rav Rosen became rav of Khal Anshei Radishkovitz, colloquially known as the Amboy Street shul, one of the largest shuls in Brownsville. He later founded his own beis medrash, which, after his passing, was headed by his son, and later his son-in-law. The shul, now called Beis Hamedrash Harav, was subsequently relocated to Far Rockaway.

Rav Rosen authored over twenty sefarim, of which at least eighteen were subsequently published, most of them called Neizer Hakodesh. Many decades before the Brisker Rav popularized studying Seder Kodoshim in depth, Rav Rosen was attempting to re-breathe life into Kodoshim through his work, out of his home in Brownsville. He also authored several volumes of responsa and commentaries on Shulchan Aruch and Chumash.

Also a man of action, Rav Rosen raised money to support the Chazon Ish when he arrived in Bnei Beraq, and to assist the Brisker Rav when he arrived in Eretz Yisrael. Rav Rosen predeceased the Brisker Rav, passing away on Sukkos 5717 (1957).

A teshuvah from Brownsville

In one of his responsa, Rav Rosen deals with the second question that I asked above: “For many years, I have attended a minyan that is now severely dwindling. In addition, not all the attendees are capable of davening, and, therefore, there are usually less than ten people praying at a time. Should I continue to attend this shul, or should I begin attending another shul, where there will be a minyan of people who all daven together?”

Before I quote his response to this question, we should analyze the background of the issue.

What is a minyan?

We are all aware that several parts of our tefillah may be recited only when there is a quorum of at least ten adult men (a minyan) present. We are also aware that prayers recited together with a minyan accomplish more than when one prays by himself. To quote the Rambam: “The prayer of the community is always heard. Even when there are sinners among them, the Holy One, Blessed is He, does not despise the prayer of a group of people. Therefore, everyone is required to make himself part of the tzibur. One should not pray in private any time that one is able to pray with a community” (Hilchos Tefillah 8:1).

In a related discussion, the Rambam notes that the repetition of the shemoneh esrei requires that ten adult men be in attendance. He explains that it is not necessary that all ten are davening at this moment, provided that at least six people in attendance daven their quiet shemoneh esrei together prior to the repetition of the shemoneh esrei.

At this point, let us quote the first question asked above:

“Unfortunately, some of those who attend my morning minyan come late, so that the minyan usually forms around Borchu time. Should the chazzan wait until ten people are ready to begin the quiet shemoneh esrei together?”

The questioner is raising the following issue: Do six people davening together while ten are in attendance have all the value of tefillah betzibur, or does their joint prayer not carry all the merits of tefillah betzibur unless ten men are actually praying simultaneously? A corollary of this question is whether there is a preference to daven with a minyan where ten people are actually davening over one where less than ten are actually davening.

To answer this question, many authorities quote the words of the Chayei Adam (19:1):

“Someone who wants his prayers to be accepted should be careful to daven together with the tzibur… the main part of tefillah betzibur is the shemoneh esrei prayer, which means that ten adult males should pray together. The masses think, in error, that the purpose of tefillah betzibur is only to hear Kaddish, Kedushah and Borchu, and, as a result, they are not concerned about davening together, as long as there are ten people in shul. This is a major error. Therefore, it is a personal responsibility of each man to arrive in shul early and begin davening with the chazzan, so that he can daven in the proper order.”

Clearly, the main concern of the Chayei Adam was the bad habit of arriving late for services, resulting in not davening the shemoneh esrei together with the tzibur. However, while emphasizing the importance of reciting one’s prayers at the same time that the tzibur does, the Chayei Adam wrote, “the main part of tefillah betzibur is… that ten adult males pray together.” This is understood by many authorities to mean that although one may repeat the shemoneh esrei (chazaras hashatz) even if only six of the people in attendance have davened, it is not considered full-fledged tefillah betzibur unless at least ten actually davened together. These significant words of the Chayei Adam are quoted by the Mishnah Berurah.

The logic used to explain this position is that a minyan should be treated no different from any other minimum amount required for the performance of a mitzvah. When the Torah requires that we eat a kezayis (the volume-equivalent of an olive) of matzoh on Seder night, it is insufficient for someone to eat most of the volume-equivalent of an olive. The mitzvah is fulfilled only when one consumes an entire olive-sized piece. So, too, although six people davening with four others in attendance allows one to repeat the shemoneh esrei and to recite Kedushah, Kaddish and Borchu, ultimately one does not have a minyan of people davening simultaneously (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:28, 29, 30). Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach also held this position (Halichos Shlomoh 5:8).

Other authorities dispute this conclusion, contending that if ten people are in attendance, tefillah betzibur is accomplished even when only six of them daven at the same time. They contend that the first approach is reading more into the Chayei Adam’s comments than the author intended. The purpose of the Chayei Adam’s comments is only to show that reciting the shemoneh esrei with the tzibur is the primary focus of attending public prayer and not only the recital of Kaddish and Kedushah, unlike  the errant understanding of the common folk.

