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Shabbat Parashat Vayeira | 5769

Standing for Modim DRabbanan and Talmidei Chachamim

Ask the Rabbi

Question: I see people using a semi-rising motion at the beginning of Modim D’Rabbanan (what the congregation recites when the chazan gets up to Modim) and when a talmid chacham walks by? Is that correct? What are the rabbinical sources on the matter?  

Answer: The two practices are based on different sets of sources and, apparently, logic.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 127:1) rules, based on the Yerushalmi (Berachot 1:5), that when the chazan gets up to Modim, the congregation should also bow. The gemara (Sota 40a) discusses the different possible texts people should recite at that time, out of which has arisen the text we use. The classical sources do not talk about standing at that point (although many require or suggest it throughout chazarat hashatz- see Rama, OC 124:4). However, Acharonim (Yechaveh Da’at V, 11; Ishei Yisrael 24:38) point out that since it is required to bow, it becomes necessary to stand to make that possible. We see the connection between standing and bowing regarding the halacha of one who is unable to stand for tefilla, who should try to stand at least at the places that he needs to bow (Shulchan Aruch, OC 94:5).

Regarding what part of Modim D’Rabbanan requires bowing, there are multiple opinions and minhagim. These are primarily: at the beginning, at the beginning and end, and throughout (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 127:1). Based on the above, the time that one should be standing would correspond to the opinions on the bowing.

The next question is then whether semi-standing is considered standing. Regarding Shemoneh Esrei, where one certainly should stand, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 94:8) says that one should not even lean on a lectern or another person. The Mishna Berura (94:22) points out that, in general, standing while leaning is not considered standing if the person would be unable to continue standing in that position if the object were removed. Depending on how high off the chair one lifts himself, it is questionable whether the average person would be able to keep himself suspended if the chair were removed after what you call a semi-rise. Can we, then, justify the practice you describe?

It appears that one can find some justification in significant, albeit minority sources. The Rambam (Tefilla 9:4) says about the bowing at Modim D’Rabbanan: “All of the people bow down a little, and they should not bow too much.” This basic idea is found in the Yerushalmi (ibid.), but there is much discussion as to whether this is specific to Modim or whether not bowing too much is a general guideline (see Beit Yosef, OC 127). In any case, the Bach explains the Rambam that there should be a less than usual bow by Modim D’Rabbanan for the following reason. Since the people have already davened Shemoneh Esrei and bowed at Modim, they shouldn’t need to do so again. The reason they do is to avoid looking as if they disagree with the enthusiastic praise of Hashem the chazan is involved in. (For this reason, one who is in the midst of his own Shemoneh Esrei at that time bows along with the others– Mishna Berura 109:10). Therefore, it is best to suffice with a small bow. It is very possible that according to this approach, it is also unnecessary to stand fully. Although the Magen Avraham (127:1) and Mishna Berura (127:2) do not pasken like the Bach, it still could explain the minhag.

The matter of partially standing up for a talmid chacham is based on the following. The gemara (Kiddushin 32) discusses whether a rav can be mochel (relinquish) the honor coming to him, which we rule that he can (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 242:32). The gemara tells of a rav who seemed to be mochel yet was slighted when someone did not move from his chair in his proximity. It explains that he should have at least done a hidur, which Rashi explains as a slight movement to show that he would like to stand up. This compromise semi-rising is accepted by the Shulchan Aruch (ibid.).

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Gershon ben Yehudah Mayer, a lover of the Jewish Nation Torah and Land.

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R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga  Brachfeld


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