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How May One Abbreviate the Loud Repetition of the Amidah? Responsa in a Moment: Volume 13, Number 2 (1)

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Orah Hayyim 124:1 

A question from students at the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary: There are several different customs regarding the Hoiche Kedusha (2) or the abbreviated loud repetition of the Amidah. How did the different customs arise and which custom should we follow?

Responsum:

I)                  The Early Sources

Before we present the various methods of abbreviating the loud repetition, we must explain the original purpose of the loud repetition. In the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods, the text of the Amidah was not written nor were there any prayer books. As a result, there arose the custom of the sheliah tzibbur [the public emissary or Cantor] who repeated the Amidah aloud and the repetition was called hazarat hashatz, the loud repetition of the sheliah tzibbur. In three ancient sources, we find a disagreement between Rabban Gamliel and the Sages about the essence and purpose of that repetition (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 4:9 = Rosh Hashanah 33b; Tosefta Rosh Hashanah 2:18, ed. Lieberman, p. 321; and a baraita in Rosh Hashanah 34b). According to the Sages, “Just as the sheliah tzibbur is obligated [to recite the Amidah], so is every single individual.” And why does the Cantor repeat the Amidah? “In order to fulfill the obligation of one who is not proficient”. However, in the opinion of Rabban Gamliel, “the Cantor fulfills the obligation of the congregation”, whether they are proficient or not. And why, in his opinion, does the public pray silently? In order to give the Cantor a chance to arrange his prayer.

In the Talmud, they discuss both approaches and they conclude (Rosh Hashanah 35a) that the halakhah is according to Rabban Gamliel on Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur [of the Jubilee Year] (3) and halakhah is according to the Sages during the rest of the year. In other words, during the year, every individual is obligated to recite the Amidah; while on Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur of the Jubilee Year, the Cantor fulfills the obligation of the public. And so ruled the major poskim [halakhic authorities] (Rif ad loc; Rambam, Hilkhot Tefillah 8:9-10; Tur and Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim [hereafter: OH] 124:1).

However, as is well known, the Siddur and its customs have changed constantly throughout the generations.(4) Indeed, in the period of the Geonim and afterwards, there were changes in the importance and goals of the loud repetition. On the one hand, prayer books such as Seder Rav Amram and Siddur Rav Sa’adia were created and, as a result, any Jew who could read became “proficient”. In other words, as soon as the public was able to read the Amidah, there was no need for the loud repetition according to the approach of the Sages. On the other hand, in the Land of Israel in ancient times it was customary to recite Kedushah only in the Shaharit service of Shabbat and holidays. (5) But in Babylon in the Geonic period they began to recite Kedushah in every Amidah. This new practice created a new reason for the repetition of the Amidah, at least until the words “Ha’el Hakadosh” even if “everyone is proficient”. Indeed, the Tur in OH 124 noticed this innovation. Therefore, after giving the Talmudic explanation for the repetition of the Amidah, he adds: “And he also repeats [the Amidah] so that they can respond to Kedushah after him.”

II)              Seven methods of abbreviation which developed throughout the generations

In light of these changes, we can understand the seven different methods of abbreviating the repetition which developed throughout the generations. In each case, we will present five components: the method, the circumstances for abbreviating the repetition, the poskim who ruled in this fashion, the reasons given for the method, and the geographic distribution of the method.

1. The method: The congregation prays silently and the Cantor repeats the Amidah aloud up to Ha’el Hakadosh and stops.

The circumstances: During Minhah when time is short.

The Poskim: Rav Sherira Gaon and Rav Hai Gaon in a number of responsa (Otzar Hage’onim, Rosh Hashanah, paragraphs 133-134, pp. 71-74 and ibid., Berakhot, Hateshuvot, paragraph 183, pp. 70-71). This ruling is quoted in Shibolei Haleket, paragraph 47, and from there in the Bet Yosef to OH 232 and in Shulhan Arukh OH 232: 1.