Those who espouse the latter position note that the Rambam’s comments imply that six people praying with four others in attendance constitutes tefillah betzibur. They note that since the Rambam implies that six people praying together with a minyan in attendance qualifies as tefillah betzibur, how can one infer from the Chayei Adam otherwise? If the Chayei Adam intended to dispute the Rambam’s conclusion, he would explain that he is doing so. Therefore, it is more likely that he agrees with the Rambam and that having six people davening does qualify as tefillah betizbur (Beis Baruch commentary on Chayei Adam). The Eimek Beracha (Tefillah #6) provides several indications that this is true, and rules that this is unquestionably accurate.

Returning to our first question: “Unfortunately, some of those who attend my morning minyan come late, so that the minyan usually forms around Borchu time. Should the chazzan wait until ten people are ready to begin the quiet shemoneh esrei together?”

Well, dear reader, what do you answer our friend? It depends which opinion of the two approaches one holds. According to the first approach, it is preferable to wait until ten people begin shemoneh esrei simultaneously, which accomplishes tefillah betzibur. According to the second approach, it is not required. The rav of the shul should decide which approach they should follow.

Dwindling minyan

At this point, I would like to address the second question posed above:

“For many years, I have attended a minyan that is now severely dwindling. In addition, not all the attendees are capable of davening, and, therefore, there are usually less than ten people praying at a time. Should I continue to attend this shul, or should I begin attending another shul, where there will be a minyan of people who all daven together?”

This actual question was asked of the Neizer Hakodesh. The first step in this question is: Assuming that at least six people are davening, is this considered tefillah betzibur?

The answer to this question is, of course, dependent on our previous discussion. In his responsum, the Neizer Hakodesh assumes that if ten people are not davening shemoneh esrei together, the resultant tefillah does not qualify as tefillah betzibur. However, notwithstanding that remaining in the dying shul deprives the questioner of the mitzvah of tefillah betzibur, Rav Rosen still concludes that he should remain at that shul — for a different reason, based on the following well-known Talmudic story (Berachos 47b):

Rabbi Eliezer, attended by his slave, entered a shul to discover that it was short one Jew for a minyan. Although a non-Jewish slave owned by a Jew is required to observe most mitzvos, he is still not considered a full-fledged Jew until he is freed, and he does not count towards a minyan. Rabbi Eliezer promptly freed his slave so that there would be a minyan and davening could begin. The Gemara asks: Upon what halachic basis did Rabbi Eliezer free his slave, since this act is prohibited by the Torah? The Gemara replies that since freeing his slave in this instance allowed a “community” of Jews to perform a mitzvah, a mitzvah of the community supersedes the prohibition of freeing one’s slave. Thus, we see the importance of enabling the tzibur to perform the various mitzvos, including reciting Kaddish, Kedusha, and Borchu, repeating the shemoneh esrei, and reading the Torah. Rav Rosen ruled that the community’s ability to observe these mitzvos holds greater halachic weight than the individual being able to daven with a proper minyan of ten people davening at the same time (Neizer Hakodesh U’she’eilos U’teshuvos #14).

Moving the ezras nashim

At this point, I would like to address the last of our opening questions:

“Some of the ladies who attend our shul are now aging, and it is difficult for them to climb the steps to the ezras nashim. May we take part of the downstairs men’s section, place a mechitzah between it and the men, and make it into an auxiliary women’s section?”

The question here is based on the following halachic issue. The Gemara states that one may not take an item that is designated for a greater kedusha and now use it for a lesser kedusha (see Megillah 26a). The question is whether, since both the ezras nashim and the men’s section are designated for prayer, they have the same level of sanctity, or if there is any distinction between them.

The Neizer Hakodesh writes that a respected earlier authority, the Divrei Chayim, previously analyzed this question, noting that there are many mitzvos, such as reading the Torah, blowing Shofar, lighting the menorah on Chanukah, and the recital of elements of davening that require a minyan are based in the men’s shul. As a result, the Divrei Chayim concluded that although the ezras nashim certainly has great sanctity, there is more sanctity in the main shul. This precludes changing a section of the shul for use as an ezras nashim (Shu”t Divrei Chayim, Orach Chayim 2:14).

After discussing the issues at length, Rav Rosen voiced concern that should the shul not construct a lower ezras nashim, some women would begin to attend non-Orthodox congregations. He therefore recommended the following: Notwithstanding that the main shul cannot be converted to an ezras nashim, under the extenuating circumstances, one may be lenient that the area above the men’s height does not have the kedusha of the shul, and construct an auxiliary ezras nashim in the air space above part of the men’s section. Since this would not be much taller than the main shul, it would be easy to access with a short ramp or short set of stairs, thus being available to those who require it.

