Liturgical Curiosities

Question #1:

I find that many of the selichos that we recite before Rosh Hashanah are very difficult, if not impossible, to understand. Is this to teach us how difficult it is to do teshuvah?

Question #2:

“I once heard a rav give a running commentary to the kinos of Tisha B’Av, and he mentioned that the first kinah is a continuation of the piyut recited during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. But I never saw anyone recite piyutim during the repetition of Tisha B’Av shemoneh esrei and do not even know where to look for them.”

Question #3:

“As a child, I remember that all the shullen recited piyutim during Maariv on Yomim Tovim and during Kedushah on special Shabbosos. Now I see piyutim recited only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. What has changed?”

Although these questions seem unrelated, they all focus on a central subject: the additions of piyutim, kinos and other special passages in our davening. Let us first understand the background to the piyutim.

What are Piyutim?

During the period of the Rishonim, the Geonim, and even earlier, great Torah scholars wrote prayers and other liturgical works that were inserted into many different places in the davening, particularly during the birkos keri’as shema (between borchu and shemoneh esrei) and during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. Standard shul practice, particularly among Ashkenazic Jewry, was to recite these piyutim on special occasions, including Yomim Tovim, fast days, and special Shabbosos (see Rama, Orach Chayim 68:1; 112:2). These piyutim express the mood and the theme of the day, often recall the history of the day, and sometimes even provide the halachic background for the day’s observance. Studying these piyutim not only gives us tremendous appreciation for these days, but sometimes provides us with certain aspects of mystery, as I will explain.

There is also a humbling side to the study of piyutim. The piyutim predate the printing press and return us to the era when written works had to be painstakingly handcopied. Most communities could not afford handwritten manuscripts of all the piyutim, and therefore the job of every chazzan included committing the piyutim to memory. My father told me many times that he knew blind chazzanim who recited the entire yomim nora’im davening by heart!

Selichos

We are all aware of the selichos recited on fast days and during Elul and Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, which are a type of piyutim. Another famous part of davening that qualifies as piyut is Akdamus, recited prior to keri’as hatorah on Shavuos. This introduction to the keri’as haTorah for Shavuos was written by Rabbeinu Meir ben Yitzchak of Worms, Germany, who was one of the great leaders of Ashkenazic Jewry before Rashi. Other examples of piyutim that are commonly recited include Tefillas Tal and Tefillas Geshem. The poem Dvei Haseir – recited before bensching at a Sheva Berachos, authored by Dunash ibn Labrat, an early poet and grammarian who is cited by Rashi in several places – and Nodeh Leshimcha, which takes the same slot at a bris milah are other examples of piyut.

Double Duty

Some piyutim are used in two different contexts. For example, the song frequently chanted at a bris, Shirah Chadashah,originated as a piyut recited immediately before the close of the berachah of Ga’al Yisrael in birchas keri’as shema on the Seventh Day of Pesach. This piyut, written by Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi, refers both to the splitting of the Yam Suf and to bris milah, and is therefore appropriate on both occasions.

Teaching Torah through Piyutim

Many times, the rabbis used poetry as a means of teaching Torah. For example, a very extensive literature of piyutim lists and explains the 613 mitzvos. Most of these pieces date back to the times of the Geonim; indeed, the famous count of mitzvos by Rav Saadia Gaon is actually a poem. The Rambam, in his introduction to the Sefer Hamitzvos refers to many such poems. He quotes them disparagingly, because most followed the count of the 613 mitzvos according to the Baal Halachos Gedolos, with which the Rambam disagreed.

Other examples include piyutim that instruct about special observances of the Jewish calendar. Among the most famous is the Seder Avodah of Yom Kippur, which is already referred to in the Gemara, although the text they used is long lost. Dozens of different piyutim were written in the period of the Geonim and Rishonim describing the Seder Avodah in detail. The Rishonim devote much halachic discussion about the technical accuracy of several of the versions they received from earlier generations, often taking issue and making rectifications. Even as late a halachic authority as the Chayei Odom made many corrections to our Seder Avodah of Yom Kippur to correct its accuracy.

U’neshalma Parim Sefaseinu

Reciting the Seder Avodah also fulfills the concept of ‘U’neshalma Parim Sefaseinu,’ ‘And let our lips replace the (sacrificial) bulls’ (Hoshea 14:3). The Midrash teaches that when we are unable to offer korbanos, Hashem accepts our recital of the procedure as a replacement for the korbanos (Midrash Rabbah, Shir HaShirim 4:3). This implies that we can achieve kapparah (atonement) by reciting these piyutim with kavanah. Therefore, a person who recites the viduy of the Seder Avodah and truly regrets his sins can accomplish atonement similar to that achieved through the viduy recited by the Kohen Gadol.

Other “Replacement” Prayers

The same idea of U’neshalma Parim Sefaseinu is followed when we recite piyutim that describe other korbanos, such as, for example, the korban omer, the water libation (nisuch hamayim) of Sukkos, or the korban Pesach. We can achieve the drawing close to Hashem that korbanos achieve by discussing them and by longing for their return. This expands the rationale for reciting piyutim.

Educate to Observe Mitzvos

Some piyutim serve not only to teach Torah, but also to educate people how to observe mitzvos correctly. For example, the piyut, Elokei HaRuchos,recited on Shabbos Hagadol, contains a lengthy halachic description of all the preparations for Pesach, including detailed instructions for kashering and preparing the house. This halachic-liturgical classic was authored by Rav Yosef Tuv-Elem, the rabbinic leader of French Jewry prior to Rashi. Tosafos and other Rishonim devote much debate to the halachic positions taken by Rav Yosef Tuv-Elem in this poem, and Rabbeinu Tam and others revised Elokei HaRuchos to reflect their opinion of the correct halachah. Since the goal of this piyut was to teach the correct way to observe the laws of Pesach, the Rishonim felt it vital that the it halachically accurate. Obviously, this piyut was meant to be read, studied, and understood.

Who Authored Them?

You might ask, how do we know who wrote the different piyutim, particularly when many are over a thousand years old!

In general, most piyutim follow an alef beis acrostic in order to facilitate recall. (Remember — the assumption was that the chazzan would recite them from memory!) Many times, the author completed the work by weaving his name into the acrostic pattern he used for the particular piyut. Thus, Elokei HaRuchos begins with the alef beis but closes by spelling Yosef Hakatan bar Shmuel Chazak, which is the way Rav Yosef Tuv-Elem chose to “sign” this piyut.

An Old Controversy

Early controversy surrounded the practice of interrupting the berachos of keri’as shema or the repetition of the shemoneh esrei to recite the yotzaros, the word frequently used as a generic word for all piyutim inserted into the regular davening. (The word “yotzaros” originally referred only to those piyutim inserted after Borchu, shortly after the words “yotzeir ohr uborei choshech… .” However, in standard use the word refers to all piyutim inserted into the berachos of keri’as shema or the repetition of the shemoneh esrei.) The Shulchan Aruch rules: “There are communities that interrupt the birkos keri’as shema to recite piyutim, but it is correct not to say them for they constitute an interruption” (Orach Chayim 68:1). On this point, the Rama, reflecting early Ashkenazic practice, adds: “Others say that this is not prohibited and the practice in all communities is to recite them.” Each country and city had its own special customs concerning what was said and when; this was usually recorded in a community ledger.

Mesod Chachamim Unevonim

To acknowledge that these piyutim interrupt the regular repetition of the shemoneh esrei, the chazzan introduces the piyutim with the words, Mesod chachamim unevonim (Based on the tradition of the wise and understanding). These words mention that early great Torah leaders permitted and encouraged the introduction of these praises.

The Vilna Gaon, in his commentary to Shulchan Aruch (ibid.), explains both the position of those who recommended the recital of yotzaros and those who discouraged them. For the most part, the Lithuanian yeshivos followed the personal practice of the Gra not to recite piyutim during the birkos keri’as shema, and did not recite yotzaros during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei (Maasei Rav #57). (The Yeshivos recite yotzaros during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.) With the tremendous spreading of shullen that follow the practices of the yeshivos, rather than what was previously followed by the Ashkenazic communities, it is increasingly difficult to find a shul catering to yeshivah alumnithat recites the piyutim other than during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This answers the question asked above: “As a child, I remember reciting piyutim during Maariv on Yomim Tovim and during Kedushah on special Shabbosos. Now I see piyutim recited only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. What has changed?”

Unfortunately, due to this change in custom,this vast treasured literature of the Jewish people is quickly becoming forgotten.

Who was the First Paytan?

The title of being the earliest prominent paytan presumably belongs to Rabbi Elazar HaKalir, often referred to as the Rosh HaPaytanim, who authored Tefillas Tal and Tefillas Geshem, the piyutim for the four special Shabbosos (Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and HaChodesh), for Purim, the lion’s share of the kinos that Ashkenazim recite on Tisha B’Av and as piyutim on Yom Tov. We know virtually nothing about him personally — we cannot even date when he lived with any accuracy. Indeed, 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 Rashba 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). Others date Rav Elazar HaKalir much later.

Many 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). Moreover, Tosafos there uses this evidence to prove that Kalir lived at the time when the Beis Din determined Rosh Chodesh on the basis of visual evidence. However, the yotzaros recited immediately following Borchu on the second day of Sukkos clearly include his signature and follow his style. So perhaps he indeed lived in chutz la’aretz, and indeed there are those who assume he lived in Italy, which was the location of many of the very early Ashkenazi paytanim.

Could it be that Diaspora Jews moved yotzaros he wrote for the first day of Yom Tov to the second day?

If this approach is true, it creates another question: Since the yotzaros recited on the first day of Yom Tov were also written by him, would he have written two sets of yotzaros for Shacharis on Sukkos? There are other indications that, indeed, he did sometimes write more than one set of piyutim for the same day.

Kalirian Curiosities

We do not know for certain what the name “Kalir” means. Since there are several places where he uses 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).

Kalirian Controversies

The antiquity of Rabbi Elazar’s writing did not save him from controversy. No less a gadol than the ibn Ezra stridently opposes using Rav Kalir’s works, arguing that prayers and piyutim should be written very clearly and be readily understood (Commentary to Koheles 5:1). Ibn Ezra recommends reciting piyutim written by Rav Saadia Geon that are easy to understand, rather than those of Kalir.

Rav Kalir’s piyutim in general, and his kinos in particular, are written in an extremely difficult poetic Hebrew. Often his ideas are left in allusions, and the story or midrash to which he alludes 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. The Shibbolei HaLeket records that when Rabbi Elazar wrote his piyutim the angels surrounded him with fire (quoted by the Magen Avraham at the beginning of Orach Chayim 68.) The Arizal recited all of the Kalir’s piyutim, because he perceived their deep kabbalistic allusions (ibid.).

Why is Es Tzemach David Ignored?

There is another mysterious practice in some of his writings. The piyutim he wrote for the weekday shemoneh esrei (such as for Purim) include a paragraph for every berachah of shemoneh esrei except one,the berachah Es tzemach David that precedes Shema koleinu.

Why would Rav Kalir omit this berachah? Perhaps the answer to this mystery can help us understand more about when he lived.

Answering the Mystery

Our use of the title “shemoneh esrei” to identify the focal part of our daily prayer is actually a misnomer, dating back to when this tefillah included only eighteen berachos. In the times of the Mishnah, a nineteenth berachah, Velamalshinim, was added, and the Talmud Bavli notes that this increases the berachos of the “shemoneh esrei” to nineteen.

However, there is evidence that even after Velamalshinim was added, not everyone recited nineteen berachos. A Tosefta implies that they still recited eighteen berachos in the shemoneh esrei.  This was accomplished by combining together two of the berachos, Uvenei Yerushalayim and Es tzemach David. This would explain why someone would not write a piyut for the berachah Es tzemach David, since it was no longer an independent berachah. Thus, if we can identify a place and time when these two berachos were combined, we might more closely identify when Rav Elazar HaKalir lived. It would seem that this would be sometime between the introduction of the berachah Velamalshinim and the time the Talmud Bavli’s practice of a nineteen-berachahshemoneh esrei” became accepted.

Rabbi Elazar Hakalir’s piyutim and kinos require studying rather than reading. They are often extremely difficult pieces to read, relying on allusions to midrashim and historical events. Many commentators elucidated his works, attempting to illuminate the depths of his words. Also, sometimes he employed extremely complicated acrostics. This is cited as proof that he lived later, when such writing was stylish; of course, this does not prove his lack of antiquity.

The Kinos

As I mentioned above, most of the kinos we recite on Tisha B’Av are authored by Rabbi Elazar HaKalir. In his typical style, many of these can be understood only by preparing them in advance or to hear them explained by someone who understands them. Furthermore, they must be read slowly so that one can understand what the author meant. This may entail someone reciting only a few kinos for the entire morning of Tisha B’Av, but he will understand and experience what he read.

Conclusion

We see that liturgical poems enhance our appreciation of our special days, and that it is very worthwhile to prepare them in advance so that we can truly appreciate them while we recite them.




The Basics of Birkas Hagomeil

Since parsha Eikev includes many references to brochos thanking Hashem for all His kindness, it is certainly an appropriate week to study:

Question #1: “I recently underwent some surgery. At what point in my recovery do I recite birkas hagomeil?”

Question #2: “May I recite birkas hagomeil if I will not be able to get to shul for kri’as haTorah?”

Answer:

There are two mitzvos related to thanking Hashem for deliverance from perilous circumstances. In Parshas Tzav, the Torah describes an offering brought in the Mishkan, or the Beis Hamikdash, called the korban todah.

There is also a brocha, called birkas hagomeil, which is recited when someone has been saved from a dangerous situation. The Rosh (Brachos 9:3) and the Tur (Orach Chayim 219) explain that this brocha was instituted as a replacement for the korban todah that we can no longer bring, since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash lies in ruin. Thus, understanding the circumstances and the laws of the korban todah and of birkas hagomeil is really one combined topic.

Tehillim on Salvation

The Gemara derives many of the laws of birkas hagomeil from a chapter of Tehillim, Psalm 107. There, Dovid Hamelech describes four different types of treacherous predicaments in which a person would pray to Hashem for salvation. Several times, the Psalm repeats the following passage, Vayitzaku el Hashem batzar lahem, mimetzukoseihem yatzileim, when they were in distress, they cried out to Hashem asking Him to deliver them from their straits. Hashem hears the supplicants’ prayers and redeems them from calamity, whereupon they recognize Hashem’s role and sing shira to acknowledge His deliverance. The passage reflecting this thanks, Yodu lashem chasdo venifle’osav livnei adam, they give thanks to Hashem for His kindness and His wondrous deeds for mankind, is recited four times in the Psalm, each time expressing the emotions of someone desiring to tell others of his appreciation. The four types of salvation mentioned in the verse are: a wayfarer who traversed a desert, a captive who was freed, someone who recovered from illness, and a seafarer who returned safely to land.

