Question: Should the congregation say “Amen” after the berachah of “habocher b’amo Yisrael b’ahavah” (right before Shema)? I have seen different shuls do different things.
Answer: The reason for reciting “Kel melech ne’eman” is to say a total of 248 words in Shema, corresponding to man’s 248 limbs. Thus, one says these words when praying alone. When praying with a minyan, though, we rely on the chazzan repeating the words “Hashem Elokeichem” and then adding “Emet” to get to 248.
If an individual prays at length and may finish after the chazzan, he should perhaps say, “Kel melech ne’eman.”
“Kel melech ne’eman” are absent from the various siddurim of the Sefardic and Oriental communities that I have seen. This absence is in accord with the predominant practice (following the Ramban) that considers these words to be a hefsek between Shema and its blessings.
Standard Ashkenaz siddurim include “Kel melech ne’eman.” Nusach Sefard siddurim of Ashkenazim also include them.
Berdichev siddurim allow an individual to repeat “Hashem Elokeichem emet” (perhaps if he forgot to include “Kel melech ne’eman” at the outset), with the comment “Ein issur b’davar – There is not prohibition in this.”
The siddur of the German community (the Roedelheim siddur) also includes “Kel melech ne’eman” with instructions that one says them when praying alone. These words don’t appear in Chabad’s Nusach Ari siddur.
Some time ago, I came across a sefer titled Halichot Yisrael detailing customs of HaRav HaGaon Rabbi Yisrael Gustman, zt”l. In it (p. 192) appears a discussion of this topic. It notes that HaRav HaGaon Rabbi Tuvia Goldstein, zt”l, quoted HaRav HaGaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein as saying that “Amen” should not be recited after “habocher b’ami Yisrael b’ahavah” and that the beracha should be said together with the shaliach tzibbur (which obviates the need to say “Amen”).
HaRav HaGaon Rabbi Pinchas Sheinberg, zt”l, ruled that it is preferable l’chatchilah to follow the direction of the Mishnah Berurah to recite the beracha together with the shaliach tzibbur; if a person didn’t, though, he should respond “Amen” when the chazzan concludes the berachah. HaRav HaGaon Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky reportedly rules like the Mishnah Berurah.
It is reported that HaRav Eliezer Dan Ralbag noted that his father, Harav Aryeh Ralbag, zt”l, questioned his rebbe, HaRav HaGaon Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna, zt”l, the rosh yeshiva of Hebron Yeshiva, on this matter. Rav Sarna said the minhag of the Hebron Yeshiva was to respond aloud “Amen” to the beracha of the shaliach tzibbur.
The Hebron Yeshiva follows the customs of the European Slabodka Yeshiva; the Slabodka Yeshiva followed the customs of the Volozhiner Yeshiva; and the Volozhiner Yeshiva followed the customs of the Vilna Gaon’s beth midrash. Thus we see a mesorah, a clear tradition, handed down through the generations.
The custom of all Litvishe yeshivas, it seems, was to respond “Amen.” As for the custom of Rav Gustman? He too would respond “Amen.”