In the responsa of Rav Moshe Feinstein, we find a teshuvah where he was asked a similar question regarding changing the ezras nashim of a shul from a balcony to a section alongside the main shul with a proper mechitzah (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:43). Rav Moshe rules that one may not do this, because we see from the Gemara (Sukkah 51b) that it is preferred for the women’s section to be in a balcony. Although a shul whose ezras nashim is alongside the main shul and separated by a mechitzah is kosher, one should not replace a balcony mechitzah, which is the preferred choice, with one alongside the main shul. Rav Moshe is also clearly concerned that the attempt to change the mechitzah is meant to be a liberalizing step in the shul and could lead to other “innovations” with more serious halachic ramifications. He rules that the rav should fight this innovation of relocating the ezras nashim with all his might. Nevertheless, Rav Moshe rules that if the congregation moves the women’s section from a balcony to an area alongside the main shul with a kosher mechitzah, that the rav of the shul may keep his position, since the shul still has a kosher mechitzah.

Conclusion

I personally enjoy knowing something of the life of a gadol whose Torah I am studying. I hope that our readers similarly enjoyed reading a bit about Rav Moshe Rosen while studying some of his halachic rulings.

 

 

[i] The Sedei Chemed cites Rav Rosen in Volume 8 at the beginning of his exposition on the issues of Chanukah.

[ii] Most of the biographical information was obtained from Volume 3 of Rav Yisrael Shurin’s Morei Ha’umah and a published interview of Rav Rosen’s grandson, Rav Hillel Litwack of Flatbush.

[iii] Finkelman, Shimon, The Chazon Ish, Page 35.

[iv] Finkelman, Shimon, The Chazon Ish, Page 43.

Bimah in the Middle

Prior to Shavuos is an excellent time to review some of the less-known halachos germane to kerias haTorah, including whether the Bimah needs to be in the middle of the shul.

Question #1: Small Shul

“We have converted a storage area into a temporary shul for our neighborhood. Must we put the shulchan in the middle when, as a result, we will have less seating capacity?”

Question #2: Reading from the Front

“May I daven in a shul where the bimah is in the front of the shul?”

Question #3: The Beis Medrash

“Must the bimah of a yeshivah be located in the middle of the beis medrash?”

Where is the bimah?

Although we find allusion going back to the time of the tanna’im concerning the proper location of the bimah and the shulchan in a shul, most of the halachic discussion about the topic is within the last two hundred years, for reasons that will soon be obvious. Let us begin by citing the early sources for this halachah, and then analyze some of the responsa on the subject.

Introduction:

When the Rambam records the laws germane to the proper construction of a shul, he mentions that a shul should have a raised platform in the middle, which we call the bimah (Hilchos Tefillah 11:3, see Kesef Mishneh). The Rambam explains that the bimah is used for two purposes: in order to read the Torah and to facilitate public speaking, the goal, in both instances, being to enable people to hear. He then adds that the shulchan upon which the sefer Torah is placed (which he calls a teivah) should be positioned on top and in the middle of the bimah. We thus see that there is a halachic preference, if not an outright requirement, (1) to have the shulchan placed in the middle of the shul, (2) to have it on an elevated surface.

Notwithstanding this ruling of the Rambam, the Kesef Mishneh (ad locum) notes that many shullen are not built this way. To justify the custom, he explains that, when constructing a large shul, one should place the bimah in the middle so that people can hear the reading, but when a shul is small, it may be more practical to have the Torah read from a place that is not centrally located.

When Rav Yosef Karo, the author of the Kesef Mishneh, wrote the Shulchan Aruch, he omitted the law requiring a bimah platform and that the bimah and the shulchan be in the center of the shul. This appears consistent with his opinion that the location of the bimah and the shulchan is not a requirement of shul design, but, rather, is a practical matter that is dependent on the construction and acoustics of the shul. However, both the Tur (Orach Chayim 150) and the Rema (ad locum) mention that the bimah should be in the middle of the shul.

Talmudic sources

The Gra cites Talmudic sources for the practice of placing the bimah in the middle of the shul (Glosses to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 150). The Tosefta (Sukkah 4:4) and the Gemara (Sukkah 51b) describe the huge shul in Alexandria, which had a seating capacity of many thousands, and which had a wooden bimah in the middle. The Gra apparently holds that these allusions provided the Rambam with his source requiring a centrally located bimah. The question now is, if there is indeed a Talmudic source requiring the bimah to be in the middle, how can the Kesef Mishneh rule that there is no such requirement? Apparently, he feels that a large shul must have a centralized bimah in order to make it possible for the maximum number of people to hear the reading of the Torah, whereas a small shul does not require that its bimah be centrally located. On the other hand, the Rambam, the Tur and the Rema contend that a centrally-located bimah is an important aspect of shul design and construction.

