The Repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei (1)

  • Rav David Brofsky



     The Mishna in Rosh Ha-shana (4:9) rules that, when it comes to the Amida, the standing prayer, which we colloquially refer to as Shemoneh Esrei because its weekday version originally contained eighteen blessings, "Just as the shaliach tzibbur (cantor) is obligated, similarly each individual is also obligated."  The Gemara (Rosh Ha-shana 34b) explains that after the silent Amida, recited by everyone individually, the shaliach tzibbur (often referred to by the acronym shatz) must recite aloud a repetition (chazara) of it, in order to fulfill the obligation for those unable to recite the Amida themselves:


Rabban Gamli'el asked, "If so, why does the shaliach tzibbur descend before the Ark?"

They said to him: "In order to fulfill the obligation for one who is not a baki (expert)."


     In the upcoming shiurim, we will discuss the purpose and nature of Chazarat Ha-shatz, its relevance and applicability nowadays, and whether one may rely upon Chazarat Ha-shatz practically and under what circumstances.  Furthermore, we will explore the laws of the special prayers Kedusha and Modim De-rabbanan, which are said by the congregation during Chazarat Ha-shatz.


The Purpose of Chazarat Ha-shatz and Its Relevance Nowadays:


     Seeing that the Gemara teaches that the shaliach tzibbur repeats Shemoneh Esreh in order to fulfill the obligation of those unable to pray on their own, are there times in which Chazarat Ha-shatz may be viewed as superfluous or even inappropriate?


     The Rambam (Pe'er Ha-dor 148; see Beit Yosef OC 148), in a well known responsum, defends the practice of repeating Shemoneh Esreh EVEN when the congregation is comprised of beki'in (plural of baki), i.e. those who are able to recite Shemoneh Esreh for themselves.  (Before printed prayer-books, this meant those who knew the prayer by heart.)  He argues that since the rabbis instituted Chazarat Ha-shatz as a standard part of the service, it should be no different than Kiddush in synagogue on Friday night (Pesachim 101a), initially put in the prayer service to exempt the guests of the community who would be eating on the premises; or than saying the abridged repetition known as "Me-ein Sheva" on Friday night, originally instituted to lengthen the service to ensure that those who arrived late would not have to walk home alone (Shabbat 24b).  Both are still recited to this day!  (Incidentally, the Rishonim do indeed debate whether Kiddush should be recited when there are no guests in the synagogue, but that is a separate discussion.)


     Nevertheless, despite his forceful defense of Chazarat Ha-shatz even when its original function is no longer relevant, the Rambam himself abolished the recitation of Chazarat Ha-shatz!  Rabbi David ben Shlomo ibn Abi Zimra (1479-1573), known as the Radbaz, who served as the Chief Rabbi of Egypt for over forty years and wrote a commentary on parts of the Rambam's Mishneh Torah, cites a takkana (enactment) of the Rambam, originally written in Arabic:


In our times it is appropriate NOT to first pray silently and then repeat [Shemoneh Esreh] out loud.  [Nowadays] when the shaliach tzibbur repeats out loud, anyone who has already fulfilled his obligation turns to chat with his neighbor…  [Rather,] they should pray together, one prayer with the shaliach tzibbur, and the desecration of God's name (chillul Hashem) which has spread among the non-Jews who say that the Jews spit and chat during their prayers will be removed…  This seems more appropriate nowadays, because of the reasons I listed…   (Teshuvot Ha-Radbaz 4:94)


     Similarly, the Rambam's son, Rav Avraham ben Ha-Rambam, cited by the Radbaz, reports that his father abolished Chazarat Ha-shatz.  He attests that "all of the scholars of his generation and all who sat in his study hall" agreed with him.  He notes:


The [congregation] does not listen to [the repetition] with fear, awe and humility while they stand in prayer, but rather speaks idle chatter…  This is a great stumbling block… as [this behavior]… ridicules the honor of heaven (kevod shamayim).


