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Q & A: Birkat HaGomel (Part VIII)


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Question: I recently returned from a trip abroad and wanted to say HaGomel. When I mentioned this to the officers of my synagogue, however, they told me – as per the instructions of the synagogue’s rabbi – that I would have to wait until Shabbos to do so. I was not given any reason for this and did not wish to display my ignorance, so I quietly acquiesced. Can you please explain why I had to wait?

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Summary of our response up to this point: The requirement of having a minimum of 10 men present for synagogue services and other mitzvot that are davar shebi’kedushah (matters of sanctity) is derived through the hermeneutic principle of gezerah shavah (verbal analogy). If the same word or phrase appears in two separate verses in the Torah, and a certain halacha is explicitly stated regarding one of them, we may infer that the same halacha applies in the second case as well.

Leviticus 22:32 – which discusses sanctifying G-d’s name in public – uses the word “betoch” and Numbers 16:21 – which discusses G-d’s command to separate from Korach and his group – uses the word “mitoch.” The latter verse refers to a congregation of at least 10 people (which we know via a second gezarah shavah) and so we learn that publicly sanctifying G-d’s name requires a minyan.

This gezerah shavah comes up in a Talmudic discussion (Berachot 21b) between R. Huna and R. Yehoshua b. Levi regarding someone who enters a synagogue while the congregation is already in midst of davening Shemoneh Esreh. If he wishes to catch up with the congregation, R. Huna permits him to recite Kedushah by himself while R. Yehoshua rules that it can be said only with a quorum of 10.

The Mechaber rules that a person is required to offer hoda’ah if he survived crossing a sea, survived traveling through the wilderness, recovered from a serious illness, or was set free after being imprisoned. He specifies that the blessing of the hoda’ah must be recited before a minyan.

We mentioned that there is a specific sentence that those assembled should recite in response to HaGomel. The usual response to a blessing, “Amen,” is not sufficient in this case.

We discussed the Tur’s ruling that a person who recites HaGomel with less than a minyan present does not need to repeat the blessing. The minyan requirement is l’chatchilah, he maintains. Rabbenu Yonah disagrees and requires a person who said HaGomel without a minyan to say it again before a minyan.

We also discussed the opinions of several later authorities. The Chaye Adam says that HaGomel should be recited within three days of the event necessitating it, even if that means saying it without a sefer Torah. He maintains that one should say HaGomel before a minyan but the requirement that two of the 10 men be Talmudic scholars is not absolute. The Aruch Hashulchan agrees. The Kitzur, on the other hand, stresses that the minyan requirement is absolute and leaves no room for leniency in this regard.

The Mishnah Berurah rules leniently, arguing that the minyan can include the person making the berachah, just like bridegrooms are included in the minyan at their wedding. Many other authorities agree with this opinion.

We discussed your rabbi’s instruction to wait until Shabbos to recite HaGomel due to the larger crowd that would be present that day.

Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch (Orach Chayim, vol 2:143) differentiates between HaGomel and tefillah (or any other davar shebi’kedushah). Tefillah requires 10 men present, but not all 10 need to be praying. HaGomel, however, requires the response of the entire minyan since the entire purpose of having a minyan present is to thank G-d publicly. Rabbi Sternbuch therefore advises that one recite the blessing loudly so that all can hear and respond.

Rabbi Sternbuch also differentiates between HaGomel and Birkat Chatanim. The latter needs a minyan because there a tzibbur requirement while the former needs a minyan because hoda’ah needs 10 other men present. He derives this from Psalms 107:32. Others disagree and use the wording to support different conclusions. R. Nachman determines that chatanim may not be counted among the 10, while R. Abahu says they may.

We concluded last week with a question. How can Psalms 107:32 – ‘Vi’romemu’hu b’khal am u’vmoshav zekeinim y’haleluhu – Let them exalt Him in the assembly of people, and praise Him in the session of the elders’ – be the source both for the law that HaGomel requires 10 men aside from the one saying HaGomel and the law that Birkat Chatanim only requires nine men aside from the groom?

* * * * *

Rabbi Ben Zion Chai Uziel (late Sefardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, in his Responsa Piskei Uziel, siman 74) was asked the following: “There are places where a government is evil and wicked and forbids the Jewish inhabitants of its land to marry in a religious ceremony – chupah and kiddushin – even after a couple married in the courts in a civil ceremony as per the law. The Jews there are fearful to conduct a Jewish religious marriage ceremony openly in the presence of a minyan as Jewish law and tradition dictate. May those Jews recite the seven blessings [for the bride and bridegroom, i.e., Birkat Chatanim] even without a minyan, or is it better to marry only with chupah, kiddushin, and a ketubah, without the sheva berachot?”

In response, Rabbi Uziel cites the Beit Yosef (to the Tur, Even Ha’ezer 62, svu’mah shekatuv gedolim u’Bach…”): “The Rashba (Responsum 1:126) was asked about conducting a marriage in a city where there is no minyan…and it is not possible to bring people from elsewhere. He answered that Birkat Chatanim – the sheva berachot – may not be conducted with less than a minyan.”

He then goes on to quote from Teshuvot Ha’Maimoniyot (cited by Mahari Isserlin, siman 140): “The berachot are not a hindrance post facto. The rule that a ‘bride without blessing’ is forbidden to her husband (beginning of Mesechet Kallah) refers only to [a woman married without a] chupah (Nachlat Yaakov to Mesechet Kallah). The term ‘bride without blessing’ is used only because the blessings – Birkat Chatanim – are recited at the chupah, but essentially, what is really meant is that a bride without a chupah is forbidden to her husband.” In other words, a woman is permitted to her husband even without Birkat Chatanim.

Rabbi Uziel comments that both the Rashba and Teshuvot Ha’Maimoniyot are in agreement that Birkat Chatanim cannot take place with less than a minyan present. However, in pressing circumstances, Teshuvot Ha’Maimoniyot opts for leniency based on the rule that berachot are not a hindrance post facto to the performance of a mitzvah (Berachot 15a). Rabbi Uziel notes as well that the Beit Yosef rules in accordance with Teshuvot Ha’Maimoniyot.

Thus, we see that we cannot compare Birkat HaGomel to Birkat Chatanim because, when necessary, Birkat Chatanim may be left out, whereas the same cannot be said regarding Birkat HaGomel.

(To be continued)

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.


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