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Q & A: Chazzan And Congregation (Part XI)


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Question: I understand that at a minyan, the chazzan is required to repeat Shemoneh 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?

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

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. 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).

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 and compares the question of what congregants should do during Modim to the question of what congregants should do during Birkat Kohanim, as discussed in Sotah 39b-40a. 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.

Birkat Kohanim is part of chazaras hashatz but is said by kohanim (unless none are present in which case the chazzan says it). One prayer recited during Birkat Kohanim is “Ribono shel olam,” which the Mechaber (Orach Chayim 130:1, citing Berachot 55b) states should be said by anyone who has a dream which he doesn’t understand.

* * * * *

The Shulchan Aruch Harav (Orach Chayim 128:58) notes that the accepted procedure during Birkat Kohanim is for the kohanim to draw out the concluding word of each of its three verses – “ve’yishmerecha,” “v’ychuneka,” and “shalom” – because each verse represents a separate blessing. It is proper for those in the congregation who say “Ribono shel olam” to do so while the kohanim are melodiously drawing out the last word of each verse.

The Shulchan Aruch Harav notes that the refuah one derives from saying “Ribono shel olam” is only effective if said during Birkat Kohanim. And yet, as long as the kohanim have not fully articulated that last word of each verse, it would seem that Birkat Kohanim is still in process, and the halacha is that the congregation must listen attentively to what the kohanim are saying during Birkat Kohanim and cannot speak or even recite another prayer. How, then, can one ever say the “Ribono shel olam” prayer?

The Shulchan Aruch Harav answers that when the kohanim reach the concluding word of each verse, that blessing is considered complete insofar as the congregation’s requirement to listen and concentrate on their words. Since, however, the congregation has not yet responded with “Amen” to the blessing (since the kohanim are still in midst of melodiously chanting the last word), the blessing is not considered fully complete and one can say the “Ribono shel olam” prayer.

The Shulchan Aruch Harav notes that only the congregation should recite “Ribono shel olam,” not the makreh (the one leading the kohanim), since he will be distracted and confused if he does so. A chazzan serving as the makreh should not recite “Ribono shel olam” because he will also be making a hefsek in his tefillah if he does.

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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