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Shabbat Parashat Shemini | 5770

Ask the Rabbi: An Ashkenazi Doing Nesiat Kapayim in a Sephardi Minyan in Chutz Laaretz

Question: I am an Ashkenazi kohen in chutz la’aretz. I often daven at a Sephardi minyan where they do nesiat kapayim (=nk, duchenen) every day. Should I do it with them?


Answer: In general, one should follow, when possible, local practice (including the davening of the shul one attends) regarding things that are noticeable to the public (see Igrot Moshe, Orach Chayim II, 23). Let us start by exploring why Ashkenazim do not do nk daily in chutz la’aretz.

According to the original halacha, nk is said every day, but at least 700 years ago, the minhag developed in most Diaspora communities not to do it during weekdays but only on Yom Tov (and, perhaps, Shabbat). The Shulchan Aruch (see Beit Yosef, end of Orach Chayim 128) rejected this minhag, explaining the prevalent (not universal) Sephardic practice, but the Rama (OC 128:44) and Ashkenazim embrace it. Many explanations have been given to explain the minhag’s logic, often a sign that no reason is particularly convincing. We will mention a few conjectures.

The Rama mentions that one should make the blessings in a good mood, which is more common on Yom Tov. The Maharil and Agur (176) cite concern that the time spent on nk causes difficulty for people who need to get to work to “grind out” a living. Also, a practice arose that one must be pure to do nk and since it is not always practical for kohanim to go to the mikveh, especially during the winter, it made more sense to not do nk. The Beit Yosef (ibid.) reacted that it is illogical to institute a post-Talmudic stringency to require purification and then use that as a reason to uproot the mitzva. The Beit Yosef does concede that the absolute obligation to do nk applies only when the kohanim are called by the congregation, which does not occur according to the minhag. However, he still thinks it is wrong to obviate the mitzva that is supposed to arise.

The Beit Ephrayim (OC 6) says that since exile weakened the reliability of a kohen’s genealogical tradition, we minimize the practice of nk to avoid the prohibitions involved in a non-kohen performing the mitzva. (If they didn’t do nk at all, kohanim would stop being careful about a kohen’s restrictions). The Chatam Sofer (OC 23) says that we often lack the proper level of concentration during davening, without which nk cannot be done. Additional reasons are advanced, but this will have to suffice for this forum (see Tzitz Eliezer, VII, 6; Minchat Yitzchak VIII, 1; Piskei Teshuvot 128:(413)).

Several Ashkenazi poskim (most prominently, the Gra) yearned to return to the daily practice of nk and didn’t think any of the reasons justified its uprooting, but the idea of changing this old minhag is problematic. (See some scary stories of failed attempts in Minchat Yitzchak ibid. and the Aruch Hashulchan’s (128:64) reaction that the Heavens apparently do not want us to change.) However, regarding communities that have always followed the standard halacha of doing nk, we have seen no qualms. We note also that the minhag is that even groups of people from chutz la’aretz do nk daily when they are in Israel, against the original Ashkenazi practice. 

Some of the explanations we have seen apply primarily to a community not doing nk and do not preclude an individual from joining an existing nesiat kapayim. Of supreme importance is that once a kohen is present during a communal call to the kohanim, he has a Torah obligation to take part. (We do not feel it is justified to tell an Ashkenazi not to daven with Sephardim.) The solution, if it were necessary, is for the Ashkenazi kohen to step out beforehand. However, any public step to separate oneself from what the shul is doing is very problematic. For example, Chayim Sha’al allowed a Sephardi to recite a beracha on Hallel on Rosh Chodesh for that reason (see the grounds under which Rav O. Yosef in Yechaveh Da’at IV, 31 differed), and the Divrei Yatziv (OC 248) writes similarly regarding haftara at Mincha of a fast day. Therefore, we feel that it is proper for an Ashkenazi kohen to do nk along with the other kohanim at a Sephardi minyan.

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