Selected Halachos Related to Parshas Lech Lecha
By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
CHAZARAA HA-SHATZ - WHAT FOR?
Until modern times, the accepted norm was for all Jewish men to
daven in shul three times a day. Even the amei ha-aretz, the
people who were not able to daven on their own, were careful to
meet their twice-a-day obligation to recite Kerias Shema and its
blessings, and to daven Shemoneh Esrei at Shacharis and Minchah
in shul(1). To assist the amei ha-aretz with their davening, the
sheliach tzibbur was instructed to recite the parts of davening
which were not commonly known by heart(2) in a loud and clear
voice, so that everyone would be able to hear every single word.
Indeed, even those who were able to daven on their own, did not
bother to do so, since they were able to satisfy their
obligation by listening to the sheliach tzibbur and
concentrating on his words(3).
When it came to Shemoneh Esrei, however, this system proved
inadequate. The Rabbis did not want the people who were able to
daven on their own to fulfill their obligation of Shemoneh Esrei
by merely listening to the sheliach tzibbur; Shemoneh Esrei is
an intensely personal encounter with Hashem where on throws
himself at His mercy and entreats Him according to his unique
situation and desires. Consequently, the Rabbis ruled that
anyone who can recite Shemoneh Esrei on his own cannot get by on
the sheliach tzibbur's coat-tails, so to speak. But what to do
with the amei ha-aretz who were unable to daven on their own?
The solution was a new Rabbinical takanah (ordinance) which
stated that whenever a tefillah b'tzibur takes place, the
Shemoneh Esrei must be repeated out loud for the benefit of
those who cannot daven on their own(4).
It must be stressed, however, that even before this
widely-accepted takanah was instituted, the Shemoneh Esrei was
often repeated, sometimes completely and sometimes partially.
Surely, whenever an am ha-aretz was spotted, the sheliach tzibur
repeated the Shemoneh Esrei for his benefit. Even when there was
no am ha-aretz present the first three blessings of the Shemoneh
Esrei were recited out loud(5) in order for the congregation to
be able to say Kedushah. In other communities the last part of
the Shemoneh Esrei, too, was repeated, so that Bircas Kohanim
could be recited(6). But it was not until this takanah was
established and implemented that it became mandatory for
Shemoneh Esrei to be repeated in its entirety, regardless of the
It is for this reason that the Rambam(8) rules that even
nowadays when amei ha-aretz no longer frequent shuls and there
is hardly anyone to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei for, we must still
observe the takanah. The Rambam explains that when the takanah
was enacted initially, it specifically included all situations -
whether amei ha-aretz were present or not. The Rambam compares
this takanah to another one - the recitation of Magen avos on
Friday night after Shemoneh Esrei for the benefit of those who
come late to shul. Once established, Magen avos is recited said
as a matter of course - whether or not there are late comers.
So, too, with the takanah of chazaras ha-shatz; it is always
recited regardless of the circumstances(9).
THE ROLE OF THE SHELIACH TZIBBUR
An obvious question arises: Why did the Rabbis require the
sheliach tzibbur to daven twice - could he not stand by in
silence while the congregation recites their silent Shemoneh
Esrei? Does it not seem that his silent tefillah is extraneous?
The Talmud answers that before the sheliach tzibbur recites the
Shemoneh Esrei in order to exempt the congregation, he should
prepare exactly how he is going to say it(10). Thus his silent
Shemoneh Esrei serves as a trial run for his "real" Shemoneh
Esrei - the one that he will recite aloud for the benefit of the
It follows, therefore, that the nusach of the trial prayer be
the same nusach as the "real" one; otherwise it is not much of a
practice. For example, one who normally davens nusach Sefarad
but is serving as a sheliach tzibbur for an Ashkenaz
congregation must daven nusach Ashkenaz for his silent Shemoneh
Esrei as well, since his silent prayer is actually only a
practice run for his "real" Shemoneh Esrei(11).
