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Shabbat Parashat R'ei 5780

Ask the Rabbi: How Does the Chazan Act During Modim DRabbanan?

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I have seen some chazanim wait, during their Modim, at “l’olam va’ed” for the tzibbur to finish Modim D’Rabanan. That seems to make the most sense, so everyone can hear all of Modim. Should everyone be doing that?   


Answer: The gemara (Sota 40a) lists various recitations of praise to Hashem, proposed by different Amoraim, for the tzibbur to say as the chazan recites Modim (the Yerushalmi Berachot 1:5 has different proposals). The gemara concludes with the idea that we therefore say all of them. The Beit Yosef (Orach Chayim 127) posits that it is called Modim D’Rabbanan because it combines sayings of several rabbis. The idea of the recitation, along with the unique practice of bowing along with the chazan (see how the Yerushalmi ibid. connects it to the recitation) is that at the moment of the main praise of Hashem, the tzibbur must be actively involved to show their agreement and not imply disagreement (see Aruch Hashulchan,OC 127:1; Teshuvot V’hanhagot II:60).

The first nine words of the regular Modim and Modim D’Rabannan are identical. According to the original, short versions, the tzibbur would miss no more than a very little of Modim by reciting it, and it would serve like a long amen. In fact, several Acharonim assume that if the chazan or even one saying the silent amida recited Modim D’Rabbanan, he would not have to go back because they did the right beginning and end of the beracha and the middle is similar enough (see Eliya Rabba, OC 127:1; Halichot Shlomo 8:28; Yechaveh Da’at (Chazan) III:17). You (and others) are bothered with missing part of Modim, which deserves a minyan. Indeed, some Acharonim, starting with the Eliya Rabba (ibid.) and including more recent authorities (some are cited in Ishei Yisrael 24:(124)), instruct the chazan to say the first (joint) words slowly or wait for the tzibbur to finish. There is another minhag (cited ibid. 125) that the chazan says the beginning of Modim quietly, as there is no point in saying it out loud if no one will be listening.

However, these are not the more accepted opinions. The Mishna Berura (127:3) rules like earlier Acharonim and the simple reading of the gemara that the chazan continues Modim despite the tzibbur’s recital of Modim D’Rabbanan and that he should do so out loud (ibid. 124:41). The Mishna Berura provides two reasons for the latter: 1) Chazarat hashatz was instituted for those who do not know how to daven on their own, and they would be listening to the chazan rather than saying Modim D’Rabbanan; 2) Ten people need to hear the chazan. The Mishna Berura does not explain how #2 can be accomplished if people are reciting something else. Halichot Shlomo (8:(40)) suggests that one can speak and listen at the same time to two similar things. This seem to work better on a halachic rather than a practical level. If one is saying the same basic thing as the chazan, he is considered part of the minyan. (We substantiated this elsewhere – soon to appear as Living the Halachic Process VI, A-6, regarding one who starts Shemoneh Esrei with the tzibbbur’s chazarat hashatz. Admittedly, it is easier to make this claim when they are saying the same words.)

According to what we laid out above, this approach sits well with the historical and logical development of the practice of Modim D’Rabbanan. Chazal saw it not as an independent recitation (see Teshuvot V’hanhagot ibid.) that ends up competing with chazarat hashatz but as a natural accompaniment of this crucial part of chazarat hashatz. Due to this understanding, the Rabbanan did not have a problem extending a few-word response into a longer piece and did not see it as stopping the flow of chazarat hashatz. Because this caused a perception that the tzibbur is not involved in all of chazarat hashatz, practices arose to either give up on the middle of Modim as a joint matter and have the chazan recite it silently or, in the other direction, wait to have everyone listen. But the main minhag accepted by most poskim is that the chazan and tzibbur say different words and still form one unit.

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