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Tefillat Nedava - The Voluntary Prayer

Rav David Brofsky
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In previous shiurim, we discussed the obligation to pray three times each day. We might ask, however, whether three times a day is a minimum or maximum? In other words, should or may one ideally pray the entire day, and if not, why?


The Gemara (Berakhot 31a) relates:


"I might say that a man should pray the whole day? It has already been expressly stated by the hand of Daniyel, 'And three times…' (Daniyel 6:11). But perhaps [this practice] began only when he went into captivity? It is already said, 'As he did aforetime…'"


This Gemara implies that the notion of one praying "the whole day" is not more than a rejected initial understanding (hava amina), proven incorrect by Daniyel's practice to pray three times each day.


Similarly, Shmuel, cited by the Gemara (Berakhot 21a), seemingly insists that unless a person is absolutely obligated to recite to pray, he should not recite Shemoneh Esrei. Regarding one who began to pray, mistakenly thinking that he had not recited Shemoneh Esrei that day, the Gemara teaches:


"Rav Yehuda also said in the name of Shmuel: If a person was standing saying Tefilla and he suddenly remembered that he had already said it, he breaks off even in the middle of a benediction…"


Although one might have argued that as long as he is praying, there should be no reason for him to interrupt his prayer, Shmuel still maintains that he should stop his Shemoneh Esrei, EVEN in the middle of a berakha!


Furthermore, the Gemara (Berakhot 21a) also cites R. Elazar, who taught:


"R. Elazar says: If one is in doubt whether he has recited Shema or not, he says Shema again. If he is in doubt whether he has said Tefilla or not, he does not say it again…."


Even in case of doubt, apparently one should still not recite Shemoneh Esrei, unless one is absolutely certain of one's obligation.


However, the Gemara does cite another opinion, of Rabbi Yochanan, who exclaimed, "Would that a man would go on praying the whole day!"


The Rishonim debate the extent to which Rabbi Yochanan disagrees with the other Tannaim. Does Rabbi Yochanan merely believe that when in doubt, one may recite Shemoneh Esrei? Or does he maintain that one may recite Shemoneh Esrei MORE than three times per day? And if so, does that mean that he disagrees with Shmuel, who ruled (above) that one who mistakenly began Shemoneh Esrei, and then realized that he had already prayed, should interrupt, even in the middle of a berakha?!


The Raavad (see Rashba 21a), for example, explains that not only does Rabbi Yochanan believe that when in DOUBT whether one has already prayed, one should recite Shemoneh Esrei, he even disagrees with Shmuel who held that if one realizes in the middle of one's prayer that he has already prayed, he should stop his prayer immediately. Rabbi Yochanan, however, holds that even if he has already prayed he should continue until completing Tefilla!


The Behag, however, as well as Rashi and Tosafot, disagree, and explain that while Rabbi Yochanan believes that when in doubt whether one has prayed, one may continue to pray, he may certainly does not disagree with Shmuel, and therefore one should not continue if one is certain that he has already prayed.


If so, the question remains, may one, and if so, under which circumstances, recite Shemoneh Esrei when one is not obligated.


Tefillat Nedava:


The Rishonim debate whether one may recite a voluntary prayer (Shemoneh Esrei) even when certain that he has already prayed.


The Gemara (Berakhot 21a) teaches:


"Rav Yehuda further said in the name of Shmuel: If a man had already said Tefilla and went into a synagogue and found the congregation saying Tefilla, if he can innovate (le-chadesh) he should say Tefilla again, but otherwise he should not say it again…"


The Gemara presents a scenario in which, apparently, a person may say a voluntary Shemoneh Esrei, with a congregation, as long as he alters the Tefilla.


The Gemara does not explicate whether this Tefillat Nedava may be recited by an individual while praying alone. Moreover, in a case in which a person realized that he had already prayed, why doesn't the Gemara allow him to continue, if he adds a chiddush to his Tefilla? Furthermore, the Gemara does not explain whether Rabbi Yochanan would also require a chiddush in a case in which a person is in doubt whether or not he prayed. And finally, what is this "chiddush," where must it be inserted, and what function does it fulfill?


