Tachanun When A Chosson Is Present

1. The chosson does not recite tachanun during the seven festive days. Any minyan where the chosson is present does not recite tachanun. (Shulchan Aruch 131:4 and Mishnah Berurah)

2. If the chosson left the synagogue before tachanun the poskim disagree as to whether tachanun is recited. (Ishei Yisroel page 268)

3. If the chosson is not in the Synagogue but the kallah is in the women’s section, tachanun is still recited. (Yaskil Avdi 7 Hashmatos 3 and Shevet Halevi 5:12)

4. The Maharsham (Daas Torah 131:4) writes that even if the chosson is not praying with the minyan, his mere presence warrants the omission of tachanun. However, the Aishal Avraham of Botchetch writes that if the chosson is in the Synagogue but is not praying with the minyan, tachanun should be recited. It is preferable, however, for him to avoid this question by leaving before tachanun. This is also the view of Rav Ovadia Hadaya zt”l. Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l says that if the chosson enters a synagogue not intending to stay long and he happens to be present when the congregation is about to pray tachanun, then tachanun should be recited. If, however, the chosson intends to stay in the synagogue, even if he is not praying with the minyan, tachanun is omitted. (Shalmei Simcha page 139)

5. If there is a “break away minyan” outside of the main synagogue and there is a chosson praying in the main synagogue, the poskim discuss whether tachanun is recited in the “break away minyan.” They conclude that if the “break away minyan” has its own aron kodesh and bima, it is then considered it’s own synagogue and they would recite tachanun. If, however it does not have an aron kodesh and bima, it is considered an extension of the main synagogue and this minyan is also freed from the obligation to recite tachanun. (See Shulchan Haezer vol. 2 page 119)

6. The Taz writes that it is better for the chosson to pray on his own this week, then to pray with a minyan because his attendance will cause the omission of tachanun. The Sefer Toras Chaim strongly questions this ruling. He cites many poskim who say that if the chosson steps out of the Synagogue before tachanun, then the tzibbur does not omit tachanun. Therefore, argues the Toras Chaim, the chosson can attend the minyan and just step out before the tachanun prayer is recited. This way he will be able to pray with a minyan. (We have seen that it is indeed an argument among the poskim whether tachanun is recited if the chosson left the synagogue (Halacha 2) before tachanun. Perhaps this is the area of contention between the Toras Chaim and the Taz.) The Sefer Shulchan Haezer rules in accordance with the Taz. He adds that the chosson should preferably gather a minyan together in his home.


Performing Mitzvos Through The Use of Telephones and Microphones

1. The poskim discuss whether one may answer Amen to a blessing that is said using a microphone and whether one may fulfill any mitzvos, such as havdalah and megillah, using a microphone or telephone. This debate is extremely relevant at weddings, since in most cases the rabbi uses a microphone when reciting the brachos under the chuppah.

2. Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Minchas Shlomo 1:9) writes that one may not fulfill any obligations through the use of microphones, telephones, radios or hearing aids. Both the telephone and the public address system “transform” sound waves in air, e.g., spoken words, into an electrical current within the instrument, and, ultimately, back into sound waves. The sound that people hear was not the actual sound waves created by the speaker. This disconnect, between the speaker and the audience, prevents the listener from fulfilling any mitzvos through this medium.

3. Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l explains that when one hears a blessing over the microphone, from a hallachic perspective, one has not actually heard the blessing because there is a separation between the speaker and the listener. Rather, one is merely aware that a blessing is being recited. This is very similar to the synagogue in Alexandria (see Gemara Succah 51b), where most people did not hear the blessings being recited because of its vast size, but were nevertheless permitted to answer amen when signaled to do so by the waving of a flag. Therefore, concludes Harav Auerbach zt”l, one may only respond Amen to blessings that he is not obligated to hear, as was the case in Alexandria, but one may not respond Amen to blessings that one must hear, such as havdalah. He adds, that it is only permitted to respond amen if one is in the same room as the person who is reciting the blessing. If one hears a blessing over the telephone, one may not respond amen.

