Birkat Cohanim

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Birkat kohanim.jpg

General

  1. The Mitzvah of Birkat Cohanim is biblical (Deoritta) even nowadays in all places at all times. [1]
  2. The Mitzvah isn’t strictly obligatory but rather a Mitzvah which is an opportunity to fulfill a positive command similar to Tzitzit. [2]
  3. If a Cohen is in shul and isn’t called up to do the Birkat Cohanim strictly he isn’t obligated to do Birkat Cohanim (certainly, it’s appropriate and correct to do so) however, once a Cohen is asked to do Birkat Cohanim he violates the biblical command by refusing. [3]
  4. The Ashkenazic minhag outside Israel is not to do Birkat Cohanim except at Mussaf of Yom Tov because Birkat Cohanim should be done when people are relaxed and not bothered by work. [4]
  5. Throughout Jewish history some have made a great effort to change this minhag (in order to fulfill this biblical Mitzvah) and were unsuccessful. [5]
  6. Some have the practice not do Birkat Cohanim when Yom Tov falls out on Shabbat, however, the poskim strongly disapprove of this and urge to discontinue this practice without causing conflict. [6]
  7. Most assume that the mitzvah is upon the Cohanim while a minority opinion assumes that there’s a mitzvah both upon the Cohanim and the Yisraelim who are being blessed. [7]
  8. Some say that a Yisrael may not raise his fingers in the same fashion as the cohanim do for Birkat Cohanim. [8]
  9. When a Cohen goes up to bless the congregation, it is as if he too is blessed. [9]

Proper Behavior of the Cohanim

  1. Even if there is no platform, the cohanim should still go up to bless the congregation. Therefore if the one leading the prayers is the only cohen present, he should bless "birkat cohanim" from where he is standing, and he doesn't need to move to the platform. [10]
  2. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai instituted that the Cohanim shouldnt go up wearing sandals or any type of shoe, out of respect to the congregation [11]
  3. By the time the Sheliach Tzibur arrives at the blessing of "Retzeh", the Cohanim must make a motion towards doing the mitzvah. If the Sheliach Tzibur finished the blessing of "Retzeh", and said the word "Modim" before a cohen made this motion, that cohen may not go up to do birkat cohanim. [12]
  4. If the only cohen in the tzibur is the Sheliach tzibur, and he is using a siddur and will therefor not be confused and will be able to continue in his tefila after birkat cohanim, he should move his feet during the bracha of "Retzeh", and then go do birkat cohanim, so that the tzibur will not miss out on this special blessing. But if there is another cohen who can do birkat cohanim, the sheliach tzibur should not go. [13]
  5. If the sheliach tzibur forgot to do bircat coahanim, and he started the blessing of "Sim Shalom", as long as he did not finish the blessing of "Sim Shalom", if he remembers he can go back. But if he finished the words "Hamevarech et amo yisrael basahalom"(the end of "Sim Shalom"), he can no longer go back. And even though there are those who say that you can do birkat cohanim after the prayers are finished, it is better not to do it. (Safek brachot lehakel- when we have a doubt about blessing we should be lenient, and not say the blessing)[14]
  6. If a person can not pronounce his letters correctly, for example if he says his "Ayin's" like "Alephs" and his "chet's" like "caf's", he is still allowed to do birkat cohanim, because nowadays that is how everyone pronounces them. However if he happens to be in a place where they are very meticulous about correct pronounciation, he should not do birkat cohanim. There are those who say that if a person is in a place that they are meticulous, but all the people know that this person can not pronounce their letters the "corect" way, or if they pronounce it a different way (for example: if an ashkenazi, who has different letter pronunciations, is in a sephardic shul), he may do birkat cohanim. This is the accepted minhag. [15]
  7. A Cohen who has a defect, blemish, or deformity, on his face or his hands should not do birkat cohanim, because the people will look at him and be distracted. However if he is "Dash B'iro", meaning that he is had a blemish for at least 30 days and the whole tzibur knows that he has this blemish, there is no worry that people will look at him, and he may do birkat cohanim. Nowadays, since the Cohanim cover themselves with a talit during the blessing, there is no worry that people will look at him, and any Cohen who has a blemish on his hands or face may do bircat cohanim. [16]