Based on this chapter of Tehillim, the Gemara declares, arba’ah tzerichim lehodos: yordei hayam, holchei midbaros, umi shehayah choleh venisra’pe, umi shehayah chavush beveis ha’asurim veyatza — four people are required to recite birkas hagomeil: those who traveled by sea, those who journeyed through the desert, someone who was ill and recovered and someone who was captured and gained release (Brachos 54b). (Several commentators provide reasons why the Gemara lists the four in a different order than does the verse, a topic that we will forgo due to limited space.) The Tur (Orach Chayim 219) mentions an interesting method for remembering the four cases, taken from our daily shmoneh esrei prayer: vechol hachayim yoducha selah, explaining that the word chayim has four letters, ches, yud, yud and mem, which allude to chavush, yissurim, yam and midbar, meaning captive, the sufferings of illness, sea, and desert — the four types of travail mentioned by the verse and the Gemara. (It is noteworthy that when the Aruch Hashulchan [219:5] quotes this, he has the ches represent “choli,” illness [rather than chavush, captive], which means that he would explain the yud of yissurim to mean the sufferings of captivity.)

Rav Hai Gaon notes that these four calamities fall under two categories: two of them, traveling by sea and through the desert, are situations to which a person voluntarily subjected himself, whereas the other two, illness and captivity, are involuntary (quoted by Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #51). Thus, we see that one bensches gomeil after surviving either of these types of dangers, regardless of whether it was within his control or not.

Some commentaries note that the Rambam cites the Gemara passage, arbaah tzerichim lehodos, four people are required to thank Hashem, only in the context of birkas hagomeil and not regarding the laws of korban todah. This implies that, in his opinion, korban todah is always a voluntary offering, notwithstanding the fact that Chazal required those who were saved to recite birkas hagomeil (Sefer Hamafteiach). However, both Rashi and the Rashbam, in their respective commentaries to Vayikra 7:12, explain that the “four people” are all required to bring a korban todah upon being saved. As I noted above, the Rosh states that since, unfortunately, we cannot offer a korban todah, birkas hagomeil was substituted.

A Minyan

When the Gemara (Brachos 54b) teaches the laws of birkas hagomeil, it records two interesting details: (1) that birkas hagomeil should be recited in the presence of a minyan and (2) that it should be recited in the presence of two talmidei chachamim.

No Minyan

Is a minyan essential for birkas hagomeil, as it is for some other brachos, such as sheva brachos? In other words, must someone who cannot join a minyan to recite birkas hagomeil forgo the brocha?

The Tur contends that the presence of a minyan and two talmidei chachamim is not a requirement to recite birkas hagomeil, but only the preferred way. In other words, someone who cannot easily assemble a minyan or talmidei chachamim may, nevertheless, recite birkas hagomeil. The Beis Yosef disagrees regarding the requirement of a minyan, feeling that one should not recite birkas hagomeil without a minyan present. However, he rules that if someone errantly recited birkas hagomeil without a minyan, he should not recite it again, but should try to find a minyan and recite the text of the brocha without Hashem’s Name, to avoid a brocha levatalah, reciting a blessing in vain (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 219:3). The Mishnah Berurah follows an approach closer to that of the Tur, ruling that someone unable to assemble a minyan may recite birkas hagomeil without a minyan. However, he adds that someone in a place where there is no minyan should wait up to thirty days to see if he will have the opportunity to bensch gomeil in the presence of a minyan. If he has already waited thirty days, he should recite the birkas hagomeil without a minyan and not wait longer.

When Do We Recite Birkas Hagomeil?

The prevalent custom is to recite birkas hagomeil during or after kri’as haTorah (Hagahos Maimaniyos 10:6). The Orchos Chayim understands that this custom is based on convenience, because kri’as haTorah also requires a minyan (quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 219). The Chasam Sofer presents an alternative reason for reciting birkas hagomeil during or after kri’as haTorah. He cites sources that explain that kri’as haTorah serves as a substitute for offering korbanos, and therefore reciting birkas hagomeil at the time of kri’as hatorah is a better substitute for the korban todah that we cannot offer (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #51).

Do We Count the Talmidei Chachamim?

I quoted above the Gemara that states that one should recite birkas hagomeil in the presence of a minyan and two talmidei chachamim The Gemara discusses whether this means that birkas hagomeil should be recited in the presence of a minyan plus two talmidei chachamim, for a total of twelve people, or whether the minyan should include two talmidei chachamim. The Rambam (Hilchos Brachos 10:8) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 219:3) rule that the minyan includes the talmidei chachamim, whereas the Pri Megadim rules that the requirement is a minyan plus the talmidei chachamim. Notwithstanding the Pri Megadim’s objections, the Biur Halacha concludes, according to the Shulchan Aruch, that one needs only a minyan including the talmidei chachamim.

No Talmid Chacham to be Found

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 219:3) then adds that if someone is in a place where it is uncommon to find talmidei chachamim, he may recite birkas hagomeil in the presence of a minyan, even without any talmidei chachamim present.

Time Limits

Is there a time limit within which one must recite birkas hagomeil? Indeed, many early authorities contend that one must recite birkas hagomeil within a certain number of days after surviving the calamity. The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 219) quotes a dispute among rishonim, the Ramban holding that one should recite birkas hagomeil within three days, the Rashba, five days, and the Tur implying that there is no time limit. The Shulchan Aruch (219:6) concludes that one should preferably not wait more than three days to recite birkas hagomeil, but someone who waited longer may still recite it, and there is no time limit. Based on this conclusion, the Magen Avraham (219:6) rules that someone released from captivity after kri’as haTorah on Monday should not wait until Thursday, the next kri’as haTorah, to recite birkas hagomeil, since this is already the fourth day from when he was saved. It is preferred that he bensch gomeil earlier, even though he will do so without kri’as haTorah. As I mentioned above, the Mishnah Berurah permits bensching gomeil even after thirty days, although he prefers a delay of no longer than three days.

What about at night?

May one bensch gomeil at night? If bensching gomeil is a replacement for the korban todah, and all korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash could be offered only during the day, may we recite the birkas hagomeil at night? This question is addressed by the Chasam Sofer in an interesting responsum (Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chayim #51). The Chasam Sofer’s case concerned Chacham Shabtei Elchanan, who was the rov of the community of Trieste. This city is currently in northeastern Italy, but, at the time of the Chasam Sofer, it was part of the Austrian Empire, which also ruled the Chasam Sofer’s city of Pressburg. (Today, Pressburg is called Bratislava and is the capital of Slovakia.)

Rav Elchanan had returned from a sea voyage, and his community, grateful for their rav’s safe arrival, greeted him with a joyous celebration on the evening of his homecoming. At this gathering, Rav Elchanan recited the birkas hagomeil in front of the large congregation.

One well-known local scholar, Rav Yitzchak Goiten, took issue with Rav Elchanan’s reciting the birkas hagomeil at night, contending that since the mitzvah of birkas hagomeil is a substitute for the korban todah, it cannot be performed at night, as korbanos cannot be offered at night. Furthermore, he was upset that Rav Elchanan had not followed the accepted practice of reciting birkas hagomeil at kri’as haTorah.

This question was then addressed to the Chasam Sofer: which of the eminent scholars of Trieste was correct?

The Chasam Sofer explains that although birkas hagomeil substitutes for the korban todah, this does not mean that it shares all the laws of the korban. The idea is that since we cannot offer a korban todah today, our best option is to substitute the public recital of birkas hagomeil.

The Chasam Sofer noted that the gathering of the the people to celebrate their rav’s safereturn was indeed the appropriate time to recite birkas hagomeil. In this situation, the Chasam Sofer would have recited birkas hagomeil in front of the assembled community, but he would have explained why he did so in order that people would continue to recite birkas hagomeil at kri’as haTorah, as is the minhag klal Yisroel.

Ten or Ten plus One?

There is a dispute among the authorities whether the individual reciting the brocha is counted as part of the minyan or if we require a minyan besides him (Raanach, quoted by Rabbi Akiva Eiger to 219:3). Most authorities rule that we can count the person reciting the brocha as one of the minyan (Mishnah Berurah 219:6). Shaar Hatziyun rallies proof to this conclusion, since it says that one should recite the brocha during kri’as haTorah, and no one says that one can do this only when there is an eleventh person attending the kri’as haTorah.

Stand up and Thank

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah, 10:8) requires that a person stand up when he recites birkas hagomeil. The Kesef Mishneh, the commentary on the Rambam written by Rav Yosef Karo — the author of the Beis Yosef and the Shulchan Aruch — notes that he is unaware of any source that requires one to stand when reciting this brocha, and he therefore omits this halacha in Shulchan Aruch.

The Bach disagrees, feeling that there is an allusion to this practice in Tehillim 107, the chapter that includes the sources for this brocha, but other commentators dispute this allusion (Elyah Rabbah 219:3). The Elyah Rabbah then presents a different reason why one should stand, explaining that birkas hagomeil is a form of Hallel, which must be recited standing.

Still other authorities present different reasons for the Rambam’s ruling that one must stand for birkas hagomeil. The Chasam Sofer explains that this is because of kavod hatzibur, the respect due an assembled community of at least ten people. Yet another approach  (Nahar Shalom 219:1) is that since birkas hagomeil replaces the korban todah, it is similar to shmoneh esrei, which is said standing and which is similarly bimkom korban (Brachos 26b).

The Rama does not mention any requirement that birkas hagomeil be recited while standing, implying that he agrees with the Shulchan Aruch’s decision, but the Bach and other later authorities require one to stand when reciting the brocha. The later authorities conclude that one should recite the brocha while standing, but that bedei’evid, after the fact, one who recited the brocha while sitting fulfilled his obligation and should not repeat the brocha (Mishnah Berurah 219:4).

Only these four?

If someone survived a different type of danger, such as an accident or armed robbery, does he recite birkas hagomeil? Or was birkas hagomeil instituted only for the four specific dangers mentioned by the pasuk and the Gemara?

We find a dispute among rishonim regarding this question. The Orchos Chayim quotes an opinion that one should bensch gomeil after going beneath a leaning wall or over a dangerous bridge, but he disagrees, contending that one recites birkas hagomeil only after surviving one of the four calamitous situations mentioned in the Gemara. On the other hand, others conclude that one should recite birkas hagomeil after surviving any dangerous situation (Shu”t Rivash # 337). The Rivash contends that the four circumstances mentioned by Tehillim and the Gemara are instances in which it is common to be exposed to life-threatening danger and, therefore, they automatically generate a requirement to recite birkas hagomeil. However, someone who survived an attacked by a wild ox or bandits certainly should recite birkas hagomeil, although it is not one of the four cases. Furthermore, the Rivash notes, since Chazal instituted that the person who was saved and his children and grandchildren recite a brocha (she’oso li/le’avi neis bamokom hazeh, see Brochos 54a and Brachos Maharam) when seeing the place where the miracle occurred, certainly one should recite a brocha of thanks over the salvation itself!

The Shulchan Aruch quotes both sides of the dispute, but implies that one should follow the Rivash, and this is also the conclusion of the Taz and the later authorities (Mishnah Berurah; Aruch Hashulchan). Therefore, contemporary custom is to recite birkas hagomeil after surviving any potentially life-threatening situation.

Before going on to the next subtopic, I want to note that a different rishon presents a diametrically opposed position from that of the Rivash, contending that even one who traveled by sea or desert does not recite birkas hagomeil unless he experienced a miracle. This approach is based on the words of the pesukim in Tehillim 107 that form the basis for birkas hagomeil (Rabbeinu Manoach, Hilchos Tefillah 10:8, quoting Raavad). (In halachic conclusion, the Biur Halacha writes that one recites birkas hagomeil even if there was no difficulty on the sea voyage or the desert journey, notwithstanding the verses of Tehillim.)

How Sick?

How ill must a person have been to require that he recite birkas hagomeil upon his recovery? I am aware of three opinions among the rishonim concerning this question.

(1) Some hold that one recites birkas hagomeil even for an ailment as minor as a headache or stomachache (Aruch).

(2) Others contend that one recites birkas hagomeil only if he was ill enough to be bedridden, even when he was not dangerously ill (Ramban, Toras Ha’adam, page 49; Hagahos Maimoniyus, Brachos 10:6, quoting Rabbeinu Yosef).

(3) A third approach holds that one should recite birkas hagomeil only if the illness was potentially life threatening (Rama).

The prevalent practice of Sefardim, following the Shulchan Aruch, is according to the second approach — reciting birkas hagomeil after recovery from any illness that made the person bedridden. The prevalent Ashkenazic practice is to recite birkas hagomeil only when the illness was life threatening, notwithstanding the fact that the Bach, who was a well-respected Ashkenazic authority, concurs with the second approach.

How Recuperated?

At what point do we assume that the person is recuperated enough that he can recite the birkas hagomeil for surviving his travail? The poskim rule that he does not recite birkas hagomeil until he is able to walk well on his own (Elyah Rabbah; Mishnah Berurah).

Chronic illness

The halachic authorities rule that someone suffering from a chronic ailment who had a life threatening flareup recites birkas hagomeil upon recovery from the flareup, even though he still needs to deal with the ailment that caused the serious problem (Tur).

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Tehillim 100:1) notes that the root of the word for thanks is the same as that for viduy, confession and admitting wrongdoing. All kinds of salvation should elicit in us deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done for us in the past and does in the present. This is why it can be both an acknowledgement of guilt and thanks.

We often cry out to Hashem in crisis, sigh in relief when the crisis passes, but fail to thank Him adequately for the salvation. Our thanks to Hashem should match the intensity of our pleas. Birkas hagomeil gives us a concrete brocha to awaken our thanks for deliverance. And even in our daily lives, when, hopefully, we do not encounter dangers that meet the criteria of saying birkas hagomeil, we should still fill our hearts with thanks, focus these thoughts during our recital of mizmor lesodah, az yashir, modim or at some other appropriate point in our prayer.




Pesukei Dezimra: Fulfilling Hashem’s Only Desire

Ron Goldstein, who is seeking to find his way into observant Judaism, is having a casual conversation with Yosel Schwartz, an Orthodox accountant who invites him over often for Shabbos. As usual, Ron is peppering Yosel with questions:

“Recently, I began praying daily, and I have even begun to attend synagogue occasionally. I have many questions regarding both the prayers and the practices I see there.”

Of course, Yosel is more than happy to answer Ron’s questions.

“I would really appreciate it if you could provide me with background to some of the prayers. I see that there is a lot of structure and that various sections of the prayer are very dissimilar from one another. Some parts are consecutive blessings, others include extensive Biblical passages; some are praises, others are straightforward supplications. I have been told that the two most important parts of the morning and evening prayers are the Shma and the Shemoneh Esrei, and I have been reciting these parts for a few months now. But at this point I would like to understand some more about some of the other parts of our prayer. Could you help me?”

“Certainly; where would you like to start?”

“I am really curious to know more about the Psalms we read towards the beginning of the prayers. Psalms are really inspiring. But I also know that the Book of Psalms is fairly large. Why do we always recite the same ones every day; why not just read consecutive passages each day, as an introduction to the prayer? This would familiarize people with the whole, beautiful book.”