4. According to Harav Shlomo Zalman one should not recite the blessings using a microphone. If one did, then the assembly may respond Amen. Indeed, the Beis Din Tzedek of Yerushalayim signed a petition against the usage of microphones under the chuppah.(See Koveitz Ohr Yisroel 13)

5. The Chazon Ish (cited in Minchas Shlomo) questioned the view of Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l. He feels that because the person is creating the sound wave and it is heard immediately, perhaps one can fulfill his mitzvah by listening to the microphone or telephone. Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe O.C. 2:108, O.C. 4:91:4) likewise argued that one may fulfill mitzvos using these devices. He adds that every time someone hears havdalah he does not hear the person’s voice in his ears, rather, the speaker causes sound waves which travel from the speaker’s mouth to the ear of the listener. Since one always fulfills mitzvos by hearing sound waves created by the speaker, it may not make a difference whether one hears the original waves or waves that were temporarily converted into electrical currents. As long as one hears sounds that originated from an adult jewish male (without a time delay), one can fulfill his mitzvos. Harav Moshe concludes that in case of necessity one may fulfill mitzvos through listening to a microphone. A similar view is expressed by the Tzitz Eliezer (8:11). [It should be noted that using these machines for the shofar on Rosh Hashana is far more complicated and not part of this discussion]

6. According to Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l one may respond amen to blessings recited using a microphone.

7. Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yechava Daas 4:54) rules that one may not fulfill mitzvos through the use of telephones and microphones. However, if one is standing close enough to the one who is speaking that he would have been able to hear him without the microphone, then he may fulfill his obligation. This is true even if he also hears the sound of the microphone and the sound is louder and more amplified. Those who are sitting far away and would not be able to hear him if not for the microphone, may not fulfill their obligations.

8. The common custom is to use a microphone when reciting the blessings under the chuppah. For normative halacha, a rabbi should be consulted.

Learning Tanach At Night (Part 2)

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

What Is Permissible To Learn-

1. There is a great debate amongst the authorities as to whether one may recite Tehillim at night. The Chida in Shu”t Chaim Shaul writes that the great mekubal Rav Shalom Sharabi noticed that many Israeli communities recited Tehillim in the early hours of the day (before sunrise). In an effort to explain the strange practice he explained that “perhaps Tehillim was not included in the Gezaira of the Arizal,” however, he was not definitive in this view. The Chida further noted that the kabbalists refrain from reciting Tehillim at night. Indeed, the Sefer Pesach Devir cites those that prohibit reciting Tehillim at night. (see Tzitz Eliezet 8:2)

2. The Chida in his Shu”t Yosef Ometz seems to offer a slightly more permissive view. He once again notes that many people customarily recite Tehillim at night. He writes that “I heard from one of the great kabbalists of the day [seemingly referring to Rav Shalom Sharabi] that Tehillim is not included in the what the great Arizal warned against and may be studied at night.” The Chida adds that a permissible view is supported from the Midrash (Bereshit Rabba, Chapter 68, Section 14) that Yaakov Avinu read Tehillim at night. Similarly, King David composed and authored most of Tehillim in the wee hours of the night. The Chida concludes that “if one asks me if one is permitted to read Tehillim at night, I will reply that he has on whom to rely. However, I myself am wary about reading Tehillim at night, besides for on the night of Shabbos.” The Ben Ish Chai, in his Shu”t Rav Poalim (2:2), cites the view of the Chida and concludes that although he would not rebuke those that are lenient, if the person would come and ask him, he would tell him to study portions of the Oral Torah, such as Mishnah, Gemara, or Zohar.

3. Rav Yaakov Niño writes in his Sefer Emet Le’Yaakov that in spite of the words of the Chida, the custom has become to read Tehillim at night after halachic midnight (chatzos). The Ben Ish Chai (Pekudei 7) also writes that one may recite Tehillim after chatzos (although in his Rav Poalim he rules stringently, as noted above). Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l also rules that there is room to allow reading Tehillim after halachic midnight, for the Chida certainly changed his mind regarding the doubt he raises in his Responsa Yosef Ometz. As the Chida writes in his personal diary from the year 5563 (1803): “Teves, Monday night. I was ill and I could not sleep during the night so I read the entire Tehillim and I then went to pray, with Hashem’s help.” It seems that the Chida also saw room for leniency since Tehillim is not included in the prohibition banning Tanach at night. Therefore, those who read Tehillim after halachic midnight certainly have on whom to rely (Yabia Omer vol. 10 page 125).

