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Shabbat Parashat Bo | 5770

Ask the Rabbi: Birkat Kohanim

Question: Some kohanim in my shul do not go up to do nesi’at kapayim (=duchenen =birkat kohanim =bk) at the proper time. Sometimes, one washes his hands right after Kedusha, goes back to his place, and does not remember to move toward the duchan (platform or any area in the front of the shul where bk is done) when the rest of the kohanim do. Other times, someone will get a late start toward washing and is still doing so during R’tzei. Are they allowed to do bk under such circumstances?


Answer: The gemara (Sota 38b) says that just as Aharon is described as blessing the people at the time of avoda (bringing of korbanot – Vayikra 9:22), so too kohanim should go up for bk at avoda (the beracha of R’tzei, in which we request that the service will return to Zion). The gemara continues to say that the kohanim do not need to actually go up to the duchan during R’tzei as long as they uprooted themselves (akar) from their place at that time. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 128:8) and many others put the main emphasis on akar, which is classically done at the beginning of R’tzei, but can be done until the end of that beracha (Mishna Berura 128:25). If he has not done it by then, then he may not do bk. (According to most poskim, if he “went up” anyway, he should go down, but if he was prevented from going on time due to an oness (extenuating circumstance), then if he went up, he may stay (see Radvaz I, 516)).

     Regarding a case where he went to wash during R’tzei and did not make it back toward the duchan by the end of R’tzei, the matter depends on a machloket. The Ateret Zekeinim (on the Shulchan Aruch, ibid.) says that only going toward the duchan counts. The Pri Megadim infers from the following Magen Avraham (128:10) that going to wash is considered like akar. The Radvaz said that if a kohen was on his way to shul during the time he should have been approaching the duchan, that is not considered like akar and he may not do bk. However, says the Magen Avraham, if he left his house that was close to shul (for the purpose of coming to do bk – Chayei Adam 32:13) but arrived after the end of R’tzei, that is considered akar. The Pri Megadim (ad loc.) posits that the logic is that a movement, even if it is not one of approaching the duchan but of preparing to do bk, counts as akar. According to this approach then, he says, it is even clearer that going to wash one’s hands suffices. Thus, there is room for leniency to allow a kohen who went during R’tzei to wash to continue on for bk, especially if the way to wash is generally in the direction of the duchan (see something similar in the Mishna Berura 128:27). (Realize that the requirement to go on time is apparently rabbinic - see Mishneh Halachot VIII, 15). Under such circumstances, one should certainly not try to stop a kohen who assumes he may go up from doing so. (It might be worthwhile to educate him pleasantly to avoid the situation in the future.)

The other case you raise is more problematic. If he went to wash soon after Kedusha and subsequently lost track of time, there are two reasons to say that going to wash is less effective than above. Firstly, it is possible that akar works only after the chazan has started R’tzei (Kehunat Yitzchak, pg. 32), whereas here he went to wash well before R’tzei (Shevet Halevi VIII, 23 says it is preferable not to go early but that doing so is not disqualified after the fact). Secondly, washing likely works as akar only when it is followed directly by proceeding to the duchan. However, when one plans to and does go back to his own place, it turns out that the washing was quite preliminary. This possibility is particularly plausible considering that according to some opinions, one can rely on the washing that he did before coming to shul (see Shulchan Aruch 128:6 and Mishna Berura 128: 20). Therefore, it is important for the kohanim to leave their place to go toward the duchan before the end of R’tzei.

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