The reasons: The Amidah must be recited silently, as we learn from the story of Hannah (Berakhot 31a at bottom). Therefore, both the individual and the public do not fulfill their obligation until they recite the Amidah silently. On the other hand, we must repeat the Amidah aloud until after the Kedushah in order to allow the congregation to respond to the Kedushah.

The geographic distribution of the method: “This was the custom of the rabbis in the Yeshivah”; “and so is the custom of the Yeshivah”. In other words, this was the custom of the Pumbedita Yeshivah in the tenth-eleventh centuries. I have not found other evidence of this custom, and despite the fact that Rabbi Yosef Karo ruled in this manner in OH 232, it is clear from his rulings in OH 124 and 234 (see below) that the Sefaradim and Ashkenazim in his day no longer followed this Geonic practice.

***

2.  The method: The congregation does not pray silently at all; rather, the Cantor recites the Amidah aloud. Those who are not proficient fulfill their obligation by listening and answering Amen, while those who are proficient recite the Amidah silently together with the Cantor.

The circumstances: During Minhah when time is short; in Shaharit and Musaf of Shabbat and Yom Tov throughout the year (Maimonides); in Musaf (Rabbi Isaiah di Trani); in Minhah all year long and Shabbat Musaf (R. Yihya Tzalah); during most of the services (Prof. Zohar Amar).

The Poskim: Responsa of the Rambam, ed. Blau, No. 256, pp. 474-476 and No. 258, pp. 483-484 (and cf. Igrot Harambam, ed. Shilat, part II, pp. 565-570); Kol Bo, paragraph 27; Sefer Hassidim, ed. Margaliot, No. 809; Rabbi Isaiah di Trani, Piskei Rid to Massekhet Berakhot, Jerusalem, 5724, col. 89 (quoted by Rabbi Tzidkiyahu Harofei, Shibolei Haleket, paragraph 45, which was then quoted by the Bet Yosef to OH 286, s.v. katav shibolei haleket); R. Mordechai Yaffe, Levush OH 233; R. Yihya Tzalah, Responsa Pe’ulat Hatzaddik, part III, No. 137; R. Yosef Kafih, Siddur  Siah Yerushalayim, fourth edition, Jerusalem, 1999, part I, pp. 27 and 73; Prof. Zohar Amar, Sefer Hahilukim Bein Benei Teiman L’vein Benei Hatzafon, 2017, p. 29, paragraph 35 and note 48.

The reasons: The Rambam’s reasoning: (a) everyone speaks or spits during the repetition, and therefore someone who is not proficient does not fulfill his obligation in any case. (b) “And this method removes a Hillul Hashem [a desecration of God’s name], because they [the Muslims] think that the [Amidah]  by us is a laughing stock” (No. 256), “And that is that the Jews spit and chatter during their prayer” (No. 258).

The geographic distribution of the method: Rabbi Abraham, the son of Maimonides, explains that his father enacted a Takkanah [a rabbinic enactment] in this regard (Sefer Hamaspik L’ovdei Hashem, ed. Nissim Dana, Ramat Gan, 5749, Chapter 26, pp. 195-198). Indeed, this Takkanah lasted in Egypt for some 350 years until the Radbaz abolished it in the sixteenth century (Responsa of the Radbaz, ed. Warsaw, Part 4, Nos. 1079 (5) and 1165 (94) ). (6)

However, according to R. Yihya Tzalah (1713-1805), they used this method in most of the synagogues in Yemen in Minhah even when there was no rush and so too for Shabbat Minhah and Musaf. Similarly, Rabbi Yosef Kafih writes on p. 27 in the Shaharit service: “And the entire congregation stands to pray [the Amidah] silently each person to himself or one Amidah aloud, according to the Takkanah of the Rambam”, and so he writes on page 73 regarding Minhah as well. And so wrote Prof. Zohar Amar recently: “In many places the Yemenites are accustomed to pray most of the Amidah prayers (except for Yom Kippur) or some of them in one prayer together with the Shliah Tzibbur… according to the Takkanah of the Rambam”. In other words, the Yemenites continued to follow the Takkanah of the Rambam even after it was abolished by the Radbaz in Egypt.   

