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Q & A: Chazzan And Congregation (Part VIII)


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Question: I understand that at a minyan, the chazzan is required to repeat Shmoneh Esreh out loud so that people who may not know how to daven can fulfill their obligation to daven with the chazzan’s repetition. What, however, should the chazzan do when he reaches Kedushah and Modim? I hear some chazzanim say every word of Kedushah out loud and some only say the last part of the middle two phrases out loud. As far as the congregation is concerned, I hear some congregants say every word of Kedushah and some say only the last part. Finally, some chazzanim and congregants say Modim during chazaras hashatz out loud and some say it quietly. What is the source for these various practices?

A Devoted Reader
(Via E-Mail)

Answer: The Shulchan Aruch Harav (Orach Chayim 124:1) explains that a chazzan repeats Shmoneh Esreh out loud to fulfill the prayer obligation of those who can’t pray on their own (see Rosh Hashana 33b-34a).

The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 125:1) states that congregants should not recite Nakdishach [Nekadesh] together with the chazzan; rather they should remain silent and concentrate on the chazzan’s recitation until he finishes that portion, at which point they should say, “Kadosh, kadosh…” The Mishnah Berurah (ad loc. sk1) explains that congregants should remain quiet because the chazzan is their messenger, and if they say Nakdishach along with him, he no longer appears as their messenger.

Many do not follow the correct responsive procedure for Kedushah, and since the practice is widespread, it may have to be overlooked (Berachot 45a). If the congregants will miss z’man tefillah, however, the Rema (Orach Chayim 124:2) writes that they should quietly recite along with the chazzan until after Kedushah. At least one person who already prayed, even a child, should answer “Amen” to the chazzan’s blessings to substantiates the shlichut of the chazzan. Those praying with the chazzan may not respond “Amen.”

Another prayer style when time is pressing is as follows: The chazzan begins the Amidah, and after “HaKel HaKadosh,” everyone begins their silent Amidah (while the chazzan continues quietly with his own Amidah). (See Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chayim 124 sk8.) This procedure is commonly performed for Mincha, especially in yeshivot.

The tefillah of Modim within the Amidah is so important that Berachot 21b instructs one who arrives late (after kedushah, explains Orach Chayim 109:1) to begin praying only if he will conclude before the chazzan reaches Modim. The Mishnah Berurah (sk2) notes that this applies to a latecomer in middle of birkat keriat Shema attempting to catch up to the minyan and debating whether he should start his personal Amidah after the congregants have started theirs. Tosafot explain that one must bow with the congregation at Modim in order that he not appear as a denier of G-d to whom they are praying (see Rabbenu Tam, Tosafot s.v. “ad sh’lo yagia…” Berachot 21b).

Modim D’Rabbanan is discussed in the Gemara in Sotah. Rav offers a text to recite for Modim and Shmuel, R. Simai, and R. Acha b. R.Yaakov all add more verses to recite. R. Papa says to recite them all – hence the name “Modim D’Rabbanan,” the Modim of (all) the Sages. Our Modim text also includes additions by sages listed in the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 1:5).

Rabbi Soloveitchik (as cited in Nefesh Horav by Rabbi Herschel Schachter, p. 128-129) notes that the congregation must listen to Modim of the chazzan. Rabbi Soloveitchick acknowledges the similarity between the recitation of Modim D’Rabbanan and the practice of reciting pesukim during Birkat Kohanim, discussed in Sotah 39b-40a. He cites R. Chanina b. R. Pappa, who argued against doing so, as does the Tur (Orach Chayim 128). Others favor the practice. Rabbi Soloveitchick suggested that the chazzan recite the beginning of Modim out loud, pause for the congregants’ Modim D’Rabbanan, and then continue with his Modim blessing out loud.

Sefer Kol Bo (siman 11, hilchot tefillah) points out that the gematria of Modim equals 100, corresponding to the 100 blessings that a Jew is required to say every day (Mechaber, Orach Chayim 46:3, also see Tur ad loc. who attributes this enactment to King David). I pointed out that the number of words in the opening paragraph of Modim added to the number of words in Modim D’Rabbanan (Nusach Sefard, exclusive of the concluding blessing) also yields the number 100. These gematriyos hint at the importance and efficacy of reciting Modim.

We now turn to Birkat Kohanim.