It is interesting that Ron noticed the beauty of the Psalms David Hamelech bequeathed to the Jewish people. Indeed, it seems that David Hamelech was aware of the tremendous responsibility Hashem placed upon him to provide a link between Man and Hashem. This is evidenced in the following verse: “For an eternal covenant He placed in me” (Shmuel II 23:5). Although most commentaries explain that this verse refers to the eternity of his royal dynasty, which will soon return with Moshiach, it certainly also alludes to David’s unique role as the Psalmist of mankind.

Tehillim Each and Every Day, makes Certain we do not Stray

Yosel points out to Ron that the Psalms have, indeed, been organized into daily readings that enable one to complete them every week or month. Ron sounds interested in making this a regular practice; certainly, a laudatory observance. Yosel points out that the purpose in reciting parts of Tehillim during davening is not to create familiarity with the entire book, but something else altogether. In Yosel’s own words:

“To answer your question, I need to provide you with some background to this part of the prayer, which is called Pesukei Dezimra, Verses of Song. Two Talmudic references provide the earliest basis for this part of our daily prayer.  One source teaches that reciting Psalm 145 every day guarantees one a share in olam haba, the World to Come (Berachos 4b).” (Yosel is aware that an alternate reading [girsa]of this Gemara attributes the reward to someone who recites this psalm three times every day. This is why we recite Ashrei, which includes this Chapter of Tehillim, three times a day, twice in Shacharis and once during Mincha.Yosel did not want to sidetrack the conversation with this information.)

Hashem Provides for All, even those without Wherewithal.

“What is unique about this Psalm that its recital merits such a special reward?” Ron inquired.

“The Gemara explains that this Psalm includes the verse beginning with the words Posayach es yodecha, which praises G-d Who opens His hands to provide for all creatures. One must make sure to recite this verse with much focus (Tur, Orach Chayim 51), as we thereby internalize the fact that Hashem supervises all his creatures and provides all their needs.

“In addition, the alphabetical acrostic of this Psalm demonstrates that King David intended that it be easily memorized and utilized by all of mankind (Rav Hirsch, Tehillim 25:1).

“The verses of this chapter that follow Posayach es yodecha, also include many basic tenets of Judaism. They note that Hashem’s deeds are justified; and that He is close to all who seek him truthfully, fulfills their desires, and protects them. It is critical to recite these passages with full focus on their significance. One who recites the verse Posayach es yodecha without thinking about its meaning is required to read it again, since he has missed the message of the passage. Some authorities conclude that if he completed the Psalm, he should repeat from the words Posayach es yodecha to the end of the Psalm (Mishnah Berurah 51:16).”

Begin the Day with G-d’s Praise, so that we Merit the Sun’s Rays

Ron replied: “This is really a nice, meaningful passage, and it certainly sets the tone for devotion and interacting with G-d, which is one of the beauties of Judaism. However, according to my references, this is only one Psalm among several others that we read.”

Yosel continues his explanation: “True. In another Talmudic passage, the great scholar, Rabbi Yosi, mentions his yearning to receive the special reward granted to those who recite the Pesukei Dezimra daily (Shabbos 118b). Also, reciting these praises with the proper awareness guarantees that our subsequent prayer will be accepted (Abudraham).

“The early authorites dispute how many Psalms Rabbi Yosi included in his Pesukei Dezimra. While Rashi mentions only Psalm 148 and Psalm 150 (presumably in addition to 145), the Rambam includes all of the last six Psalms of Tehillim as the kernel of Pesukei Dezimra. Accepted halachah follows the Rambam (Tur, Orach Chayim 51), and therefore we recite all six Psalms, but in extenuating circumstances we follow Rashi’s opinion. For example, someone with insufficient time to recite the entire Pesukei Dezimra with the tremendous focus it deserves and still be ready to begin the Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation may omit the three extra Psalms that the Rambam includes and rely on Rashi’s opinion. We actually rule that one may delete even more sections of Pesukei Dezimra to enable one to begin the Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation.”

Together we shall Pray, and then look Forward to a Wonderful Day!

“Why is it so important to begin the prayer together with everyone else?”

“Unfortunately, but realistically, we sometimes do not focus when we recite our prayers. In reality, prayers recited without proper thought should accomplish nothing and may even be harmful. Imagine someone who has the opportunity for an audience with a human king and arrives late, out of breath, and distracted. If his conversation is unfocused, he will probably be thrown into a dungeon for his disrespect! How much more so when talking to the King of kings!

“When our prayers fall short of what they should be, we deserve to have them rejected. There is one consolation, however. When a community prays together, G-d always accepts their prayers (Berachos 8a).”

Concentrate on Ashrei, and we will Focus while we Pray

“I now understand why Ashrei is an important prayer,” said Ron, “But I see in my Siddur that besides Psalm 145, that the Ashrei prayer also includes three other verses from Psalms, two before Psalm 145and one after.”

“I see you’ve been paying a lot of attention to the prayers.”

“The Siddur I use notes the Biblical source of every prayer, so it does not really involve a lot of paying attention. Praying the way you are describing does require a lot of concentration. But I am eager to try. After all, for many years G-d meant little in my life – now that I understand how important He is to me, I am trying to pray daily, with meaning. I truly enjoy these six Psalms, because each one emphasizes a different aspect of G-d’s magnanimity. But, could you explain why we begin with the verse Ashrei, which is ‘borrowed’ from elsewhere in the book?”

“The Halachah recommends spending some time in quiet meditation, prior to praying (Berachos 30b). This makes it easier to focus on the essence of prayer and what we are trying to accomplish.The source cited for this law is the verse Ashrei, usually translated as ‘Happy is he who dwells in Your house; he will continually be able to praise You.’ I would note that Rabbi Hirsch, a great nineteenth century scholar, explains the word Ashrei a bit differently. According to his explanation, the verse means: ‘He who dwells in Your house is constantly striving forward in his life; providing his life with more meaning.’ Either interpretation emphasizes the importance of not racing into our prayer, but spending time meditating over the smallness of man and the greatness of G-d, before we approach Him with our daily requests.

Pesukei Dezimra Every Day and one’s Concerns will go away.

“My own experience is that involving oneself in Pesukei Dezimra not only helps one daven the entire tefilah on a completely different level, but also rouses one’s sense of bitachon. In David Hamelech’s own words “The G-d of Yisroel told me… the righteous will rule over man; he will prevail through his fear of Hashem” (Shmuel II 23:3).

“In modern Hebrew, bitachon means security or defense; and bituach means insurance. Both of these uses cloud the issue:

Yisrael Betach BaHashem, the Jewish people can trust only in Hashem. Only through arousing our sense of Hashem’s power and providence can we possibly find any comfort. In the words of the Chovos HaLevavos, ‘He who does not trust in Hashem, places his trust in something else.’”

“I certainly identify with this, perhaps more so, since I am so familiar with the way people live ‘out there.’ I find these Psalms extremely powerful.”

Baruch She’amar – A Song of Desire

Ron is ready with his next question: “I notice that while the Pesukei Dezimra contains only Biblical quotes, my Siddur notes no Biblical quotes in the introductory passage.”

“Because these passages are so important and comprise their own special mitzvah of praising G-d, we introduce and conclude with special blessings, just as we recite blessings before and after eating, and before performing mitzvos. The introductory prayer, which begins with the words Baruch She’amar, begins by blessing G-d ‘who said and made,’ a quality unique to Hashem. He both says and performs, whereas all else in the world either orders or acts (Avudraham). Baruch She’amar includes hints to all of Creation, by alluding to the Ten Statements with which Hashem made the world. To quote the Tur (Orach Chayim 51): ‘One must recite Baruch She’amar with song and sweetness, because it is a beautiful and desirous song.

The concluding blessing of Pesukei Dezimra begins with the word Yishtabach. In order to avoid any interruption between these berachos, one may not interrupt from the time one recites Baruch She’amar until the end of davening (Shulchan Aruch 51:4). The Medrash reports that when the verse speaks of someone ‘who is afraid because he has sinned’, it refers to a person who spoke during Pesukei Dezimra.”

Singing David’s Song will keep us from Steering Wrong

Ron notes that while Baruch She’amar states that we use the songs of David, Your servant, to praise Hashem, not all the verses in Pesukei Dezimra come from Psalms.

“Although a few passages in Pesukei Dezimra are from other authors, the vast majority were written by King David. Even the two sections taken from Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles) are quotes of King David that appear in those books.

“Among the notable exceptions is the very end of Pesukei Dezimra, where we recite Az Yashir, the Song that the Jewish people sang after miraculously crossing the Red Sea. This epic is considered the song of praise of the Jewish people and, therefore, merits its special place in the daily Pesukei Dezimra. It is singled out as such a special praise that halacha requires one to sing it daily, as if one had personally  experienced this miraculous manifestation of G-d’s presence.

“Notwithstanding all its wondrous virtues, there is still some halachic controversy whether it should be recited as part of Pesukei Dezimra or not.”

“How so?”

“The Rambam, perhaps the greatest scholar of the last thousand years, mentions the recital of Az Yashir after Yishtabach, not before. Apparently, since King David did not author Az Yashir, the Rambam feels that it should not be included between the two blessings; only passages that are authored by King David should be included. I am personally unaware of any community that currently follows this practice.”

Hodu – Before Baruch She’amar or After?

Ron is ready with his next question: “I have noticed that some congregations begin Pesukei Dezimra with Baruch She’amar, while others begin with a different passage. What is the rationale behind these two different approaches?”

“King David taught this song to be sung on the day that the Aron, which held the Ten Commandments, was brought to the City of David, in the city of Jerusalem (Divrei Hayamim I 16). Later it was sung to accompany the daily offerings in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, until the Beis Hamikdash was built (Seder Olam, Chapter14). Thus, this praise is directly associated with the offerings of the Jewish people and, at the same time, it reflects the early history of the Jewish nation.

The question is whether we should recite it as part of the regular Pesukei Dezimra, albeit closer to the part of the prayer when we discuss the offerings, or whether it is a sequel to korbanos and prior to Pesukei Dezimra. Ashkenazic practice follows the first approach and Sefardic, the latter – two old customs, both cited by early authoritative sources (Tur).”

Pesukei Dezimra: Fulfilling Hashem’s Only Desire

“Could you sum up in a few words what we have learned today?”

“Rather than my words, I will cite a great early scholar, the Ramban: ‘All that Hashem desires from this world is that man should thank Him for creating him, focus on His praise when he prays, and that the community pray together with concentration: Mankind should gather together and thank the Lord who created them, broadcasting: We are your creations!’” (Ramban, Shemos 13:16).

To this, Ron replied: “You just mentioned that the community should recite the praises together. In my visits to different synagogues, I have noticed that in the Sefardic community the entire congregation recites these prayers in unison. In many other synagogues, someone begins and ends each passage aloud, so that everyone can read from the same place. It seems, from your description, that this is the proper way one should recite these prayers.

“However, in some shuls that I frequent, the prayers seem far more chaotic. Although these shuls are, thank G-d, very crowded and well attended, people arrive at different times, and each person starts praying by himself. No one leads the services until after Pesukei Dezimra is complete, and they are certainly not said in unison. I must admit that I do not find this part of the services very attractive. It certainly does not fit the beautiful description you just gave me.”

Yosel shifted uncomfortably, realizing that Ron is absolutely correct. “It is embarrassing to admit that we are not doing what we should,” he began. “Your criticism is extremely well founded. Would you be willing to come with me and speak to the Rabbi of our congregation about the problem? I admit that the problem has bothered me for a while, but I have not had the gumption to do anything about it. Perhaps you can help me?”

Ron realized that he had turned the tables. He had come as an outsider sharing something that bothered him. He did not expect to be the person Yosel would appeal to for help in what appeared to be some type of crusade. But Yosel’s face indicated that he was sincere in his request. Not knowing the rabbi, Ron was uncertain what to expect, but at the meeting, he found the rabbi more than accommodating.

“I have wanted to introduce this in the shul for a long time,” the rabbi said after listening to their complaint. “The old minhag, in all communities, always included someone leading the services from the very beginning of Berachos. Why and when this practice changed is not for our discussion now, but I would like your help in changing the practice in our shul.”

In Conclusion, the Congregation’s Resolution

Ron became a very active member of the shul, although his attire initially looked fairly dissimilar from to that of most other members. His input, as an “outsider”, was happily accepted.

And as Ron morphed into Reuvein and learned how to use the Hebrew Siddur fluently, his unflagging enthusiasm for Pesukei Dezimra spurred major change, not only in himself and in his good friend Yosel, but also in Congregation Bnei Torah. Ultimately, his enthusiasm and initiative spiritually permeated the entire world.




Birkas Kohanim

Question #1: Why is this brocha different?

“Why is the brocha for duchening so different from all the other brochos we recite before we perform mitzvos?”

Question #2: Hoarse kohein

“If a kohein is suffering from laryngitis, can he observe the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim?”

Question #3: The chazzan duchening

“If the chazzan is a kohein, may he duchen?”

Answer:

For the next several weeks, the Jewish communities of Eretz Yisroel and of chutz la’aretz are reading different parshiyos, and I am choosing topics that are applicable to both areas. This week I chose the topic of duchening, partly because I have not sent an article on the topic in many years, and because the mitzvah is in parshas Naso, and kohanim feature significantly both in parshas Naso and in parshas Beha’aloscha. Since I have discussed this topic in the past, this article will deal with issues not previously mentioned, and, therefore, not already on the website RabbiKaganoff.com.

First of all, I should explain the various names of this beautiful mitzvah. Ashkenazim usually refer to the mitzvah colloquially as duchening. The word “duchen” means a platform, and refers to the raised area in front of the aron hakodesh, on which the kohanim traditionally stand when they recite these blessings. However, in many shullen today, there is no platform in front of the aron hakodesh, and, even when there is, in many shullen there are more kohanim than there is room on the duchen. In all these instances, the mitzvah is performed with the kohanim standing on the floor alongside or in front of the aron hakodesh, literally “with their backs to the wall” facing the people.

There are at least two other ways of referring to this mitzvah. One way of referring to the mitzvah is  Birkas Kohanim, which is very descriptive of the mitzvah. I will use this term throughout this article in order to avoid confusion.

Nesi’as kapayim

The Mishnah and the Shulchan Aruch call this mitzvah by yet a third term, nesi’as kapayim, which means literally “raising the palms,” a description of the position in which the kohanim hold their hands while reciting these blessings. According to accepted halacha, the kohanim raise their hands to shoulder level, and each kohein holds his hands together. (There are some mekubalim who raise their hands directly overhead while reciting the Birkas Kohanim [Divrei Shalom 128:2]. However, this is a very uncommon practice.) Based on a midrash, the Tur rules that while he recites the Birkas Kohanim, the kohein should hold his hands in a way that there are five spaces between his fingers. This is done by pressing, on each hand, the index finger to the middle finger and the small finger to the ring finger. This creates two openings — one between the middle finger and the ring finger on each hand. Another two openings are created between the index finger and thumb on each hand. The fifth opening is between the thumbs. There are various ways for a kohein to position his fingers, such that he has a space between his thumbs. I know of several different methods, and I have never found an authoritative source that states that one way is preferable to any other. Most kohanim, myself included, follow the way that they were taught by their father.

