Yaakov, a relative newcomer to Yiddishkeit, visited a new community and davened each prayer at a different shul. He noticed that in each shul, the responses to Kaddish were different, which he found surprising. His rabbi explained to him the background.
When hearing Kaddish, we say “Amen” at several places in addition to saying the very important “Amen, y’hei shmei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya”. (The poskim dispute whether one should also add “yisbarach” to this sentence, the Shulchan Aruch [Orach Chayim 56:3] ruling that one should, and the Gr”a ruling that one should not.) In addition, Ashkenazim respond to the words, shmei dekudsha brich hu, His holy name, blessed is He, by repeating the Chazan’s words brich hu. (Nusach Sefard and Sefardim say Amen at this point.) However, most people do not realize how late this response of brich hu came into practice and also are not familiar with the halachos regarding it; many times one may not recite this response as it constitutes an interruption. The goal of this article is to explain both the historical background of brich hu, and when we should and should not recite it. We will also discuss when to respond to the other responses of the Kaddish.
The Gemara (Brachos 3a; Sotah 49a) mentions Kaddish and lays special emphasis on responding Amen, y’hei shmei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya with fervent feeling. The poskim accentuate the importance of not talking while someone is reciting Kaddish. One should pay careful attention to the recital of the Kaddish and know to which praise of Hashem one is responding (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 56:1).
CHRONICLE OF A RESPONSE
What exactly is brich hu?
The words brich hu, are Aramaic for “blessed be He,” and are a repetition of two of the words of the Kaddish just said by the chazzan at that point viyis’halal shmei dekudsha brich hu li’eila min kal birchasa ve’shirasa… da’amiran be’alma ve’imru amen, exalted be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He Who shall be praised… beyond all blessing and song… that are declared in the world. And respond: Amen.
When did responding brich hu become a standard part of davening? Surprising as this may seem, no early poskim mention a custom of responding with just these two words. The custom started about four hundred years ago when it was not unusual to find people responding at this point of Kaddish with a refrain similar to the one we recite. The Taz (Orach Chayim 56:3) reports a practice to accentuate the praise of Hashem by joining the Chazzan at the point when he reaches the words shmei dekudsha, His holy name, by accompanying him when he recites the three words brich hu li’eila, which means that the Congregation recited words that translate as Blessed is He above. The Taz condemns this practice harshly since these three words may imply an unintended blasphemous statement — that Hashem is blessed only above, but not below. Therefore, the Taz rules that one should continue by reciting the subsequent three words, thus resulting in the following praise, brich hu li’eila min kal birchasa, which translates as Blessed is He above all blessing. This clarifies one’s intent and removes any concern about blasphemy. However, contemporary Ashkenazic practice does not recite this elongated response, but instead reduces the response to the two words, brich hu, blessed be He, which also accomplishes praising Hashem with no hint of blasphemy. Some Hassidic circles indeed follow the advice of the Taz and recite brich hu li’eila min kal birchasa.
This explains the origin of the custom to recite brich hu to Kaddish. What we still do not know is when we may not recite it. Explaining these halachos requires some introduction.
BARUCH HU UVARUCH SHEMO
The response brich hu is similar to our response Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo, blessed is He and blessed is His name, which we recite upon hearing Hashem’s name articulated as part of a bracha. The first halachic authority to mention this practice is the Rosh about 800 years ago. The Tur (Orach Chayim 124) states, “I heard from my father [the Rosh] that every time he heard a bracha he would say Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo. He based this practice on the pasuk that states, “When I call Hashem’s name, bring forth greatness to our G-d” (Devorim 32:3), thus upon hearing Hashem’s name, one should add a praise of one’s own. The Rosh added another halachic source for this practice based on the following translation of the pasuk, “Remember a tzadik for blessing” (Mishlei 10:7). This verse teaches that even when mentioning the name of a righteous human being one should bless him; if so, one should certainly bless Hashem when mentioning His name.
Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 124:5) rules that one should respond Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo whenever one hears a bracha. Nevertheless, one may not answer this refrain during birchos keriyas shma or during pesukei dezimra (Magen Avraham 124:9; Mishnah Berurah 124:21). Why not?
WHAT RESPONSES ARE PERMITTED WHILE RECITING THE BIRCHOS KERIYAS SHMA?