Interestingly, the Behag apparently believes that a voluntary prayer may ONLY be recited be-tzibbur, but not individually. While the Rishonim do NOT accept his position, they still debate the definition and nature of a Tefillat Nedava.


Rav Hai Gaon, cited by Talmidei Rabbenu Yona (12b) and the Rosh (3:15), explains that a person may offer a voluntary prayer as long as one adds a chiddush. However, one who repeats Shemoneh Esrei out of doubt need not add a chiddush, as a prayer recited in order to compensate for a missed prayer, even in doubt, is itself considered a chiddush.


Furthermore, he explains that one who begins Shemoneh Esrei with the intention to recite an obligatory prayer, may not, mid-prayer, convert Shemoneh Esrei into a Tefillat Nedava, and therefore must stop, even in the middle of a berakha, in order to avoid a potential violation of "bal tosif" (adding on the mitzvot).    


The Rambam (Hilkhot Tefilla 1:9) apparently agrees with this position, yet IMPLIES that EVEN in a case of doubt (10:6), one should add a chiddush.


If so, we might summarize that Rav Hai Gaon, as well as the Rambam, assume that Shmuel and Rabbi Yochanan agree that whenever a Tefillat Nedava is recited, there must be some sort of chiddush.


The Rif, however, as well as the Raavad (Hilkhot Tefilla 1:9) disagree, and argue that Rabbi Yochanan and Shmuel debate whether a Tefillat Nedava requires a chiddush. The halakha is in accordance with the position of Rabbi Yochanan, and therefore a voluntary Shemoneh Esrei need not contain a chiddush.


What is root of this debate? What is the essence of a Tefillat Nedava, and why might a chiddush be required?


One might suggest that a Tefillat Nedava is simply an additional prayer offered voluntarily, modeled after the korban nedava of the Beit Ha-mikdash.


In fact, the Rambam (Hilkhot Tefilla 1:9-10) writes:


"The number of these prayers may not be reduced, but may be increased. If a person wants to pray all day long, he may do so.

Any prayer that one adds is considered as a freewill offering [korban nedava]. Therefore, one must add a new idea consistent with that blessing in each of the middle blessings. [However], making an addition of a new concept even in only one blessing is sufficient in order to make known [le-hodi'a] that this is a voluntary prayer and not obligatory.

The community should not recite a voluntary prayer, since the community does not bring a freewill offering. Even an individual should not recite the Musaf prayer twice, once to fulfill his obligation of the day and the other as a voluntary prayer, because the additional offering can never be a freewill offering.

One of the Geonim rules that it is forbidden to recite a voluntary prayer on Shabbat and holidays, since freewill offerings were not sacrificed on these days, but only the obligatory offerings of the day…."


The Rambam asserts three points: Firstly, the Tefillat Nedava is considered like a korban nedava. Secondly, whenever a korban nedava cannot be offered, such as on Shabbat and Yom Tov, so to a Tefillat Nedava should not be recited. Thirdly, the point of the chiddush is to "make known that this is voluntary," and not obligatory. In other words, the chiddush functions as a heker, distinguishing obligatory Tefilla from voluntary Tefilla, or possibly even redefining the addition Tefilla as a Tefillat Nedava, and thereby permitting it.


The Raavad, as we mentioned, disagrees. Firstly, he doesn't require one to insert a chiddush into one's Tefillat Nedava. Secondly, while he agrees that a Tefillat Nedava should not be recited on Shabbat or Yom Tov, he offers a different explanation.


"… And that which the Gaon said that it is prohibited to say a voluntary prayer on Shabbat or Yom Tov since voluntary sacrifices weren't offered, only the obligations of the day, I have different opinion on this matter. Rabbi Yochanan's assertion that 'it should be that man should pray all day…' only referred to the Shemoneh Esrei, WHICH IS A PRAYER OF MERCY AND SUPPLICATIONS, and therefore one waits in between them until he has the proper mindset, and he should intend to PLEAD FOR MERCY. However, regarding the prayers for Shabbat and Yom Tov, which are PRAISES (hoda'ot), Rabbi Yochanan never allowed and one who praises God, and does so again, has recited a berakha le-vatala…"


According to the Raavad, a Tefillat Tashlumin is a bakashat rachamim, and as long as one has attained the proper mindset, one may recite a voluntary prayer. One may even suggest that a person's newfound inspiration is itself the permission needed to recite another Tefilla.