The Chasam Sofer

We find little other literature on this subject until the nineteenth century. The earliest work of that era on this topic is a responsum from the Chasam Sofer, regarding a plan to increase seating capacity in a shul by relocating the shulchan to the front (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #28). The Chasam Sofer discusses the points raised by the Rambam, the Tur and the Rema that the shulchan should be in the middle, and the Kesef Mishneh’s comment that a small shul is not required to have its shulchan in the center, since people will easily hear the kerias haTorah from wherever it is read. The Chasam Sofer writes that the Kesef Mishneh’s reason applies only in a case of a shul that was built originally without the bimah in the middle, but once the bimah was built in the middle, one may not move it to a different location. Furthermore, the Chasam Sofer writes that if a small shul was expanded to accommodate a larger crowd, they will now be required to move the shulchan to the middle so that everyone can easily hear kerias haTorah.

The Chasam Sofer then writes an additional reason why one may not change the location of the bimah and the shulchan after they have been built. He notes a ruling of the Talmud Yerushalmi concerning the marking of the boards used in the construction of the mishkan. Since the boards of the mishkan were identical, why were they marked to designate each one’s proper location every time the mishkan was reassembled? What difference does it make where one puts any particular board?

The Yerushalmi explains that even if all the boards are identical and perfectly interchangeable, one is required to have each board returned to the same relative location. Each board acquires a specific sanctity because of its location, and this should not be changed. The Chasam Sofer then quotes the Maharil, who ruled that one should be careful to replace the planks of one’s sukkah in the same place year after year, for the same reason as we have just mentioned. Each board has a claim to its location, and one should return it to the spot it held the year before. Similarly, contends the Chasam Sofer, the part of the shul on which the bimah and the shulchan rested should remain as their location, and therefore, one may not relocate the bimah away from the central place that it has held.

As proof to his point, the Chasam Sofer notes that, although the second Beis Hamikdash was larger than the first, the location of the menorah, the mizbechos (the altars) and all the other vessels remained the same — they were not moved to accommodate the new, larger structure. This was because the site where the holy vessels were located should not be changed. Similarly, rules the Chasam Sofer, even according to the Kesef Mishneh’s approach that a bimah need not be centrally located, this ruling does not permit relocating a bimah that has already been placed in the middle.

Shulchan is like the mizbeiach

In addition to the reasons just cited, the Chasam Sofer provides another reason why the shulchan should be in the center of the shul. The shulchan serves in a role similar to that of the mizbeiach, the altar of the Beis Hamikdash. This is because of the concept – based on the words of the prophet Hoshea, U’neshalmah parim sefaseinu – our lips, meaning our reading of the Torah, replace the bulls that were offered in the Beis Hamikdash. (This idea is conveyed in a passage of the Gemara in mesechta Megillah 31b.)

When we read about the korbanos during kerias haTorah, it is as if those sacrifices are being offered. This reading, then, provides the shulchan with some of the sanctity of the mizbeiach, and the shul with some of the sanctity of the Beis Hamikdash.

This idea can be demonstrated from the hoshanos that we perform on Sukkos (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 660), which are reminiscent of the hoshanos procedure performed in the Beis Hamikdash, when the four minim were carried around the mizbeiach. The original service of the hoshanos could be performed only by circling around the mizbeiach. So too, when we perform hoshanos, we walk around the shulchan, which serves as a surrogate mizbeiach. Similarly, on Simchas Torah, we carry the sifrei Torah around the bimah (Rema, Orach Chayim 669:1).

The Chasam Sofer explains that since the mizbeiach was in the middle of the Beis Hamikdash, so too, the shulchan should be located in the middle of the shul.

Meishiv Davar

Another major posek who associates a centralized bimah with the mizbeiach is the Netziv, Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, who was the Rosh Yeshivah of the yeshiva in Volozhin for many decades of the late nineteenth century. In a responsum (Shu”t Meishiv Davar #15), he notes that the shulchan is in the middle to parallel the mizbeiach, which explains why we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah from the bimah just as in the Beis Hamikdash they blew the trumpets at the time that the korbanos were offered. He rules that the shulchan must be exactly midway between the north and south parts of the shul, just as the outside mizbeiach was, but that it does not have to be midway between the east and west parts, because the outside mizbeiach was not located centrally in this axis.

The Netziv adds a few other reasons why it is prohibited to move the bimah — one of which is that people will assume that they can change other Jewish customs, without realizing that they are tampering with halachah.

Which mizbeiach?

When one reads the two responsa very carefully, that of the Chasam Sofer and that of the Meishiv Davar, one will notice that there is a bit of a dispute between them. Although both scholars compare the shulchan to the mizbeiach, the Chasam Sofer compares the shulchan to both the inner mizbeiach, which was made of gold and predominantly used for burning the ketores, the incense offered daily in the Beis Hamikdash, and also to the outside mizbeiach, whereas the Netziv compares it only to the outside mizbeiach.

The inner mizbeiach was located midway between the shulchan of the Beis Hamikdash, on which was placed the lechem hapanim (the showbread), and the menorah, which was kindled daily. The shulchan stood in the northern section and on the western side of the kodesh; the menorah stood opposite it on the southern flank, and the mizbeiach was exactly in the middle of the kodesh.