The part of davening following Borchu until the shmoneh esrei is called the birchos keriyas shma, because it consists of the brachos established by the Anshei Keneses HaGedolah (the leaders of the Jewish people in the era of Ezra, Mordechai and Esther, during the period prior to and the beginning of the second Beis HaMikdash) before and after reciting Shma. The Mishnah (Brachos 13a) teaches that although usually one may not interrupt these brachos, certain circumstances warrant disrupting them. For example, one may greet an unfamiliar person if one suspects that the person may become angry if one does not welcome him (Bach and Magen Avraham, Orach Chayim 66:2).
However, there is one place during this part of the davening that is so important that one should not interrupt unless it is a life-threatening emergency. This is while saying the pesukim of Shma Yisroel and Baruch shem kovod malchuso li’olam va’ed (Shulchan Aruch 66:1).
==It is not clear cut what the halacha is regarding responses to davening while one is davening. The Rishonim dispute whether one may respond to Borchu, to Kedusha, and Amen yehei shmei rabba to Kaddish during the birchos keriyas shma. The Rosh (Berachos 2:5) disputes with his rebbe, the Maharam Rotenberg, who prohibited this practice. Those who prohibited this practice contended that one may not interrupt the brachos of keriyas shma for the sake of a different praise, such as responding to Kaddish or Kedusha. Those who permitted held that responding appropriately to Hashem’s praises is no worse than responding to the greeting of a person, which is permitted under certain circumstances, as mentioned above.
The poskim conclude that one may answer the following responses while reciting the birchos keriyas shma:
A. “Amen, y’hei shmei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya” in Kaddish.
B. “Amen” to the Chazzan’s da’amiran be’alma in Kaddish, but not at the other places in Kaddish (Chayei Odom 20:4).
C. One answers “Boruch Hashem hamevorach la’olam va’ed” to Borchu, whether the Borchu before birchos keriyas shma or the one that precedes an aliyah (Magen Avraham 66:6).
D. “Kodosh kodosh…” and “Boruch kvod Hashem mimkomo” in Kedusha. However one should not respond to the other parts of Kedusha we traditionally say, even the sentence beginning Yimloch (Ateres Zekeinim).
E. “Amen” to the brachos of Ha’Keil Hakadosh and to Shma Koleinu (Rama 66:3).
F. The words “Modim anachnu Loch” recited in response to the Chazan’s saying Modim in the repetition of Shmoneh Esrei (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brachos 7b; Mishna Berurah 66:20).
HALLEL AND MEGILLAH
The Gemara (Brachos 14a) discusses whether the same rules that apply to interrupting the birchos keriyas shma also apply to the full Hallel and recital of the Megillah. The Gemara questions whether the rules governing the birchos keriyas shma should be stricter than those for Hallel and Megillah, since the requirement to recite keriyas shma is min haTorah, whereas the mitzvos of Hallel and Megillah are only rabbinic in origin. Alternatively, the Gemara suggests that since both Hallel and Megillah publicize miraculous events, perhaps the rules of interrupting them should be stricter. The Gemara concludes that we should treat the rules of birchos keriyas shma Hallel and Megillah the same. Thus, all the responses listed above are recited when one is in the middle of Birchos keriyas shma, Hallel, or hearing the Megillah.
The poskim debate whether someone holding in the middle of the birchos keriyas shma may respond amen when he hears someone recite the brachos before or after an aliyah. Magen Avraham (66:6) rules that one should recite Amen to these brachos, whereas the Pri Megadim questions this practice. The Mishna Berurah (66:18) concludes that he may recite amen if he is between two of the brachos, such as he has just completed “Yotzeir HaMeoros” or “HaMaariv Aravim.”
This dispute is based on an interesting story. Someone was once delayed in davening, and was in the middle of the birchos keriyas shma when he was called up to the Torah for an aliyah. May he recite the brachos on the Torah even though it is an interruption in the middle of birchos keriyas shma?
