Sunday, June 03, 2007

Answering Amen as a Superstition!

I have been bothered by the signs posted in all Shuls lately about the Segulah of saying Amen Yehei Shmei Rabah at the top of ones voice while looking and concentrating on the letters and all the good things that come of it. We now have in every shul, in addition to those who read Parshyot from klaf as segulot, some who disturb everybody by yelling Amen at the top of their lungs. At least the first only harm themselves, but these selfish people bother everyone and make fools of themselves and the Mitzvot they purport to represent. I do not understand the need to make something beautiful and rational into a superstition thereby negating its purpose. Better not to do the mitzvah than do it for the sake of some physical benefit.

Rambam in Hilchot Tefilah 9:1 ואומר קדיש, וכל העם עונים אמן יהא שמיה רבה מברך בכל כוחן
The chazzan says Kaddish and the people answer Amen Yehei Shmei Rabah Mevorach with all their strength. That is based on the Gemara in Shabbat 119b brought down in Rif in the third Perek in Berachot which has an added comment that doing so “the Gezeirah of Seventy years is torn”. The plain understanding would be that the Gemara is referring to the life span of man which averages seventy years. (See Tehilim 90:10). Rambam ignores the promised reward and I will not venture to explain how he understood it. Suffice it to say that when he finds it appropriate, he does report promised rewards. A study of when he does and does not and the search for a pattern and a possible explanation of his reasoning are warranted. Be it as it may he ignores it here.

Rabbeinu Manoach comments on this Rambam – with all the strength of the soul – meaning with total concentration (kavanah). That is based on Rabbeinu Yonah on the Rif in Berachot who comments: with all his concentration. As some people are able to concentrate only when they say things aloud, the Gemara uses this term. However, one should not say it so loud that people will make jokes about him.

We are talking about Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerona, the Chaver of Ramban (and cousin) one of the premier Kabbalist in Spain not necessarily a rationalist Maimonidean!

Let us hope people learn to do Mitzvot for their own sake, to develop our Midot and thus our knowledge of God rather than for the sake of destructive superstitions. They turn a Mitzvah into an Aveirah.


  1. You beat me to it Matt.

  2. I believe the Shulchan Aruch Harav says that one should not make a fool out of himself when saying Amen yehei shmai rabba...

  3. Not only that, but it seems that people are, in general, unaware of the halachos of saying amen. Saying amen louder than the berachah itself, extending the amen longer than it should be, altering the vowelization ("oomayin"), saying amen before the person is finished with the berachah, saying amen too late, saying amen to children's berachos - all of these violations of halacha seem to be fairly common.

    I guess I can SOMEWHAT sympathize when people have a misunderstanding of a philosophical idea behind a halacha. Correct philosophical ideas, although they are of paramount importance, are not exactly "calling out in the streets;" many people just aren't lucky enough to hvae access to good teachers who would be able to guide them on the right path. But when people take a halachic institution and disregard the halachos, thereby TOTALLY transforming it into an outlet for their religious emotions - THAT is a true travesty.

  4. Matt,

    I always find the details of a halacha, the minutae of the act, as irritating and OCD unless there is a philosophical understanding why one is required to do it. It is the lack of teaching the underlying philosophy that spawns so much ocd (compulsive behavior)in our community. Abetted by superstition it makes many look like crazy people.

    I therefore try to figure out the reasons why a possek suggests a certain detail in the halacha. If it is based on just a diyuk in another preceding possek without trying to understand the whys thereof I usually ignore it even if brought down in Mishna Berurah. Of course until I investigate I will follow the minhag I receive from my parents or that I picked up along the way from Rebbeim.

    That is why Rambam is so importnat in his MT. He only paskens Halacha Digmara unless clearly stating otherwise.All his halachot have a reasonableness to them that after some thought can be discovered. That is partially the Brisker derech but can be found in other great Rishonim and Acharonim.

  5. David,

    I agree with everything you just said.

    My point was more a comment on the inexcusability of their behavior. As I said, correct philosophical ideas are simply not widely taught, and for that reason, I can understand why people are unaware of them. Halachic minutiae, on the other hand, are something which these people embrace and value. That is why I believe that their distortion of the halachic aspect, in addition to their philosophical corruption, is what makes their behavior inexcusable, for it reveals that their actions are not guided by ignorant adherence to halacha, but by subjective religiosity.

    In short: missing out on a fundamental framework is bad, but corruption within one's own framework is hypocritical.

  6. The signs in shule aren't the half of it - what about people saying brachos *just* to be able to answer amein? Or gathering together groups just to recite brachos aloud so amein could be answered b'rabim to effect the segulah? There is now a whole book of stories about the miracles effected by answering amein. The worst part is that schools are more likely to tell kids one of these stories but they never actually bother to go over the halachos with them.

  7. "altering the vowelization ("oomayin")"

    Actually that is the way Artscroll transliterates in their siddur with the transliteration. Yes believe it or not they do not use the Artscroll rules of Hebrew!

  8. you guys should see KARLIN in Boro Park and In Yerushalayim

  9. I know. as a teenager I loved Karlin in Yerushalaim but got cooled off pretty fast. I thougyt cupping their hands around their ears was a hoot!

  10. Well if you had people yelling in your ear you also put your hand there