The outer mizbeiach, which was used all day long for the various offerings of the Beis Hamikdash, stood in the middle of the azarah, the courtyard of the Beis Hamikdash. Actually, there is a dispute among tanna’im exactly where the mizbeiach stood. All agree that on the orientation of east to west, it was in the middle of the azarah. The dispute is from a north-south perspective, whether it was exactly in the middle, or whether it was somewhat off center, either to the north or to the south. According to some authorities, this dispute might affect whether one should try to make sure that the bimah and the shulchan are exactly in the middle of the shul, or whether it is sufficient that they are near the middle, but they do not need to be perfectly centered, as is the prevailing custom.

It should be noted that, notwithstanding that the Chasam Sofer and the Meishiv Davar both explain that the bimah must be in the middle of the shul because of its comparison to the mizbeiach, Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that this is not a convincing reason for the practice (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:42).

Moving the bimah

According to what we have just said, one should not move the bimah in order to make more room to perform hoshanos. Although this seems to be the predominant approach among the halachic authorities, the Minchas Yitzchak (3:4) quotes from the Imrei Eish a justification of those who move the bimah in order to conduct the hakafos, on the basis that (1) there is no requirement to make the bimah represent the mizbeiach, and (2) even if there is such a requirement, the bimah does not need to be in the perfect center, and it is permitted  to move the bimah, provided it is not placed next to the aron, but in front of it. Nevertheless, all agree that both the hoshanos and the hakafos must go around the bimah, as expressed in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, chapter 660) and the Rema (Orach Chayim, chapter 669).

Imitating idolic practice

Until now, the discussion regarding the proper location of the bimah and the shulchan has involved only the laws of building a shul. However, a completely new issue is discussed by a disciple of the Chasam Sofer, the Maharam Shik (Shu”t Maharam Shik, Yoreh Deah 165). In a responsum dated erev rosh chodesh Adar, 5616 (1856), to Rav Yisroel Dovid, the av beis din of Feising, the Maharam Shik introduces a new halachic issue: the Torah violation of imitating the practices of the gentiles. In the mid-1800’s, those who wanted to locate the bimah and the shulchan to the front of the shul were, in general, not motivated by space concerns, but because they wanted their shullen to look similar to the way non-religious congregations appeared, which, in turn, were made to appear like churches. Following gentile practices in the observance of our mitzvos involves the violation of several verses of the Torah, such as, Uvechukoseihem lo seileichu, Do not follow their laws (Vayikra 18:3), Velo seilechu bechukos hagoy, Do not follow the laws of the gentile (Vayikra 20:23), and Hishamer lecha pen tinakeish achareihem, Be careful lest you be attracted to them (Devorim 12:30). This general prohibition is quoted by the Rambam (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 11:1) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah, Chapter 178:1).

In the details germane to understanding the laws of Uvechukoseihem lo seileichu, there was a dispute between Rav Yisroel Dovid and the Maharam Shik. Rav Yisroel Dovid felt that this prohibition would exist even when the reason for moving the bimah was to make more seating room. The Maharam Shik disagreed, demonstrating that Uvechukoseihem lo seileichu is violated only when the intent is to mimic non-Jewish practices. The Maharam Shik also prohibits having the bimah in front or moving it there when someone might assume that the bimah is in front in order to mimic non-Jewish practices, even when this was not the intention of those who planned and constructed this shul. When it is clear that the purpose for moving the bimah and the shulchan is to create more seating capacity, it is not prohibited under the heading of Uvechukoseihem lo seileichu, but only because of the reasons mentioned by the Chasam Sofer.

Turned-down position

The Minchas Yitzchak (3:4) quotes a letter from Rav Shimon Sofer (a son of the Chasam Sofer, who ultimately became the rav of Cracow) written to a very prominent community that had offered him the position of chief rabbi. Rav Sofer wrote a letter to the community turning down the post, because the bimah of their main shul was not located in the middle of the sanctuary and, also, because the chazan’s amud was located at a high point in the shul, when, according to halachah, it should be at a low place.

In this context, we should quote the Mishnah Berurah, “With our great sins, in some places the custom of the early generations has been ignored and the bimah is constructed near the aron hakodesh, out of desire to follow the practices that the gentiles observe in their temples. Regarding these communities, one should say, And Yisroel forgot his Maker and he built temples [Hoshea 8:14]. The later authorities already cast aspersions on these people” (Biur Halachah 150:5, s.v. Be’emtza).

Entering the shul

Is there any halachic problem with entering a shul whose bimah is in the front?

The Minchas Yitzchak (3:5) quotes from different sources that prohibited even entering such a shul.

