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Q & A: The Gabbai’s Dilemma (Part I)


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QUESTION: If the rabbi of a shul (or a minyan) does not indicate to the sheliach tzibbur to go ahead at the end of the Shema or at the beginning of Chazarat HaShatz (the Reader’s Repetition), should the gabbai tell him to go ahead or does he wait until the rabbi finishes? To which should greater consideration be given by the gabbai: kibbud HaRav or tircha detzibbura?
Steven Littwin
Riverdale, New York
ANSWER: In order to fully understand the issues involved, we have to face another matter which you did not mention but which is crucial to this discussion.The Mishna (Rosh Hashana 33b) states as follows: “… Just as the sheliach tzibbur [the chazzan] is required [to pray], so is each and every individual [in the congregation] required [to pray]. Rabban Gamaliel opines that the sheliach tzibbur fulfills the congregation’s obligation.”

The Gemara (34b) states that the Sages asked R. Gamaliel, “According to your view, why does the congregation pray [first]? R. Gamaliel answered, “So that the sheliach tzibbur may have the time to prepare for his prayers [in advance of Chazarat HaShatz].” R. Gamaliel then challenged the Sages, “According to you, why does the sheliach tzibbur go down before the Aron Kodesh [for the Reader's Repetition]?” They responded, “In order to fulfill the prayer obligation of those who are not proficient [in prayer].”

R. Gamaliel answered, “Just as he fulfills the obligation of those who are not proficient, so does he also fulfill it for those who are proficient.”

The Gemara seeks to differentiate between the daily tefilla (the Shemoneh Esreh) and the tefilla of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when all are deemed “not proficient.” In this case the Sages would agree with R. Gamaliel; but as for the rest of the tefillot throughout the year, in which most people are considered proficient, they would disagree. In fact, the Gemara concludes that even R. Gamaliel requires all to pray individually throughout the year, in addition to having the chazzan repeat the Shemoneh Esreh.

R. Yosef Caro rules this way, as he states, “When the congregation conclude their (Amida) prayers, the chazzan repeats the Amida, and if there is any individual who is not proficient in prayer, he should pay attention to what the chazzan says and he has thus fulfilled the requirement. And whoever fulfills the requirement in that manner must pay attention from the beginning to the end” (Orach Chayyim 124:1). It is thus proper to follow every word in the siddur along with the chazzan.

The Magen Avraham (ad loc.) notes that one who is proficient in prayer has not fulfilled his prayer requirement by listening to the chazzan. If such is the case, why do we have the chazzan repeat the Shemoneh Esreh at all? Rambam, in a responsum cited by Abudarham in the seder for Shacharit, explains that in this way we observe the enactment of the Sages, and it is therefore not considered a blessing uttered in vain, as the Sages did not require us to check each individual as to whether he is proficient or not.

The Rosh (Megilla 3:7) points out that regarding the chazzan’s repetition of the Shemoneh Esreh ? and the problem of uttering a blessing in vain ? we can refer to the Gemara (Berachot 21a). R. Yochanan states, “Would that a person would go on praying the entire day.” The Rosh also makes the crucial remark that the chazzan repeats the Amida in order that the congregation recite Kedusha and the Modim deRabbanan.

The Gaon R. Moshe Stern, the Debreciner Rav, zt”l, said concerning the above quoted Rosh (Responsa Ba’er Moshe Vol. 4:9): “I have been asked numerous times regarding those who pray (the Amida) for an extensive period of time in order to concentrate properly – at the minimum long enough to understand the meaning of the words – but along the way they lose the opportunity to say Kedusha at almost every tefilla. Would they be permitted to begin saying the Shemoneh Esreh ahead of the congregation so that they will be able to conclude their Amida before the chazzan reaches the Kedusha?

“I answered that it is permissible to do so. It is far better to do so than (at Shacharit) to wait at Shira Chadasha, standing quietly until after the Kedusha or (even) until Shome’a Tefilla or Modim (and then start the Amida), because in so doing they will lose the opportunity to answer ‘Amen, Yehei Shemei Rabbah etc.’ – which is even of greater importance than Kedusha.”

Having so ruled, Rav Stern then fully discusses the issue, citing the Gemara in Berachot (28b) which states, to the contrary, that “it is prohibited for one to start the Amida before the congregation is ready to start (their prayer). We also find that the Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 90:10) rules that one may not start his Amida before the congregation prays.”

In the course of his discussion Rav Stern seeks to resolve the contradiction with Me’iri (Berachot 27a s.v. “Yitba’er”), whom he quotes and explains: in cases where the congregational prayer has the opposite effect in that it disturbs one’s concentration, we have a basis to permit (starting earlier). The Me’iri states that it has become the custom of some Sages to pray on their own and then come to shul to hear the Kaddish and all other parts of the prayer that require a quorum of ten men. He cites other views as well, such as the Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayyim 109:5), who opines that it is far better to start together with the congregation. If they reach Kedusha before he concludes, he should stand quietly and listen – as he obviously cannot answer – and when they conclude the Kedusha, he should then continue [his own prayer].

The Aruch HaShulchan resolves this problem as follows (op. cit. 104:13): “… They (stop) while still in their (personal) tefilla, and they listen (to the chazzan as he says Kedusha or Amen, Yehei Shemei Rabbah, etc.) with concentration, and thus it is considered ‘Shome’a ke’oneh,’ and it is deemed as if they are answering…”

Rav Stern cites the differing view of Responsa Amudei Esh (3:7), which is that one may never start the Amida before the congregation. If he is afraid to miss Kedusha, Modim, etc., he is considered to be compelled beyond his control, an anuss, and is thus blameless. He is then absolved of the requirement to recite these passages.

R. Stern also cites views that agree with Aruch HaShulchan and allow one to start the Amida ahead of the congregation. One such view is found in Responsa Pri Tevuah (Siman 68). There, a novel reasoning concludes that since part of this Amida would anyway overlap the congregation’s recital, the individual’s Amida would be considered part of tefilla betzibbur.

Responsa Yaskil Avdi (Vol 1. Orach Chayyim 3) is brought into the discussion by R. Stern as well in support of his ruling. In Ohel Mo’ed it is stated that such was the practice of “kedoshei elyon,” the very righteous. This way the congregation would not have to wait for them to finish.

We see from the above discussion that utmost importance is placed on including each and every member of the congregation in the chazzan’s repetition. However, the problem of tircha detzibbura, hardship for the community, remains an issue, as precious time may be spent waiting. The gabbai has, indeed, a difficult situation to resolve.

(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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