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Shabbat Parashat Shemot| 5766

Ask the Rabbi

Question: In the shul where I am gabbai, there are a few parts of chazarat hashatz (= chaz hash;repetition of Shmoneh Esrei)where we sing along with the chazzan, sometimes a few words and occasionally an entire section. A member of the community complained that it prevents him from hearing the chazzan, as he should. Should I step in?
Answer: Public policy matters, certainly in regard to running the tefilla, are the local rabbi’s domain. In this response we assume that either your shul does not have a rav or you want to know whether or how to bring up the matter to him.
 The Tur (Orach Chayim 124) cites the Rosh, who strongly opposed those who recite chaz hash along with the chazzan,for a few reasons. Most of his concerns do not apply (or apply less) in this case, but one main, possible issue may remain (the Rosh’s opinion seems to be in dispute). Let us address the Rosh’s issues.
Issue 1- If one says chaz hash along with the chazzan, he is making berachot l’vatala, as he has already said his own Shemoneh Esrei. In our case, congregants recite only sections or words and do not recite the beracha part (see Beit Yosef, ad loc.). The fear that they might continue on to the beracha’sconclusion(see Shaarei Teshuva, 124:7) does not apply, assuming there is a standard procedure for singing along in your shul and people never continue on to the beracha.
Issue 2- By singing along, the person does not get to say “amen,” which he is not allowed to say right after he himself makes the same beracha. This too does not apply in our case.
Issue 3- It is haughty (Mishna Berura 124:16) and lightheaded to sing along out loud. This applies when the chazzan is accompanied by a self-appointed assistant(s). However, when the congregation finds it uplifting to sing sections together, it need not be haughty or lightheaded.
Issue 4- The Mishna Berura (124:18) and Igrot Moshe (OC IV, 19) understand that the requirement that nine people listen to chaz hash (see also Nefesh Harav, pg. 126) applies not only to the end of each beracha but to its entirety. (The Perisha does not mention this as one of the Rosh’s concerns, but he may refer to a case where many others were listening quietly and could hear the chazzan.) One might want to claim that since shomeia k’oneh (one who hears is as if he recites) one can hear part of the chaz hash from the chazzan and hear other parts from others. We do find that when a chazzan is unable to continue, we allow someone else to continue (Shulchan Aruch, OC 126:2), so one can fulfill chaz hash (b’dieved) with multiple chazzanim. However, that is only in between berachot. If chazzanim change in the middle of a beracha, the new one must start at the beginning of the beracha (ibid.) even if he had been listening to every word until that point (see Mishna Berura 126:8). So, two cannot share one beracha. Furthermore, there is a problem concentrating on words that a group recites in unison (Shulchan Aruch, OC 141:2).
 There are a few ways to deal with this problem. Firstly, when only a few words are sung together, the words that are not heard properly usually do not disqualify the beracha (see Mishna Berura 126:10). Even in critical sections, if the congregation only provides some background voices, then there will be nine (if not many more) who hear the chazzan clearly enough to fulfill the requirements of chaz hash. When the congregation drowns out the chazzan on entire sections of the tefilla, it is proper for him to wait to recite that section after things quiet down.
Let’s put things in perspective. From a purist’s approach, it is best for everyone to listen silently to the chazzan with great concentration. But we must be realistic. Practically, in most of our shuls, joint singing adds a lot to the atmosphere and increases concentration. Therefore, trying to prevent it is not only unfeasible but is probably counterproductive in regard to the atmosphere necessary to keep our shuls inviting, vibrant and focused. 
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This edition of
Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R’ Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.

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