However, Rav Moshe Feinstein holds a more moderate approach to this last question (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:42.) Rav Moshe was asked whether one may daven in a shul that has its bimah in the front. The questioner had heard that in Hungary they had prohibited davening in such a shul, an approach that would indeed be reflected by the above-quoted Minchas Yitzchak. Rav Moshe responds that he was unfamiliar with such a prohibition. If it did exist, it was because they needed to stamp out Reform, and it has the halachic status of a hora’as sha’ah, a ruling established because of a temporary circumstance. However, in other countries one is permitted to daven in such a shul. Rav Moshe concludes that when there are two shullen in a town, one with its bimah in the middle and the other with the bimah elsewhere, one should daven regularly in the shul whose bimah is in the middle.

Beis Medrash

At this point, let us discuss the third question asked at the beginning. “Must the bimah in a yeshivah be in the middle of the beis medrash?”

This question is discussed by the Minchas Yitzchak (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak, 3:6), who concludes that the rules governing the existence of a bimah and a shulchan and their location are germane only to a shul, but that there is no requirement to have a bimah in a beis medrash. The reason for this ruling is a topic for a different article. The Minchas Yitzchak writes that it is perfectly acceptable for a beis medrash to use a portable shulchan for kerias haTorah.

Conclusion

We all hope and pray that the day will soon come when we shall merit the third Beis Hamikdash. In the interim, we should be careful to treat our batei keneses and batei medrash with proper sanctity, including all their halachic details.

 

The Mitzvah Snatcher

CHAPTER 1

A QUICK DAVENING

Yankel is in the year of mourning for his father and meticulously fulfills his filial responsibility to “daven in front of the amud.” Finding himself one day at a Mincha minyan in an unfamiliar neighborhood, he races to the amud before anyone else gets a chance. After davening, a nicely dressed gentleman hands Yankel a business card and asks if he can speak to him for a second.

“Are you new in the neighborhood? I don’t believe we have ever met before. My name is Irving Friedman.”

“Mine is Yankel Schwartz. No, I don’t live here. I was just passing through and needed a Mincha minyan.”

“Oh, I would like to make your acquaintance. Could I trouble you for your phone number?”

Not suspecting anything, Yankel provides Irving Friedman with his home, business, and cell phone numbers. Friedman then asks him for his home address, which arouses Yankel’s suspicion. “Why do you want to know?”

“Well, I guess I should be straightforward with you,” Irving continues. “I want you to be aware that you owe me a huge amount of money. You see, I have the chazakah of davening at the amud during this minyan. By grabbing the mitzvah, you stole from me nineteen brachos of the repetition of Shmoneh Esrei and two Kaddeishim, for each of which you owe me ten gold coins. I have made the exact calculation on the back of my business card. If you doubt that you owe me this money, I suggest you discuss the matter with your own rav. Since you look like an ehrliche yid, I assume that you will attempt to pay me before Yom Kippur. However, if that is too difficult, I am willing to discuss a payment plan. You have my phone number on the card.” With this, Irving Friedman (not his real name) got into his car and drove off.

A bit bewildered at this surprising turn of events, Yankel looked at the business card in his hand. The front of the card had Friedman’s name, business address, and the title and logo of his business. On the back, Yankel found the following hand-written calculation:

Invoice:

19 brachos @ 10 gold dinar coins each =                  190 gold dinar coins.

2 kaddeishim @ 10 gold dinar coins each=                 20 gold dinar coins.

Total                                                                            210 gold dinar coins.

Based on my research, these coins are worth between $24 and $200 each, in contemporary dollars (see Shiurei Torah, pg. 302.) This makes a total outstanding debt of between $5,040 and $42,000.

I am willing to accept the lower sum, and I am willing to discuss a payment schedule.

Yours sincerely, I. Friedman

CHAPTER 2

Yankel was shocked. He presumed that Irving Friedman was pulling his leg. Yet, Friedman’s demeanor about the entire matter had been so business-like that it did not seem Friedman was playing a prank on him. “Five grand for one Mincha. He must be kidding!!” was all Yankel could think.

Yankel now realized that his running to the amud was very presumptuous. Usually, one goes to the amud when asked by a gabbai, unless one has a regular chazakah to daven at the amud during that particular minyan. Yankel realized that his enthusiasm to get the amud had clouded his reasonable judgment.

Back in his own shul and on familiar turf, Yankel davened maariv at the amud uneventfully and then noticed his good buddy, Shmuel. Besides being a good friend, Shmuel was more learned than Yankel and would be able to help him sort out what had happened. Yankel told Shmuel about the day’s events and showed him the business card.

“I know that the Gemara talks about charging someone ten gold coins for snatching a mitzvah, but I never heard of someone trying to collect it,” was Shmuel’s surprised reaction.

“Where do you think Friedman got this dollar figure?”

“He has a note on the card quoting ‘Shiurei Torah, pg. 302.’ This is a sefer on the subject of halachic measurements. I don’t have the sefer, but let’s see if the shul has a copy.”

