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Shabbat Parashat B'haalotcha 5778

Ask the Rabbi: Answering Amen to a Beracha You Do Not Believe in

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: If someone from Israel (who does not recite “Baruch Hashem l’olam …” [=bHlo]) is abroad (where they do recite it), I understand that he does not recite it but does answer amen in deference to the tzibbur’s minhag. Considering that he views the beracha as not called for, isn’t it a hefsek between birchot Kri’at Shema and Shemoneh Esrei. Similarly, should one who does not put on tefillin on Chol Hamo’ed say amen to the beracha of one who is doing so?


Answer: We can extend your excellent set of questions, based on your assumptions. Perhaps one should recite bHlo with the tzibbur even though he does not usually do so. If it is not justified to say bHlo, why isn’t responding amen a forbidden amen l’vatala (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 215:4), as you asked regarding tefillin, irrespective of hefsek?

Let us first look at the basis of bHlo. This set of 18 p’sukim, which are completed with a beracha, were instituted post-Talmudically because people were often afraid to stay for Ma’ariv at night. The 18 p’sukim were a reminder/replacement of sorts for Shemoneh Esrei they were missing; Kaddish was instituted to follow these p’sukim (Tur, OC 236). The question is whether this institution continued when people went back to staying for Ma’ariv, and there are indeed different opinions (see Shulchan Aruch and Rama, OC 236:2). Most Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz recite it, as the Rama implies, whereas the universal practice in Eretz Yisrael is not to do so, likely due to the opinions of the Gra, the Shulchan Aruch Harav, and the Arizal (see Kaf Hachayim, OC 236:14).

In general, one whose place’s minhag is not to recite a certain beracha and is davening in a place where they recite it (e.g., Hallel in shul on Seder night) does not recite the beracha unless he is the chazan (see Igrot Moshe, OC II:94). BHlo is different in a couple of ways (see Mishneh Halachot V:29). On the one hand, the importance of reciting it is relatively low, and not all agree that it is necessary even abroad. On the other hand, all agree that it was once deemed proper, and many poskim who do not say it, do not consider it pointless, just insufficiently justified. As a reflection of these (and perhaps other) factors, the consensus is that one who is just visiting chutz la’aretz does not say it (assuming people will not notice his divergence (see Tefilla K’hilchata 19:(49)), whereas a chutz la’aretz person does not say it while in Israel, at least if davening with a minyan (Mishneh Halachot ibid.).

Regarding amen, the question is a little harder. While it is forbidden to answer amen to a beracha l’vatala, many poskim limit what is considered l’vatala in this regard. The Be’ur Halacha says that one is allowed to answer amen to a beracha, which according to the listener’s p’sak, is not called for. When someone praises Hashem appropriately, based on a legitimate opinion, it is fit to receive an amen (Pri Megadim, EA 215:1). Answering, though, is optional because the obligation to answer amen does not extend to a case in which it is only a doubt if the beracha and its amen are called for. The Har Tzvi (OCI:38) goes further, requiring to answer amen. Yabia Omer (IX, 38), regarding a Sephardi answering amen to a beracha on Hallel on Rosh Chodesh or to an Ashkenazi  woman’s beracha on a mitzva in which she is exempt, disagrees and rules not to answer. Your question about tefillin on Chol Hamo’ed (in chutz la’aretz, where there are two legitimate opinions as to whether to put them on) would seem to depend on this question, and the majority opinion is that he may answer amen.

Regarding bHlo, it would seem that, indeed, because of the problem of hefsek, it is better not to voluntarily answer amen. On the one hand, a hefsek between birchot Kri’at Shema and Shemoneh Esrei is less severe at night (see applications in Shulchan Aruch, OC 236:2; Mishna Berura 236:7 and elsewhere). However, since answering amen to bHlo is almost definitely not a requirement, it is better not say it (see similar idea in B’tzel Hachochma IV:25).



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