Can or should an Avel perform Bircas Cohanim: Part 2

Following on from what I had blogged here, a learned article appeared in הערות התמימים ואנ’’ש regarding this issue. A copy of this article was given to me בכתב prior. The author traces back the sources of the Minhag not to duchen as described by the רמ’’א. There are no surprises there, as there are no surprises in naming two students of Maharam of Rottenburg describing the same Minhag.

Unfortunately, whilst the learned author wrote about the general question, he chose not to consider the specific question that initiated the discussion and the article.

[By the way, the editors of that publication do no service when they are careless in their production. There are many printing errors in the article]

  1. What should a Cohen/Avel who has already duchened 9 times as an Avel for halachically valid reasons in a non Chabad Shule do when entering a Chabad Shule for Davening on Yom Tov? Given that the Gavra already has found himself in a position of Simchas Yom Tov that enabled him to Duchan with no issue, and with love, should he dispense with his existential Simchas Yom Tov, and assume he isn’t psychologically capable of a Bracha KiPshuto?
  2. When the entire Shule is aware of the specific issue, and there is no greater Farhesya, than 25% of the Cohanim effectively leaving in the guise of a single person, with everyone knowing the reason, how can that at all be reconciled with Hilchos Aveylus! How are we to understand Aveilus D’Farhesya? I note that Rabbis Feldman, Blesofsky and all the Gutnicks, did Duchan because they are Rabbonim, and if they had snuck out of  Shule, it could be argued that this is forbidden explicitly on account of Aveilus D’Farhesya, a basic tenet of all Hilchos Aveylus on Shabbos and Yom Tov.
  3. In a situation where a Cohen did Duchan, because he was not aware of “Minhag Chabad” (something that is not clear ) is it correct that the Rabbi explcitly not issue forth “Yasher Koach” in the same way that he always does?
  4. It cannot be argued that “one doesn’t pasken against a Minhag mentioned by the Ramoh”. We all know that not only do Acharonim do that even with a Din! Even within Chabad, the Shulchan Aruch HoRav refined his Psak through the aegis of the Siddur. One can play with words and say that the Shulchan Aruch HoRav didn’t change anything, but he most certainly didn’t always “go with the Ramoh/Magen Avraham” alone on each and every issue.
  5. The last Lubavitcher Rebbe himself found it appropriate, in our day and age to encourage, for example, younger girls to light Shabbos Candles, even though this is against the Shulchan Aruch HoRav. How so? I’m sure it’s discussed, but in the end he did decree thus, for what he saw were good reasons.
  6. I heard from an extremely reliable Rav, that Rabbi Marlow of Chabad ז’ל had paskened that if the Cohen leaving would cause Aveylus D’Farhesya (be noticed, or that he found himself in the Shule at that time) then he should duchen. If on the other hand, he could “slip out unnoticed” as a regular Cohen who perhaps required Tevilah would do, then he should.
  7. In what way is there a proof that the situation of Cohanim is the same as at the times of the Ramoh and thereabouts? How many Shules have so many Cohanim that you simply don’t notice if one is at Shule and doesn’t go up?
  8. I’ve been to the Ramoh’s Shule, and no doubt they didn’t Duchen. It’s tiny. Then again, I’d imagine the Shule was packed to the rafters and various Cohanim who weren’t necessarily regulars turned up, especially on Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah.
  9. Despite the fact that Chabad owes no “allegiance” to the opinions of the Vilna Gaon in his glosses on Shulchan Aruch, the Gaon does opine that one should duchan and not annul three D’Oraysos, despite the Minhag described by the Ramoh. The Gaon’s  opinion (which is identical to the Mechaber) is identical to R’ Chaim Brisker, and R’ Yosef Dov Soloveitchik. The Nefesh HoRav, who is Mori V’Rabbi, R’ Hershel Schachter, and is mentioned in the article, was simply quoting these views as well as the incredibly deep and vast Tshuva on this matter from the Dayan of Vilna, R’ Shlomoleh ז’ל in his Responsa.
  10. The author “bet me” that the Nefesh HoRav held that one should not Duchen. I disagreed and took the bet. What the Nefesh HoRav did tell me was to avoid Machlokes, and so I stayed away on Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah (and duchened elsewhere) where ironically I was one of three Cohanim!
  11. Finally, I’d be interested to know whether according to the author, it is proper that Cohanim aren’t happy enough on Yom Tov to be a conduit for Bircas Cohanim, and yet, as Avelim, they are permitted to attend parties known as Simchas Beis HaShoayvo, where there is food, drink, merriment and Torah. Is this a Chiyuv for an Avel? When I asked this question, I was met with anger. Sure, any Seuda can be turned into a Seudas Mitzvah with Divrei Torah (and according to some opinions just singing). Would one conclude that the Ramoh et al and the Shulchan Aruch HoRav would say it’s fine to attend a Mishteh V’Simcha as an Avel, but despite the fact that the person has Bosor V’Yayin, one should assume each and every Cohen has a level of sadness that they couldn’t possibly bench B’Ahava?
  12. If they can’t be B’Simcha, I guess the Basar and Yayin are also a waste of time?
  13. What is the Minhag in Chabad when there is only one Cohen (an Avel)? Is there no Duchening? Why yes? What about the Aveylus/Sadness. It’s existential, no?
  14. What is the Minhag in Chabad when there are only two Cohanim (one who is an Avel) (See Mishne B’Rura 575:159)

