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The term Hefsek in general means an interruption. It can apply to the performance of any mitzvah or bracha. For the detailed halachot of each topic, please see the respective page below.
- Interruptions to a Bracha
- Talking between the Beracha and eating
- Other interruptions between the Beracha and eating
- Between a bracha and starting to eat or between a bracha and a starting a mitzvah one may not talk or even answer amen or barchu. If one did it is considered an interruption another bracha is required. If one speaks about something relevant and necessary for the food one is about to eat it isn’t an interruption.
- After one started to eat and swallowed once he may talk and it isn’t an interruption. After one started a mitzvah one shouldn’t talk but if one did it isn’t considered an interruption.
- If one made a bracha on multiple mitzvot and did the first mitzvah but then spoke between the first mitzvah and the next it is considered an interruption. For a mitzvah such as answering kaddish or kedusha it is permitted to interrupt.
In the Middle of a Mitzvah
|Tefillah||Tefillah||Other Mitzvot||Other Mitzvot|
- If someone stops in the middle of Shemona Esrei and he waited the time it would take to complete the entire Shemona Esrei, whether he was silently pausing, talking, or doing an activity, according to the Rif is a break and needs to restart the Shemona Esrei.
- If someone's Shemona Esrei was interrupted because of a halachic circumstance that prevented him from doing the mitzvah, such as if a child within 4 amot soiled his diaper, if one interrupts the Shemona Esrei for as long as it takes to do the entire Shemona Esrei, according to everyone it is an interruption and one needs to start the mitzvah again.
- If someone needed to go to the bathroom in the middle of Shemona Esrei he should go to the bathroom. If by the time he returns the time that elapsed is the time ti would take him to complete the whole Shemona Esrei then he needs to restart the Shemona Esrei. If it was less time he can continue where he left off.
- If someone is saying Shemona Esrei and a baby goes to the bathroom nearby within 4 amot he may not continue his Shemona Esrei. He should walk to beyond 4 amot from the feces or urine and continue. If he interrupted his Shemona Esrei for longer than the time to say the whole Shemona Esrei then he must restart.
- If someone sees that a baby urinated near the Shaliach Tzibur he should tell him so that he can move and continue unless doing so will be embarrassing to someone.
- If someone stops in the middle of a mitzvah and he waited the time it would take to complete the entire mitzvah, whether he was silently pausing, talking, or doing an activity, that doesn't constitute a break and one can return to where one was up to in that mitzvah.
- If someone was prevented from doing a mitzvah because of a halachic circumstance, such as if someone was reading Shema and then a child within 4 amot soiled his diaper, if one interrupts the mitzvah for as long as it takes to do the entire mitzvah, according to the Rif it isn't an interruption and according to the Tosfot it is an interruption and one needs to start the mitzvah again. Sephardim hold like the Rif that it isn't an interruption. Ashkenazim hold like Tosfot for Biblical mitzvot such as Shema and Birkat Hamazon, however, for derabbanan mitzvot such as Hallel, Megillah, and birchot kriyat shema, they rely on the Rif that it isn't an interruption. 
- If a baby goes to the bathroom within 4 amot of someone saying Kriyat Shema he should move and continue. If interrupted for more than the time it takes to say the entire Kriyat Shema, according to Sephardim, he doesn't need to repeat it, while according to Ashkenazim he should repeat it.
- Shulchan Aruch 25:9 with respect to Tefillin writes that if a person speaks between the bracha and the mitzvah he needs another bracha. Similarly, Shulchan Aruch 167:6 with respect to brachot on food writes that if one spoke about something unnecessary to the bracha one needs to recite another bracha. Mezuzah Vhilchoteha 16:12 writes that the same is true of the bracha before putting up a mezuzah that one would require another bracha if one spoke in between.
- Brachot 40a, Shulchan Aruch 167:6
- Rashba 1:244, Ran Rosh Hashana 34.
- Rosh Chullin 6:6 writes that unlike if one made an interruption between two mitzvot such as between putting on the two Tefillin or doing two shechitot if one just started a mitzvah and didn't complete it an interruption doesn't require the person to recite another bracha. Example include Shofar, Hallel, and Megillah. Since once one started a mitzvah one has an obligation to finish it even if one makes an interruption that doesn't completely cause one to despair from having the bracha apply to the whole mitzvah. But if there are multiple mitzvot and one can take a break at any time creating an interruption indeed causes a person to consider the bracha as having terminated. This is quoted by Bet Yosef YD 19:5. The Rashba responsa 1:244 also applies this to Shofar, Hallel, and Megillah that once one starts the mitzvah no interruption will cause one to require a new bracha. Rama 690:5 quotes this. Tosfot Pesachim 115a s.v. matkif agrees. Shulchan Aruch 475:2 quotes this. See Or Letzion 1:39.