     Interestingly, the Radbaz reports that in 1539, a dispute erupted between a community loyal to the Rambam's takkana and another congregation which insisted that the Egyptian communities conform to the majority of communities, which adhere to the original Talmudic dictum requiring the silent Amida to be followed by a repetition recited out loud.    He rules that the Rambam's takkana was NOT meant to be a permanent change to the liturgy, but rather a temporary "fence," erected to correct a problematic situation.  However, in other times and places, where the Rambam's fears are not as acute, communities should return to the original law requiring both a silent and an out-loud Shemoneh Esreh


     While, as we shall see, at times a congregation may abridge Chazarat Ha-shatz, the Rishonim and Acharonim all defend maintaining the practice of reciting a full repetition, as the Talmud teaches, under normal circumstances. 


Talking During Chazarat Ha-shatz


     Incidentally, while the Rambam's solution may not have been accepted, idle chatter remains a constant problem during Chazarat Ha-shatz.  The Shulchan Arukh (123:7) cites Rabbeinu Yona, who warns that "one who talks [during Chazarat Ha-shatz] is a sinner; his crime is unbearable, and he should be chastised.


     One may ask: what precisely is the problem with talking during Chazarat Ha-shatz?  On the one hand, the Rambam points to an external concern, mentioning the chillul Hashem which emerges from the disparity in decorum between the non-Jewish form of worship and the Jewish practice.  On the other hand, his son, Rav Avraham, points to a broader concern, as he notes the violation of God's honor. 


     Furthermore, talking during Chazarat Ha-shatz may pose a number of problems, depending upon how one understands Chazarat Ha-shatz.  If Chazarat Ha-shatz merely provides an opportunity for those who are unable to recite the full Amida to fulfill their obligation, then it is harder to condemn those who talk during Shemoneh Esreh, as they personally, and at times communally, do NOT employ the repetition for its original purpose.  Therefore, more general reasons, such as chillul Hashem and kevod shamayim, are necessary.


     However, as we will demonstrate, others propose additional functions and understandings of Chazarat Ha-shatz.


     The Rosh (Megilla 3:7), for example, suggests that Chazarat Ha-shatz serves as a context for reciting Kedusha and Modim De-rabbanan.  Others (Arukh Ha-shulchan 124) add Birkat Kohanim (the Priests' Blessing) which is performed during Chazarat Ha-shatz


     Alternatively, the Kaf Ha-chayyim (124:2) reports that Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the great Kabbalist known as the Arizal, explains that Chazarat Ha-shatz, according to the mystical understanding, is a greater prayer than the silent Amida!


     Interestingly, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik distinguishes between the function and purpose of Chazarat Ha-shatz.  Functionally, as the Gemara (Rosh Ha-shana 34b) explains, the repetition allows one who cannot pray to fulfill his obligation of tefilla.  However, he suggests that, by nature, Chazarat Ha-shatz is tefillat ha-tzibbur, a communal prayer, led by the shatz.  Accordingly, the entire congregation should participate, by standing quietly, feet together, focusing on the words and answering "Amen" to each berakha.  He notes that the Rambam describes two aspects of Chazarat Ha-shatz.  The Rambam (Hilkhot Tefilla 8:4) writes:


The communal prayer (tefillat ha-tzibbur): one prays out loud and the others listen, and this is only done in a quorum of ten adult free men… Similarly one does not say Kedusha or read the Torah [with less than ten].


     Only later, in Halakha 9, does the Rambam mention:


The shaliach tzibbur fulfills the obligations of the masses.  How so?  When he prays, and they listen and answer "Amen" after each and every berakha, they are akin to those who have [personally] prayed.