4. However, other authorities are even more lenient and allow one to recite Tehillim at night even before midnight. This is the view of the Gaon of Botchetch (Aishel Avraham 238), Rav Yisroel Chaim Friedman zt” (cited in Tzitz Eliezer 8:2) and Harav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg zt”l. Harav Moshe Stern zt”l (Beer Moshe) writes that one may definitely recite Tehillim after chatzos for any reason. Before chatzos one may (and should) recite Tehillim if one is doing so for a sick person.

5. Rav Chaim Medini zt”l writes that if one committed a certain sin and the prescribed atonement is to recite certain chapters of Tehillim one may recite them at night according to all the authorities (Shu”t Ohr Li 40).

6. The Shu”t Vayechi Yaakov (9) asks how we recite many prayers at night that are filled with verses of Tanach. He responds that the Arizal was warning against learning Tanach. However, reciting verses of Tanach not in the context of learning, rather as a prayer is permissible. However, the poskim who prohibit reciting Tehillim at night (cited above) clearly do not agree with this view as Tehillim is recited as a prayer and not in the context of learning. Indeed, the Vayechi Yaakov allows one to recite Tehillim at night for a sick person.

7. Rav Yechiel Meir Lifschitz (Lipschutz) of Gustinin maintains that one may learn Chumash with Rashi at night. The issue is learning Tanach without commentaries, however, learning it with comentaries is permissible. Learning with Onkelas, however, is not permissible (as noted in the previous post- this law does not apply to Friday night, therefore Shenayim Mikra is permissible on Friday night).

If you have a question, comment, or an idea for an article please email me at avizakutinsky@gmail.com.

Listening to multiple women sing in unison

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

1. It is forbidden for a man to hear a woman sing. This prohibition is called “Kol B’Isha Ervah.” (Brachos 24a and Shulchan Aruch Even Haezer 21)

2. The Sdei Chemed (Kuf 42) cites an argument amongst the authorities whether this prohibition is Biblical or Rabbinic in nature. The Chochmas Adam (4:1), in his commentary Nishmas Adam, concludes that it is Rabbinic in nature. (See Mishnah Berurah 75:17)

3. The Beer Sheva (Beer Mayim Chayim 3) writes that this prohibition exists whether it is one woman singing or multiple women singing and whether they are singing secular songs or singing Zemiros on Shabbos. This is also the view of most authorities. However, there were those that wished to rule leniently as shall be explained.

4. The Chasan Sofer (Taharas Yadayim 14) extends a lenient ruling based on the Talmudic rule that “Trei kali Lo Mishtamay,” two voices cannot be heard simultaneously. The Gemara uses this principle to prohibit two people to read from the Torah at the same time. Therefore, argues the Chasan Sofer if multiple women are singing there should not exist a prohibition since men cannot focus on two voices simultaneously.

The Tzitz Eliezer (14:7) felt that the Chasan Sofer was not definitive in his ruling and that it is unclear whether the Chasan Sofer would permit this in normative halacha. However, Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg zt”l (Sridei Eish 2:8) records that Rav Azriel Hildesheimer zt”l and Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch zt”l also ruled leniently for the same reason of the Chasan Sofer.

5. The poskim point out that there are two major issues with the permissive ruling of the Chasan Sofer:

1) The rule that two voices cannot be heard, as used in the Gemara, tells us that one cannot concentrate on the words of the speakers and therefore cannot fulfill his obligation for Krias Hatorah. One does, however, still hear the sound of the speaker. In this case, regarding Kol Isha, the major concern is that hearing a women’s voice is inappropriate and considered an Ervah. Even if he cannot make out the specific words he can definitely hear the women sing and it should still be prohibited.

2) The Gemara in Megilah (21) says that two people are allowed to read the Megilah simultaneously. The reason why the Megilah is different from Krias Hatorah is that, “Since the reading of the Megilah is dear to people, they concentrate and can hear.” The same argument can be extended to our discussion. Since the Yetzer Hara will make the man want to hear the women sing then we assume that two voices are able to be heard at the same time.

6. Harav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg zt”l was asked regarding a German Jewish organization where the boys and girls sang together. Rav Weinberg quotes the earlier heter of “two voices cannot be heard simultaneously” and writes that he does not find this explanation satisfying. Rav Weinberg instead defends the German Jewish practice by citing the Sdei Chemed who “allows for men and women to sing together.”

