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Question: Looking back at the past Yomim Tovim, I am left with the following question: What is the reason for the unusual practice of the chazzan reciting shehecheyanu on Yom Kippur night?

Elimelech Feldman
(Via Email)



Answer: The chazzan reciting the blessing of shehecheyanu (lit., who has sustained us …) on Yom Kippur night before prayer is unusual in that this is not done as part of any other prayer service throughout the year. We find that the Tur and the Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 619) both note that following the recitation of Kol Nidrei, the chazzan recites the blessing of shehecheyanu without a cup of wine. This seems to have become the universal practice.

The Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 225) discusses in detail the blessing of shehecheyanu and when one is required to recite it. Among the situations that engender such a blessing are the construction [acquisition] of a new house, acquisition of a new garment, when one comes across a new fruit which one wishes to eat – basically any matter that renews itself from year to year.

Though the Mechaber requires the shehecheyanu for other matters such as the festivals, including Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, shofar, sukkah, lulav, Chanukah candles and Megillat Esther in their respective halachic sections of his books, there is no mention of any of these in his earlier and more detailed discussion of shehecheyanu in siman 225.

The reason for this is probably that the earlier discussion is based on the Talmud’s discussion in Perek Haroeh (Berachot) where these are not mentioned.

All of the above are found in the Talmud in various places, including Tractates Eruvin, Pesachim, Sukkah, and Shabbos.

It is notable that all of the above examples involve a cheftza shel mitzvah – an object used for the performance of the mitzvah. For example, wine is used at Kiddush; candles for Shabbat, the festivals and Chanukah; the shofar; the sukkah; the lulav; and the Megilla. The question about Yom Kippur is: What is the object for the blessing when wine obviously cannot be used?

Upon closer examination, we can see that we do indeed make the blessing on Yom Kippur on a cheftza shel mitzvah – the Yom Kippur candles that the woman [or a man when there is no woman present] of the household usually lights. Perhaps that shehecheyanu could suffice and thus there would be no need for the recitation in the synagogue?

On the other hand, we see that for Festivals, in spite of the woman lighting candles and then reciting the shehecheyanu on them, nevertheless we recite again at Kiddush.

Reciting Kiddush has become customary in many synagogues on Friday nights and festivals, the reason being that we are required to facilitate the destitute in discharging their obligation.

[Of course, the exception is the first two nights of Passover, as the Mechaber notes that then even the most destitute person has wine for Kiddush for the seder as well as on Sukkot when it is not made in the synagogue, but if at all, a public Kiddush is made in the synagogue sukkah.]

Thus, we have two reasons to recite the shehecheyanu in the synagogue on Yom Kippur night. First, it is attached to the basic Kiddush requirement. Second, it is attached as well to the synagogue Kiddush requirement.

Of note is the Mishnah Berurah’s statement (Orach Chayyim 619 sk3) that the congregation recites the shehecheyanu along with the chazzan, quietly, and it is proper for them to say it hurriedly to allow them to answer amen in response to the chazzan’s blessing.

(To be continued)


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.