- However, the Shibolei Haleket 66 quotes Rav Sadya Goan (cited by Yabia Omer 5:16:1) as holding that speaking in middle of bedikat chametz is a hefsek.
- Tosfot Chullin 87a s.v. umichsi, Shulchan Aruch YD 19:5.
- The Tosfot Chullin 87a s.v. umichsi discuss whether speaking between several acts of shechita would require a person to make another bracha for shechita. He says on the one hand we find that for Tefillin speaking between putting on the Shel Yad and Shel Rosh requires another bracha, while speaking in a meal after a bracha doesn't require one to make another bracha in the middle of the meal. He suggests that perhaps shechita is similar to a meal and dissimilar to the Tefillin since the Tefillin is one mitzvah, whereas each Shechita is independant. Rav Soloveitchik (Reshimot Shiurim Brachot 11b s.v. vheneh) explained this approach as follows: the bracha only needs to apply to the first act of the mitzvah and everything else is exempt. For food and shechita only the first bite or first shechita requires a bracha and everything else is exempt even if there's talking in between. Tefillin however are a unit and the bracha applies to both together and speaking in between one and the other creates an interruption before the first act was complete. See Divrei Yirmiyahu Tefillin 4:6 who suggests another explanation in Tosfot. The Smag 64 quotes the Sefer Hatrumah 39 who was also in doubt about this question but quotes the Bahag who writes that one needs to recite another bracha. The Bet Yosef YD 19:5 cites the Ran Chullin 28b who quotes the Rif Rosh Hashana 11a, Raavad, and Ramban Chullin 86b s.v. modeh who agree with the Bahag unlike the Rabbenu Yonah who holds otherwise. Rashba in Torat Habayit 21a and Rosh Chullin 6:6 agree with Bahag. Shulchan Aruch 19:5 rules like the Bahag to recite another bracha. Hamezuzah Vehiloteha 16:15 applies this discussion to putting up several mezuzot in the house that if one speaks between the mitzvot one should recite another bracha. He cites the Chovat Hadar p. 79 who agrees.
- Simla Chadasha 19:10
- Why is speaking between shechitot require a new bracha according to bahag? Ran Pesachim 24a explains that we treat it as though the bracha applies to each tefillin or each shechita and so speaking is an interruption just like between the bracha and starting the mitzvah. However, Rosh chullin 6:6 explains it differently; he writes that speaking in middle of a bunch of mitzvot is the termination of the mitzvah since you don’t need to do any more like by eating. Yeshuot Dovid ch. 6 explains that fundamentally the Rosh agrees with Ran. Tefillin which is two mitzvot any hefsek is a problem like between bracha and mitzvah, but for multiple shechitot is a repetition of one mitzvah so there shouldn’t be a hefsek but the fact that you don’t need to keep going makes it like it is two mitzvot.
- Using the Rosh the Yeshuvot Dovid explains the Simla Chadasha. Since speaking takes away from the mitzvah when a person speaks between mitzvot it is considered as though he has intent to terminate doing the series of mitzvot. However, performing a mitzvah isn't considered an interruption since that isn't considered an inappropriate interruption to the series of mitzvot. Similarly, speaking in the middle of a meal isn't considered an interruption since it isn't considered inappropriate to eat and speak.
- The Gemara Brachot 23a explains that someone who urinates in the middle of Shemona Esrei if he pauses for a short time there is a dispute whether he needs to restart his Shemona Esrei or not. However, the gemara implies that if he paused for as long as he needs to say the entire Shemona Esrei it is considered a complete break and needs to restart his Shemona Esrei. Tosfot Brachot 22b s.v. elah ask how an interruption here invalidates the mitzvah while the Gemara Megillah 18b says that an interruption in Megillah doesn't invalidate it. Additionally, the Gemara Rosh Hashana 34b states that for Tekiyat Shofar the mitzvah isn't invalidated because of a long pause.