[However, no where does the Sdei Chemed discuss men and women singing in unison. Perhaps Rav Weinberg was referring to the Sdei Chemed who quotes the Divrei Cheifetz who asserts that the Kol Isha prohibition does not apply to women singing Zemirot, singing songs to children, and lamentations for the dead. This too is problematic since the Sdei Chemed, himself disagrees with the Divrei Chefetz and rules stringently.]

Rav Weinberg contends that when they are singing Zemiros men do not derive pleasure from the woman’s voice (this is perhaps the rationale for the view of the Divrei Chafetz). However, the poskim point out that this is not necessarily accurate and even if the woman are singing Zemiros men can still derive pleasure from their voices.]

7. In summation the overwhelming majority of poskim [including: the Beer Sheva, the Beer Yehuda on Chareidim, the Steipler Gaon zt”l (cited in Journal Ohel Moshe 1992), the Shevet Halevi (4:197), the Tzitz Eliezer, Badei Hashulchan (Nidah 199:119), Chelek Levi, Kinyan Torah (85), Avnei Yashfei (2:5), Ishei Yisroel (55:32), and Netai Gavriel (Yichud page 348)] maintain that a man may not listen to many women sing in unison, even if they are singing Zemiros.

If you have a question, comment, or an idea for an article please email  me at avizakutinsky@gmail.com.

Reciting A Blessing Upon Seeing A Torah Scholar

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

1. The Gemara (Brachos 58) says that upon seeing a Torah scholar one recites the blessing “Shecholak Mechochmaso Lireav” (Blessed are You…who apportioned of His wisdom to those who fear Him). This teaching was also codified by the Shulchan Aruch (224:6).

2. None of the commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch indicate that this blessing is no longer relevant and therefore, it would seem that this blessing should be recited today (see Az Nidberu 11:4).

3. The Chayei Adam (63:5) also rules that the blessing is recited, even today. He proves this from a ruling of the Tur. The Tur cites the Gemara that there is a different blessing to be recited upon an exceedingly great Torah Scholar, the blessing of “Chacham Harazim.” The Tur writes that this blessing is not said anymore since there is no longer a scholar of such caliber to warrant such a blessing. Since the Tur only made such a statement regarding the blessing of “Chacham Harazim” and not regarding the blessing of “Shecholok”, one can deduce that the blessing of “Shecholok” is in fact said today. A similar line of reasoning was advanced by Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yechava Daas 4:16).
4. The Sefer Yosef Ometz (450), however, writes the following, “I have omitted the laws of reciting a blessing upon seeing a Torah scholar since there are very scarce Torah scholars today (that would warrant such a blessing). If one wishes to recite the blessing without reciting the name of Hashem one may do so.” (see also Chesed Lalafim Orach Chaim 224:12)

5. The Aruch Hashulchan (224:6) says that it is unclear as to what level of a Torah scholar one must be to warrant this blessing and therefore many do not recite this blessing anymore. The Ben Ish Chai (Ekev 13) also rules that one should only recite the blessing without the use of Hashem’s name. This was also the view of Harav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg zt”l (Tzitz Eliezer 14:36:3).

6. It should be noted that Rabbi Yitzchak Eisik Yehuda Yechiel Safrin zt”l of Komarno, known as the Komarno Rebbe, writes that the scholar must also be proficient in Kabbalah to warrant such a blessing (Shulchan Hatahor 224:3).

7. The poskim offer some examples of different Gedolim upon whom the blessings were recited:

The author was present when a prominent New York Sefardic Rav recited the blessing upon seeing Harav Yitzchak Yosef shlit”a.

Harav Ephraim Greenblatt zt”l (Rivevos Ephraim 8:128) writes that one should recite the blessing upon seeing Harav Elazar Menachem Mann Shach zt”l, Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l, and (ybc”l) Harav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a.

Harav Shmuel Wosner shlit”a (Shevet Halevi 10:13) writes that he recalls that when the Rogachover Gaon zt”l visited Vienna many recited the blessing upon seeing him.

