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Q&A: Priorities in Prayer, Part 1

November 16, 2014

Question: As a kohen, I sometimes can’t finish my shemoneh esrei in time to duchan (a Yiddish verb from the Hebrew du-CHAN, or platform, meaning to offer the priestly blessing at the conclusion of the reader’s repetition-Avi.) Should I hurry my davvening?

Answer: It depends on a number factors. Assuming you start your silent prayer with the rest of the congregation, if they really rush through the silent prayer and the repetition such that they do not provide you with a realistic time for your prayers, then do not push yourself. Your obligation is first and foremost to offer a proper prayer. If they do provide you with enough time, then you should pace yourself to ideally be ready to follow along with the entirety of the repetition, or at the very least to be ready to assume your place at the front of the synagogue when the time comes for you to bless the assembled. Assuming you start your silent prayer after everyone else, then you should try to learn to start with everyone else, and if not, quicken your personal prayers so as not to forfeit the chance to fulfill another commandment.

You can also save time by not washing your hands before moving to the front.

Question: Don’t I have to wash my hands before duchaning?

Answer: Technically yes, but according to the halacha, the pre-prayer handwashing everyone does covers your specific job too. The custom of the Levites washing the priest’s hands before the blessing is relatively late in origin; it is very important in that it reminds us of similar proceedings in the daily Temple service, but it is not obligatory, and certainly not recommended if time is short. (It is also slightly inaccurate: the Levites did not wash the priests’ hands and feet. The priests did it themselves.) More so, it would be best that if the priests wish to wash their hands, they and the levites should leave the synagogue before the reader’s repetition, because it is important for them to pay attention to the reader’s repetition, and not leave in the middle.

Question: When is davvening really over?

Answer: Concerning the prayer u’va l’tzion that concludes the the morning service, Maimonides writes (Laws of prayer 9:6)

These verses [which are recited] before q’dusha and afterwards, together with their Aramaic translations, are referred to as “the order of q’dusha.”

Afterwards, he recites supplicatory prayers and verses of mercy. He then recites the qaddish. The people respond as is customary, and depart.

Concerning minha he says (ibid., 8)

Afterwards, the leader of the congregation prays out loud, as in the morning service, until he concludes the Shemoneh Esreh. Then, both he and the congregation fall on their faces, recite supplicatory prayers, lift their heads, and recite a few supplicatory prayers while seated, as in the morning service.

[The leader of the congregation] rises and recites qaddish. The congregation responds in the normal manner and they depart to their affairs.

and for ma’ariv:

In the evening, all the people sit, and [the leader of the congregation] stands and recites: w’hu rahum… When they conclude, [the leader of the congregation] recites qaddish and they depart.

Maimonides is describing public prayer as the sages ordained, concluding with what we know as qaddish tithqabbal or the full qaddish. Everything else after that is a matter of elective custom. As we mentioned before, Maimonides and the Vilna Gaon were opposed to additions to the public prayers, but they did tolerate the recitation of the psalm of the day.

Question: And what about aleinu?

Answer: It used to be only part of the musaf service for Rosh Hashana, and then it somehow found its way into the Yom Kippur service, and then to every prayer service. It is a nice practice, maybe even commendable, but it can not be obligatory. See Mishna Berura 132:7 where he points out that “in the large sysnagogues where they pray maariv right after minha, they do not say aleinu after minha,” because it used to be that aleinu was reserved for the conclusion of a set of prayers, and not after every prayer per se. (The Ari felt aleinu should follow every prayer.) That is why we do not have an aleinu between shaharith and musaf, nor any aleinu the entire day of Yom Kippur, because shaharith, musaf, minha, and n’ila all ran together once upon a time. The up shot: if for someone reason we were to separate shaharith from musaf, or if we were to take a post-musaf break on Yom Kippur, it would be right to recite aleinu, and if everyone were to be sticking around in the synagogue for maariv after minha, aleinu would not fit after minha.

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From → halacha, logic, original

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