Simanim 126-127 Errors of the Shaliach Tzibbur

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #67: Simanim 126-127



by Rav Asher Meir








Rabban Gamliel said to the Sages, "Is there really anybody capable of composing a benediction against the schismatics?"  Shmuel HaKatan stood up and composed it, but later on he forgot it! He merely stared for two or three hours, but [even so] they did not remove him [from being the prayer leader]. 


And why didn't they remove him - did not Rav Yehuda say in the name of Rav, "One who makes an error in any blessing should not be removed, but in the blessing against schismatics he should be removed?"


Shmuel HaKatan is a special case, for he himself composed it.  But should we not be concerned that he changed his views? Abaye said, "We have learned that good does not turn to bad."  But is it not written (Yechezkel 18) "When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does wickedly?"  That refers to someone who was originally [or is fundamentally] wicked.  ...  Rava would say even someone who was originally righteous may have a change of views.  Then why didn't they remove him? Shmuel HaKatan's case was different, since he already began the benediction  (Berakhot 28b-29a).


            Rav Kook (Igrot 555) points out that Shmuel HaKatan's special characteristic was his lack of vindictiveness, as related in Pirkei Avot (4:19) that he used to constantly recall the verse in Mishlei admonishing us not to rejoice over the fall of our enemies.  Certainly vindictiveness has no place in our prayers to God, and indeed the gemara asserts (Rosh HaShana 16b) "Anyone who seeks strict justice on his fellow man, he is the first to be punished."


            The Tur mentions the Yerushalmi (Berakhot 5:3) that adds Techiyat Ha-Metim and Boneh Yerushalayim to the benedictions which, if skipped, create a suspicion of heresy.  Rabbeinu Yonah explains that we do not rule this way because even though heretical movements of Jews are likely to deny the resurrection of the dead and the rebuilding of Jerusalem (how little has changed in two thousand years), a heretic has nothing against saying these benedictions.  They are simply meaningless for him.  Therefore, omitting them is not a sign of heresy but merely of forgetfulness.  This is different than birkat ha-minim in which omission does suggest heresy.  For by saying the blessing, a heretic is in effect cursing himself.


            Although some Rishonim seemed to understand that the chazan is temporarily removed for ANY mistake, and he is permanently removed for a "doctrinal" mistake, the accepted ruling is that of the SA: for an ordinary mistake the chazan is not removed at all (if he can get back on track), and for a doctrinal mistake he is removed only for that one particular tefilla (Beit Yosef).




            See MB s.k. 2.  Note that the MB does not refer to someone who acts improperly (for instance, a Sabbath breaker), but only to someone who we know has heretical ideas.  Since halakha does not provide for an inquisition or a catechism, this will typically be someone who actively promotes heretical ideas, as opposed to a generally non-religious Jew who wants to lead the services at a yahrzeit or at his son's (or his own) bar mitzva.  A recent survey indicated that MOST Israeli Jews believe in "Torah from Sinai" even though no more than a quarter consistently keep mitzvot.  There are many people who agree that they should be doing more mitzvot; they just think that it's not so terrible that they don't.


            Someone who reveals in a private conversation that he doesn't believe in techiyat ha-metim (resurrection) (or in Mashiach, etc.) should not be considered a heretic for several reasons.  First of all, though many people have periods of doubt on various principles of faith, as long as they remain faithful to the framework of Orthodoxy we should assume that these questions don't amount to disbelief.  Second of all, the MB refers specifically to someone who DENIES these principles, not to someone who fails to affirm them.  Finally, a person may define his belief system ideologically in accordance with the dogmas established by the Sages, and may not consider his personal conclusions actual "beliefs."  To give a simple parallel, I may read a few magazine articles which convince me that bypass surgery is useless.  As a result, I may in some sense "believe" in the futility of this surgery.  But if accepted medical practice is to perform this surgery for someone with my disorder, I am unlikely to refrain on the basis of my half-baked "beliefs" gathered from popular articles.  My operational belief remains consistent with the accepted medical doctrine.  Likewise, we should assume that the average Jew who identifies himself as Orthodox has operational doctrines according with those of our Sages.


            Sadly, there are still more than a few people who fall into the problematic category mentioned in the MB.  But since most of them have their own houses of worship, the problem of them leading the services in an orthodox shul seldom arises.  It does seem to me that if there is a one-time occurrence, and it is not in a shul where there is an established tradition of adhering to the dictates of the gabbai, it is better to avoid a showdown and allow the person to lead the services -  and of course to refrain from answering to his benedictions, as the MB explains.