By the way, the Gra is reputed to have held that the kohanim should not hold their hands in this position, but with all their fingers spread apart.

An unusual brocha

Immediately prior to beginning the brocha, the kohanim recite a birkas hamitzvah, as we do prior to performing most mitzvos. The text of the brocha is: Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon, ve’tzivanu levareich es amo Yisroel be’ahavah. “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon, and commanded us to bless His people, Yisroel, with love.”

Two aspects of this brocha are different from the standard structure of brochos that we recite prior to fulfilling mitzvos. The first change is that, instead of the usual structure that we say, asher kideshanu bemitzvosav ve’tzivanu, “Who sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us,” the kohanim leave out the reference to “His mitzvos” and instead say “Who sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon.” The second change is that the kohanim not only describe the mitzvah they are performing — that Hashem “commanded us to bless his people Yisroel” – but they also add a qualitative description “with love.”

The fact that the kohanim make reference to Aharon’s sanctity is, itself, not unusual. It is simply atypical for us to recite or hear this brocha since, unfortunately in our contemporary world, we have no other mitzvos for which we use this text. However, when we are again all tehorim and when we have a Beis Hamikdash, every time a kohein performs a mitzvah that only a kohein can perform, such as eating terumah, korbanos or challah, donning the bigdei kehunah in the Beis Hamikdash (Artzos Hachayim, Eretz Yehudah 18:1, page 81b), or performing the mitzvos of offering korbanos, he recites a brocha that includes this reference. Unfortunately, since we are all tamei and we have no Beis Hamikdash, a kohein cannot perform these mitzvos today, and therefore we do not recite this structure of brocha at any other time.

“With love”

The second detail in this brocha that is highly unusual is the statement that the mitzvah is performed be’ahavah,“with love.” No other mitzvah includes this detail in its brocha, and, in general, the brochos recited prior to performing mitzvos do not include details about how the mitzvos are performed. For example, the brocha prior to kindling the Shabbos or Chanukah lights says, simply, lehadlik neir shel Shabbos or lehadlik neir shel Chanukah,and does not add that we do so “with wicks and oil.” Similarly, note that the brocha recited before we pick up and shake the lulav and esrog does not even mention the esrog, aravos and hadasim, and says, simply, al netilas lulav. Again, the brocha for washing our hands is simply al netilas yadayim, without mentioning any of the important details of the mitzvah. Yet, the brocha recited prior to Birkas Kohanim includes the word be’ahavah, with love. Why is this so?

Let us examine the original passage of the Gemara (Sotah 39a) that teaches us about the text of this brocha: “The disciples of Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua (who was a kohein) asked him, ‘Because of what practices of yours did you merit longevity?’ He answered them, ‘I never used a shul as a shortcut; I never stepped over the heads of the holy nation (Rashi explains this to mean that he never walked over people who were sitting on the floor in the Beis Hamedrash, as was common in his day — either he arrived before everyone else did, or he sat outside); and I never performed nesias kapayim without first reciting a brocha.’”

The Gemara then asks, “What brocha is recited prior to Birkas Kohanim? Answered Rabbi Zeira, quoting Rav Chisda, asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon, ve’tzivanu levareich es amo Yisroel be’ahavah.

Thus, the text of the brocha that we recite prior to Birkas Kohanim is exactly the way the Gemara records it, and that the word “be’ahavah” is part of the original text. Why is this required?

The Be’er Sheva, a European gadol of the late 16th-early 17th century, already asks this question. To quote him (in his commentary, Sotah 39a): “Where is it mentioned or even hinted in the Torah that the kohein must fulfill this mitzvah ‘with love?’ The answer is that when the Torah commanded the kohanim concerning this mitzvah, it says Emor lahem, ‘Recite this blessing to the Jewish people,’ spelling the word emor with a vov, the full spelling of the word, although it is usually spelled without a vov. Both the Midrash Tanchuma and the Midrash Rabbah explain that there is an important reason why this word is spelled ‘full.’ ‘The Holy One, blessed is He, said to the kohanim that they should bless the Jewish people not because they are ordered to do so, and they want to complete the minimum requirement of that “order,” as if it were “forced labor” and, therefore, they say it swiftly. On the contrary, they should bless the Jews with much focus and the desire that the brochos all be effective – with full love and full heart.’”

We see from this Gemara that this aspect of the mitzvah — the kohanim blessing the people because they want to and not because it is required — was so important to Chazal that they alluded to the idea in the text of the brocha, something we never find elsewhere!

Brochos cause longevity

There are several puzzling questions germane to this small passage of Gemara quoted above. What was unique about Rabbi Elazar’s three practices that he singled them out as being the spiritual causes of his longevity? The commentaries explain that each of these three acts were personal chumros that Rabbi Elazar, himself one of the last talmidim of Rabbi Akiva and a rebbe of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, practiced (Keren Orah, Meromei Sadeh et al). Since our topic is Birkas Kohanim, we will address only that practice: What was unique about Rabbi Elazar’s practice of reciting a brocha before performing the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim? Didn’t every kohein do the same? So, why did the other kohanim not achieve the longevity that he did?

The Keren Orah commentary notes that the amora, Rav Zeira, is quoted as the source for the brocha on Birkas Kohanim, implying that the brocha on this mitzvah was not yet standardized until his time, and he lived well over a hundred years after Rabbi Elazar’s passing. This implies that a brocha on this mitzvah was not necessarily recited during the era of the tanna’im and early amora’im. (The Keren Orah suggests this might be because Birkas Kohanim itself is a blessing, and that we do not make a brocha on a brocha, similar to the mitzvos of birkas hamazon or birkas haTorah.) Rabbi Elazar was so enthusiastic about blessing the people that he insisted on reciting a brocha before its performance. This strong desire to bless people was rewarded by his having many extra years to continue blessing them (Maharal).

Notwithstanding that the mitzvah is such a beautiful one, technically, the kohein is required to recite the Birkas Kohanim only when he is asked to do so, during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. We will see shortly what this means in practice.

Hoarse kohein

At this point, we will discuss the second of our opening questions: “If a kohein is suffering from laryngitis, can he fulfill the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim?”

Let us examine this question thoroughly, starting from its sources in the Gemara: “One beraisa teaches: Koh sevarchu (‘this is how you should bless’): face to face… therefore the posuk says Emor lahem (say to them), as a person talks to his friend. Another beraisa teaches: Koh sevarchu, in a loud voice. Or perhaps Koh sevarchu means it can be said quietly; therefore, the posuk says Emor lahem, as a person talks to his friend” (Sotah 38a).

The passage that we quoted derives two different laws from the words of the posuk Koh sevarchu and Emor lahem. First,that the audience receiving the kohanim’s brocha should be facing them during the Birkas Kohanim. (In error, some people turn around while the kohanim recite Birkas Kohanim, in order to make sure that they do not look at the kohanim’s hands during the Birkas Kohanim.) The second is that the kohein should recite the brochos loud enough that the people can hear him. Although there are kohanim who shout the words of the Birkas Kohanim, the continuation of the Gemara explains that bekol ram, in a loud voice, means simply loud enough for the people to hear the kohein. However, someone whose voice is so hoarse that people cannot hear him is not permitted to recite Birkas Kohanim; he should leave the sanctuary part of the shul, before the chazzan recites the word retzei in his repetition of shemoneh esrei (Mishnah Berurah 128:53).

Why retzei?

Why should the kohein leave the shul before retzei?

Some mitzvos aseh, such as donning tefillin daily, making kiddush, or hearing shofar, are inherent requirements. There isn’t any way to avoid being obligated to fulfill these mitzvos. On the other hand, there are mitzvos whose requirement is dependent on circumstances. For example, someone who does not live in a house is not obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of mezuzah. Living in a house, which most of us do, creates the obligation to install a mezuzah on its door posts. Someone who lives in a house and fails to place a mezuzah on the required doorposts violates a mitzvas aseh.

Similarly, the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim is not an inherent requirement for the kohein. However, when someone asks the kohein or implies to him that he should perform the Birkas Kohanim, the kohein is now required to do so, and, should he fail to, he will violate a mitzvas aseh.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 128:2) rules that a kohein who remains in shul is required to recite Birkas Kohanim if (1) he hears the chazzan say the word kohanim, (2) someone tells him to ascend the duchen, or (3) someone tells him to wash his hands (in preparation for the Birkas Kohanim). These three actions summon the kohanim to perform the mitzvah, and that is why they create a requirement on the kohein. A kohein who is weak such that it is difficult for him to raise his arms to recite the Birkas Kohanim, should exit the shul before the chazzan says the word kohanim (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 128:4 and Mishnah Berurah). The Magen Avraham and the Elyah Rabbah conclude that it is preferred if he exits before the chazzan begins the word retzei. The Shulchan Aruch mentions that the custom is for any kohein who is not reciting Birkas Kohanim to remain outside until the Birkas Kohanim is completed.

Washing hands

The Shulchan Aruch we quoted above rules that telling a kohein to wash his hands creates the same obligation to recite Birkas Kohanim as directly summoning him to recite the Birkas Kohanim. Why is that so?

This is because the Gemara rules that “any kohein who did not wash his hands should not perform nesias kapayim.” The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah Uvirkas Kohanim 15:5) rules that the washing before Birkas Kohanim is similar to what the kohanim do prior to performing the service in the Beis Hamikdash. For this reason, he rules that their hands should be washed until their wrists. We rule that this is done even on Yom Kippur, notwithstanding that, otherwise, we are not permitted to wash this much on Yom Kippur (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 128:6). Several acharonim rule that since the washing as preparation for Birkas Kohanim is because it is considered a form of avodah, there are other requirements, including washing with a cup, with clear water and with at least a revi’is (about three ounces) of water (see Magen Avraham, Yeshuos Yaakov, Shulchan Shelomoh and Mishnah Berurah).

In many shullen, a sink is installed near the duchen, so that the kohanim can wash immediately before Birkas Kohanim. Others have a practice that water and a basin are brought to the front of the shul for this purpose. These customs have a source in rishonim and poskim and should definitely be encouraged. Tosafos (Sotah 39a s.v. Kol) concludes that the kohein should wash his hands immediately before ascending the duchen. Herules that the kohein should wash his hands within twenty-two amos, a distance of less than forty feet, of the duchen. The Magen Avrohom (128:9) rulesaccording to this Tosafos, and adds that, according to Tosafos, since the kohanim wash their hands before retzei, the chazzan should recite the brocha of retzei rapidly. In his opinion, the time that transpires after the kohein washes his hands should be less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos, and, therefore, retzei should be recited as quickly as possible. The Biur Halacha (128:6 s.v. Chozrim) adds that the kohanim should not converse between washing their hands and reciting Birkas Kohanim, because this constitutes a hefsek.

The chazzan duchening

At this point, let us examine the third of our opening questions: “If the chazzan is a kohein, may he duchen?”

This question is the subject of a dispute between the Shulchan Aruch and the Pri Chodosh. According to the Shulchan Aruch, if the chazzan is a kohein, he should not recite Birkas Kohanim, unless he is the only kohein. The reason he should not recite Birkas Kohanim is out of concern that he might get confused and not remember the conclusion of the davening, when he returns to his role as chazzan. The Pri Chodosh disagrees, concluding that this concern was only when the chazzan led the services from memory, which, although very common in an earlier era, is today quite uncommon. If the koheinchazzan is using a siddur, which should assure that the Birkas Kohanim will not confuse him from continuing the davening correctly, he can recite Birkas Kohanim.

In chutz la’aretz, the accepted practice in this halacha follows the Shulchan Aruch, whereas in Eretz Yisroel, customs vary in different locales. In Yerushalayim and most other places, the accepted practice follows the Pri Chodosh, and the chazzan performs Birkas Kohanim.

Conclusion

As a kohein myself, I find duchening to be one of the most beautiful mitzvos. We are indeed so fortunate to have a commandment to bless our fellow Jews, the children of Our Creator. All the more so, the nusach of the bracha is to bless His nation Israel with love. The blessings of a kohein must flow from a heart full of love for the Jews that he is privileged to bless.




To Dew or Not to Dew

Photo by Denk900 from FreeImages

Question #1: To dew or not to dew

“Why does nusach Sfard recite morid hatal during the summer davening and nusach Ashkenaz does not?”

Question #2: Sanctity of Eretz Yisroel?

“I know that many agricultural mitzvos, such as terumos, maasros and shemittah, apply only in Eretz Yisroel. But why does everyone in Eretz Yisroel recite morid hatal? What does the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel have to do with whether we recite morid hatal or not?”

Question #3: Where am I?

“In error, I recited vesein tal umatar during the davening on Chol Hamoed Pesach. Someone told me that I do not recite Shemoneh Esrei again, because I live in the United States. What difference does it make where I live?”

Background

This article will explore the background behind the variant customs regarding the recital of morid hatal. I note that during the time of the rishonim, there were various other nuscha’os, versions of the text, all now in disuse, including one text used during the winter months, “morid hagoshem” without the preceding words mashiv haruach, and another version, mashiv haruach umorid hageshem vehatal, adding a reference to dew during the winter months.

Mashiv haruach in the summer?

Furthermore, between Pesach and Sukkos there is another version, mashiv haruach umorid hatal, which, although included in tefillas tal that we recite in shul on the first day of Pesach, has for the most part fallen into disuse except for those who follow nusach hagra.

Introduction

At this point, let us begin with the basics. The second brocha of the Shemoneh Esrei is called “Gevuros,” because it describes Hashem’s greatness, and therefore begins with the words Atah Gibor, “You are great.” Let us study the text of the brocha, which, upon even cursory examination, is replete with redundancy.

“You, Hashem, are powerful forever! You revive the dead; You are abundantly able to save.” It is at this point that the words mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, morid hatal, or their alternatives are added, depending on custom and time of year. We can ask, “Why, indeed, is mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem inserted at this point?”

The brocha then continues: “He provides the living with loving kindness. He revives the dead with great mercy. He supports those who are falling, heals the ill, releases the bound and fulfills His promise to those who sleep in the earth. Who is like You, the Master of might, and who is comparable to You, King Who brings death, restores life and brings the sprouting of salvation. You are faithful to revive the dead. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who brings the dead to life.”

Four resurrections

The Ritva (Taanis 2a) notes that the brocha contains four references to techiyas hameisim, resurrection, which is seemingly highly redundant. They are:

1. “You, Hashem, are powerful forever! You revive the dead;”

2. “He revives the dead with great mercy.”

3. “King Who brings death (and) restores life.”

4. “You are faithful to revive the dead.”

Four types of resurrection

The Ritva explains that there is no redundancy, because each of the four refers to a different type of resurrection.