In the end, like most Hilchos Aveylus, as explained to me by Rav Schachter, most are about intentions and feelings and motivation. If a person intends to immerse, for example, in a Simcha event, or similar, for the purposes of getting “happy” and/or “enjoying oneself” then it is forbidden (except where there are matters of Tzaar — pain — involved through acts, and only in certain situations). The Halacha of Aveylus is deeply personal, and I would have no problem with a Cohen/Avel who just didn’t feel right not doing duchening. Some refrain from Aliyos! Yet, others, run for Maftir each week and seek to Leyn as well.

I don’t need to mention the Nitei Gavriel who says that most Chassidim do Duchan.

Would it be so far fetched for a Shule to have the policy:

  • it’s not our minhag to Duchan, but if you feel up to it, go for it

or

  • it is our minhag to Duchan, but if you don’t feel up to it, slip out unobtrusively if you are able.

They certainly find workarounds for the parade of Hakafos!

I spoke with a number of Rabonei Chabad who said that even in the diaspora, they did not enforce any Minhag not to Duchan.

Enough on this topic from me.

Disclaimer: it is not at all my intention in any way to give the impression that I am detracting from the Psak of the author or his right to do so. This is Torah, however, and we are committed to learning and understanding from the one who chooses all his people ּבאהבה.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

6 thoughts on “Can or should an Avel perform Bircas Cohanim: Part 2”

  1. With regard to the messianic post, and many of your other writings, I do not see why you spend so much of of your intellectual energy on argument about non evidenced based matters. Discussing what will hasten or retard the coming of any messiah is equivalent to arguing whether the Monophysites were correct or not. I understand some of the neuropsychology that causes you to think like this, including the sunken cost fallacy and the fallacy of antiquity. Here are some other fallacies to look at. http://www.theskepticsguide.org/resources/logical-fallacies?wlfrom=%2Fresources Read the works of a nice Jewish boy – Danial Kahneman – Nobel laureate and you may experience a broadening of the mind.. A good read. Check out another Jewish Harvard professor – Steven Pinker, he is a very good writer. Remember, hundreds of millions of people have been murdered in the name of religion. Religious people are very good at hating and murder.

