May 28, 2024
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The Chazan’s Pre-Birkat Kohanim Practice

By Rabbi Daniel Mann/Eretz Hemdah

לעילוי נשמת

יואל אפרים בן אברהם עוזיאל זלצמן ז”ל

Question: In chutz laaretz, I was taught that the chazan says the whole Elokeinu Veilokei Avoteinu prayer quietly, except for calling out the word, “Kohanim.” In Israel, someone else says, “Kohanim.” Does the chazan still recite the whole prayer quietly? What is the logic of the two practices?

Answer: The main point of the prayer of Elokeinu Veilokei Avoteinu is to beseech Hashem for the benefits of the brachot that constitute Birkat Kohanim, in lieu of the Kohanim carrying out their mitzvah (Rav Amram Gaon, cited in the Tur, Orach Chayim 127). Although Elokeinu Veilokei Avoteinu is apparently a post-Talmudic institution (see Tosafot, Brachot 34a), it is accepted that this is not a hefsek in chazarat hashatz. Realize that Birkat Kohanim is supposed to be incorporated in chazarat hashatz, with the Gemara (Megillah 18a) explaining its appropriateness at that exact juncture. The chazan is expected to recite the brachot’s words to prompt the Kohanim, and that too, is not a hefsek (Rashi, Brachot 34a; Rambam, Tefilla 14:8). Similarly, the Birkat Kohanim stand-in is appropriate for the chazan. Tosafot (Brachot 34a) also infers from the mishna (ad loc.) that were it not for concern that he might confuse himself, the chazan could have answered, “amen” to the Birkat Kohanim.

The disagreement begins in regard to the chazan’s involvement when there is Birkat Kohanim. Rabbeinu Tam (cited by Tosafot, ibid.; Rosh, Brachot 5:17) posits that despite the fact that leading Birkat Kohanim is not a hefsek for the chazan and that someone needs to call the Kohanim, a gabbai should call them—instead of the chazan (note that in the Gemara and other early sources, the word “chazan” is what we call a gabbai).

The Rosh (ibid.) cites the argument of the Ri that the objection to the chazan calling the Kohanim may have disappeared once the prayer of Elokeinu Veilokei Avoteinu was instituted. That is because now the chazan can use the recitation of the word “Kohanim” within the text of Elokeinu Veilokei Avoteinu to call them. The Tur (Orach Chayim 128) and others report that the Maharam MeiRutenberg used to do this, and that he said all of Elokeinu Veilokei Avoteinu silently except for “Kohanim.” Perhaps when only that word is said out loud, it is more discernible as a call to the Kohanim, in addition to part of a prayer. (When someone other than the chazan prompts, he immediately says that one word, so that the Maharam’s system slightly delays the beginning of Birkat Kohanim). On the other hand, others report (see Hagahot Maimoniot Tefillah 14:7) that the Maharam changed his practice, and as chazan, no longer recited “Elokeinu Veilokei Avoteinu” or called out to the Kohanim.

Concerning practical halacha, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 128:8), following the Rambam (ibid.), has the chazan calling out “Kohanim” without Elokeinu Veilokei Avoteinu, and this is the Sephardi minhag (Yalkut Yosef, Orach Chayim 127:2 and 128:35). The Rama (ad loc.) cites as the minhag the earlier practice of the Maharam, that the chazan says, Elokeinu Veilokei Avoteinu quietly, except for “Kohanim” out loud. This is the minhag that you grew up with in chutz laaretz, where it is still prevalent for Ashkenazim. The Gra (Maaseh Rav 168) follows Rabbeinu Tam—a gabbai should call out, “Kohanim,” whereas the chazan just recites the Birkat Kohanim itself before the Kohanim. As not infrequently happens, the minhag of the Gra became the minhag of the Ashkenazim of Eretz Yisrael.

It is theoretically possible to posit that even according to the minhag that a gabbai calls out, “Kohanim,” the chazan still says Elokeinu Veilokei Avoteinu quietly. One can even argue that this has an advantage in making the chazan’s word-by-word prompting of Birkat Kohanim less of a hefsek, as it is incorporated into the text of Elokeinu Veilokei Avoteinu. However, since the consensus is that in the time of Chazal—before the prayer of Elokeinu Veilokei Avoteinu was used at all—the chazan led the Kohanim in Birkat Kohanim, it must not be a problem of hefsek at all. Such a practice does not fit in with any of the three main minhagim. (Perhaps, some chazanim, especially those who are used to the minhag of chutz laaretz, say all of Elokeinu Veilokei Avoteinu quietly before Birkat Kohanim. However, this is a mistaken practice, albeit, not a critical one.)


This column is written by Rabbi Daniel Mann on behalf of the Eretz Hemdah Institute in Jerusalem, which trains dayanim and has many projects on behalf of klal Yisrael, including its “Ask the Rabbi” service in conjunction with the OU. Rabbi Mann is a dayan at Eretz Hemdah, a senior member of the “Ask the Rabbi” project, and author of its “Living the Halachic Process” series. He is also a Ram at Yeshiva University’s Gruss Kollel in Israel.

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