(1) The first refers to rain that provides food for life. In the words of the Talmud Yerushalmi, “Just as techiyas hameisim brings life to the world, so rain brings life to the world.” Now we understand why mashiv haruach is recited just at this point of the Shemoneh Esrei.

(2) The second is when Hashem brings people back from the brink of their demise, be it illness or other travail.

(3) The third is when the prophets, such as Eliyahu and Elisha, brought people back to life.

(4) The fourth is a reference to the ultimate techiyas hameisim.

Mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem

The Mishnah rules that between Sukkos and Pesach one should add mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem to the second brocha of Shemoneh Esrei. The Gemara states that one may recite mashiv haruach, which praises Hashem for providing wind, or morid hatal, which praises Hashem for providing dew, but that neither of these praises is required. To quote the Gemara: “Concerning dew and winds, our Sages did not require reciting them, but if he wants to, he may” (Taanis 3a). The Gemara proceeds to ask why this is true, to which it answers that winds and dew never cease. Praising Hashem for their daily occurrence is similar to praying that the sun rise in the morning. Although it is absolutely essential for our existence, Chazal did not institute a special prayer for this. For this reason, in the time of the rishonim, several different customs developed. Some thanked Hashem for the wind all year round, whereas others never recited such a prayer at all, neither in summer nor in winter. There were those who thanked Hashem for providing dew all year round, and those who never did.

With time, one practice became accepted. When we thank Hashem for rain (which is required), we also thank him for wind. Notwithstanding the statement of the Gemara that it is not required to say mashiv haruach, the universal custom is to say it when we say morid hagoshem. This is because the wind that accompanies the rain helps keep the ground from becoming too wet (Mishnah Berurah 114:11).

At this point, we understand the basic brocha. We can also understand why Chazal instituted mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem in the winter months, particularly in Eretz Yisroel and Bavel, when it rains only at that time of year.

Forgot mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem

The Talmud Yerushalmi rules: “If it is the season when he should say mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, and he said tal, he is not required to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei.” Yet, the Yerushalmi quotes another source that if someone neglected to recite mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem or vesein tal umatar, he must repeat Shemoneh Esrei. The Yerushalmi answers that this latter source is discussing a case when someone said neither morid hatal nor morid hagoshem; in this instance, he must repeat Shemoneh Esrei. But if he mentioned tal, and not geshem, he does not repeat Shemoneh Esrei. This ruling is accepted.

Birkas Hashanim

As we know, Chazal also instituted reciting a request for rain, vesein tal umatar, in the ninth brocha of Shemoneh Esrei, birkas hashanim. The difference between mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, “He who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall,” and vesein tal umatar, “Grant dew and rain upon the face of the earth,” is that the first is praise of Hashem and, therefore, it is inserted into the second brocha of our davening, both on weekdays and Shabbos, since the first three brochos of the Shemoneh Esrei are devoted to praise. The second is a prayer beseeching Hashem to provide rain, and as such is recited in birkas hashanim, the appropriate brocha of the weekday Shemoneh Esrei.

Missed them

Should one forget to recite either mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem or vesein tal umatar when required, one is obligated to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei. However, there is a halachic difference between the two that is already noted by the Tur. Should one recite morid hatal in the second brocha, praising Hashem for providing dew, rather than mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, one is not required to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei. Nevertheless, when required to recite vesein tal umatar, someone who recited only vesein tal and omitted a request for rain is required to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei.

To dew or not to dew

At this point, we can answer the first of our opening questions: Why do some people recite morid hatal during the summer davening, and others do (or should I say “dew”) not?

The answer is that, although one is never required to recite morid hatal, if he said it instead of saying mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, he does not need to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei. Thus, there is an advantage to reciting it, because, should he recite it by mistake when he is required to say mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, he does not need to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei. Similarly, someone who is uncertain whether to say mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem or not should recite morid hatal and they have fulfilled the requirement that Chazal created.

The minhag of nusach Sfard is to follow this approach, and that has also become the prevalent practice in Eretz Yisroel, even among those who daven nusach Ashkenaz. But it has nothing to do with being in Eretz Yisroel.

Sanctity of Eretz Yisroel?

We can also now answer the second of our opening questions:

“I know that many agricultural mitzvos, such as terumos, maasros and shemittah, apply only in Eretz Yisroel. But why do they recite morid hatal there? What does the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel have to do with whether we recite morid hatal or not?”

The answer to this question is historical, and not halachic. The origin of the Ashkenazic community of Eretz Yisroel was from the students of the Baal Shem Tov, who were all Chassidim and davened nusach Sfard, or from disciples of the Gra, who recited morid hatal in davening notwithstanding that they davened nusach Ashkenaz. Although there was a major influx of Ashkenazic Jews to Eretz Yisroel in the 1930’s, after the Nazis took power in Germany, for the most part they accepted the nusach Ashkenaz that was then practiced in Eretz Yisroel. This included reciting morid hatal in shmoneh esrei, reciting Hallel in shul with a brocha the night of the Seder, duchening daily, the omission of the brocha Baruch Hashem le’olam in weeknight maariv and various similar practices.

Where am I?

At this point, we have enough of an introduction that we can begin to understand the background to the last of our opening questions: “In error, I recited vesein tal umatar during the davening on Chol Hamoed Pesach. Someone told me that I do not recite Shemoneh Esrei again, because I live in the United States. What difference does it make where I live?” First, let us examine the following story shared by the Gemara (Taanis 14b):

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

The Gemara subsequently demonstrates that the tanna Rabbi Yehudah disagreed with Rebbe, and contended that they should recite vesein tal umatar in the brocha of Boreich Aleinu.

This controversy recurred in the times of the early amora’im, approximately one hundred years later, when the disputants were Rav Nachman and Rav Sheishes. Rav Sheishes contended, as did Rebbe, that during the summer the Nineveh residents should recite vesein tal umatar in Shema Koleinu, whereas Rav Nachman ruled that they should recite it in Boreich Aleinu, following Rabbi Yehudah. The Gemara concludes that it should be recited in Shema Koleinu, and this is the conclusion of all halachic authorities.

Why not add?

Germane to understanding this passage of Gemara, a concern is raised by the rishonim. Halacha permits adding appropriate personal requests to the appropriate brocha of the Shemoneh Esrei. For example, one may include a prayer for the recovery of an individual during the brocha of Refa’einu, or request assistance for Torah study into the brocha of Chonein Hadaas. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 8a) rules that someone who needs livelihood may add a personal supplication to the brocha of Boreich Aleinu. Therefore, the question rises: If one may add his personal request for parnasah, why could the people of Nineveh not add their own personal requests for rain during Boreich Aleinu?

The rishonim present two answers to this question:

1. Since rain in the summer months can be harmful in some places, one may not pray for rain in birkas hashanim when this prayer is detrimental to others. A request for livelihood is different, since granting a respectful livelihood is never harmful to someone else.

2. This is the version of the prayer that Chazal instituted for the winter months, and they established a different text for the summer months. Therefore, reciting vesein tal umatar in birkas hashanim during the summer conflicts with the text that Chazal established for this brocha, in Hebrew called the matbei’a she’tav’u chachamim. One is not permitted to change the text of Chazal’s established prayers, although one may add personal supplications to them.

The Rosh understands that Nineveh could not recite their own personal request for rain in Boreich Aleinu because a city cannot make its own policy regarding the text of a brocha, but an entire country, defined as a large area, may. For this reason, he ruled that in Spain or Germany, where they needed rain after Pesach, they could recite Vesein Matar in Boreich Aleinu whenever their country needs rain.

Although the opinion of the Rosh is not accepted, someone who erred and davened in a way that the Rosh considers correct, should not repeat the Shemoneh Esrei (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 117:2).

Conclusion

Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation. The power of tefillah is very great. Through tefillah one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh decrees. We have to believe in this power; one should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must continually absorb the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos and He listens to them!

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the seemingly minor aspects of davening should make us even more aware of the fact that davening builds our relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three high points — the three times that we daven. Certainly, one should do whatever one can to make sure to pay attention to the meaning of the words of one’s tefillah. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of Klal Yisrael!




Take a Bow

Question #1: Davening in Public

“I am traveling, and the only place to daven is in a
crowded terminal. Are there any special laws that I need to know?”

Question #2: Bowing or Genuflecting?

Have you ever genuflected?

Question #3: Bow and Arrow!

Does bowing have anything to do with bows and arrows?

Introduction:

Parshas Chayei Sarah mentions that Avraham bowed to
the descendants of Cheis, when they agreed to give him a burial area for Sarah
(Bereishis 23:7). The parsha also mentions that Eliezer bowed to Hashem
to thank Him that his mission appeared to be achieving success. These provide a
special opportunity to discuss some of the laws of bowing during the shemoneh
esrei
. As there is far more to this topic than can be covered in one
article, we will, bli neder, have to return to the topic at some time in
the future.

Thirteen components of tefillah

The Rambam rules that our daily mitzvah to daven
includes thirteen factors, five of which are essential components of prayer
that, if missing, require that davening be repeated. The headings of
these five requirements are: Clean hands, proper covering of the body,
cleanliness of the location, absence of physical bodily distractions, and
proper focus (kavanah).

The other eight categories are important aspects for
discharging the mitzvah, but someone who did not, or could not, observe them
has still fulfilled the mitzvah. For example, there is a requirement to daven
shemoneh esrei while standing and while facing the Beis Hamikdash.
However, if someone could not, or did not, do either, he has fulfilled his
mitzvah. Similarly, there is a requirement to bow at points during the shemoneh
esrei
, but someone who did not do so has fulfilled his mitzvah.

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:10) explains
that, for most people, davening requires that we bow five times in the
course of the recital of the shemoneh esrei. I will explain shortly why
I wrote “for most people.”

These five times are:

At the beginning and end of the first brocha of shemoneh
esrei

At the beginning and end of the brocha of modim

At the very end of the shemoneh esrei

Most people?

Why did I say that the requirement to bow five times at
every prayer is for “most people?”

This is because the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:10)
alludes to the following passage of Talmud Yerushalmi (Brochos 1:5):
“For the following brochos, one should bow: For the first brocha,
both at the beginning and at the end, and for modim, both at the
beginning and at the end. Someone who bows for every brocha should be
taught not to do this. (See also Tosefta, Brochos 1:11 and Bavli,
Brochos
34a.) Rabbi Yitzchak bar Nachman cited in the name of Rabbi
Yehoshua ben Levi, ‘A kohein gadol bows at the end of every brocha;
the king, at both the beginning and end of every brocha. Rabbi Simon
quoted from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, ‘The king – once he bows, he does not
straighten up until he completes his entire prayer. What is my source? The
verse that teaches, and it was when Shelomoh completed praying to Hashem this
entire prayer and this entire supplication, that he then stood up from before
the mizbei’ach of Hashem from bowing on his knees
(Melachim I 8,
54).’”

We see that there is a dispute between Rabbi Yitzchak bar Nachman
and Rabbi Simon (his name is not Shimon, but Simon, spelled with a samech,
and he is an amora frequently quoted in the Yerushalmi) whether Shelomoh
Hamelech
teaches us that a king should always daven shemoneh
esrei
while kneeling, or whether this was a one-time practice, but not
something that a king is always required to do.

Thus, those whom the Torah insists receive much honor must
bow more frequently during their daily tefillah. The kohein gadol
is required to bow in every brocha of shemoneh esrei, which is
forbidden for everyone else, as we see in the above-referenced Tosefta.
The Rambam rules according to Rabbi Simon, that the king, who receives
much greater honor, is required to bow for his entire prayer.

Term limits?

This poses a question: The Tosefta rules that we
should not bow in every brocha of shemoneh esrei; yet, we have
now been taught that both the kohein gadol and the king should bow in
each brocha of shemoneh esrei. How can it be that something is
forbidden for everyone else and is required of the kohein gadol and the
king?

The answer to this question seems to lie in the following
explanation of Tosafos (Brochos 34a s.v. melamdin), who
asks, “What is wrong with bowing extra times?” Tosafos provides two
answers to the question (see also Tosafos Rabbeinu Yehudah and Bach,
Orach Chayim
113):

1. If people develop the habit of bowing whenever they want
to, it will cause Chazal’s takkanah (requiring that we bow at the
beginning and end of only these two brochos) to become uprooted. Therefore,
we insist that they not bow any extra times.

2. It is being ostentatious about his religious observance,
a halachic concept called yohara.

The Tur (Orach Chayim 113) rules according to Tosafos.
Based on Tosafos’s first answer, he concludes that it is permitted to
bow in the middle of any brocha of shemoneh esrei, just
not at the beginning or end.

We can also explain why Rabbi Yitzchak bar Nachman ruled
that the kohein gadol and the king bowing in each brocha does not
violate the ruling of the Tosefta. This was the takkanah – that a
commoner bow only in two brochos, and the kohein gadol and king
bow in each brocha.

When the bow breaks

As I mentioned above, the halacha is that bowing is
not essential, which means that you fulfill the mitzvah to daven, even
if you did not bow. There are extenuating circumstances in which you are not
permitted
to bow, but you are required to daven without bowing. The Shulchan
Aruch
(Orach Chayim 113:8) cites such a case — someone who must daven
in a public place, and a person opposite him is sporting a cross or other
idolatrous image. The halacha is that you should daven but you
should not bow, so that a bystander not think that you are bowing to the image.

Don’t bow to idols!

At this point, we can address our opening question: “I am
traveling, and the only place to daven is in a crowded terminal. Are
there any special laws that I need to know?”

The answer is that you should look around to see if any of
your co-travelers are sporting crosses or other signs of idolatry, and, if they
are, do not bow during your davening.

Take a bow

The Rambam mentioned that we are required to bow five
times, including another time at the end of the shemoneh esrei, whose
source is from a different passage of Gemara (Yoma 53b). “Rabbi
Chiya, the son of Rav Huna, reported that he saw that Abayei and Rava would
take three steps back while bowing.” This passage of Gemara is quoted
not only by the Rambam, but also by the Rif and the Rosh
(both at the end of the fifth chapter of Brochos, after they quote the
other halachos about bowing during davening). Because of space
considerations, we will have to leave the detailed discussion of the topic of
bowing at the end of shemoneh esrei for a different time.

How can you bow?

We now have some background to understand the words of the Rambam
and the other rishonim who rule that we are required to bow five times
during the shemoneh esrei. However, we do not yet know what type of
bowing is required. We do know  from the verse in Melachim quoted
above that when Shelomoh Hamelech bowed, he actually kneeled with both
knees on the ground. We do not usually consider this to be a Jewish way of
prayer, but associate it with other religions. What does the Torah teach about
this?

In Tanach and Chazal we find at least five
different levels of bowing, each with its own defining terms.