Sure enough, the shul library had a copy of Shiurei Torah by Rav Avrohom Chayim Na’eh, one of the gedolei poskim in Eretz Yisroel about sixty years ago. Shmuel located the chapter where the sefer discusses the halachic sources for determining the value of “ten gold coins,” and indeed, Friedman’s calculations were based on the conclusions of Shiurei Torah.

“What should I do? $5,040 is a lot of money. Do I really owe him this much money because I davened Mincha without checking if someone else had a right to the amud?” Yankel asked his friend.

“Maybe discuss the issue with the Rav.”

CHAPTER 3

Still very disturbed about the matter, Yankel called Rav Cohen to schedule an appointment. By now, he regretted his rash Mincha davening, and realized that it is far more important not to infringe on someone else’s mitzvah than to daven at the amud.

At the appointed time, Yankel arrived at Rav Cohen’s office and explained the whole story, showing him the calculation on the back of the business card.

Rav Cohen noticed a halachic flaw in Mr. Friedman’s argument, but felt that Yankel would benefit more if he found out this information a bit later. The sage knew that this was not the first time that Yankel’s impetuous nature had gotten him into trouble. This situation might help him realize not to be so rash.

Rav Cohen introduced Yankel to the halachic issues involved. “As we know from the Chumash, someone who shechts a bird has a mitzvah of “kisui hadam,” to cover the blood with dirt. The Gemara (Bava Kamma 91b) tells us a story of a shocheit who shechted a bird and then, before he had a chance to fulfill the mitzvah of covering the blood, someone else covered it, thus snatching the mitzvah. The shocheit brought the offending party to a din Torah where the great Tanna Rabban Gamliel presided. Rabban Gamliel ruled that the ‘mitzvah snatcher’ must pay ten gold coins for taking someone else’s mitzvah.”

“But in that case he is being fined for taking away his mitzvah, not for the bracha,” Yankel countered.

“Actually, the Gemara (Chullin 87a) asks exactly this question. The Gemara cites a case where someone grabbed someone else’s right to lead the bensching. In the time of the Gemara, when a group of people bensched together, one person recited the entire bensching aloud, and the others listened attentively and answered amen when he finished each bracha. By hearing the brachos of the person reciting the bensching, they fulfilled their obligation to bensch.

“In this instance, someone else began bensching other than the person who had the right to bensch. The Gemara discusses whether the person who bensched must compensate for one mitzvah, which is ten gold coins, or for four brachos, which is forty coins.”

Yankel, now keenly aware of the difference between ten coins and forty, lets out a sigh.

“How does the Gemara rule?” asked Yankel, hoping that the Gemara would rule in his favor and save him a lot of money. After all, if the Gemara rules that the entire bensching is only one mitzvah, his nineteen snatched brachos, which are only one mitzvah, are worth only ten gold coins. However, if the Gemara rules that he must compensate per bracha, he must pay 190 gold coins. By some quick arithmetic, Yankel figured that this saves him at least $4,500! He had never before realized before how much a Gemara discussion might be worth.

Rav Cohen realized what was going through Yankel’s head. “Well, there are other issues that impact on your case, but …. the Gemara rules that he must pay forty gold coins.”

The ramifications of this ruling were not lost on Yankel. “But what is he paying for? He didn’t take anything.”

“That is a really good question,” responded the Rav patiently. “Rashi (Chullin 87a) explains that the mitzvah snatcher is paying for the reward that he deprived the other person of when the mitzvah was taken away.”

“I didn’t know you could put a price tag on a mitzvah’s reward,” Yankel blurted out. “The reward for a mitzvah is priceless!”

The Rav could not miss this opportunity. “If that is so, then you are really getting a very good bargain.”

“Why?”

“What is worth more, the mitzvos one observes, or the money being paid as compensation?”

“Put that way, I must admit that it is a bargain. But it is still a very expensive bargain!”

Yankel continued. “Are there any other instances of collecting money for someone taking away a mitzvah?”

“The Gemara discusses a din Torah raised by a person whose tree was overhanging a public area and could cause potential damage. Before he could trim the tree, someone else chopped down the problematic branches. The owner placed a claim in beis din against the chopper for snatching his mitzvah. The beis din sided with the owner that his mitzvah was indeed snatched.”

“Shmuel told me that he never heard of anyone collect money for snatched mitzvos. Is there any discussion after the time of the Gemara about collecting for snatched mitzvos?”

Tosafos discusses a case when someone was ‘called up’ for an aliyah, and another person went up for the aliyah instead, thus snatching two brachos away from the person who had a right to them.”

“What chutzpah!” blurted out Yankel. Then, realizing the hypocrisy in his reaction, he added. “I shouldn’t be the one to talk. If I had a little less chutzpah, I wouldn’t have gotten into such hot water.”

“Whatever happened to this aliyah snatcher?” queried Yankel.

“How much do you think he should have paid?” replied the Rav, cunningly waiting for the best time to reveal the rest of the story.

“Well, based on the bensching case where he paid forty coins for four brachos, I would imagine the aliyah snatcher should pay twenty coins for two brachos, one before and one after the aliyah.”