Similarly, it is clear from Sefer Hassidim, Rabbi Isaiah di Trani, and the Levush that this custom also existed in Ashkenaz and Italy in the thirteenth century and in Poland in the sixteenth.

***

3. The method: The Cantor prays aloud until Ha’el Hakadosh with the congregation praying along with him verbatim (it’s not clear whether silently or aloud). The middle blessings are recited silently. The Cantor recites the last three blessings aloud together with the Priestly Blessing (in Shaharit).

The circumstances: In Minhah before the fact all year long; And sometimes in the weekday Shaharit and in Shabbat Musaf when time is short (the second custom is mentioned only by R. Levi ibn Haviv).

The Poskim: R. Levi ibn Haviv (Jerusalem, d. 1545; Responsa of Maharalnah, No. 15; Responsa of the Radbaz, loc. cit., No. 1079 (5); Bet Yosef to OH 234, s.v. umitpal’lin; the Kabbalist Rabbi Ya’akov Zemah (d. after 1665), cited by the Hida in Birkei Yosef to OH 232, paragraph 1; R. Shem Tov Gaguine (England, 20th century), Keter Shem Tov, Vol. 1, Kaidan, 1934, p. 161.

The reasons: The Radbaz says, “I do not know the reason for this custom,” and he quotes a Cantor who explained to him “since the Cantor needs to ask his own needs in the middle, he says them silently”. The Radbaz responded that it is permissible to do so only if it is known that there is no one who is not proficient who is relying on the loud repetition, From the explanation of that Cantor it is possible to surmise that this custom is the result of Maimonides’ Takkanah. In other words, originally, the Cantor said the entire Amidah aloud; then they decided that he had to recite the middle blessings silently in order to ask his own needs silently.

Rabbi Levi ibn Haviv, on the other hand, explains that the first three are recited aloud in order to allow the recitation of Kedushah, and the last three are recited aloud so that they may bow together at Modim.(7) Finally, Rabbi Shem Tov Gaguine explains that the first three are recited aloud in order to enable the public to recite Kedushah and the last three are recited aloud in order to allow the recitation of the Priestly Blessing (Barkheinu Babrakhah etc.) in Shaharit and Musaf, or Modim Derabbanan in Minhah. (But the last point requires further investigation since, apparently, they did not recite Modim Derabbanan according to this custom).

The geographic distribution of the method: According to Rabbi Levi ibn Haviv, the Bet Yosef and R. Ya’akov Tzemach, “this is the custom of the Sefaradim”. According to Rabbi Shem Tov Gaguine, this is “the [Sefardic] custom in London and Amsterdam”, whereas the Radbaz testifies: “and I saw in some places.” I have heard that this is still the custom at some Sefardic schools in France.

***

4. The method: The Cantor prays aloud until Ha’el Hakadosh, while the congregation prays with him word for word (silently, or aloud according to some of the Poskim). The rest of the blessings are recited silently.

The circumstances: In Minhah, before the fact, all year long.

The Poskim: Bet Yosef to OH 124, s.v. katav hakolbo; Rabbi Ya’akov Castro  (Egypt, d. 1610), Erekh Lehem to OH 232; Rabbi Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad (d. 1909), Ben Ish Hai, Shanah Rishonah, Parashat Terumah, paragraph 2; Keter Shem Tov, loc. cit.; Rabbi Hayyim David Halevi, Mekor Hayyim Hashalem, 60:2, volume 1, p. 255; Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef quoted by Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Yalkut Yosef, second edition, Volume 1, Jerusalem, 1985, pp. 279-281.