Hishtachavayah

Hishtachavayah is bowing in which a person is
completely prostrate, with arms and legs stretched out completely flat on the
ground(Megillah 22b; Shavuos 16b). The Gemara
proves this from the rebuke that Yaakov gave to Yosef, after the latter told
his father about his dream, havo navo ani ve’imcha ve’achecha lehishtachavos
lecha artzah,
“Will it happen that I, your mother and your brothers will bow
(root: hishtachavayah) down to you to the ground?” Thus, we see that the
word hishtachavayah refers to bowing all the way to the ground.

This type of bowing is mentioned several times in Tanach
and the Gemara. Some people bow this way during the repetition of musaf
on Yom Kippur when we “fall kor’im.”

Kidah

Kidah is kneeling and placing one’s face against the
floor. On the basis of a posuk (Melachim I 1:31), the Gemara
(Brochos 34b; Megillah 22b; Shavuos 16b) proves that this is
the meaning of the word kidah. If you have ever seen how Moslems pray,
this is what kidah is.

Korei’a al birkav

Korei’a al birkav ­is called, in English,
kneeling. As I mentioned above, this is what the posuk describes
Shelomoh Hamelech
doing when he dedicated the Beis Hamikdash (Melachim
I 8:54).

Shocheh

Shocheh is what in English is called bowing, which
means lowering your head and upper part of your torso, but remain standing on
your feet.

Kor’im

Kor’im or more accurately, keri’a (the root is
spelled kof, reish, ayin, not to be confused with the word for reading,
which is spelled kuf, reish, alef) is used at times to mean when you
bow and also bend your knees as part of your bowing. In English, this is called
genuflecting.

How do we bow?

The Gemara (Brochos 12a), cited by the Rambam
(Hilchos Tefillah 5:10), rules: “Someone who is praying should bow at
the word Boruch, and straighten himself to an upright position when he
says the name of Hashem.” The Gemara continues: “Rav Sheishes,
when he bowed, bowed down like a stick, when he straightened himself upright,
he straightened himself like a snake.” Although there are other interpretations
of this passage of Gemara, Rashi explains that Rav Sheishes bowed
down in one motion, but when he straightened himself upright upon reciting the
name of Hashem, he did so in two motions, his head first, and then the
rest of his body, so that he should not give the impression that bowing was
something that he did not want to do. The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:10)
and the later authorities codify this as the proper method of bowing in shemoneh
esrei
. To quote the Rambam, “How should one bow? When he says Boruch,
he should bend his knees; upon saying Attah, he should bow quickly; and
upon saying Hashem’s name, he should slowly rise, his head first and
then his body.” However, an older or ill person is not required to bow with his
entire body, and it is sufficient if he simply bends his head. This last ruling
is quoted in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 113:5.)

Modim

In three of the places in the shemoneh esrei when we
bow, we do so when saying the words Boruch Attah Hashem, and, according
to the instructions that we have studied, we now know how to genuflect and bow
when we say these prayers. However, the other two places, at the end of davening,
and for modim, there is no “Boruch” in the tefillah when
we bow. Therefore, at these places, common custom is to bow, but not genuflect
(Mishnah Berurah).

Bow like a bow

This subtitle is not meant to be a corny pun, but an expression
of the halacha. The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:12)
rules: “All these bowings require that one bow until all the vertebrae in the
spine protrude and (his back) is shaped like a bow.” In Hebrew, this is not a
pun: the word for bow, keshes, and the word for bowing, korei’a,bear no similarity.

The source for the Rambam’s explanation is from the
following passage of Gemara (Brochos 28b): Rav Tanchum quoted
from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, someone who is praying must bow until all the vertebrae
in his spine protrude. Ulla said: Until a coin the size of an issar can
be seen opposite his heart. Rav Chanina said, once he tilted his head, he is
not required to do more. Rava explained Rav Chanina to mean that this is true
when it is obvious that he is trying to bow more, but he is unable to do so,
because of age or infirmity (see Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim
113).

The halachic authorities also rule that someone
should not bow so low that his mouth is opposite his belt (Shulchan Aruch,
Orach Chayim
113:5). This is because it looks like he is trying to show off
(Mishnah Berurah).

Bowing or genuflecting?

At this point, let us refer to our second opening question:
Have you ever genuflected?

Since we bend our knees when we say the word boruch,
someone who davens three times a day and bows by bending his knees at
the beginning and end of the first brocha and at the end of modim
genuflects nine times a day. Thus, the surprising answer is that you probably
genuflect many times a day, without knowing that you are doing so!

Genuflect, kneel, korei’a

There is a very interesting linguistic curiosity that I want
to point out. The word genuflect comes from a contraction of two words, genu,
related to knee, and flect, which means to bend. (Think of the English
verbs deflect, flex.) Language experts explain that the origin of the
word genu,which is Latin, and the words, knee and kneel, which
are German, are of common origin, both coming from a common cognate ancestor
that refers to the knee. This association is very surprising, because old
German and pre-Latin languages, although both of Indo-European origin, have few
common sources. When there are common roots in both, the origin of the word can
invariably be traced to the time of the dor ha’pelagah, when the
scattering of the nations occurred and the languages of mankind became divided.
In these instances, the true root of the word is invariably Hebrew,
notwithstanding that linguists categorize Hebrew as a Semitic language and not
Indo-European. This rule bears true here again, once we realize that it is not
unusual that a reish sound becomes a nun when changing languages,
as in the example of Nevuchadnetzar, called Nevuchadretzar at
times. Thus, since, according to Chazal (see Yoma 10a), German is
the older of the two languages (German and Latin), clearly the original root
was kof, reish, ayin, the shoresh of the word korei’a,
which means to bow on one’s knee or knees, or to genuflect or kneel, with the reish
becoming an “n” sound, first in German and then later in Latin. Thus, the
English words knee and kneel and the Latin word genu all
originate from the Hebrew word korei’a, or, more accurately, its root, kof,
reish
, ayin.

Conclusion

The power of tefillah is very great. Through tefillah
one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh
decrees. We have to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven
to Hashem?” Rather, we must continually drive home the concept that Hashem
wants our tefillos, and He listens to them! Man was created by Hashem
as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem
and our davening are unique in the entire spectrum of creation.

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. Certainly, one should do whatever one can to
make sure to pay attention to the meaning of the words of one’s Tefillah.
We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these
three prayers. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos
together with those of all Klal Yisrael!




A Tefillin Shoppers Guide

Question: I
am in the process of purchasing tefillin for my son. This is a major
purchase, since I hope that he will use these tefillin for many, many
years to come, and tefillin are such an important mitzvah. Therefore, I
have been making a lot of inquiries as to what to look for. Unfortunately, the
more questions I ask, the more confused I become. Rather than gaining clarity,
I am hearing many unfamiliar terms such as avodas yad (handmade), devek
bein habatim
(glue between the compartments of the tefillin shel
rosh
), perudos (separated), and gasos batim (tefillin
made from the hide of a mature animal). Could you please explain what I
should be looking for in my search for mehudar tefillin?

Answer: Your
questions are all very valid, and I am very glad that you have provided me the
opportunity to explain these issues. Your quest is also complicated by the fact
that because most tefillin are made in Eretz Yisroel, it is
sometimes difficult for someone who lives elsewhere to find out all the details
about their manufacture. However, I hope to present you with enough halachic
and practical basics to assist you in your search.

First, we need to understand the basics of tefillin
manufacture.

As we will see, many details of the halachos of
tefillin are halacha leMoshe miSinai, meaning that they were
taught to Moshe Rabbeinu directly by Hashem, even though there is no reference
or allusion to these halachos in the written Torah. The Rambam
counts ten such examples (Hilchos Tefillin 1:3, 3:1).

There are four places in the Torah where the mitzvah
of tefillin is mentioned, twice in parshas Bo, a third time in parshas
Va’eschanan
,and a fourth time in parshas Eikev. Handwritten
copies of these four sections of the Torah are placed inside specially-made
cases, and this comprises each of the tefillin worn on the arm and the
head.

COMPONENTS OF THE TEFILLIN

Tefillin
have three major components:

  1. The parshios (singular, parsha). These are the parchments
    on which the sofer painstakingly and carefully writes the four sections
    of the Torah mentioned above. For the tefillin shel yad (arm tefillin),
    all four parshios are written on one piece of parchment, whereas for the
    tefillin shel rosh (head tefillin), each parsha is
    written on a separate piece of parchment.
  2. The batim (singular, bayis). These are the housing of the
    parshios. The bayis itself has three subcomponents: (a) the ketzitzah,
    the cube-shaped box inside which the parshios are placed; (b) the titura,
    the base on which the ketzitzah rests; (c) the ma’avarta (Aramaic
    for “bridge”), the extension of the titura through which the straps are
    inserted. In good quality tefillin, the entire bayis — that is
    the ketzitzah, titura, and ma’avarta — are all made from
    one piece of hide.
  3.  The retzuos, the straps.

Processing of the hide

Every pair of tefillin contains parts made from
three different types of animal hide: the parchment on which the parshios
are written; the thick hide from which the batim
are manufactured; and the softer leather used for the retzuos.

The parchment, hide and leather used for making tefillin
and all other devarim she’bi’kedusha (holy items) must come from a
kosher species, although not necessarily from an animal that was slaughtered in
a kosher way (Shabbos 108a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:12).

Tefillin
must be manufactured “lishmah,” for the sake of the mitzvah. Practically
speaking, this means that the beginning of each process should be performed by
an observant Jew who declares that the production is for the sake of the
mitzvah of tefillin (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:8).

Modern tanning of hide for parchment, batim and
straps is a multi-stage process. For this reason, it is preferable that each
step be performed, or at least begun, by an observant Jew, lishmah.
Because of this, one of the questions to be ascertained when purchasing tefillin
is to what extent an observant Jew was involved in the processing of the hide.
This issue impacts on the question of machine-made vs. hand-made parchment and retzuos,
which I will discuss later.

Manufacture of the batim

At this point, we will investigate the complicated
process of making proper tefillin batim. The manufacturer of batim
is generally referred to by the Yiddish term, “batim macher.”

Several basic types of tefillin batim
are manufactured. The highest quality batim are called “gasos,”
large ones, because they are made from the hide of mature (large) cattle. Their
leather is high-quality and very durable. From the buyer’s perspective, these batim
are well worth the higher cost. In additional to their superior durability, gasos
batim have halachic advantages. Furthermore, they can be repaired
easily, if the tefillin are damaged. These are the type of batim
purchased by people concerned about doing mitzvos properly.

A modern innovation

In fact, gasos batim are a relatively
new development, made possible through the invention of the hydraulic press.
Until this invention, the tough gasos hide could not be worked into the
form required for the shaping of tefillin. Today, a huge amount of
pressure can be applied to the leather with a hydraulic press to produce the
finest tefillin from the thick hide of gasos animals.

Gasos batim
take several months to manufacture. Since the hide is very strong and tough,
each step requires moistening it to make it malleable, forming it with the
assistance of molds and a hydraulic press, and then allowing several weeks for
the hide to dry.

Forming the separate sections of the tefillin shel
rosh
into four compartments is a delicate task. The hide must be bent and
squeezed into separate compartments without tearing it. Although one internal
tear does not invalidate the batim, more than one tear can render the bayis
posul. For this and other reasons, one must be confident in the
expertise, halachic knowledge and yiras shamayim of the batim
macher.

The shin of the shel rosh

There is a halacha leMoshe miSinai that the tefillin shel
rosh
must have the letter “shin” on each side, a normal three-headed
shin on the right side of the wearer and an unusual four-headed shin
on the left side (Tosafos, Menachos 35a, quoting Shimusha Rabba;
Rambam
, Hilchos Tefillin 3:1). The commentaries cite many
reasons why the left side of the tefillin must have a four-headed shin
(see Smag, Smak, Beis Yosef, Bach). Some say that the four-headed shin
is reminiscent of the letter shin as it appeared in the luchos (Taz
32:35).

There is a dispute among early poskim whether
the shin on the tefillin can be made completely by placing the
leather of the batim in a mold. According to the lenient opinions, one
can simply take a mold, soften the leather, push the mold onto the bayis
and press out the shin on the tefillin shel rosh (Or Zarua,
quoted by Darkei Moshe 32:18; Beis Yosef). However, the accepted
practice is to be machmir and form the letter in a direct way first
(many rishonim quoted by Beis Yosef; Magen Avraham 32:57).
This is done by painstakingly picking and pulling the leather until a kosher shin
has been directly formed by hand. Only after the shin has been formed to
the point that it is a halachically kosher letter is the mold applied to
enhance and beautify it. This is permitted, since the minimum halachic
requirements of the letter shin have been already met. It is worthwhile
to clarify how the shin of the tefillin one purchases was made.

The dispute whether the shin may be molded
takes us to a different discussion. Creating the shin through a mold is
an act of “chok tochos,” indirectly creating a letter. Letters written
for a sefer Torah, tefillin, mezuzos or a get, are
invalid when written as chok tochos, but must be created “directly,” by
forming the letter, not by scraping away around the letter. If so, why do so
many poskim rule that the shin of the shel rosh may be
created through a mold?

The answer is that the Torah never states that one
must “write” a shin on the side of the tefillin. The halacha
leMoshe miSinai
merely states that there must be a shin on
the side of the tefillin, without specifying that the shin must
be written there. Therefore, the lenient opinions contend that there is
no requirement to “write” a shin on the tefillin, and it is
sufficient for the shin to be made in any way, even through chok
tochos
. As mentioned above, we paskin that the shin should be
formed in a direct way first.

Tefillin must be square

There is another halacha leMoshe miSinai that
the tefillin must be perfectly square (Menachos 35a). The rishonim
dispute whether min haTorah both the bayis and the titura
must be square, or only one of them. Since this matter is a controversy, and,
furthermore, since some opinions require that they must both be square,
accepted practice is that both the bayis and the titura be
perfectly square.

The width of the bayis must be the exact same
measurement as its length, and there may be no nicks, indentations, or bulges
that ruin its perfect squareness. The height of the tefillin does not
need to be the same as the width and length (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillin
3:1). As a matter of fact, some batim machers deliberately make
tefillin
that are taller than they are wide. This is so that the tefillin
will fit properly on the arm, without requiring that the parshios be
made very small.

Similarly, the titura is shaped so that its
length and width are equal.

In order to get the four compartments of the shel
rosh
to form a perfect square, many batim machers paste the sections
of the bayis together to help them hold together. Although there is much
halachic controversy about gluing the compartments together, many
prominent poskim in earlier generations permitted it (such as Yeshuas
Yaakov
32:24; Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim #5, however cf. Vol. 6
#68; Shu”t Beis Yitzchok, Orach Chaim 7:6; Daas Torah 32:40).

Other poskim permit gluing the compartments
only if the paste is applied to less than half the height of the wall of the
compartment and is not applied along the outside edges. However, since there
are poskim who disapprove of using any paste, it is certainly a hiddur
not to use any at all (Chayei Adam 14:4). These batim are
referred to as “perudos ad hatefer legamri,” which literally means,
separated completely down to the stitch, referring to the stitching on the top
of the titura (which will be explained later).