The Minchas Elazar of Munkatch (5:7) also writes that he remembers the blessing being recited upon seeing Torah scholars (though he does not mention which Rabbi’s specifically).

It is also reported that the Chazon Ish was in favor of others reciting the blessing upon seeing the Steipler Gaon zt”l (Orchos Rabbeinu 1:109).
The Steipler Gaon zt”l told the author of the Sefer Orchos Rabbeinu (ibid, 110) that he recited this blessing upon seeing the Chofetz Chaim zt”l and Harav Meir Simcha zt”l of Dvinsk.

Harav Yisroel Taplin shlit”a (Orach Yosrael page 255) writes that he heard from Harav Yaakov Kamanetzky zt”l that Harav Baruch Ber Lebowitz zt”l recited the blessing upon meeting Harav Dovid Karliner zt”l and that Harav Dovid responded “Amen” to the blessing. Harav Yaakov zt”l also ruled that one should say this blessing upon seeing Harav Ahron Kotler zt”l.
Harav Taplin adds that he heard in the name of Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l that today if one sees a Torah scholar who is proficient in all of Shas one may recite upon this scholar the blessing of “Shecholok.”

If you have a question, comment, or an idea for an article please email  me at avizakutinsky@gmail.com.

Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

1. Many people have the practice to wear two pairs of tefillin each day, Rashi Tefillin and Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin. Rashi and Rabbenu Tam disagree with regard to the sequence of the Scriptural text contained in the parchment of the tefillin. While the accepted view is that of Rashi, some wear the Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin as well (for a full discussion see Shu”t Yabia Omer 1:3. See also a fascinating teshuva in Shu”t Min Hashamayim 3).

2. There is no blessing recited while wearing Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin. Yet, one may still not speak in between placing the tefillin shel yad and the tefillin shel rosh of the Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin (Yabia Omer 3:3).

3. The Shulchan Aruch (34:3) rules that Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin should be worn only by one who is known to be a very pious person. The Mishnah Berurah explains that it is a sign of haughtiness for anyone else to do this because the accepted practice is to wear only Rashi Tefillin. This led to the custom among many ashkenazim not to wear Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin.

4. Many chassidim and sefardim have the custom to wear Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin. Some explain that since today many people wear these tefillin, it is no longer considered a sign of haughtiness (see Yalkut Yosef vol. 1 page 46, shu”t Chaim Shaul 1, Birkei Yosef 34, shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 6:7, Yabia Omer 9:108).

In addition, the Teshuva Me’ahava (cited in the sefer Os Chaim V’Shalom 34:9) explains that one does not need to be pious to wear Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin. He feels that the restriction of the Shulchan Aruch was only for wearing both Rashi Tefillin and Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin at the same time. Wearing Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin after wearing Rashi Tefillin would be permitted according to all authorities.

5. Many have the custom that the chosson begins wearing Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin the morning following his wedding. The Sefer Shulchan Malachim writes that this is the common custom and that “one should not change or deviate from this practice.” The reason given for this is that the average single man is unfortunately prone to inappropriate thoughts. Therefore, they do not wear Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin so as not to have such thoughts while wearing the tefillin. Married men are not as prone to such thoughts and are permitted to wear Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin. This is also the view of Harav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul zt”l (shu”t Ohr Litzion 2:3:11) and Harav Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam zt”l (Divrei Yetziv Orach Chaim 42).

[Although the aforementioned concern of inappropriate thoughts should apply when any single person wears Rashi Tefillin, we allow them to wear Rashi Tefillin so as to allow them to fulfill the great mitzvah of wearing tefillin each day. However, once they have fulfilled their obligation, they are not allowed to wear Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin, out of concern of impure thoughts (see Os Chaim V’Shalom 34:10, Shulchan Malachim page 348, shu”t Beis Shearim 29, and shu”t Mishneh Halachos 6:12).]

6. The custom among Chabad, Komarna, Nadvorna, and Breslov Chassidim is to begin wearing Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin at the bar mitzvah (see Netai Gavriel Nisuin vol. 2 page 74 and sefer Shaarey Halacha U’Minhag 29).

If you have a question, comment, or an idea for an article please email  me at avizakutinsky@gmail.com.

Dancing on Shabbos

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

1. Fixing an instrument on Yom Tov and Shabbos is a biblical violation of the melacha of maka b’patish. The use of instruments on Yom Tov and Shabbos is also forbidden because chazal was concerned that if one of the instruments would break, one might come to fix it.