            Even though the SA in 55:11 indicates (as I suggested above) that a person who commits transgressions is not considered a heretic and can count for a minyan, the MB there points out that one who publicly desecrates the Shabbat IS considered a heretic.  However, the opinions of major authorities of our day are sharply divided on the question of who is considered a "Sabbath-breaker" in our time.  A famous responsum from the 19th century Binyan Tzion (siman 23) concludes that a person who went to business on Shabbat is not considered a heretic, insofar as in Germany at that time such behavior did not demonstrate a split from the Jewish people and from our faith.  A similar approach is found in Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe OC III:12) and in Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer VII OC 15).


            It is important to note that the reason for being lenient with Sabbath desecrators who lack a Torah background is that in such a case we assume that their neglect of Shabbat is not a symptom of their lack of faith.  But for someone who has a full conviction in his disbelief in the Torah, we can find no leniency in the fact that his or her disbelief is due to inadequate education.  This is the background for the famous statement of Rav Chaim of Brisk, "An apikoros is, nebech, an apikoros."  Even though someone who works on Shabbat may not have the full halakhic status of a Shabbat-violator, someone who has full disbelief in God is willy nilly a heretic.  This point is also made by Rav Moshe in the responsum cited.


            The above discussion relates to the ability of a heretic to constitute part of the congregation, for instance to lead prayers.  However, with regard to the mandate to bear enmity to heretics, the fact that they received improper education IS definitely a reason for leniency.  This principle is already found in the Rambam (Mamrim 3:3) and was also forcefully stated by the Chazon Ish.




            The SA rules that the replacement shatz must always repeat all three berakhot, and the MB (s.k. 11) upholds this ruling.  However, the BH (s.v. Ve-im) points out an important exception.




It is taught [in a beraita]: One who erred and omitted [ya-aleh ve-yavo] at shacharit of Rosh Chodesh does not go back, since there is musaf afterwards.  R. Yochanan said, "And this refers to [the prayer of] the congregation [that is, a shaliach tzibur]"  (Berakhot 30b).


            The Rishonim explain the dual requirement of a communal prayer that is followed by musaf: Only in the communal prayer do we not require going back, because we are concerned about burdening the congregation; and we only allow this when there is musaf afterwards, which will ensure that the congregation will hear that today is Rosh Chodesh (Shabbat, Yom Tov, etc.)








            The customary way of bowing during modim for the individual was discussed at length in siman 113.  Here we discuss bowing as the shatz recites the prayers aloud.


R. Chalafta ben Shaul taught, "Everybody bows with the shaliach tzibur in Hoda'a."  R. Zeira said, "[One needs to bow] only at [the word] 'modim.'"  [Even so,] R. Zeira himself would wait for the [end of the] piyut in order to bow with him [the chazan] at the beginning and at the end  (Yerushalmi Berakhot 1:5).


            It is evident that R. Zeira's custom was only a stringency, but what was the stringency?  Was it the bowing at the end of modim derabanan?  Or perhaps one MUST bow at the end of modim derabanan, and R. Zeira's stringency was to say modim slowly so that he would make his bow at the end of modim derabanan simultaneously with the Shaliach Tzibur's bowing at the end of HIS modim.  Both approaches are mentioned in the SA.


            The opinion mentioned in the Rema could also be viewed as an interpretation of R. Zeira's custom, though the Terumat HaDeshen (II siman 100), which is the source for the Rema, does not base himself on the Yerushalmi.  See the B.H. (s.v. Ha-kol.)




What do the people recite as the shaliach tzibur says modim?

Rav said, "We thank You, HaShem our God, that we thank You."  [That You have put into our hearts to be attached to You and to thank You - Rashi.]

And Shmuel said, "God of all flesh, that we thank You."

R. Siami says: "Our Creator, He who created in the beginning, that we thank You."

The Nehardaites say in the name of R. Simai, "Blessings and thanks to Your great Name that you have given us life and sustained us, that we thank You."

Rav Acha bar Yaakov would close thus, "So may You enliven and sustain us, and gather us together and brings in our exiles to Your holy courtyards, to keep Your laws and to do Your will wholeheartedly, that we thank You."

Rav Papa said, "Therefore we should say them all"  (Sota 40a).


            The custom of the Gra (MB s.k. 4), which is also the custom of the Rosh as cited by the Tur, has its source in the Yerushalmi Berakhot 1:5.  There is a parallel custom of the Gra, also that of the Rosh as cited by the Tur and also based on the Yerushalmi, regarding the closing of the berakha "boreh nefashot."  See MB 207 s.k. 5.




            Two renderings are common: "Bi-vrakha ha-meshuleshet ba-torah, ha-ketuva etc.", or "Bi-vrakha ha-meshuleshet, ba-torah ha-ketuva etc." The question revolves around whether we emphasize that Moshe Rabbeinu wrote the birkat kohanim, or that he wrote the Torah which contains this berakha.  It seems that most careful chazanim prefer the latter punctuation, since the former seems to denote misleadingly that the berakha is mentioned three times in the Torah.




            The two versions of the final berakha discussed in the Rema at the end of our siman were mentioned in the shiur on siman 60.