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 Ramban, who was the student of Rabbi Yehuda B. R’ Yakar, surprisingly dissents from his teacher and follows the ruling of Ramah who takes exception to including “Kel melech ne’eman” before Shema, deeming it a hefsek.
The question is why he disputes his own rebbe. Rabbi Menachem Hameiri, the author of Beit Ha’Bechirah explains: “The reason for this was due to the fact that in Spain this was viewed as a new custom, one that the Ba’al HaMaor introduced. The great teacher, the Ramban, saw that previous to this there was no such practice, and that in all of Spain there was none who said it. Therefore, he found it difficult that now suddenly people were saying it. … He reports that even in his younger years he expressed surprise that this practice had become widespread in [many] of Spain’s cities.”
He asked the Ramah how to respond, and the Ramah responded, “The matter is clearly a mistake and is not the custom of Spain but rather the custom of Eretz Israel.” The Ramban supports the Ramah’s objection, writing:
“It is well known that Ahavat Olam is the birkat hamitzvah for Keriat Shema. A blessing must be recited before every mitzvah [see Pesachim 7b, Sukkah 39a, Megillah 21b, and Menachot 35b]. We say a berachah before saying Hallel, reading the Megillah, and reading the Torah, and we should therefore surely do so before saying Shema [which is a Biblical obligation].”
There are really two blessings before Shema: Yotzer Ohr (or Maariv Aravim at Ma’ariv) and Ahavat Olam. But the first blessing, the Ramban explains, is merely a blessing of praise, which is said because the time to recite the Shema is dependant on sunrise in the morning and sunset in the evening. It is the second blessing, Ahavas Olam, that is the birkat hamitzvah for Shema.
But if Ahavas Olam is a birkat hamitzvah, of course nothing can be said between it and the performance of the actual mitzvah (i.e., saying Shema). Just like saying “Amen” after one’s berachah constitutes a hefsek, so does saying “Kel melech ne’eman” after saying the berachah of Ahavas Olam.
The Ramban quotes the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 5:4), which states: The person who recites Shema, goes before the teiva [to lead the prayers], raises his hands for Nesiat Kappayim, reads from the Torah, reads from the Prophets, or recites a blessing for any mitzvah found in the Torah should not respond “Amen” to his own recital.
(To be continued)