The reasons: “So that they should answer Kedushah after him, and he will not need to repeat [the Amidah] aloud” (Bet Yosef).

The geographic distribution of the method: Rabbi Yosef Caro wrote: “And now this is the custom in most places”. Rabbi Ya’akov Castro calls it “the custom of the Sefaradim”, while Keter Shem Tov (loc. cit.) calls it “the custom of Eretz Yisrael, Syria, Turkey and Egypt”. It is clear from the list of Poskim that this is a widespread Sefardic custom from the 16th century until today.

***

5. The method: Like No. 4, but one of the members of the congregation was designated to answer Amen after the each of the first three blessings, or they asked someone who had already prayed to answer Amen.

The circumstances: In the Minhah service, when time was short.

The Poskim: Rabbi Ya’akov Mollin, Minhagei Maharil, Hilkhot Tefillah, ed. Shpitzer, Jerusalem, 5749, pp. 439-440; quoted by the Rema in his Darkei Moshe to Tur OH 124 and in his Glosses to Shulhan Arukh OH 124;2.

The reasons: The Poskim cited do not give a reason. The Maharil may have reasoned that someone must answer Amen after a blessing recited aloud (see Rambam, Hilkhot Berakhot 1:13; Shulhan Arukh OH 215:2; ibid., 198:1 in the Rema). On the other hand, maybe he wanted to symbolically preserve the original Loud Repetition in which the congregation answered Amen after every blessing.

The geographic distribution of the method: This was the custom of the Maharil in Ashkenaz in the 14th-15th centuries. Apparently, it did not last, because I have not found other mentions of this custom other than in the quotations by the Rema.

***

6. The method: The Cantor prays aloud until Modim with the congregation praying silently word for word. The final two blessings are recited silently.

The circumstances: At Minhah, when time is short.

The Poskim: Rabbi Yosef Te’omim (Poland and Germany, d. 1792), Eshel Avraham (in the Peri Megadim) to OH 124, paragraph 5; “our brothers the Yemenites”, according to Rabbi Hayyim David Halevi, Responsa Mayyim Hayyim, Vol. 1, No. 34, p. 150. (8)

The reasons: No reason is given by the Poskim cited. They apparently thought that there is an obligation to bow together at Modim (see above, note 7), and the only way to ensure this was to pray together until Modim.

The geographic distribution of the method: This method was, apparently, not widespread, as is evident from the small number of Poskim who cite it.

***

7. The method: If there is enough time, the Cantor prays aloud until Ha’el Hakadosh and the entire congregation answers Amen to the first three blessings and to Kedushah. After that, the Cantor continues silently, while the congregation returns to the beginning of the Amidah and recites the entire Amidah silently.

The circumstances: At Minhah, when time is short.

The Poskim: Rabbi Yom Tov Lipmann Heller (Germany and Poland, d. 1654), Divrei Hamudot to the Rosh, Berakhot, Chapter 4, paragraph 15, fol. 17d; Rabbi Shmuel b”r Yosef, Olat Tamid to OH 124 (quoted by Kaf Hahayyim, ibid., paragraph 10); Rabbi Ya’akov Lorberbaum (of Lissa, Ukraine and Poland, d. 1832), Derekh Hahayyim, 45:4; Mishnah Berurah OH 124, subparagraph 8; Arukh Hashulhan 124:7.

The reasons: “So that they may be able to answer Amen three times” (Arukh Hashulhan), and see above, number 5 for two possible explanations.

The geographic distribution of the method: This is the widespread Ashkenazic method at Minhah when time is short, from the 17th century until today.

III)          Practical Halakhah

After we have presented all the methods, we need to examine each method according to its own merits in order to see if it is convincing and whether it fits today’s reality.

According to the first method, of the Geonim, the congregation prays quietly, and then the Cantor repeats the Amidah aloud and stops abruptly (the Hebrew says: “and cuts”) in the middle of the loud repetition. With all due respect, this method is not aesthetic. It is, therefore, not surprising that it disappeared, and there is no reason to revive it today.