2, The Mishna in Beitza (36b) rules that it is forbidden to clap one’s hands, bang on one’s thighs, or dance on Yom Tov and Shabbos. Since dancing and clapping were generally done to the accompaniment of musical instruments, these actions were forbidden as well. This law is codified by the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 23:5) and the Shulchan Aruch (339:3).
3. Tosafos argues that clapping and dancing should be permitted given that the concern which led to the decree is no longer relevant. He feels that since nowadays very few people are skilled in instrument repair, there is little reason to fear that someone would come to repair an instrument which had broken. The view of Tosafos is cited by the Rama.

However, the poskim do not fully concur with the lenient view of Tosafos, for reasons beyond the scope of this article (see Shu”t Yechave Daas 2:58 and Shu”t Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld 194).

4. The Toras Shabbos (139:2), based on the Yerushalmi, defines dancing as the action when one picks up his first foot, and before it fully returns to the ground, the second foot has already begun to rise. Simply moving around in a circle would be permitted (see also the Agudah on Beitzah and Yechava Daas ibid.). [See also the Aruch Hashulchan and Shu”t Lev Avraham 42 for an additional reason to rule leniently]

5. In many chassidic circles the custom is to permit dancing on Shabbos and Yom Tov. The Minchas Elazer (1:29) explains that dancing and singing is permitted for those who are engrossed in the simcha of Shabbos, since for them it is considered a mitzvah. There are, however, many poskim who have raised issues with the ruling of the Minchas Elazar (Yechava Daas, this is especially so according to the opinions [that we will cite shortly] who forbid dancing even with the chosson during his aufruf , which is a Mitzvah).

6. While the custom among many Chassidic circles is to permit dancing on Shabbos and Yom Tov, the custom for the majority of Jews is to be stringent (see Igros Moshe 2:100).

7. Many poskim prohibit dancing with the chosson during the aufruf. The Mishnah Berurah (339:8) only permits dancing on Simchas Torah where clapping and dancing is a mitzvah, as it is a form of honor for the Torah. However, for any other reason, such as for an aufruf, it would not be permissible. This is also the view of the Shulchan Aruch Harav (339:2) and the Kaf Hachaim (339:13).

8. However, the Chavos Yair (Mekor Chaim 511:1), Rav Chaim Palag’i (Lev Chaim 2:9), Rav Avraham Wahrman Rav of Butchetch (Eishel Avraham 339:3), and Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Shalmei Simcha page 115) all permit dancing during the aufruf.The Chazon Ish is also cited as saying that the custom is rule leniently (Maaseh Haish vol. 5 page 17).

If you have a question, comment, or an idea for an article please email  me at avizakutinsky@gmail.com.

Praying Towards Jerusalem Or Towards The Aron

Today’s article is dedicated to the memory of Yaakov Chanoch Henech ben R’ Baruch Naftali Hertz a”h.

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

1. When one is praying shemoneh esrei one should always face the direction of Jerusalem (Brachos 30a and Shulchan Aruch 94).

2. It is for this reason that we always place the Aron Kodesh on the wall that is facing Jerusalem. This way we can face both Jerusalem and the Aron when we are praying (Mishnah Berurah 94:9).

3. The question arises what should one do if he is praying in a shul which (for whatever reason) placed the Aron on a different wall. Should he face Jerusalem or the Aron?

4. The Mishnah Berurah, in his commentary Biur Halacha (150), discusses this very issue and he writes that he is not sure what the hallachic ruling should be.

5. Although in his commentary Biur Halacha he does not offer a definitive ruling, in his commentary Mishnah Berurah (94:9,10) he definitively rules that one should pray in the direction of Jerusalem and not the Aron Kodesh. He writes, “Because one must face Jerusalem when he prays it is customary to place the Aron on the eastern wall. If one cannot place the Aron on the eastern wall he should place it on the southern wall. Care should be taken not to place in on the western wall since this would lead the congregants to pray with their backs to the Aron. Even if the Aron is placed on the southern or western wall one should still pray towards the east, towards Jerusalem.”