Proper behavior of the congregation during Birkat Cohanim

  1. Because of the opinion that there is also a mitzvah for the Yisraelim to receive the Bracha if one is in Shul when the Cohanim were called one may not leave until after Birkat Cohanim. [17] Even if one already heard Birkat Cohanim that day it's improper to leave the Shul when the Cohanim get up for Birkat Cohanim. [18]
  2. The Tzibbur should stand during Birkat Cohanim and listen to every word with intent. [19]
  3. However, a sick or old person may sit during Birkat Cohanim. [20]
  4. If one is slightly behind the Cohanim one is not included in the Bracha, however, if one is standing directly on the side, one is included in the Bracha, yet, one should face the Cohanim. [21]
  5. If one is in front of the Cohanim one should face east (the front of the Shul). [22]
  6. One shouldn’t look at the hands of the Cohanim during Birkat Cohanim and so one should face downward [23] or cover one’s face with a talit. [24] However, nowadays that the Cohanim wear the Talit over their hands one may look at the cohanim. [25]
  7. One should answer Amen to the three Bracha’s of the Cohanim. One should only answer Amen after the Cohanim have completed the last word of that פסוק. [26]
  8. There are various opinions regarding whether one should answer Baruch Hu Baruch Shemo after Hashem’s name in Birkat Cohanim. [27]
  9. At the conclusion of Birkat Cohanim some have the practice to thank the cohanim for the Brachot and the cohanim respond Tzivku LeMitzvot while others advise avoid responding in these words. [28] However, saying Yasher Koach or thank you isn’t an issue. [29]
  10. If a Yisrael who makes the blessing of the cohanim, with the intention of doing the mitzvah, he is transgressing a positive commandment, because only the cohanim were commanded.[30]
  11. However, parents blessing their children and Rabbis blessing their students, may put both of their hands on their heads while reciting the blessing, since the only prohibition is to make the blessing with the intention of fulfilling the mitzvah of the commandment, and to do it like the cohen.[31]
  12. There is no worry about saying a "Bracha levatala", a blessing in vain, since they are verses verses in the Torah, which are permitted to say.

Someone in middle of Shemona Esreh

  1. Someone who’s in middle of Shemona Esreh should stop to listen even if one is in front of the Cohanim, however, according to Sephardim one may continue Shemona Esreh but if one wants one may stop to listen in between Brachot. [32] If one stopped to listen to Birkat Cohanim one should not answer Amen. [33]

Interruptions

  1. During Birkat Cohanim one shouldn’t make any interruptions even to answer Kaddish or Kedusha. [34]
  2. The Tzibbur shouldn’t say anything during the Birkat Cohanim except for Amen (and some say Baruch Hu Baruch Shemo). [35]
  3. The Shaliach Tzibbur shouldn’t answer Amen unless he’s Davening from a Siddur and feels that he won’t loose his place, [36] but to the Bracha of the cohanim before Birkat Cohanim one certainly shouldn’t answer Amen. [37]

The Shaliach Tzibbur saying each word

  1. The Sheliach Tzibbur should say each word to the Cohanim out loud and not quietly. [38]
  2. If one of the Cohanim didn’t hear a word (even the name of Hashem), the Sheliach Tzibbur should repeat it out loud. [39]

Washing hands

  1. The kohanim need to wash their entire hands for birkat kohanim, even on tisha be’av on which one can’t wash past the knuckles. only Levim who regularly wash their own hands before washing the kohanim’s, can wash on tisha be’av before washing the kohanim’s hands. [40]

