Monday, June 04, 2007

What makes answering Amen Yehei Shmei Rabah special?

Rambam in Hilchot Tefilah 11:16 says as follows:

ואם התחיל להתפלל קודם שליח ציבור, והגיע שליח ציבור לקדושה--לא יפסיק, ולא יענה קדושה עימהן; וכן לא יענה אמן יהא שמיה רבה מברך, והוא באמצע התפילה, ואין צריך לומר, בשאר ברכות.

Rambam is discussing the rule that one should say Shemona Esreh together with the Tzibur. If one is late, if there is time to finish before the Chazzan gets to Kedusha, one should start SE immediately. If not, wait for the chazzan to start and say along with him until after Kedusha. If one miscalculates, starts the SE and finds that he cannot finish before the Chazzan gets to Kedusha he should continue praying and not answer along with the tzibur. So too should that person not answer Amen Yehei Shmei Rabah while in the middle of the SE. It is out of the question to do so with other Berachot.

The words I highlighted both in the original and in my paraphrase are a little cryptic and seem to be unclear. Is he saying that if one hears other Berachot during SE one should of course not answer Amen? If so why is AYSR more important? Or does he mean that while saying another Bracha one should also not interrupt for AYSR? Why would another Bracha be more important than SE?

Beit Yosef based on Rabbeinu Manoach understands it to mean that the first part was talking about the middle Berachot that one should not interrupt for AYSR while in the middle 13 Berachot. There is therefore no question that one should not do so in the first and last three. They are more stringent then the rest and one has to make sure to concentrate on them. This explanation is forced. Rambam was not talking about where the person was up to in SE.

Beit Yosef offers another possibility that of course one may not interrupt while saying other Berachot like Birchot Hanehenin (Berachot one makes when eating, drinking or generally using the physical world) or Birchot Hamitzvot (Berachot one makes before we make a Mitzvah). Why is it so obvious? Furthermore Rambam was not talking about this at all and it is quite a strain to read it into his words.

The most obvious explanation, and the Lechem Mishne suggests it, is that Rambam is telling us that Amen Yehei Shmei Rabah is more important to answer than Amen on general Berachot. Although one answers Amen always when a Bracha is heard, one is not challenged to do so by the person that says it. Here the Chazzan says “Ve’imru Amen … and say Amen …” challenging the congregation to say it. Ignoring the challenge by not responding may be seen as a lack of respect. Rambam is therefore saying that if one hears a Bracha, any Bracha, during SE one should just not answer. If for AYSR one does not interrupt how much more one should not interrupt for a Bracha that does not contain the exhortation to answer!

In my post I offered another possibility suggested by Rav Kafih’s commentary. Rereading it here in context, it is very strained. Though I believe Rav Kafih’s understanding is correct in Hilchot Kryat Shema, Rambam is not referring to that here.

In a comment on my last post, Matt commented about the lack of observation of the minutae in how to perform a Halacha. ( Please see his subsequent comment and clarification).I responded that I believe that for the minutae to have a meaning one has to understand the underlying philosophy or logic. Otherwise it is just a question of compulsive behavior. Here is a case that one can discern a clear reason why Halacha suggests the rule.

I therefore strongly believe that as we all have to learn and develop, at first we should follow our parents or Rebbi's way of doing things. As we grow in learning we must investigate and try to understand why this particular detail is important. It is only then that it will have meaning and promote the original intent of the Mitzvah, which is to bring us to Yediat and Avodat Hashem.


  1. Good post. Once again, I feel that you misunderstood the emphasis of my comments in your previous post.

    I agree that halachic minutiae are only meaningful if they are backed by correct ideas. The point I was trying to make was that philosophical ignorance, while regrettable, is understandable, given the dearth of correct philosophical ideas being taught in the Jewish world today. But to distort halacha in order to satisfy one's religious emotions is hypocritical: the same people who in other areas are machmir l'chut ha'saarah distort halachos in areas which do not conform to their religious inclinations.

    In my opinion, the implication in this post that we are in disagreement is incorrect.

  2. Matt, I know we are not in disagreement. I was just using your comment as a foil to clarify. I saw your answer but it was too late as my post was too far gone by then.

  3. "So too should that person not answer Amen Yehei Shmei Rabah while in the middle of the SE. It is out of the question to do so with other Berachot."

    I haven't read this inside but at first look it seems to my wacky brain he is saying: It is out of the question not to answer AYSR while in the middle of other berachot.

    Did I say I am wacky?

  4. You haven't answered the question! Or at least I don't see the answer. What makes answering AYSR special?

  5. >Or at least I don't see the answer.

    Thew fact that it is a challenge (ve'imru) as oppesed to a regular Beracha which does not contain the formulation. It certainly is not some mystical strength of specific words that creates a seggula is my point!

  6. I am lost. I'll wait for your next post.

  7. Here is a Doozy I heard today A girl at her Sheva brachos on Shabbos lit candles on a chair on the side, that night the Janitor a non Jew cleaned up and put the Candles away now the chair is Assur and it was mixed up with the other chairs but it will become Muttar later so it is not Botul Brov so what do we do now there is an answer its a Noda BeYehuda?lets hear your idea