The Sefer HaManhig ruled that he should accept the aliyah and recite the brachos (Tur 66). Not accepting an aliyah when one is called to the Torah is an insult to Hashem’s honor, and certainly Hashem deserves at least as much honor as the honored individual discussed earlier. Therefore reciting the brachos has the same status as greeting a person who deserves honor and may be recited during the birchos keriyas shma. The Magen Avraham apparently holds that answering amen to these brachos has the same halachic status as the Sefer HaManhig’s aliyah case and therefore one should recite this amen even in the middle of birchos keriyas shma. The Pri Megadim disputes with the Magen Avraham feeling that this amen is no different from amen to any other bracha.
However, the Rashba (Shu”t HaRashba 1:185) disagrees with the Sefer HaManhig’s conclusion, ruling that someone in the middle of this part of davening who is called to the Torah should not go up, but someone else should take his aliyah instead (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 66). The Shulchan Aruch (66:4) follows the latter opinion, whereas most other opinions rule that he should take the aliyah and recite the brachos, but be careful not to interrupt in any other way (Magen Avraham 66:8).
A THUNDERING BRACHA
The poskim also dispute whether he may recite the bracha on thunder while in the middle of birchos keriyas shma. Magen Avraham 66:5 rules that one should, whereas the Bechor Shor (Brachos 13a) disagrees, contending that one should interrupt one praise of Hashem, the Shma, with another, the bracha on thunder. The Chayei Odom reaches a compromise, ruling that one should recite the bracha if he is between the brachos of keriyas shma, but not in the middle of a bracha. This last dispute remains unresolved (Mishna Berurah 66:19). Thus, if someone hears thunder while reciting Hallel or the birchos keriyas shma, or reading or hearing the Megillah, it is his choice whether to recite the bracha or not. He might want to ask his posek in advance what to do.
Although usually one should recite the bracha Asher Yatzar immediately after washing one’s hands when leaving the lavatory (see Shulchan Aruch 165:1), one should not recite it during birchos keriyas shma but should postpone its recital until after Shmoneh Esrei (Mishna Berurah 66:23). The same policy should follow during Hallel or Megillah; he should wait to recite Asher Yatzar until after Hallel and Megillah and their concluding brachos are completed.
The poskim dispute whether one may recite amen to a different bracha that one hears when he is between two brachos of birchos keriyas shma. Some contend that he may recite amen after hearing any bracha, since he is currently between brachos (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 66:7). Others contend that he may only recite amen to the bracha that he just recited, such as he heard the end of the bracha from the chazzan or from a different individual (Chayei Odom 20:4).
TALIS AND TEFILLIN
What if someone did not have talis and tefillin available before davening, and they become available during birchos keriyas shma? May he recite a bracha prior to donning them or does the bracha qualify as a hefsek during the brachos?
The Rishonim debate this issue. Rashi’s rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Yehudah indeed recited the bracha before donning both his talis and his tefillin, and brought proof to his actions from the Gemara (Brachos 14b):
The great Amora Rav once began reciting keriyas shma and its brachos without having tefillin. Immediately after he completed Shma, his messenger brought him the tefillin, so Rav immediately donned the tefillin prior to reciting Shmoneh Esrei, and presumably recited the bracha before putting on the tefillin even though he was in the middle of the birchos keriyas shma.
Similarly, Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Yehudah reasoned that in a similar situation when he first received talis and tefillin immediately before Shmoneh Esrei he reasoned that he should recite the bracha before donning either one. Tosafos (ad loc.) however disagrees with Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Yehudah, reasoning that one is required to wear tefillin while davening and therefore donning them is a requirement of the tefillah. As such the bracha before also is not an interruption. However, one is not required to wear a talis during davening, and therefore the bracha before donning it should not preempt the laws of hefsek.
How do we conclude?
The Shulchan Aruch (66:2) rules like Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Yehudah that he should recite both the bracha on the talis and the bracha on the tefillin; this is the practice of the Sefardim. The Rama rules like Tosafos that he should only recite the bracha on the tefillin but not on the talis.
WHAT RESPONSES ARE PERMITTED DURING PESUKEI DEZIMRA?