The fifth method, of the Maharil, in which someone is appointed to answer Amen, was not accepted by Klal Yisrael [the collective Jewish people], and, in any case, it is difficult to understand. If there is an obligation to answer Amen, then the entire public is required to answer Amen, not just one person. And if we want to preserve the original practice, answering Amen after the first three blessings does not do so.

The sixth method, of R. Yosef Teomim, in which they pray together until Modim, is also difficult to accept. If the main motive is to bow together at Modim, it is not at all clear that there is such an obligation (see note 7).

Thus, we are left with four possible methods:

  1. The second method, of the Rambam and Sefer Hassidim, in which the entire congregation prays together, is suitable for a congregation of beginners who are unable to pray alone and can therefore be adopted for a congregation of new immigrants or young children.
  2. The third method, of praying aloud for the first and last three blessings, is appropriate when one wants to shorten the repetition, but the timeframe is not very rushed. It can therefore be adopted, for example, in the Shabbat Musaf service when the hour is late but one nevertheless wishes to recite Birkat Kohanim. However, there is one serious flaw in this method, which was already emphasized by the author of Petah Hadevir (quoted by Keter Shem Tov, op. cit., p. 121). He says that since each person prays at a different pace, there is no doubt that some of the congregation will be confused by the voice of the Cantor when he chants the last three blessings aloud. Therefore, each Mara D’atra ]local rabbi[ will need to decide if this method is appropriate for his/her congregation.
  3. The fourth method, of praying together until after Kedushah, a common Sefardic method today in Minhah, is understandable and logical. It saves time, enables the recitation of Kedushah, and preserves most of the sacred atmosphere of the silent Amidah.
  4. The seventh method, of the Cantor praying aloud until after Kedushah after which the congregation returns to the beginning of the Amidah, is the accepted Ashkenazic method today at Minhah and is also understandable and logical. It apparently assumes that the entire congregation must answer Amen after every blessing recited aloud, and therefore one is required to answer Amen after the first three blessings. On the other hand, it enables the recitation of the Kedushah and preserves completely the sacred atmosphere of the silent Amidah.

Therefore, all four of these methods are permissible for the Minhah and Musaf services. However, it should be emphasized that it is forbidden to follow the seventh method in the Shaharit service. In other words, in Shaharit, one should pray together with the Cantor, either silently or aloud, until Ha’el Hakadosh and then continue silently. Why so? Because there is a principle in the Talmud (Berakhot 9b) that one must juxtapose the blessing for redemption (Ga’al Yisrael) with the Amidah. And thus it was codified in the Shulhan Arukh OH 111:1: “One must juxtapose Ge’ulah with the [Amidah] and one must not interrupt them even by reciting Amen after Ga’al Yisrael” (and cf. the Mishnah Berurah, ibid., subparagraph 2). Therefore, it is forbidden to answer Amen after the first three blessings in Shaharit and each individual must begin the Amidah together with the Cantor.(9)

In addition, although it is permissible to pray together with the Cantor until after Kedushah when necessary (the fourth method), this does not mean that it is worth doing so all year long, as is customary in some Conservative/Masorti synagogues. This is because this method of abbreviating the loud repetition has four educational or halakhic shortcomings:

A. First of all, the abbreviated repetition creates a sense of haste, as if the congregation is in a hurry to rid itself of the burden of the full repetition. This contradicts the words of Rabbi Yosef Caro: “He should pray [the Amidah] through supplication… and slowly, so that it should not appear as a burden which he wants to be rid of” (OH 98:3, following Berakhot 29b).

B. Moreover, a child who grows up in such a congregation does not absorb most of the special Nusah of weekdays, Shabbat and holidays. In other words, he loses much of the aesthetic flavor of each service.