References

  1. Sefer HaChinuch (378), Shaar HaTzion 128:133
  2. Dvar Avraham 1:31
  3. Biur Halacha 128:4
  4. Rama 128:44. For other reasons to explain the Ashkenazi minhag see Bet Yosef 128 quoting the Sefer Chasidim, Sh”t Zera Emet 3:13, and Sh”t Bet Efraim 6
  5. Aruch HaShulchan 128:64
  6. Mishna Brurah 128:165, Sh”t Igrot Moshe 3:18, 5:15
  7. Biur Halacha 128 intro, Sefer Charedim 12:18, Igrot Moshe 4:21
  8. Piskei Teshuvot 128:3 based on Kaf HaChaim 128"79 who quotes the Zohar. However, see Sh"t Rivevot Efraim 1:93(2) who questions whether this prohibition applies to Yisraelim or not. See also Sh"t Yechava Daat 5:14 who defends the minhag to bless one's children with one or two hands.
  9. Yalkut Yosef, Tefillah Volume 1, page 294
  10. Yalkut Yosef, Tefillah Volume 1, page 294
  11. Gemara Sotah 40a
  12. Yalkut Yosef, Tefillah Volume 1, page 299
  13. Yalkut Yosef, Tefillah Volume 1, page 311
  14. Yalkut Yosef, Tefillah Volume 1, page 315
  15. Yalkut Yosef, Tefillah Volume 1, page 318
  16. Yalkut Yosef 128:68 (Tefillah vol 2, pg 338, 5764 edition)
  17. Piskei Teshuvot 128:2
  18. Kaf HaChaim 128:149
  19. Mishna Brurah 128:51, Tefillah KeHilchata 14:48
  20. Yalkut Yosef, Tefillah Volume 1, page 298
  21. S”A 128:24, Biur Halacha D”H Aval
  22. Biur Halacha 128:24 D”H Aval
  23. S”A 128:23
  24. Mishna Brurah 128:92, Tefillah KeHilchata 14:49
  25. Siach Tefillah (Shaar 5, 1:2) [See also Rav Herschel Schacter’s opinion at yu.edu.]. However, the Piskei Teshuvot 128:55 writes that one should still not look at the Cohanim so as not to get distracted.
  26. S”A 128:18, Igrot Moshe 2:31
  27. The Weekly Halachah Discussion (Vol 2, pg 379) writes that one may follow one’s customary practice but should do so quietly. See Yachava Daat 4:9.
  28. Mishna Brurah 128:60, Aruch HaShulchan 128:24, Sh”t Har Tzvi 62
  29. Nesiut Kapim KeHilchata (Chap 9 note 53) writes that the Cohanim saying the “Yashar Koach” isn’t an issue. Piskei Teshuvot 128:48 writes that saying “Thank you” isn’t an issue.
  30. Yalkut Yosef, Tefillah Volume 1, page 296
  31. Yalkut Yosef, Tefillah Volume 1, page 296
    • The Gemara Sotah 40a tells us that one shouldn’t say Pesukim while the Cohanim are blessing the people because it’s disrespectful to ignore the blessings being said. This is codified in Shulchan Aruch 128:26. However, this may be different considering that one is involved in Davening and there’s no mitzvah to stop Davening to listen rather the principle of Osek BeMitzvah Patur Min HaMitzvah (one who is involved in a mitzvah should continue that mitzvah) comes into effect.
    • If there’s a mitzvah on the individual Jews receiving the Bracha like the Sefer Charedim 4:18 then it’s understandable that one should pause to hear the Brachot. [This is also the opinion of the Raavad (Mishna Tamid end of chapter 6), Bet Efraim 6, Haflah (Ketubot 24b).] However, the Ritva (Sukkah 31a) writes clearly that the mitzvah is only upon the cohanim and not those being blessed. [This is also the opinion of the Keren Orah (Sotah 39b). The Chatom Sofer 167 writes that this is the opinion of the majority of Rishonim.] If so it’s logical that there’s no reason to stop to listen to Birkat Cohanim since there’s no Mitzvah of to say the Brachot but only to listen.
    • It’s seemingly unanimous (Sh”t Yabea Omer 7:12, Halichot Shlomo 10:3) that even according to those Rishonim (Tosfot Brachot 21b) who disapprove of stopping in Shemona Esreh to hear Kedusha because the principle of Shomea KeOnah (listening is like hearing) makes it as if one actually said the words and interrupted one’s prayer, would agree here that it’s not an issue because one has no intent to be considered as if one said the words but rather one is silent in order to receive the blessings.
    • Rav Ovadyah Yosef in Sh”t Yabea Omer 7:12 writes that one doesn’t have to stop in middle of Shemona Esreh in order to listen to Birkat Cohanim (based on the above two reasons), however, if one wanted to one should do so in between the Brachot. However, Rav Shlomo Zalman in Halichot Shlomo 10:3 writes that in deference to those who hold that there’s also a mitzvah for those being blessing one should stop to listen.
    • Chazon Ish (Dinim VeHanhagot 4:29), Igrot Moshe 4:21(2), Shevet HaLevi 3:15, and Halichot Shlomo 10:3 (note 18 adds that one should listen from the beginning of the Bracha that the cohanim make before Birkat Cohanim.) all hold that one should stop and listen for Birkat Cohanim. See also Avnei Yishfah (Tefillah pg 205) quoting Rav Elyashiv and Sh”t Teshuvot VeHanhagot 2:77 who say that one shouldn’t stop to listen to Birkat Cohanim.
  32. Tefillah KeHilchata 14:51 based on Sh”t Shevet HaLevi 3:15, and the Imrei Yosher in name of the Chazon Ish writes not to answer Amen. Tefillah KeHilchata 14:51 writes that if one is saying Shemona Esreh together with the Shaliach Tzibbur one should answer Amen.
  33. Halichot Shlomo 10:4
  34. Mishna Brurah 127:11. Sh”t Yechava Daat 4:9 writes that one should say Baruch Hu UBaruch Shemo after the name of Hashem. Tefillah KeHilchata (pg 297 note 110* writes that some have the minhag to answer Ken Yehe Ratzon after the first two pesukim and Amen Ken Yehe Ratzon after the third pasuk.
  35. S”A 128:19, Mishna Brurah 128:71, Tefillah KeHilchata 14:52
  36. Mishna Brurah 128:71, Kaf HaChaim 128:112, Tefillah KeHilchata 14:52
  37. Halichot Shlomo 10:15
  38. Halichot Shlomo (pg 133 note 56)
  39. http://www.dailyhalacha.com/Display.asp?ClipID=958