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    1. I have explained that my life is not limited by the evidence that my faculties can prove. Indeed, Science itself is full of models whose life span is constrained by current evidence. My life also includes Mesora and Faith. The former is evidence based and uses a system of deduction that is both sound and complete. I am as untroubled by the existence of my strong faith despite knowing that it cannot be proven using human modelling since axiomatically, in my domain of discourse, that is provably unprovable. The most evil murderer of our time was not motivated by religion. Rather it as his ‘humanity’ that led him to the conclusion that you and I and our ancestors were subhuman and should be eradicated. That an ism is behind much historical and current suffering is as much to do with some of those isms than it is with the so called ‘humans’ who fail to tolerate difference. Your gentle but predictable comment thankfully won’t ever lead to violence as you are not that type of depraved type who could not have respect for difference to the extent that you would seek to eradicate it. I submit myself to a life which struggles to emulate Him. He has many facets and His system of behaviour is intellectually stimulating in the least. At the minute, I have a reading list which is longer than my ignorance. That being said, if and when I have some free time, in between playing with my 3 wonderful grandchildren, looking after my ill mother and assuming the mantle my father left me, not to mention my teaching and research and Limud HaTorah, I will try to read those things which you find interesting. In the meanwhile, I will send you a copy of one of Rabbi Slifkin’s books, as I am pretty sure you will enjoy it no end

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  2. So in effect what you are saying is, that if you can attain the level of Simcha/Ahava required for Birchas Cohanim during Availus, then you should most definitely be able to attain that required level during the rest of the year and hence should Duchen every Shabbos.

    Or, that the issue is not whether you are able to attain that level or not, but solely whether it would be an issue of Availus Be’Farhesia. The Baal Ha”Tanya (among others) seems to answer that pretty clearly ובמדינות אלו שנוהגים שכל זמן אבילות אפילו עד י״ב חודש על אביו ועל אמו וכל שלשים על שאר קרובים אינו נושא כפיו אפילו אין שם כהן אלא הוא” – If there is no other Cohen but him, then certainly it would be Availus Be’Farhesia. The issue of lack of Simcha/Ahava seems to trump the issue of Availus Be’Farhesia.

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    1. Shabbos already had its own reasons outside of Aveylus, so let’s not go there.
      Your point about even one Cohen is a good one. At the same time it is most difficult to understand.

      B’Poel … In action … it seems that the ACTIONS of many in Chabad are at odds with this. What is and isn’t an act of Aveylus seems to on the one hand be enshrined and on the other hand movable with the time person and circumstance.

      I have to admit, I didn’t understand this last bit where Aveylus D’Farhasya and Bitul of 3 D’Orayso Brochos as well as being unimpressed by the Ari and Kabolo on this topic …

      There seems to be no known Minhag Chabad. I would have liked to have asked Rav Perlow ז׳ל

      Perhaps the AVEYLIM have changed!

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  3. So let me understand:
    If a cohen is an avel and has to daven before the omud three times daily on days that are not yomim toivim etc ,that when it comes to birchas cohanim by chazoras hashatz that he should not recite it? Or is that different form the birchas kohanim on Yom Tov and Shabbos,
    In my humble view to be mehader in this particular “din” at the expense of making someone uncomfortable is a bit much!
    On whom does this hiddur apply , the mevoreich or the misboreich?
    And if a Rabbi in a Shul does insist that in his shul a cohen-avel should not doochen, then it should be so advised bedarkei sholom ubedarkei no’am.
    This is one halacha, that, if too sensitive, one can be flexible.
    There are enough poskim who permit it to allow some flexibility, especially if the cohen doesn’t daven nusach Ari.

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    1. Bircas Cohanim in Shule is a separate category. It isn’t contingent on the Shatz being a Cohen. Also, I believe there is a Halacha that if the minyan becomes Metzumtzam, you don’t say Bircas Cohanim in Chazorats Hashas some substitute another small Tefilla instead. Ironically, you DO say it on a fast day at Mincha when everyone is in quasi Aveylus …

      All the above is from (long) memory. If I learned more I’d be more accurate with Mekoros.

      I’m not concerned about any event that transpired. I am primarily interested in halachic issues as I find this type of Limud HaTorah invigorating

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