C. Similarly, a person who prays in such a congregation is not able to recite Modim Derabbanan or to hear the Priestly Blessing (or in Israel: Nesiat Kappayim) all year long. In other words, he misses out on one of the most beautiful prayers in the Siddur – The Priestly Blessing, Birkat Kohanim.(10)

D. Finally, there are new immigrants in our congregations or people who do not know how to pray and they stop praying as soon as the Cantor stops praying aloud.

Therefore, it is preferable to limit the abbreviated repetition (the fourth method) to a weekday Minhah or Shaharit service when the congregation is really in a hurry, and to recite the full repetition on Shabbat and holidays when there is a large congregation of children, guests and new immigrants.

In any case, we have seen that there are four recommended methods of abbreviating the loud repetition and that every Mara D’atra may use one method or a combination of the different methods according to local needs and conditions.

David Golinkin

Hanukkah 5753; I Adar 12, 5779


 Notes 

  1. This responsum was originally published in the Responsa of the Va’ad Halakhah 5 (5752-5754), pp. 87-94 with the agreement of all the members of Va’ad Halakhah. This English translation contains corrections and additional sources.
  2. Hoiche in Yiddish means “aloud”. Indeed, Sefardic Jews use expressions such as “to pray aloud” and the like.
  3. And so they ruled in Yerushalmi Rosh Hashanah 4:10, fol. 59d: “The halakhah follows Rabban Gamliel regarding these Tekiot
  4. See what I wrote in Conservative Judaism 41/1 (Fall 1988), pp. 41-43.
  5. The primary sources are: Massekhet Soferim 20:5, ed. Higger, p. 345; Pirkoi ben Baboi, Ginzei Schechter, Vol. 2, New York, 1928, pp. 555-556; Tosafot to Sanhedrin 37b, s,v. miknaf; and many piyyutim from Eretz Yisrael which were discovered in the Cairo Genizah. See Y.M. Elbogen, Hatefilah B’yisrael B’hitpathutah Hahistorit, Tel Aviv, 1972, p. 48 and especially Ezra Fleischer, Tarbitz 38 (5729), pp. 255-266.
  6. Much has been written about this Takkanah of the Rambam. See Naftali Wieder, “Hashpaot Islamiot al Hapulhan Hayehudi”, Melilah 2 (5706), pp. 55-59 = offprint, Oxford, 5707, pp. 26-30; Yisrael Schepansky, Hatakkanot Beyisrael, Volume 4, Jerusalem, 5753, pp. 165-167; Ya’akov Blidstein, Hatefillah Bemishnato Hahilkhatit shel Harambam, Jerusalem, 5754, pp. 169-181; Akiva Shternberg, Hamasorti’im Hakadmonim, Jerusalem, 5776, pp. 173-184; I. M. Goldman, The Life and Times of the Radbaz, New York, 1970, pp. 106-112;  Rabbi David Novak, Law and Theology in Judaism, Vol. 2, New York, 1976, pp. 119-124; Rabbi Kassel Abelson, Responsa: 1991-2000, New York, 2002, pp. 81-88; Mordechai A. Friedman, in: Carlos Fraenkel, ed., Traditions of Maimonideanism, Leiden and Boston, 2009, pp. 141-143.
  7. See Berakhot 21b with Rashi and OH 109. It is not clear why it is important that they should bow together at Modim. 
  8. I have not found this custom in the books which record Yemenite customs. On the contrary, we have seen above that the Yemenites still follow the Rambam’s approach.
  9. However, if there is someone who feels that he cannot have the proper Kavanah (intent, concentration) during the first three blessings due to the chanting of the Cantor, he can pause at Shirah hadashah, answer Amen three times, recite the Kedushah, and then continue with Shirah hadashah and the silent Amidah — see OH 66:9.
  10. For the importance and meaning of Birkat Kohanim, see Rabbi Reuven Hammer, The Responsa of the Va’ad Halakhah 3 (5748-5749), pp. 7-11.