6. Harav Shmuel Wosner shlit”a (10:20) writes that one should follow the definitive ruling of the Mishnah Berurah. He adds that this is also logical since the Mishnah and Gemara only mention praying towards Jerusalem. It is only customary to place the Aron on the eastern wall since that is direction of Jerusalem. Therefore, if you cannot accomplish both it would make sense to fulfill the requirement of the Mishnah and face Jerusalem.

7. The Mishnah Berurah adds that if one is praying with a congregation and the congregation is erroneously praying towards the Aron and not Jerusalem he should also pray towards the Aron. He should, however, turn his face slightly towards Jerusalem. The Aruch Hashulchan explains that although the congregation should be praying in the direction of Jerusalem, if they are praying towards the Aron he should follow along. Not because they are correct, but rather if he were to be the only person praying towards Jerusalem then when he bows he will be bowing in a different direction then everyone else and it would appear as if they are praying to two different gods (chas v’shalom).

If you have a question, comment, or an idea for an article please email  me at avizakutinsky@gmail.com.

Is A Kohen Who Killed Someone Allowed To Recite The Priestly Blessings? (Assorted Hallachos)

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

1. The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 128:35) rules that if a kohen killed someone, even by accident, he is not allowed to recite the priestly blessings. The Mishna Berura explains the reason for the disqualification is because “ain kateigor na’aseh saneigor”, it would be inappropriate for the hands that have taken a life to give a beracha.

2. The Shulchan Aruch rules that teshuva (repentance) does not help and he remains disqualified. While the Rama writes that after repentance he is permitted to recite the birchas kohanim.

3. According to the Rama a kohen who murdered someone may recite the priestly blessings if he repented. The Biur Halacha cites an interesting argument among the poskim as to the parameters of the ruling of the Rama. Some poskim feel that the lenient ruling of the Rama was stated only for accidental murder. However, if the kohen killed someone on purpose (meizid) he is disqualified even if he repented while other poskim apply his ruling to all scenarios, even purposeful murder. The Biur Halacha writes that it is difficult to know what the correct ruling is, and therefore, if the kohen ascended to recite the blessings we should not stop him.

4. Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Shu”t Yechave Daas 2:16), the leading sefardic posek, writes that if a kohen killed someone against his will “b’ones”, the example given- a kohen who is driving a car within the speed limit and a child jumps in front of the car, (the death is considered b’ones because the driver did everything within his power to prevent it), he is allowed to recite the priestly blessings if he repented.

5. The Magen Avraham (128:53) cites the opinion of Rav Levi Ben Chabib that the hallacha applies even if there are no witnesses to the murder. As long as the kohen knows that he killed someone he may not recite the birchas kohanim.

6. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe Y.D. 2:158) maintains that if the kohen is a soldier in the army and he killed someone during war time he is unequivocally allowed to recite the priestly blessings. Since the killing is in self defense he is not disqualified. As it says in the Gemara (Brachos 62b): “If someone attacks you to kill you, then you must kill him first.” A similar sentiment was expressed by Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l -who was discussing the Israeli army as opposed to Rav Moshe who was discussing the Russian army- Harav Yosef writes that these soldiers are fulfilling a mitzvah by protecting the Jewish people and the Jewish land and therefore may bless the Jewish people.

7. If the kohen is unsure whether he killed someone, the Maharlnach writes that he is not allowed to duchan. We treat a doubtful murderer as a certain murderer. However, after analysis, it becomes clear that this question is really based on a machlokes rishonim dealing with a much broader topic than the hallachos of a murderous kohen, as we shall explain.

The source that prohibits a kohen who murdered someone from reciting the priestly blessings is a verse in Isaiah. And we know that when a doubt arises in a biblical hallacha we are machmir (ex. if one is unsure that he ate matza on Pesach he must eat the matza again to be sure). However, when it comes to rabbinical laws, we are lenient in doubtful situations (if one is unsure whether he recited the blessings on food, he may continue to eat without a blessing and need not repeat the blessing). Now the question arises about what is the proper approach in halacha when a doubt arises with a law found in the Navi (Divrei Kabbala). Is it deemed like a biblical law and we should act stringently or like a rabbinical law and we should act leniently? This is actually a machlokes among the rishonim.

