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Shabbat Parashat Vayeilech | 5769


Ask the Rabbi

Question: If it will be difficult to get to Birkat Kohanim (duchening) of Neilah on time, is it better to rush the davening or should we just not do it under these circumstances?

Answer: The practice of doing Birkat Kohanim (=BK) at Neilah is found in a mishna (Ta’anit 26a) and accepted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 623:5). The Rama (ad loc.), though, says that the minhag is not to do so. The Bach (OC 623) and Mishna Berura (623:8) say that this is because BK ends up being at night too often. The Gra (ad loc.; see Sha’ar Hatziyun 14) explains that since the mishna says to do BK also at Shacharit, just as our minhag is not to do it then, we do not do it at Neilah either. Ashkenazim outside Israel do not, for the most part, do BK at Neilah; in Israel, the minhag is to do so. This makes sense according to the Gra, who shaped many Israeli minhagim. Since BK is done every day, including at Shacharit of Yom Kippur, it is done at Neilah.

Is there a clear need, in light of the minhag in Israel, for BK to be done during the day, as you (and the Bach) assumed? The Yerushalmi (Ta’anit 4:1, cited by the Rosh, Yoma 8:20) brings a machloket as to whether Neilah is prayed after nightfall following Yom Kippur (Rav) or only during the day (Rav Yochanan). It asks on Rav from the fact that BK is said at Neilah, positing that BK cannot be done at night because it is compared to the service in the Beit Hamikdash, which is done in the daytime only. The Rambam (Tefilla 1:7) and Shulchan Aruch (OC 623:2) rule that Neilah must be done before the setting of the sun. According to the Yerushalmi’s linkage, then, BK would also have to be during the day. The Maharil, though, says that BK can be done at night. He explains that parts of the service in the Beit Hamikdash could continue into the night. The Sheilat Yaavetz (51) supports the Maharil’s position by pointing out that there are Rishonim who rule like Rav and thus do not accept the linkage between BK and the avoda. These opinions notwithstanding, a clear majority of poskim rule that BK may not be done at night (see Yechaveh Da’at VI, 40). The Magen Avraham (623:3) suggests skipping the piyutim said during Neilah in order to get to BK on time and going back to them after the Amida.

Yet, the cutoff point is not as simple as many assume, because is not clear cut, in general and in this regard, that the day finishes at what we call sunset. The Shulchan Aruch Harav (623:8) says that daytime in this regard is until halachic night, tzeit hakochavim, which is at the very least thirteen and a half minutes after sunset. In general when the Shulchan Aruch talks about sheki’a he refers not to the “disappearance” of the sun under the horizon but around an hour later. It is difficult to rely on this latter opinion since most of us regularly do work on Motzaei Shabbat and eat at the end of Yom Kippur before this. However, during the time of bein hashemashot, which we usually assume starts at sunset and extends for approximately 20 minutes, there is more room for leniency. Yechaveh Da’at (ibid.) says that while BK should be skipped at Neilah rather than said after nightfall, it should be done during bein hashemashot if the congregation did not succeed to get it in by sunset. This is because of a sefeik sefeika (double doubt). Maybe BK can be done at night. Even if it cannot be done at night, bein hashemashot is viewed only as a safek of night. This is all the more logical considering that the source of not doing BK is probably only rabbinic.

While in theory, a congregation (in Israel) should consider steps, such as rushing and skipping piyutim, the psychological effect and the impact on the quality of tefilla may preclude going too far. If, then, the congregation gets up to BK modestly after sunset and has to choose between passing up BK or doing it at that time, we would suggest doing it – unless the matter would cause a fight.


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