Shul Shaylos: The Rulings of the Gadol of Brownsville

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

Shul Shaylos: The Rulings of the Gadol of Brownsville

Question #1: Keeping them Waiting

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

Question #2: Dwindling Minyan

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

Question #3: Lowering the Bar

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

Introduction: The Gadol of Brownsville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A teshuvah from Brownsville

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

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

What is a minyan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwindling minyan

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

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

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

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

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

Moving the ezras nashim

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

 

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

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

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

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