- The Tosfot answer that the interruption in Brachot is more serious since he was in a state that he was unfit to recite the Shema since he was urinating. However, any interruption that is optional such as a pause doesn't invalidate the mitzvah as was the case by Megillah and Tekiyat Shofar. On the other hand, the Rif (Brachot 16a) answers differently; he answers that for Tefillah an interruption even if one is fit is an interruption since he paused as long as it takes to say Shemona Esrei, that can't possibly constitute a Tefillah before Hashem. For other mitzvot even an interruption that is as long as it takes to complete the entire mitzvah it doesn't invalidate the mitzvah. The Rashba (Brachot 23a s.v. VehaRaavad) quoting the Raavad, Rosh (Brachot 3:23), and Tur 65:1, 78:1, 85:1, 104:5 accept the opinion of Tosfot, while the Rambam (Kriyat Shema 2:12, Tefillah 4:13) follows the Rif. The Rama 65:1 and 78:1 accepts the Tosfot and Shulchan Aruch 65:1, 78:1, 85:1, 104:5 follows the Rif. Nonetheless, the Biur Halacha 65:1 s.v. kara based on Darkei Moshe 422 writes that for derabbanan mitzvot even Ashkenazim can follow the Rif and not consider it to be an interruption.
- See the previous footnote. It is noteworthy that the Rashba Brachot 23a s.v. pesak understands that the Rif would invalidate a Shemona Esrei with an interruption because of something that renders him unfit even if it is shorter than the time it takes to complete Shemona Esrei. Yet, the Bet Yosef 104:5 and Biur Halacha 65:1 s.v. kara don't accept this understanding and simply write that the Rif only invalidates a Shemona Esrei if there is a pause of the time it takes to complete Shemona Esrei.
- Shulchan Aruch 104:5. Mayan Omer v. 1 p. 157 in practice asked this of Rav Ovadia Yosef and this was his response.
- Shulchan Aruch 90:27 writes that if a baby goes to the bathroom near him while he is saying Shemona Esrei he should stop and either wait for someone to clean it or walk to beyond 4 amot and continue. Rama comments that one should walk 4 amot from the urine and continue. The Bet Yosef 90:27 cites a story where a baby went to the bathroom near Rashi while he was saying Shemona Esrei and he moved 4 amot and continued. However, he adds in the Bedek Habayit that it is acceptable to wait for someone to clean it up and continue. Even if that will take longer than it takes to complete the whole Shemona Esrei since some say that it doesn't invalidate the Shemona Esrei that it acceptable. The achronim point out that this line of the Bedek Habayit is very difficult (see Maamar Mordechai 90:27). The Shemen Lmeor 90:27 explains that this statement of the Bet Yosef doesn't fit either the Rif or Tosfot. The only opinion it is relying upon is the Rabbenu Yonah who says that even a very long interruption in Shemona Esrei even if he was unfit from saying Shemona Esrei doesn't invalidate it. (This might align with the Rashba and Rabbenu Yehuda.) Halichot Olam v. 1 p. 168 also makes this point. However, the Minchat Shay (Hilchot Tefillah p. 248 fnt. 51, Kollel Shomrei Gachelet) reinterprets the Bedek Habayit to be speaking about Kriyat Shema and not Shemona Esrei even though it is in the context of Shemona Esrei. In any event, the Bedek Habayit's point is tenuous and so the halacha is that one should move rather than wait for the feces or urine to be cleaned up. That is the ruling of the Halacha Brurah 78:1.
- Shulchan Aruch 104:5. See the previous note. Even though the Bedek Habayit 90:27 quotes the Rabbenu Yonah who said that one doesn't need to restart that is a minority opinion and rejected by the rishonim and halacha in siman 65. The Kaf Hachaim 90:149 however, accepts this opinion of the Rabbenu Yonah and anytime one paused and didn't speak it isn't a reason to restart the Shemona Esrei even though one paused for as long as it takes to complete Shemona Esrei. However, Halichot Olam v. 1 p. 166-8 argues and holds like Shulchan Aruch 104:5 like the Rambam and Rif that an interruption in Shemona Esrei for a pause longer than it takes to complete Shemona Esrei is a reason to restart Shemona Esrei.
- The Yavetz (quoted by Biur Halacha 79:1) writes that we can rely on the Rashba who holds that davening near urine is only a derabbanan concern initially but once one began Shemona Esrei one doesn't need to stop. Even though usually we're strict in order to have to stop the Shaliach Tzibur one can rely on the Rashba. The Biur Halacha 79:1 s.v. bitoch argues that we should not rely on the Rashba unless the urine is coming from someone sick and doesn't realize and pointing it out will be embarrassing.
- Shulchan Aruch and Rama 65:1
- Biur Halacha 65:1 s.v. kara
- Shulchan Aruch 78:1, Halacha Brurah 78:1
- Rama 78:1