Interestingly, the Rosh (Teshuvot 4:13) explains:


"… Rabbi Yochanan certainly only permitted one (to say a Tefillat Nedava) if one adds something new…    and therefore I say that a person should be extremely careful NOT to recite a Tefillat Nedava unless one has a chiddush, and one should also know one's self, and be careful and cautious and assess one's thoughts in order that he can have proper intention (kavvana) for his Tefilla from the beginning until the end without interruption… but if he doesn't concentrate properly, it is similarly to 'and why would (I want) your numerous sacrifices…,' and it should be that we should be able to properly concentrate for the three Tefillot of each day…"


The Rosh, like the Rambam, requires one do insert a chiddush. However, like the Raavad, he emphasizes that the essence of the Tefillat Nedava is the intention, the state of mind.


The Shulchan Arukh (107:1) rules that one who is in doubt whether or not he prayed, may recite another Shemoneh Esrei and does not need to insert a chiddush. Furthermore, one who mistakenly began Shemoneh Esrei assuming that he had not prayed, and then realized that he had, must interrupt in the middle, and may not continue, even if he were to add a chiddush. However, one who is not obligated to pray may recite another Shemoneh Esrei as long as he inserts a chiddush. In other words, the halakha is in accordance with the Rav Hai Gaon and the Rambam.




The Rishonim debate the definition of the chiddush mentioned by the Gemara.


Some explain that one should add a chiddush in each and every berakha of Shemoneh Esrei (or at least the middle berakhot). The Rambam (Hilkhot Tefilla 1:10) implies that while preferably one should add to each berakha: "If one makes an addition of a new concept even in only one blessing it is sufficient in order to make known [le-hodi'a] that this is a voluntary prayer and not obligatory…." The Tur insists that the chiddush not be made in the final of the middle berakhot, Shome'a Tefilla, which is such a broad and general berakha that an insertion wouldn't properly distinguish the Tefilla as a Tefillat Nedava.


The Tur cites his father, the Rosh, who questions whether the chiddush really refers to an addition in the prayer. For if so, why does the Gemara imply that only if one "is able to make anew" may one recite a Tashlumin. Who, the Rosh asks, is incapable of adding requests to his Tefilla?


Therefore, he suggests that the Gemara teaches that one may only recite an additional prayer if in the meantime an additional need had arisen. Only if there is something new to request, may one offer a new Tefilla. If so, this approach supports, if not confirms, the explanation mentioned above, that a Tefillat Nedava must emerge from a new, inspired state of mind.


While Rav Yosef Karo, in the Shulchan Arukh (107:2), cites the position of the Rambam, the Rama cites the view of the Rosh.   


Tefillat Nedava in Our Time:


The Rema (107:3) brings the Teshuvat Ha-Rosh, cited above, who warns against reciting a Tefillat Nedava unless one is confident on one's ability to say the entire Shemoneh Esrei with proper intent.


The Chayye Adam (27:17), quoting the Rama, adds:


"… It seems to me, that in our time it is prohibited to say a Tefillat Nedava… and it seems to me that even one who is in doubt whether or not he prayed, should NOT repeat the Shemoneh Esrei…"


The Biur Halakha disagrees and writes that one who is in doubt whether he must pray, SHOULD recite a Tefillat Nedava. He explains that just like one must try to have proper intention for an entire obligatory Tefilla, and bedi'avad if one only had kavvana for the first berakha he fulfills his obligation, similarly in this case since the Tefilla is intended to compensate for a missed Tefilla, or possibly even be the obligatory Tefilla itself, an honest effort to concentrate for the entire Tefilla would be sufficient.


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