The Rashba (Shu”t Hamiyucheses 263 and the Rashash (Shu”t 397) both feel that when a doubt arises regarding a law learned from Navi we rule leniently as we do with rabbinic laws. The Kovno Rav, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector zt”l (Beer Yitzchok Y.D. 1 note 6) wrote that the Ran agrees with the opinion of the Rashba. A similar view can be found in the Aruch Hashulchan (Y.D. 110 note 105).

However, the Netziv (Haemek Sheila Sheilta 35:2) proved that Rav Achai Gaon and the Bahag both disagree and they feel that a law which has sources in Navi has the same law as a biblical law. Similar views can be found in the Turei Even by the Shagas Aryeh (Megila 5b), Shu”t Toras Chesed (O.C. 38 note 8, this also seems to be the view of the Rambam see  Mishna Berurah O.C. 692:16).

Now our discussion (a kohen who is unsure whether he killed a person) is dependent on the opinions of the rishonim. For our case, there is a doubt involving a law (namely that a kohen who killed someone is not allowed to duchan) which has a source in the Navi and according to the Rashba (and Rashash etc.) we should be lenient and allow him to duchan, unlike the Maharlnach. However, according to the Rambam (and Bahag etc.) we should be stringent and prevent him from reciting the blessings, in agreement with the Maharlnach. Indeed the Maharsham (shu”t 5:30) cites the ruling of the Maharlnach and notes that according to the Rashba we should allow him to recite the priestly blessings. For practical halacha, a rabbi should be consulted.

Please email  any questions or comments to avizakutinsky@gmail.com

May One Pray For Others To Become More Observant

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

The poskim debate whether one is permitted to pray to Hashem to cause others to become more observant. On the one hand, we know that prayer is one of the cornerstones of Judaism. On the other hand, G-d allows for people to have free will and perhaps asking Hashem to help someone become more observant is a violation of the other person’s free will. [It is worthy to note that one is absolutely permitted and advised to daven for Hashem to help himself become more religious. In this instance it is not a compromise of his free will, since he wishes to become more observant (Yaaros Devash Derush 1, see however Luach Eres 22 for a possible dissenting view).]

The Gemara (Brachos 10) relates that there were a group of people who used to trouble and harass Rav Meir. Rav Meir wished to pray that they should die. However, his wife Beruryah told him that it would be preferable to pray that they stop sinning and repent. And that is exactly what Rav Meir did. He prayed to Hashem to help them repent and they repented. One can deduce from this Gemara that it is permitted to pray to Hashem to help others become more observant, as Rav Meir himself did. A similar lenient view can be found in the Zohar Hakadosh. The Zohar adds that it is actually the responsibility of the righteous to pray for those who are less observant in order to help them become more religious (Zohar Medrash Hanelam Vayerah).

However, the Maharsha (commenting on the aforementioned Gemara) questions how it was possible that Rav Meir prayed for others to repent since this seemingly denies their ability to have free will and choose to sin. The Maharsha does not offer an answer to his question. It is thus clear that according to the Maharsha one may not pray for others to become more observant.

The Chazon Ish (Orach Chaim Hashmatos 156) feels that one may ask Hashem to cause others to repent. He explains that since Hashem is only getting involved because He was asked to do so by the “davener”, using his free will, Hashem’s involvement is not contradicting the sinner’s free will. A person has permission to use his free will to affect other people’s lives and in this case he is “using” prayer and Hashem to affect someone else’s life, which in the Chazon Ish’s view is not a contradiction to free will.

Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe vol. 4 40:13) discusses this issue. He rules in accordance with the Maharsha and maintains that one may not ask Hashem to cause others to become more observant. How then did Rav Meir pray for others to repent? Harav Moshe explains that many times a person will sin, not in order to rebel against Hashem, but because of their circumstance and in their mind they feel that they have no choice. For example, if someone is very poor he may choose to steal because he mistakenly concludes that he has no choice. And if this person were to have sufficient funds he might not sin. Therefore, writes Harav Moshe, one may pray to Hashem to change someone’s circumstance which in turn may lead them to choose not to sin. This was the situation with Rav Meir. The group of people who were harassing Rav Meir were doing so primarily due to their situation in life and Rav Meir felt that if their circumstances were different they would repent on their own, and that is exactly what happened.

Please email  any questions or comments to avizakutinsky@gmail.com