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A Bracha on Chatzi Hallel? Sephardic and Ashkenazic Practices

Ashkenazim recite a Bracha when they recite Hatzi Hallel (half Hallel) on Rosh Hodesh and the last six days of Pesach, and many or perhaps most Sepharadim (with the very notable exception of Moroccan and Turkish Jews) do not recite a Beracha on Hatzi Hallel (Shulhan Aruch Orah Haim 422:2).  This divergence of customs emerges from a dispute between Rabbeinu Tam and the Rambam whether a Beracha should be recited on Hatzi Hallel.

The Institution of Hatzi Hallel

The Gemara (Arachin 10) outlines the eighteen days (twenty-one days for those who reside in the Galut) when we are mandated to recite Hallel.  These are the eight days of Sukkot, the eight days of Hanukah, Shavu’ot and the first day of Pesah. Our recital of Hallel on Rosh Hodesh and the last six days of Pesach is merely a custom.  The custom to recite Hallel on Rosh Hodesh and the last six days of Pesah is recorded in the Gemara. In fact, the Gemara (Taanit 28b) records an anecdote regarding this practice. When the great Amoraic sage Rav first arrived in Babylonia he was shocked to discover the locals reciting Hallel on Rosh Hodesh.  He initially thought to stop them but was satisfied when he saw them skipping portions of the Hallel. He concluded that this was the local custom and that it was entirely acceptable.

The Dispute between the Rambam and Rabbeinu Tam

Eventually, the universally accepted practice developed to recite Hatzi Hallel on Rosh Hodesh and the last six days of Pesah (though there is some debate regarding the obligation of one not praying with a Minyan, see Rambam Hilchot Chanukah 3:7 and Raavad ad. loc.).  The Rishonim, however, debate whether a Beracha should be recited on the recitation of Hatzi Hallel. The Rambam (Hilchot Berachot 11:16 and Hilchot Chanukah 3:7) rules that one does not recite a Beracha on Hatzi Hallel because it is merely a Minhag. Rabbeinu Tam (cited in Tosafot 14a s.v. Yamim, on the other hand, believes that one does recite a Beracha because he believes that one does recite a Beracha on a Minhag.  The Mahzor Vitri (a compilation of Rashi’s practices and opinions compiled by his student Rabbeinu Simcha) records that Rashi also believes that no Beracha should be recited on Hatzi Hallel.

Both sides marshal proofs from the Gemara to support their respective opinions.  Rashi and Rambam can point to the Gemara (Sukkah 44b) that states that we do not recite a Beracha when we bang the Arava on the ground on Hashana Rabbah (Hibbut Arava) because it is only a Minhag.  We should note, though, that this is a highly venerated custom that was initiated by the prophets, as we mention in our Tefilot before we bang the Hoshanot. Rabbeinu Tam, on the other hand, points to our practice to recite a Beracha on the Mitzvot that we in the Galut perform on the second day of Yom Tov even though we observe Yom Tov Sheini only as a custom, now that we have a set calendar (see Beitzah 4b).  

The Rulings of the Shulhan Aruch and Rama

The Rama (Orah Haim 422:2) unequivocally rules in accordance with Rabbeinu Tam noting this is the accepted custom among Ashkenazic Jews.  This remains the universal and uncontested practice among Ashkenazim until this day. Maran Rav Yosef Karo, however, is not as straightforward.  He presents two opinions. He notes that some (the Rif) hold that a Bracha is recited on Hatzi Hallel when recited in the Tzibbur. He then proceeds to record that some hold (V’Yesh Omerim) that a Bracha is never recited on Hatzi Hallel.  He adds that this is the opinion of the Rambam and the accepted practice of Eretz Yisrael and its neighboring countries (referring to Egypt and Syria).

Hacham Ovadia Yosef and Rav Yitzhak Yosef insist that Maran rules in accordance with the Rambam.  They note that the accepted rule is that when Maran presents two opinions as Yesh Omerim and Yesh Omerim that he intends to rule in accordance with the second view cited.  

Moroccan and Turkish Jews, however, rule in accordance with the first opinion cited by Maran.  Rav Mordechai Lebhar (Magen Avot Orah Haim 422) notes that the fact that Maran adds that the custom in Eretz Yisrael, Egypt and Syria indicates that this is not the universally accepted practice among Sephardic Jews.  Maran clearly leaves room for an alternative practice among Sepharadim who do not reside in these three lands.

Moreover, the fact the Rosh (Brachot 2:5) notes that the custom is to recite Ligmor et HaHallel on days when full Hallel is recited and Likro Et HaHallel on days when Hatzi Hallel is recited, reflects the Minhag of the Jews of Spain.  The Rosh moved to Spain and exerted great influence there. In fact, the Ran and Maggid Mishneh (cited by the Beit Yosef to Orah Haim 422) and Rivash (Teshuvot number 111) all record that this was the practice in Spain. The intention is to signal to the Tzibur when to say full Hallel and when to recite Hatzi Hallel.  Moroccan and Turkish Jews follow this practice until this day. The aforementioned Tosafot, though, note that there is no Halachic requirement to make this indication and thus most Jews never say Ligmor Et HaHallel.

It is hardly surprising to discover that Moroccan and Turkish Jews recite a Bracha on Hatzi Hallel since many of the Megorashim (Jewish expellees) from Spain eventually settled in these two countries.  Eventually the Megorashim’s Spanish customs emerged as the dominant practice in these lands. The custom in Eretz Yisrael, Egypt and Syria remained the same since although Megorashim arrived in these countries, the Spanish practices did not overtake the practices of the Toshavim (Jews who resided in these countries before the arrival of the Megorashim).  Thus Syrian Jews and the Minhag of Eretz Yisrael is to follow the Rambam until today.

Conclusion

It is most interesting that all three practices regarding the Bracha on Hatzi Hallel already are cited and vigorously debated in the aforementioned Tosafot.   All three opinions are very much alive today with various communities following each of the opinions. At Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, we follow the Minhag of Eretz Yisrael and the ruling of Hacham Ovadia Yosef and do not recite a Bracha on Hatzi Hallel.  

By Rabbi Haim Jachter

Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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