A sheliach tzibbur who made a mistake during his silent
Shemoneh Esrei (e.g., he forgot Ya'aleh v'Yavo on Chol ha-Moed)
does not need to repeat it; rather, he may rely on the chazaras
ha-shatz which is his "real" Shemoneh Esrei anyway(12). [If this
happened in Ma'ariv, however, he must repeat the Shemoneh Esrei
after Aleinu, except on Friday night, when he can rely on Magen
A sheliach tzibbur who missed an earlier tefillah and needs to
make it up may do so through his present chazaras ha-shatz. He
must have in mind that his chazaras ha-shatz is serving a dual
THE ROLE OF THE CONGREGATION
Shulchan Aruch rules that at lease nine people must listen
intently to the entire chazaras ha-shatz. If not, the blessings
that the sheliach tzibbur repeats are "akin to" a berachah
The reason for this is based on our earlier explanation of
chazaras ha-shatz. Nowadays, the main objective of chazaras
ha-shatz is to fulfill the Rabbinical takanah. But it is clear
that the takanah can be fulfilled only when a minyan is present
and listening to the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei(15). If a
quorum is not paying attention, then the sheliach tzibbur is not
meeting the terms of the takanah and his berachos are being
recited for no purpose. Because of the severity of this
potential problem, Shulchan Aruch rules that every person should
view himself as if he is one of only nine people paying
attention to the repetition and that his undivided attention is
essential for the sheliach tzibbur to avoid reciting a berachah
l'vatalah. Thus it is highly improper for anyone to learn,
recite Tehillim or make up parts of davening during chazaras
ha-shatz, even if he attempts to pay attention and answer amen
in the correct spots(16).
If it is improper to engage in other spiritual endeavors during
chazaras ha-shatz, it is strictly forbidden to engage in sichas
chulin, mundane conversation, during chazaras ha-shatz. Shulchan
Aruch reserves uncharacteristically strong language for a person
who does so. He is referred to as "a sinner" and as "one whose
sin is too great to be forgiven." The poskim report that
"several shuls were destroyed on account of this sin"(17). In
addition, conversing during chazaras ha-shatz causes chillul
Hashem, since it unfortunately lends support to the widely-held
perception that non-Jews are more careful than Jews to maintain
proper decorum in a house of worship(18).
1 Makkos 24a.
2 Shemoneh Esrei of Ma'ariv was initially established as a
voluntary prayer, and was not obligatory until a much later
period in history.
3 Pesukei d'Zimrah, which consists of Tehilim which everyone
knew by heart, and Kerias Shema itself, which was taught to
every child, were not recited out loud by the sheliach tzibbur
but rather by each worshipper individually; see Tur O.C. 49,
Shenos Eliyahu (Berachos 1:1) and Emes l'Ya'akov (Berachos 2a).
4 It seems that until the days of the Rosh, who lived in the
thirteenth century, this was the prevalent custom in many areas.
The congregation listened quietly as Yishtabach and Birchos
Kerias Shema were recited out loud by the sheliach tzibbur. [The
only exception was when a pasuk from the Written Torah was
recited; then the entire congregation recited those pesukim out
loud in unison; see Tur and Darkei Moshe O.C. 49] Only in later
times, when it became difficult to hear every word and to
concentrate solely through listening, did the congregation chant
along with the sheliach tzibbur. At first they chanted along in
an undertone, so as to not disturb those who were listening to
the words. After a while the original custom fell into disuse
and everyone recited everything out loud; see O.C. 59:4 and
Beiur ha-Gra, Mishnah Berurah and Beiur Halachah, ibid.
5 As is true for all mitzvos, there are mystical, Kabbalistic
reasons for chazaras ha-shatz as well. Indeed, according to the
Arizal, chazaras ha-shatz is a higher level of tefillah than the
silent Shemoneh Esrei; see Kaf ha-Chayim 124:2.
6 Sometimes before the silent Shemoneh Esrei and sometimes
after; see Beiur Halachah 124:2.
7 Aruch ha-Shulchan 124:3. See Har Tzvi 1:61
8 Bach O.C. 124 and Aruch ha-Shulchan, ibid.
9Responsum quoted in Beis Yosef O.C. 124.
10 Despite the Rambam's unequivacal ruling to this effect, it is
an historical fact that when the Rambam and his son R' Avraham
resided in Egypt, they canceled chazaras ha-shatz during Minchah
for the entire country because they could not get the
congregants to quiet down and answer amen to the sheliach
11 Similar to a ba'al Koreh who is required to practice the
Torah reading before he reads it publicly - whether he is
familair with it or not; Machatzis ha-Shekel 124:3.
12 Igros Moshe O.C. 2:29 based on Magen Avraham 124:3..
13 O.C. 126:4.
14 Mishnah Berurah 108:4.
15 O.C. 124:4.
16 An individual cannot exempt another individual from Shemoneh
Esrei, even if the second individual is unable to daven.
17 Mishnah Berurah 124:17. If there aren't at least nine people
paying attention to the sheliach tzibbur, then it is strictly
forbidden to learn, etc. during chazaras ha-shatz, since doing
so causes berachos l'vatalah to be recited - Igros Moshe O.C.
4:19. See also Tzitz Eliezer 11:10.
18 Mishnah Berurah 124:27.
19 Aruch ha-Shulchan 124:12. [It is permitted, though, for a rav
who is asked an halacical question during chazaras ha-shatz to
answer it - ibid.].
Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 1999 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and
Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne
Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily
Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.
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