The Anshei Keneses HaGedolah established that one should recite daily praises written by Dovid HaMelech at the beginning of davening (Zohar, Parshas Terumah). We introduce these passages of praise, Pesukei Dezimra, with the bracha of Baruch She’amar and conclude them with the bracha of Yishtabach. The bracha of Yishtabach does not begin with a bracha begins it is linked directly to the bracha of Baruch She’amar. Because these two brachos are linked, one may not interrupt between the two brachos for anything that is not part of the davening. For this reason, it is strictly forbidden to talk during the Pesukei Dezimra (Tosafos, Brachos 46a s.v. kol; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 51:4). Similarly, it is forbidden to answer Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo during this part of davening (Magen Avraham 124:9; Mishna Berurah 124:21). Although it is appropriate to praise Hashem this way when His name is mentioned, one does not interrupt praising Him to do so.
Some poskim contend that interrupting Pesukei Dezimra is halachically equivalent to interrupting the birchos keriyas shma; according to this opinion, one who hears a bracha from someone else during Pesukei Dezimra may not answer Amen to the bracha (Mishkenos Yaakov #68). Other poskim contend that one may answer Amen to any bracha while in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra, and even while in the middle of the bracha of Baruch She’amar (Magen Avraham 51:3). The consensus is that although it is clearly forbidden to talk during the Pesukei Dezimra, answering Amen to any bracha is permitted. Furthermore if someone needs to recite Asher Yatzar, or to recite the bracha on thunder or lightning, one may do so during Pesukei Dezimra and one may certainly answer the responses listed above in Kaddish, Borchu and Kedusha during this part of davening (Mishna Berurah 51:8. Nevertheless, Chayei Odom [20:3] rules that one should not recite Asher Yatzar until after Shmoneh Esrei.). However, reciting brich hu during Pesukei Dezimra is similar to reciting Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo and constitutes an interruption during Pesukei Dezimra. Thus, although many people are unaware of this halacha, someone in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra when the chazzan begins reciting Kaddish may not answer brich hu to the Kaddish or to the amen at the beginning of Kaddish. On the other hand, although he should answer Amen, y’hei shmei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya and the amen at da’amiran be’alma. He may answer amen to the bracha of Yishtabach.
One may not interrupt between completing Yishtabach and beginning the next part of the tefillah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 51:4), although if one needs to recite a bracha it is better to do so after completing Yishtabach before answering (or saying) Borchu then during the Pesukei Dezimra. For this reason, if someone did not have tzitzis or tefillin available before davening, and they become available during davening (or if he must begin davening when it is too early to recite a bracha on them) he should put them on immediately after Yishtabach and then recite the brachos on them. Better to recite these brachos between Yishtabach and Borchu (or the beginning of the next bracha) then to do so afterwards.
WHEN MAY ONE NOT SAY BRICH HU
We have seen that although it is a mitzvah to recite baruch hu uvaruch shemo upon hearing Hashem’s name said as part of a bracha, one may only say it in a place where one may interrupt. One may not say these words when one is in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra and certainly not once he has begun the brachos after Borchu. Brich hu, which is of later origin, should be treated the same way. Therefore, one may not recite this refrain when one is in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra or in the middle of birchos keriyas shma. Thus someone who is lagging behind the tzibur and has not yet completed Yishtabach when the Chazan begins the Kaddish should answer Amen Yehei Shma Rabba..., and the amen at the completion of the Kaddish, but should not recite “Brich hu.” In addition, since the Amen at the end of “shmei rabba” (and in Nusach Sfard after “meshichei”) is only custom, he should not recite these either while in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra and certainly not while in the middle of the birchos keriyas shma.
For the many years Reb Zalman Estolin spent as a slave laborer in Soviet Siberia, he obviously had no minyan, nor any opportunity to answer Amen, y’hei shmei rabba. Upon his redemption from the Soviet Union, he moved to Eretz Yisroel as an old, ill man. The very first morning in Eretz Yisroel, he arose early to walk to shul on his crutches, full with the excitement that he would be davening with a minyan for the first time in decades!
Two hours after davening should have been over, Reb Zalman had not yet returned to his host’s home. The concerned family sent someone to look for the older man, and discovered him sitting in the shul. When asked why he was still there, Reb Zalman answered, “When my minyan ended, another began. And then another. I just could not bear to miss the opportunity to recite Amen, y’hei shmei rabba one more time.” (Just One Word by Esther Stern.)
We should always be zocheh to recite Amen, y’hei shmei rabba with this type of enthusiasm!