* * * * *

The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 128:10) states that kohanim cannot begin reciting the blessing before Birkat Kohanim until the chazzan finishes Modim. The Tur (ad loc.) explains that this means that the kohanim must not only wait for the congregation to answer “Amen” to “hatov shimcha u’lcha na’eh l’hodos,” but they also have to wait until the chazzan calls out to them to proceed with their blessing. This is the procedure that is commonly followed nowadays when there is more than one kohen present. However, if there is only one kohen present, the chazzan should not call out to him; rather, the kohen should begin the blessing on his own. The Mechaber and Tur are based on the Gemara in Sotah (38-39).

The Gemara, in turn, is based on the passage in Parshat Naso (Numbers 6:22-27), where Hashem instructs Moses to speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them, “Koh tevarchu et Bnei Yisrael, amor lahem – so shall you bless the children of Israel, say to them.”

The Klei Yakar (Parshat Naso ad loc.) further clarifies the role of the chazzan in Birkat Kohanim: “Amor lahem – say to them”: From here our sages deduced that the chazzan calls upon the kohanim (in a responsive manner), saying the text of the blessing word for word. He does so because he is the intermediary who starts the process of bringing closer the overflow of blessing from the source of blessings to the spout, to the kohen. Thus, when he intones “Yevarechecha Hashem,” he is in effect fashioning the kohen into a vessel that is full and overflowing with the blessings of Hashem. Then, when the kohen intones the same to the congregation, he pours from that overflowing blessing into the empty vessel, i.e., the congregation. However, if the chazzan didn’t call upon the kohen, the kohen would in effect be pouring from one empty vessel into another empty vessel.

How does the Klei Yakar’s explanation fit situations where there is only one kohen and the chazzan does not call upon him to start? We might suggest that even in these cases, the chazzan initiates the blessing. The kohen must technically begin because the text of the prayer refers to kohanim in the plural; the chazzan, therefore, cannot start: “Elokeinu Ve’lokei avoteinu barecheinu ba’beracha ha’meshulet baTorah haketuva al yedei Moshe avdecha ha’amurah mipi Aharon u’banav Kohanim… – Our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, bless us with the three verse blessing in the Torah that was written by the hand of Moses, your servant, that was said by Aaron and his sons.” In theory, however, the blessing still originates with the chazzan, who is in effect serving as Hashem’s representative. A proof to the fact that the chazzan is still beginning Birkat Kohanim lies in the halacha that the kohen has to wait before he proceeds with Birkat Kohanim for the chazzan to conclude Modim, which serves as his cue to begin. In effect, then, the chazzan still calls upon him to bless.

Birkat Kohanim is unique in that it is placed in chazarat hashatz, but is recited by the kohanim, not the chazzan. This mitzvah is for kohanim. However, if there are no kohanim available, the chazzan recites this blessing. Indeed, other than the Yomim Tovim, bnei Ashkenaz in the diaspora do not have the Kohanim duchan. Rather, the chazzan recites the Birkat Kohanim.

Now, one might ask: Is the chazzan a kohen that he may recite this blessing? But that is the din. The Shulchan Aruch Harav (Orach Chayim 127:2, citing the Rambam, Hilchot Tefillah 15:10) writes that when we do not duchan (either because it is a non-duchaning day or because no kohen is present), the chazzan recites Birkat Kohanim. He notes that when no kohanim are present the chazzan introduces Birkat Kohanim with the words “Elokeinu vE’lokei avoteinu…” as we noted above. Thus, we see that the chazzan, even though he may be a yisrael, has the right to recite Birkat Kohanim. He says “Elokeinu vElokei avoteinu…” because this short tefillah establishes that the source for the blessing of the congregation is Hashem.

The Abudarham (Seder Shacharit Shel Chol, Birkat Kohanim, Hotza’at Usha edition, p.116) notes as follows: “An individual is prohibited from reciting Birkat Kohanim in his [private Amidah] because it was enacted for the congregation [chazarat hashatz] to correspond to nesiyyat kappayyim, and only when there is the minimum quorum of ten, does the chazzan recite it [if there is no kohen present].”

The Abudarham also notes the ruling of the Rif that one shouldn’t answer “Amen” to each of the three berachot if no kohen is duchaning. Some congregations follow the minhag to answer “Kein Yehi Ratzon – so shall it be His will” instead of “Amen.” The Abudarham notes that we only answer “Amen” to the blessing of the one who says a blessing before the mitzvah – i.e., a kohen. The chazzan, on the other hand, recites the Birkat Kohanim without reciting a birkat hamitzvot. Therefore, we do not respond “Amen” to his recital. Still, we see the relative importance of this blessing in its inclusion in the chazarat hashatz of our daily Shacharit and Musaf tefillah (and at Minchah on a fast day), even when there are no kohanim present.

(To be continued)

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.

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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