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Question: I was recently discussing the sorry state of religion in Eretz Yisrael with some friends, noting that unfortunately a majority of the population consists of non-observant Jews. I expressed my view that this fact explains why Moshiach has not yet come. I avidly read your column and am anxious to learn your view of this matter.

No Name Please


(Via E-Mail)

Summary of our response up to this point: Last week, we inquired into the statement we say before Kol Nidrei: “We sanction prayer with the transgressors.” To which transgressors are we referring?

Rabbi Yosef Grossman suggests that “transgressors” refers to the Marranos in Spain who openly committed the sin of idolatry; this yearly dispensation was necessary to allow them to join in communal prayer. Others say we are referring to individuals who violated communal edicts that got them banished from the synagogue.

One amora in Kerisut 6b compares praying with transgressors to the fragrant frankincense spices in the beit hamikdash which contained among its ingredients chelbona, a foul-smelling spice.

We concluded by asking: What if there are no transgressors in a synagogue? Does their absence invalidate our Yom Kippur prayer service?

* * * * *

In resolving this dilemma, let us look at the mishnah (on Rosh Hashanah 33b): “Just as the chazzan is obligated [to pray], so is every individual [congregant] under the same obligation. Rabban Gamliel [disagrees and] says: The chazzan discharges the entire congregation of its obligation.”

The Gemara (34b-35a) discusses this dispute and cites a baraita: “The sages said to Rabban Gamliel, ‘If you are right, what need is there for the congregation to recite the amidah [before the chazzan]?’ He replied, ‘In order for the chazzan to have [sufficient] time to organize his prayers.’ He then questioned the sages, ‘According to your view, why does the chazzan go before the ark [to pray if he not discharging the congregation’s obligation]?’ They responded, ‘In order to discharge the obligation of one who is not well-versed [in the prayers].’ To this he answered, ‘Just as he discharges the obligation of one who is not well-versed, so too does he discharge the obligation of one who is well-versed.’”

Though the Gemara reports that the sages seemed to concede to Rabban Gamliel, it notes that some difficulty remained in this matter until R. Abba of Yami (Rashi alters the Gemara’s words and explains that “Yami” is in fact the sea and R. Abba was returning from a sea voyage) explained that the sages only agreed with Rabbi Gamliel regarding the blessings of (i.e., the extra text recited on) Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are more complicated. Even those normally well-versed in prayer are not familiar with them.

The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 591:1) rules as follows: “The congregation [on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur] should recite the silent Musaf [amidah] prayer of nine blessings and the chazzan should also pray silently along with it.” Further (592:1), he continues, “The chazzan then repeats the amidah and the shofar blasts are blown according to the order of the blessings….”

The Magen Avraham (591 sv. “af al pi”) cites the Mechaber 124:1, who notes that one who is not conversant with the amidah should be attentive from beginning to end during the chazzan’s repetition to discharge his obligation. Obviously, one who is conversant cannot be so discharged. Regarding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, however, the chazzan discharges even the obligation of one who is well-versed. However, since not every person has the ability to listen intently to the chazzan’s repetition from beginning to end, each individual must pray as well.

Thus, what we have is that the chazzan does indeed discharge the obligation of everyone in the congregation, even those who are well-versed in prayer; however, every congregant must follow the chazzan’s prayer word for word. That is, indeed, a most difficult task.

(To be continued)