Germane to this discussion is a well-known ruling from
Rav Chaim Volozhiner. When asked whether pasting the compartments of the shel
rosh
together is permitted, he responded that he would not permit it,
because the two gedolei hador of the previous generation, the Vilna Gaon
and the Shaagas Aryeh, both contended that pasting the compartments invalidates
the tefillin.

In earlier generations, when tefillin batim
were made from much softer calf leather or even flimsier parchment, it was very
difficult to make tefillin that would remain square unless the
compartments were pasted together. However, today’s gasos batim
are kept square through the stiffness of the hide and the pressure of the
hydraulic press. Since the gasos batim are not dependent on paste
to hold their shape, many contemporary poskim contend that one should
refrain from placing any paste in the batim.

Why not glue?

What is wrong with gluing the compartments together?

The problem is that the shel rosh is required
to have four separate compartments, one for each parsha. The poskim
who prohibit pasting the compartments contend that glue makes them into one
connected compartment, thus invalidating the tefillin. Those who are
lenient contend that pasting the compartments together does not halachically
make them into one compartment.

The compromise position contends that the compartments
are considered separate, if they are pasted less than half way up and the
outside edge is clearly not connected. This makes the batim noticeably
separate, which they contend is all that is required. Ask one’s rav
whether one should request batim in which no paste was used, at all.

The titura

The titura consists of two parts, the widening
at the bottom of the ketzitzah (upper titura) and the flap that
closes and seals the parshios inside (lower titura). In gasos
tefillin, the titura is formed out of the same piece of leather
as the ketzitzah. The lower titura is bent 180 degrees until it
is directly beneath the upper titura. The gap between the two is filled
with pieces of leather, and then the hide is shaved until it is perfectly
square.

At one point in time, ordinary scrap leather was often
used as filler, but this is rarely done today. Although batim using
ordinary scrap leather as filler are kosher, it is preferable that the filler
be hide that was tanned lishmah (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 6:1).
This is standard contemporary practice.

Some poskim contend that it is acceptable to
fill small nicks in the side of the titura with glue. Others feel that
it is not kosher, lechatchilah, to do this, but that nicks should be
patched with hide or parchment tanned lishmah (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak
6:1; Shu”t Shevet Halevi
3:2; 9:4).

When the titura is completed and perfectly
square, twelve holes are punched through it so that it can later be stitched
closed. The stitching must also be square. Therefore, it is vital that these holes
form a perfect square and that they are not too large (which may cause the
stitching not to be square).

At this point, the batim are almost ready, except that they need painting and the parshios have not yet been inserted. But we have not yet discussed the writing of the parshios. We also need to talk about the processing of the retzuos, the finishing and sewing of the titura, and various other hiddurim of tefillin. See part II of this article for more on this topic.




Shul Building, Part II

Question #1: One shul

“May we merge two existent shullen, when each has its
own minhagim?”

Question #2: Two shuls

“Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?’

Question #3: More seats?

“Can there ever be a problem with adding more seats to a shul?”

Introduction:

Our batei kenesiyos and batei midrashos, the
buildings that we designate for prayer and for study, are referred to as our mikdash
me’at
, our holy buildings reminiscent of the the sanctity of the Mishkan
and the Beis Hamikdash.

As I mentioned in last week’s article, there is a halachic
requirement to build a shul. To quote the Rambam (Hilchos
Tefillah
11:1-2), Any place that has ten Jews must have available a
building that they can enter to pray at every time of prayer.

Changing neighborhoods

An interesting teshuvah from Rav Moshe relates to a shul
building that had been originally planned with a lower level to use as a social
hall, with the shul intended to be on the upper floor. They began to use
the social hall for davening until they built the shul on top,
but the neighborhood began to change. Before they even finished the social
hall, it became clear that they would have no need to complete the structure of
the building. They never finished the building, and instead, directed the
efforts and finances toward purchasing a new shul in a neighborhood to
which people were moving. The old shul, or, more accurately, the “social
hall” part of the old shul building, is at the stage where there is
barely a minyan left, and the dwindling numbers imply that it is not
going to be very long until there is no functioning minyan. The question
is that they would like to sell the old building and use the money to complete
the purchase of the new building. Furthermore, the mikveh in the town is
now in a neighborhood to which women are hesitant to travel, so they want to
use the funds from the old shul building to defray the construction
costs of a necessary new mikveh.

Because of the specific circumstances involved, including
that it is unlikely that people from the outside will drop in to daven
in this minyan anymore, Rav Moshe rules that they are permitted to sell
the building.

A similar responsum from Rav Moshe was when they needed to
create a shul in a neighborhood where there was a good chance that the
Jewish community there would not last long. Rather than declare their building
a shul, they called it a library and used it as their shul. Rav
Moshe suggests that they might have been required to do so, since they knew
from the outset that the days of the Jewish community were numbered (Shu”t
Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim,
2:44).

More seats?

At this point, let us discuss the third of our opening
questions:

“Can there ever be a problem with adding more seats to a shul?”

There is an early responsum on the topic (Shu”t Harivosh #253),
and the ruling might seem to us counterintuitive. A wealthy individual
purchased several seats in the shul many years before. Probably, when
the shul was built, the community had sold or perhaps even auctioned
seats, at prices depending on their location (think of the relative ticket
prices on theater seats, lehavdil). The seats are considered private
property and are even at times rented out to others.

There is now a shortage of seats in the shul and the
community would like to add new seats in empty areas of the shul. The
wealthy fellow claims that this will make it more difficult for him to get to
his seat, and that his own seat will be more crowded as a result. Can the
community add seats, notwithstanding his claim?

The Rivosh rules that the community cannot add new
seats, because the wealthy fellow already owns the right to get to his seat in
a comfortable way. However, the Rivosh rules that the community may do
the following to try to increase the availability of seats:

1. They may set a limit on the rental price of the existing
seats.

2. They may pass a regulation that unused seats must be
rented out.

Building two shuls

There is an old Jewish joke about the Jew stranded on a
desert island who built two shuls, one to daven in, and the other
never to walk into. Is there any halachic basis to this habit we have of
opening several competing shullen in the same neighborhood?

Indeed, there are old responsa regarding this question. The Radbaz,
one of the greatest halachic authorities of the fifteenth century, was
asked such a shaylah (Shu”t Haradbaz #910).

A man named Yehudah Abualfas wanted to open a second shul
in his town. The background appears to be as follows: The community, which may
have been located somewhere in Egypt, was composed predominantly of families
who originated from Tunisia, but there were individuals who had settled there
from other places. The shul followed the minhag of Tunis.

Yehudah Abualfas, who was born and raised in this community
with Tunisian customs, and everyone else living in the town, were members of
the general community. They donated to the community’s tzedakah fund,
participated in its fees and taxes, and davened in the community shul
which followed minhagei Tunis.

Abualfas’s family originated from a place where they
followed the customs of the Spanish communities, not those of Tunisia. (Ashkenazim
tend to group Sefardim and Edot Hamizrah together as one group.
Technically, Sefardim are those whose antecedents once lived in Spain,
whereas there were Jewish communities from Morocco to Iran and even farther
east whose ancestors never lived in Spain and should be called Edot Hamizrah.)
Abualfas and his friends had begun to develop their own community, consisting
of members who identified as Sefardim and not as Tunisians, and they
wanted to create their own community following minhag Sefard.

Shul versus community

The Radbaz divides the question into two topics: May
the Sefardim establish their own shul, and may they establish
their own community?

Regarding the establishing of their own community, which
would mean that they would no longer participate in the tzedakah fund
and other taxes and fees of the general community, the Radbaz rules
that, once they have individually been paying as members of the main community,
they cannot separate from that community and create their own. As individuals,
they are bound to continue contributing to the main community.

However, regarding whether they may create their own shul,
the Radbaz rules that they may, for the following reason: since they do
not want to be forced to daven with the rest of the community, their
desire to have their own shul will disturb their kavanah while davening.
The Radbaz discusses at length the issue of davening with kavanah. He notes that one is
not permitted to daven when one is angry, and that the Gemara
states that, if the amora Rav Chanina ever got angry, he did not daven
that day. Furthermore, we see that any distraction is a reason why one should
not daven, even that of an enticing fragrance. Therefore, one may not daven
when in the presence of people that one does not like. The Radbaz
further suggests that just as there is a halacha that one will study
Torah properly only when he is interested in the topic, a person will be able
to concentrate in his davening only when he is praying where he is
happy. For these reasons, the Radbaz rules that people who are not
satisfied praying with the rest of the community are permitted to organize
their own shul. However, he rules that it is within the community’s
prerogative to ban the forming of other shullen, when this will harm
community interests.

Berov am hadras melech

The Radbaz then discusses the halachic
preference of berov am hadras melech, a large group of people (attending
a mitzvah) honors the King (Rosh Hashanah 32b). This means
that it is preferable that a large group of people daven in one shul,
rather than split among several smaller shullen. The Radbaz
concludes that, indeed, it is preferable for everyone to daven in the
same shul but, when people will be unhappy, that factor permits them to
open their own shul.

The Radbaz closes this discussion with the following:

“Do not interpret my words to think that I believe that
dividing into different shullen is good. G-d forbid… However, we are
required to try as hard as possible that everyone pray with a full heart to his
Father in Heaven. If it is impossible to pray with a full heart when davening
in a shul that one does not enjoy, and the people will constantly be
arguing, having different shullen is the lesser of the two evils.”

An earlier authority, the Rivosh (Shu”t Harivosh #253)
mentions the same ruling — individuals who want to establish their own
breakaway minyan cannot be stopped, and that it is improper to prevent
this. However, if the members of the existing shul claim that their shul
requires the income or membership to keep going, one should examine whether the
claim is truthful. If, indeed, it is, one should work out a plan that
accommodates the needs of both communities. (See also Rema, Choshen
Mishpat
162:7.)

Two shuls

At this point, we can now address the second of our opening
questions: “Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?”

The short answer is that there are circumstances when this
is permitted, although, in an ideal world, it is not preferred.

One shul

At this point, let us examine the first of our opening
questions: “May we merge two existent shullen, when each has its own minhagim?”

The answer is that, because of the rule of berov am
hadras melech
, it is preferable to merge shuls into a larger entity,
but, as I explained above, this will depend on circumstances (see also Shu”t
Binyan Tziyon
1:122). If the members understand that it is a greater honor
to Hashem to have a large shul with many people davening
together, that is preferred.

Conclusion

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 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.

The power of tefillah is very great. Man was created
by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our
serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum
of creation. Remember that we are actually speaking to Hashem, and that
we are trying to build a relationship with Him. Through tefillah, one
can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh
decrees. We are required to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who
am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must reinforce the concept
that Hashem wants our tefillos, and He listens to them!




Shul Building

Question #1: One shul

“May we merge together two existent shullen, when
each has its own minhagim?”

Question #2: Two shuls

“Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?’

Question #3: Old shul

“In our town, almost everyone has moved away from the ‘old
neighborhood,’ which has now, unfortunately, become a slum. The sprinkling of
Jewish people still there can no longer maintain the shul. Are the
people who used to live there still obligated to maintain the old shul
building?”

Question #4: New shul

“We have been comfortably davening in different
people’s houses, three times a day, seven days a week. Now, some individuals
are clamoring that they want us to build a shul, which is a huge
expense. Isn’t this chutzpah on their part, when we are all struggling
to pay our mortgages?”

Introduction:

Our batei kenesiyos and batei midrashos, the
buildings that we designate for prayer and for study, are referred to as our mikdash
me’at
, our holy buildings reminiscent of the the sanctity of the Mishkan
and the Beis Hamikdash.

There is a halachic requirement to build a shul.
To quote the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 11:1-2), Any place that
has ten Jews must have available a building that they can enter to pray at every
time of prayer. This building is called a
beis hakenesses(synagogue).
The members of the community can force one another to build a synagogue, to
purchase a sefer Torah and books of the prophets and of the kesuvim.
When
you build a synagogue, you must build it in the highest part of the town… and
you must elevate it, until it is taller than any of the courtyards in town.

We see from the words of the Rambam that it is not
sufficient to have an area available in which one can daven when
necessary – it is required to have a building designated specifically for this
purpose, even if the shul will be empty the rest of the day (Shu”t
Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim,
2:44). Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that a
community is required to have a building designated to be their mikdash
me’at
.

Since it is a community responsibility to have a shul
building, the minority of the membership of a community may force the majority
to raise the money to build a shul (Rema, Choshen Mishpat 163:1).
In earlier generations, communities had the authority to levy taxes on their
members. Since building a shul is a community responsibility, they could
require people to provide the funds necessary for this project.

Must we build a shul?

At this point, let us address one of our opening questions:
“We have been comfortably davening in different people’s houses, three
times a day, seven days a week. Now, some individuals are clamoring that they
want us to build a shul, which is a huge expense. Isn’t this chutzpah
on their part, when we are all struggling to pay our mortgages?”

The answer is that, not only is it not chutzpah on
the part of those individuals, the halachic right is on their side. The
community is required to have a shul, and it is unsatisfactory that the minyan
takes place in a home that is not meant to be a beis tefillah.
Therefore, individuals can certainly force the rest to build a shul.

I cannot resist telling over the following story from my
experience as a shul rav. At one time, I was invited for an interview to
a new shul that was located in an affluent area. I made a trip to meet
the shul search committee, which was very interested in engaging me as their rav.
They showed me the converted house that they were using as the shul, and
mentioned that when they had renovated the building, they did so in a way that
there would be an apartment in the building for the rav to use as his
residence, since they did not have much money for a respectable salary. In
their minds, since the rav could now save himself mortgage or rent
money, that was a hefty part of what they intended for his salary.

I noted to them that in the position I had at the time, I
could devote myself fully to rabbinic duties, something that would be quite impossible
in the circumstances that they proposed. Their response was that although they
understood my predicament, this was all they could afford, since most of their
members were paying very huge mortgages for the zechus of living in this
neighborhood. I made a mental note that none of them seemed to feel that the
apartment part of the shul building that they were proposing was
certainly nothing that any of them would consider suitable residential
accommodations, nor would they consider the shul building representative
of the high-class lifestyle that they had chosen for themselves.

How do we assess?

In earlier generations, the Jewish community had the ability
to levy taxes and other fees on its membership. Virtually all Jewish
communities had fairly strong authority over its membership because the
community levied taxes and also was responsible for collectively paying taxes
to the local monarch.

When assessing individuals for the construction of a local shul,
do we charge according to people’s financial means, or does everyone share
equally in the costs of the building?

The Rema rules that when raising the money for a shul,
we take into consideration both the resources of the individuals and also who
will be using the facility. Therefore, when assessing people for the building
of a shul, the costs are allocated both according to the financial means
and according to individuals. Thus, the wealthier members of a community will
be paying a somewhat higher percentage of the costs.