     It seems that the Rambam ascribes multiple functions to Shemoneh Esreh


     Based upon Rav Soloveitchik's understanding of the Rambam, which is noted by other prominent authorities, talking during Chazarat Ha-shatz may not only cause a chillul Hashem, and it may not only violate kevod shamayim; it also undermines the very essence of Chazarat Ha-shatz as a tefillat ha-tzibbur


     Interestingly, this understanding may also enable us to understand a somewhat puzzling halakha.  One may fulfill his obligation through Chazarat Ha-shatz, recited in a quorum of ten men (minyan).  However, unlike other mitzvot, one may not recite the tefilla for another, employing the principle of "shome'a ke-oneh," "listening is like speaking," without a minyan.  Why?


     One might suggest that Shemoneh Esreh being, unlike Kiddush and other berakhot, a prayer and not a text, cannot be recited for another, since prayer, by definition, is individual and must by recited by the person praying.  However, one who joins tefillat ha-tzibbur, the communal prayer, may fulfill his obligation through Chazarat Ha-shatz, as by concentrating on and answering to the berakhot he is actively participating in the prayer. 


When May One Rely Upon Chazarat Ha-shatz?


     As mentioned above, the Gemara (Rosh Ha-shana 34b) teaches that Chazarat Ha-shatz fulfills the obligation of one who does not know how to pray on his own, an "eino baki" (non-expert).


     The Shulchan Arukh (124:1), therefore, explains:


The one who fulfills his obligation through the prayer of the shaliach tzibbur should attend to every word the shaliach tzibbur says, from beginning to end, and he should neither interrupt nor talk; and he retreats three steeps, like a person who prays on his own.


     In a previous shiur, (Tefilla 1, Shiur #29), we discussed whether one who does not understand Hebrew may fulfill an obligation, through the principle of shome'a ke-oneh.  We noted that Tosafot (Berakhot 45b) and the Rosh (Berakhot 7:6) ask whether a man may recite Birkat Ha-mazon for a woman who does not understand Hebrew.  They insist that only one who understands Hebrew can fulfill their obligation through an agent.  Rashi, however, disagrees and writes that one who does not understand Hebrew may fulfill his obligation of berakhot by listening to someone else.


     While Rav Yosef Karo (OC 193:1) rules that one may recite Birkat Ha-mazon for another only if the other person understands Hebrew, the Rema (ibid., 199:7; Darkhei Moshe 193) notes that the custom is in accordance with the position of Rashi, who rules that one MAY fulfill an obligation through listening to another recite a Hebrew text even without understanding the meaning.  The Mishna Berura (193:5) concurs, pointing out that common custom is for one to fulfill the obligation for another, regardless of whether the second person understands Hebrew.


     This brings the Arukh Ha-shulchan (124:2) to question the many commentators (Magen Avraham, Taz, Mishna Berura, et al.) who limit the ability to fulfill one's obligation through Chazarat Ha-shatz to one who at least understands the words.  He concludes that, based on a number of considerations, the shaliach tzibbur can fulfill everyone's obligation (as long as he fits the "eino baki" description). 


     What about one who prayed and omitted an insertion that ordinarily would require him to repeat Shemoneh Esreh?  May this person listen to the repetition of the shaliach tzibbur in order to fulfill his obligation? 


     The Behag (cited by Tosafot, Rosh Ha-shana 34b, s.v. Kakh) insists that while one who has yet to pray may not fulfill his obligation through Chazarat Ha-shatz, one who omits an essential insertion may listen to the shaliach tzibbur in place of repeating the entire tefilla!


     The Shulchan Arukh (124:10) rules in accordance with the Behag.  However, some Acharonim (see Mishna Berura 40) insist that one should still, preferably, recite the second Shemoneh Esreh, as it is extremely difficult to concentrate properly for the entirety of Chazarat Ha-shatz.  This seems to be the common practice.


     Incidentally, being that Chazarat Ha-shatz may, at times, fulfill another's obligation of Shemoneh Esreh, the shaliach tzibbur should not only have the proper intention, but he should also say each and every word clearly and aloud.



     Next week, we will explore the extent and nature of the congregation's participation in Chazarat Ha-shatz.