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Q & A: Chazzan And Congregation (Part XIII)


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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 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 one not appear as a denier of G-d to whom the congregation is 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) says this prayer should be recited while the kohanim are melodiously drawing out the last word of each verse. He and the Aruch Hashulchan also discuss saying the “Adir bamarom” prayer at this time.

Now we turn to an important matter that relates to the actual procedure of Nesiat Kappayim.

* * * * *

The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 128:23) states: “When [the kohanim] bless the people, they should not to look [about] and should not interrupt their concentration. Rather, they should look downward just as they do when in the midst of prayer. The congregation [as well] should concentrate on the blessing as they and the kohanim face each other and they should [take care] not to gaze upon the kohanim.”

The Rema (in his glosses, ad loc., citing the Bet Yosef in his longer commentary to the Tur) adds: “The kohanim should also gaze upon their own hands [when duchaning]. Therefore, it has become the custom for the kohanim to spread out the tallit over their faces with their hands outstretched from under the tallit. The Rema also notes that there are places where the kohanim keep their hands under the tallit so that the congregation not gaze upon them.”

The Mishnah Berurah (op cit. 128:89-92) explains that a momentary gaze is technically permitted. Only when the Holy Temple stood, when the kohanim would bless using the shem ha’meforash, and the shechinah was upon them, was there a prohibition to gaze even for a moment. Nevertheless, it has become the custom not to gaze upon the kohanim even nowadays as a remembrance of former times when we possessed the Holy Temple. Just like the congregation shouldn’t look at the kohanim, so too the kohanim should not to gaze upon the congregation as it will interrupt their concentration. Citing the Darkei Moshe (the Rema’s short commentary to the Tur), the Mishnah Berurah notes our present custom of people covering their faces with the tallit to avoid looking at the kohanim.

The Mechaber (128:24, citing Sotah 38b) emphasizes the importance of the congregation facing the kohanim: “The people who are behind the kohanim are not included in their blessing. However, those who are to their side or facing them, even a divider of steel cannot cause a separation. And as far as those behind them, if this is due to circumstances beyond their control, e.g., they are engaged in their livelihood, then they, too, are surely included in the blessings of the kohanim.”

(The Tur (ad loc.) explains that “facing” as used by the Gemara also means people standing to the side facing the kohanim sideways. The Mechaber agrees.)

Both the Ba’er Heitev and the Mishnah Berurah (ad loc.) write that people who occupy seats along a shul’s eastern wall, and thus find themselves behind the kohanim for Birkat Kohanim, are included in the kohanim’s blessing. In a sense, they have no other option, and therefore are considered victims of circumstances beyond their control.

The Magen Avraham (ad loc. sk36) disagrees. He argues that these individuals can seek an empty seat or space that faces the kohanim.

The Bach seems to suggest that this is not possible – that each person owns a seat in shul and cannot walk over to someone else’s seat and evict its occupant. Possibly, the Bach would agree with the Magen Avraham in a shul that has a lot of open space. In that event, there would be no excuse for anyone not to seek out a space that faces the kohanim.

(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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