Rent a shul

If the community does not have the resources to build or
purchase a shul, they can force one another to put up enough money to
rent a place (Mishnah Berurah 150:2)

Where not to rent

In a responsum in Igros Moshe (Shu”t Igros Moshe,
Orach Chayim
3:25), Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked the following: There is
no orthodox shul in town, and they have been davening in houses.
Now, they want to rent space from a local conservative congregation. May they
do so?

Rav Moshe prohibits this for two reasons:

1. This arrangement provides some credibility to the
conservative congregation.

2. When people see the orthodox people entering or exiting
the building of the conservative temple, they may think that these people are
intending to pray in the conservative facility, which is prohibited. This
involves the prohibition of maris ayin, doing something that may raise suspicion that one violated halacha.

Changing neighborhoods

Let us now address a different one of our opening questions:
“In our town, almost everyone has moved away from the ‘old neighborhood,’ which
has now, unfortunately, become a slum. The sprinkling of Jewish people still
there can no longer maintain the shul. Are the people who used to live
there still obligated to maintain the old shul building?”

This question was asked of Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t
Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim
3:28).

In the case that he was asked, the shul had already
opened a new facility in a nicer area and, until this point, the expenses of
the old shul were being covered from the budget of the new shul.
However, the members no longer saw any gain from doing so, since it was only a
question of time until the old shul would no longer be at all
functional. They would like to close down the old shul and sell the
building. Are they permitted to?

The general rule is that a shul is considered
communal public property and, as long as it functions as a shul, no one
has the right to sell or modify its use. This is because the “owners” of the shul
include anyone who might visit the area and want to find a minyan in
which to daven. This is true, providing that there are still minyanim
that meet in the shul on a regular basis — they cannot sell the
building or close it down (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim III
#29).

In the case at hand, Rav Moshe rules that those who have
moved out of the neighborhood of the old shul have no responsibility to
pay for the upkeep or repairs of the shul building that they are not using.
The fact that the community has been treating the two shul buildings as
one institution does not change this. Rav Moshe then mentions that, since the
old shul is in a bad neighborhood, they may have a responsibility to
remove the sifrei Torah from the shul, and perhaps even the
siddurim, chumashim
and other seforim, in order to protect them. He
concludes that, since those who still daven in the old shul have
no means of their own to keep the shul going, it is permitted to shutter
the shul building and sell it. He also mentions that, if the bank will
foreclose on the mortgage and re-possess the building, this does not require
them to continue paying the mortgage. Nor does the bank’s decision as to what
it will do with the shul property after the foreclosure require them to
continue paying the mortgage.

Regarding those who still live in the old neighborhood, Rav
Moshe rules that they should conduct the minyanim in a house where the sifrei
Torah
and the other seforim will be secure (Shu”t Igros Moshe,
Orach Chayim III #28).

An interesting teshuvah from Rav Moshe relates to a shul
building that had been originally planned to have a lower level to use as a
social hall, with the shul intended to be on the upper floor. They began
to use the social hall for davening until they built the shul on
top, but the neighborhood began to change, and it became clear that they would
have no need to complete the structure of the building. They never finished the
building, and instead, directed the efforts and finances toward purchasing a
new shul in a neighborhood to which people were moving. The old shul,
or, more accurately, the “social hall” part of the old shul building, is
at the stage where there is barely a minyan left, and the dwindling
numbers imply that it is not going to be very long until there is no
functioning minyan. The question is that they would like to sell the old
building and use the money to complete the purchase of the new building.
Furthermore, the mikveh in the town is now in a neighborhood to which
women are hesitant to travel, so they want to use the funds from the old shul
building to defray the construction costs of a necessary new mikveh.

Because of the specific circumstances involved, including that it is unlikely that people from the outside will drop in to daven in this minyan anymore, Rav Moshe rules that they are permitted to sell the building. A similar responsum from Rav Moshe was when they needed to create a shul in a neighborhood where there was a good chance that the Jewish community there would not last long. Rather than declare their building a shul, they called it a library and used it as their shul. Rav Moshe suggests that this was a good suggestion, since they knew from the outset that the days of the Jewish community were numbered (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 2:44).

We will continue this article next week…




Davening for Rain in the Southern Hemisphere II

Question #1: Mixed Messages

“How can you have two shullen in the same city, one saying vesein tal umatar and the other not, on the same day?”

Question #2: South of the Border

“What do Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Montevideo, Recife, and Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand, have in common, but not Johannesburg, Perth, and Santiago, Chile?”

Introduction

In part I of this article, we discussed the unique halachic issues that surfaced when Jewish communities began settling in the southern hemisphere. We learned that the first published responsum on this question was authored by Rav Chayim Shabtai, who was the rav in Salonica until his passing in 1647, and whose responsa were published as Shu”t Toras Chayim. His undated responsum is addressed to someone inquiring about the practices of the Jewish community in Brazil, without identifying which city in the country. The questioner assumes that rain during their summer months between Sukkos and Pesach would be very harmful. Therefore, the Brazilian community wanted to recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar between Pesach and Sukkos and not recite them between Sukkos and Pesach.

We have previously discovered that the Rosh contended that, although in Eretz Yisroel rain is disadvantageous in the summer, in Europe, where he lived his entire life, rain was not only helpful in the summer, but it was essential. Since rain was important after Pesach, he felt that they should recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar even in the summer months. We also discovered that the Rosh was unsuccessful in changing the practice of his community, and that he, himself, eventually stopped reciting these prayers after Pesach. Although he had not changed his opinion, since he was unsuccessful in changing the accepted practice, he did not want there to be divergent approaches in the same community.

We also learned that the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 117:2) rules that the halacha does not follow the Rosh. He writes that all communities begin reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem on Shemini Atzeres and records only two practices regarding vesein tal umatar, the same two expressly mentioned in the Gemara. No other regional distinctions are recognized.

In addition, we noted that when someone recites mashiv haruach umorid hagashem or vesein tal umatar when he should not, he must repeat the davening. This presents us with the following intriguing question: Someone in Germany or Spain recites mashiv haruach umorid hagashem or vesein tal umatar during or after Pesach. According to the Shulchan Aruch, they have recited something that they should not have, whereas the Rosh contends that they have followed the correct procedure. The question is whether we accept the opinion of the Rosh to the extent of not repeating the shemoneh esrei in this situation. Rav Yitzchak Abuhav, a highly respected authority, contended that one should not repeat the shemoneh esrei out of respect for the Rosh’s position.

In his Beis Yosef commentary on the Tur, the author of the Shulchan Aruch was inclined to reject the Rosh’s ruling completely, to the extent of requiring the repetition of shemoneh esrei. However, because of the position of Rav Yitzchak Abuhav, the Beis Yosef modified his position, contending that someone who recited mashiv haruach umorid hagashem or vesein tal umatar in Spain or Germany on or after Pesach should repeat the shemoneh esrei as a donated prayer, called a tefillas nedavah, which one may recite when there is a question as to whether one is required to repeat the prayer. The Rema concludes, like Rav Yitzchak Abuhav, that one should not repeat the shemoneh esrei in this situation.

Melbourne, Australia, 1890’s

In the 1890’s, Rav Avraham Eiver Hirschowitz, whose origins were in Lithuania, became the rav of Melbourne. Upon Rav Hirschowitz’s arrival in Melbourne, he discovered that the local community was following the practice of the Toras Chayim: They were not reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem at all, and were reciting vesein tal umatar in shomei’a tefillah during the Australian winter between Pesach and Sukkos, and not reciting it at all during the months of Marcheshvan until Pesach. Rav Hirschowitz felt that this practice was an error in Australia, and immediately began addressing letters to several gedolei Yisroel regarding this practice. He explained that the Toras Chayim’s approach is based on the assumption that rain in the summer is detrimental, which he contended is not the case in Australia. Therefore, he concluded that Australia should follow the exact practice of everywhere else outside Eretz Yisroel and recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem from Sukkos to Pesach, and vesein tal umatar in birchas hashanim, when everyone in chutz la’aretz does this.

Much of Rav Hirschowitz’s correspondence on the subject was published in his own work, Shu”t Beis Avraham. Apparently, Rav Hirschowitz was not in Melbourne for a long period of time, since it appears that he arrived there in 1892 and left in 1894. He writes in his introduction to Shu”t Beis Avraham that on Monday of parshas Devorim 5654 (1894), he left Australia by ship for the United States. He describes that one of his ports of call was Auckland, New Zealand, which at the time had a daily minyan and a Jewish community of some one hundred families. He also describes how they crossed the international dateline while en route, and he was uncertain what he should do regarding observing Shabbos while at sea. Rav Hirschowitz published his sefer in 1908, at which time he was a rav in Toledo, Ohio.

Why was the community following the ruling of the Toras Chayim? It appears that the community’s practice had originated with a question sent by them many decades earlier to Rav Shelomoh Hirschell, who had been the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom for forty years until his passing on Monday, the 31st of October, 1842, or fifty years before Rav Hirschowitz’s arrival in Australia. To appreciate why Rav Hirschell’s opinion carried so much weight, let me share a small description of his funeral that was published shortly after his passing in The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, published in the United States: “Rav Shelomoh Hirschell was the Chief Rabbi of the Jews (after the German ritual), in London, the British provinces, and dependencies. [The term “after the German ritual” apparently means that he was viewed as the chief rabbi of the Ashkenazim, but not of the Sefardim.] The funeral took place on Wednesday. The morning was ushered in by every Jew in the metropolis, with those demonstrations of respect becoming so solemn an occasion; all places of business were closed, and the blinds in every private house were drawn down. The day being yom kippur katan, the eve of the new moon, it was observed as a fast by a larger number of persons than are accustomed to the observance. The taharah had been performed at a very early hour by the Dayanim, the executors, and a select number of the immediate friends of the deceased.” The article continues to describe the loss felt by the community, and who were the maspidim.

Apparently, when the community in Australia first asked Rav Hirschell, he ruled that they should follow the practice as concluded by the Toras Chayim. At the time, this was probably the only published responsum on the question of reciting vesein tal umatar in the southern hemisphere. Therefore, the community refrained from reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem ever in their prayers. They refrained from doing so from Marcheshvan to Pesach because of concern that this was detrimental to their own needs.

We will never know why Rav Hirschell ruled that they should follow the approach of the Toras Chayim. Rav Hirschowitz’s approach appears to be what most authorities accept. For example, we find responsa on the subject from Rav Kook (Shu”t Orach Mishpat, Orach Chayim #24), Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim #56), Dayan Yitzchok Weiss of Manchester and the Eidah Hachareidis (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 6:171), and Rav Betzalel Stern (Shu”t Betzeil Hachachmah 6:85), all of whom accept this approach also.

We should note that the two practices, that of the Toras Chayim and that of the Shulchan Aruch, do not dispute in halacha. The Toras Chayim ruled his way when there is a season locally in which rain is definitely detrimental. Since I have found no authority who disputes this ruling of the Rambam, as explained in our previous articles, I assume that, were this indeed the case, all would agree that one should refrain from reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar when it would be detrimental, locally, for it to rain in this season.

South is very different

However, one major authority, Rav Shmuel Vozner of Bnei Braq, disagrees with this approach. In a responsum dated the 9th of Kislev 5721 (1961) addressed to Rabbi Avraham Leitner, the rav of a community named Adas Yerei’im in Montevideo, Uruguay, Rav Vozner disagrees with everyone since the time of the Toras Chayim, ruling that the discussions about the Gemara and the rishonim were germane only in the northern hemisphere, where the basic needs are for rain in the winter and some places might require rain even in the spring and summer. However, opines Rav Vozner, in the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed, davening for rain between Sukkos and Pesach is tantamount to asking Hashem to change the climates completely and to make the southern hemisphere climates identical to the northern, which would, of course, be catastrophic. Therefore, Rav Vozner rules that, in the southern hemisphere, one should recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem from Pesach until Sukkos, and daven for rain vesein tal umatar in birchos hashanim when it is appropriate there (Shu”t Shevet Halevi 1:21).

It would stand to reason that, according to Rav Vozner’s approach, the prayers of tefillas geshem and tefillas tal should also be reversed — southern hemisphere Jewry should recite tefillas geshem on Pesach and tefillas tal on Sukkos. In the ninth volume of Rav Vozner’s teshuvos, there is a lengthy responsum from his son, Rav Benzion Vozner, who served as a rav in Sydney, Australia, for six years, expanding and explaining his father’s position, which he himself advocates (Shu”t Shevet Halevi 9:148).

Halachic conclusion

Based on the entire discussion, I present five possible approaches one could follow regarding the recital of mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar in the southern hemisphere.

Rosh: Since these areas are regions and not just cities, the laws germane to both of these inserts in the davening should be dependent on local conditions. Although the Rosh himself held this way, as we have seen, the other halachic authorities did not accept his position.

Shulchan Aruch: The obvious reading of the Shulchan Aruch is that these communities should follow the same practice as is practiced in chutz la’aretz northern hemisphere communities.

Toras Chayim: Although he follows the general approach that I ascribed above to the Shulchan Aruch, he adds that in seasons when rain is unfavorable, one should omit mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar.

Rav Vozner: The entire discussion in early authorities is germane only to practices in the northern hemisphere, but in the southern hemisphere one should follow reverse practices, thus reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar in its winter months, which correspond to the summer months in the northern hemisphere.

Lots of dew: Although I have not seen this position quoted in any halachic work, I have been told that there are individuals who follow an approach that makes sure that one will always fulfill the mitzvah of davening. All year long, they recite morid hatal in the second brocha of shemoneh esrei, and they recite vesein tal umatar in shomei’a tefillah whenever there is an opinion that one should recite vesein tal umatar. The advantage of this last approach is that one will never create a situation in which the prayer must be repeated.

What do they do?

While researching these questions, I sent out inquiries to various contacts I have who live or have lived in different southern hemisphere communities, asking them what is practiced in their various places. Here is what I discovered:

In general, the most common practice is to follow the approach that I called above that of the Shulchan Aruch, that one follows the schedule identically to what is done in the northern hemisphere.

In some places, indeed, we find different shullen following divergent approaches. When this is the situation, usually one congregation follows the standard, accepted approach of the Shulchan Aruch, whereas the other refrains from reciting vesein tal umatar or mashiv haruach umorid hagashem in its usual place, during the local summer. I will note that, logically, this should be true only in a place and season where rain is indeed detrimental to the locals.

Mixed Messages

At this point, we can address the opening questions of our article. Our first question was: “How can you have two shullen in the same city, one saying vesein tal umatar, and the other not, on the same day?”

One answer would be that we are describing two shullen located somewhere in the southern hemisphere, which are following differing piskei halacha as to what they should do. I am told that there are cities in which this is the case.

The second of our opening questions was: “What do Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Montevideo, Recife, and Auckland, New Zealand, have in common, but not Johannesburg, Perth, and Santiago, Chile?”

Even someone who has followed all the fine points in our discussion will probably still not be able to answer this question, although he will realize that every one of these places lies in the southern hemisphere. Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Montevideo, Recife, and Auckland, New Zealand all have in common that, in my research on this topic, I found each of these places to have been the basis of the question asked from a posek on this issue.