“You are catching on really well,” complimented the Rav.

“Well, if I do end up financially poorer for this experience, at least I should end up a bit wealthier in Torah learning,” concluded Yankel. “But what do the poskim rule?”

Rav Cohen decided it was now time to let Yankel in on the secret. “There is a dispute in this question between Rabbeinu Tam and his nephew, Rabbeinu Yitzchok. Rabbeinu Yitzchok rules exactly like you contended – the aliyah snatcher must pay twenty gold coins. However, Rabbeinu Tam ruled that he is not required to pay at all (Tosafos, Bava Kamma 91b s.v. vichiyavo).”

Yankel was on the edge of his chair. Maybe Rabbeinu Tam would be his savior!

“How did Rabbeinu Tam get him off the hook?” was all Yankel wanted to know.

Rav Cohen leaned toward Yankel, asking him, “Which act earns more reward, reciting a bracha or answering amen?”

“I would assume reciting the bracha,” responded Yankel, “But because of the way you asked the question, I must be wrong.”

“Indeed, the Gemara (Berachos 53b) declares that it is greater to recite amen than to recite the bracha. Rabbeinu Tam understands this to mean that the person who answers amen receives more reward than the person who recites the bracha! He therefore concludes that the person who snatched the aliyah need not pay, since the person who should have received the aliyah would receive even more reward for reciting amen to the bracha. Remember, the compensation is for losing reward, and the aliyah snatcher did not take away any reward.”

“One second,” blurted out Yankel, “The guy who covered the blood also didn’t stop the shocheit from reciting amen. Why did he have to pay?”

“That is a really good question that the later poskim ask. There are two very different approaches to explain why Rabbeinu Tam agrees that the blood coverer must pay the shocheit. Some contend that he recited the bracha in a way that the shocheit did not hear the bracha and that is why he must pay. According to this approach, had the shocheit heard the bracha, he would not collect compensation for losing his mitzvah.

Others contend that the shocheit has two different claims, one for the mitzvah and the other for the bracha. Answering amen provides an even greater reward than reciting the bracha, so the shocheit does not collect for missing the bracha. However, the shocheit still lost the reward for performing the mitzvah, and for this loss he deserves compensation (Sma 382:7; Shach and other commentaries ad loc.).”

“Is this why Shmuel said he never heard of someone trying to collect ten gold coins for a snatched mitzvah?”

“No. Actually, the reason for this is a bit complicated,” began the Rav. “Technically, only a beis din whose members received the original semicha that Moshe Rabbeinu conferred to Yehoshua can enforce a financial claim. Since we no longer have this semicha, this would mean that no one could ever collect damages or a bad debt. To avoid this problem, Chazal instituted that one can collect damages or debts through any beis din. However, Chazal instituted this method of collecting only when a person suffered out-of-pocket losses, as he does in the case of a bad debt or an injury. When someone took another person’s mitzvah, however, although this is a real loss, there was no out-of-pocket loss. The result is that a mitzvah snatcher owes money and should pay it, but there is no way to force him to pay the debt (Tosafos, Bava Kamma 91b s.v. vechiyavo). However, since there is definitely a moral obligation to pay, the aggrieved party is permitted to seize property as payment.”

Yankel nodded, showing that he understood. “In conclusion, according to many opinions, I owe Mr. Friedman a considerable amount of money. Does it make any difference that I was unaware that he had the right to the amud and didn’t know that I could become obligated to pay a huge sum of money?”

“It should not make any difference, since you owe him for taking away his reward, which is something that you did whether you realized it or not.”

“Do I also owe him for the two kaddeishim? These are not brachos,” inquired Yankel.

“It would seem that Mr. Friedman considers them to be mitzvos, and from his perspective he is probably right. It is true that whether one snatched someone else’s bracha or his mitzvah, one is required to pay compensation for his lost reward. However, it is not clear from the poskim whether one must pay for depriving someone of a mitzvah that is not min haTorah (Yam Shel Shelomoh, Bava Kamma 8:60).”

“What about the fact that he said amen to my brachos. Does that get me off the hook? Do we paskin like Rabbeinu Tam?” The hope in Yankel’s voice was very obvious.

“Actually, there is a big dispute among poskim. Many rule like Rabbeinu Tam, but this is certainly not a universally held position (see Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 382 and commentaries).”

“What does the Rav paskin in this situation?”

I would suggest that one follow the decision of the Taz (end of Choshen Mishpat 382), who says that you should contact Mr. Friedman and apologize, and offer some compensation (Aruch Hashulchan 382:7).”

Yankel phoned Irving Friedman. After a few pleasantries, he apologized for having taken the “amud” from him that fateful afternoon, and discussed the conversation he had with Rav Cohen. He offered him some financial compensation, but far less than $5000, which Friedman accepted, and that was the last time Yankel “chapped” an amud without asking beforehand.