Halachic implications of a ‘Moon Boot’

Well, thank God, I’m out of the cast and am now in a moon boot (see below)

It was Thursday, and as my wife drove me home from the Hospital, I mentioned to her that there is now a question about me Duchening on Shavuos in one of these. My wife said “what could be wrong”.

Well, the issues as I saw them were

  1. I am in no physical condition to remove the boot. It’s early days, and I’m still in a fair bit of pain and can’t just stand on my socked foot
  2. Normally, I do the directional turns during Duchening as laid out in Shulchan Aruch. I don’t believe they are strictly necessary though
  3. There is some conjecture about non leather shoes and duchening. Rishonim hold that non leather shoes need not be removed (which is why some don’t remove their shoes on Yom Kippur Duchening)
  4. Some agree that one doesn’t need to remove non leather shoes, however, if the show has laces, then one could trip and miss duchening (and hurt oneself) so it’s better to remove shoes even on Yom Kippur
  5. This moon boot (or air cast as some call it) uses velcro so it is not going to undo itself by accident, and it’s not made of leather, so it would seem that one could leave the boot on during Duchening
  6. One of the reasons that a Cohen who has a blemish (בעל מום) doesn’t duchen, and is ineligible for the Avoda, is that people will turn their attention to the blemish and not properly concentrate on the Blessing itself.

My wife didn’t like reason 6, and said that she couldn’t understand why that should disqualify a Cohen. I noted that according to Rav Soloveitchik the success of the Bracha is through direct links between the Cohen and the congregation. For that reason we don’t say שומע כעונה (one Cohen can say the blessing on behalf of other Cohanim). Anyway, she wasn’t convinced, but I felt there was enough doubt about it to merit asking Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter his view. Thankfully, he replied before Shavuos.

In essence his answer was

  1. One could duchen in a moon boot
  2. Much depended on how freely the Cohen could move
  3. There is an issue of the Tararum (cacophony) such a Cohen could cause becoming a “celebrity” standing out from the other Cohanim. Again, that depended on the level of movement they could cope with.

In the end, he felt that it was probably best I didn’t duchen given I just got the contraption and was really unable and not permitted to walk freely without support. He suggested I leave the Shule without much fanfare, and I was able to do that easily as I sit in the back row of the Shteeble around the corner from me.

Excitedly, I mentioned to my wife (and to Rav Schachter) that these were my thoughts as well. Your Posek may have another view, but I felt it was important to put this down for the record. Hopefully, it’s never למעשה for another כהן!

(c) Yeshivah World. Rav Elyashiv ז’’ל on the left in discussion with Rav Schachter on the right.

Shmuley Boteach’s confused understanding of the Jewish World

The (I’m advised sincere) but confused article by Shmuley Boteach should not remain without counter-comment.

I will copy his article below and intersperse my comments.

The magnetism of Chabad messianism

Messianism is the world’s most powerful idea, humanity’s most compelling vision.

Messianism, which presumably is a word used because it over-focuses on WHO may be the Messiah, as opposed to the condition of the world at such a time, is not the world’s most powerful idea nor humanity’s most compelling vision.

The redemption itself, but more nuanced than that, the condition extant at the time of the redemption are a vision which we pray for three times a day. The days when the wolf will live with the lion, and the temple and it’s influence of unity and concentration and holiness are the reality, not vision, which Jews pray for every day. I do know that there are multifarious views of other religions now. I am not terribly interested in these, except in as much as דע משתשיב

Not only is it the underpinning of the world’s most populous religion, Christianity, it is also the engine for human progress itself.

If Jesus is the underpinning of the world’s most populous religion, that person (as opposed to the euphemistic messianism) then that is what it is. It is no more than that. If it means that people act in a certain way, which can be considered moral and ethical, and most importantly not missionary, then that is good. There is no evidence in Boteach’s statement that it is the engine for human progress. This is a statement without a presentation of any illustrative proof.

Only through a belief that history is not cyclical but linear, that positive steps in human advancement are cumulative rather than short-lived, that as a race we can step together out of the shadows and into the light, can there hope for collective human progress.

There are some mixed metaphors here. History is indeed cyclical. Boteach’s mistake is that if one proceeds in a circle, one cannot increase energy. This is of course demonstrably wrong. It is as wrong as assuming that one who travels in a line, is “growing”. They may in fact be dying, and reaching their end point.

Boteach again uses the term progress. He calls it “collective human progress.” He has not, however, seemingly made any effort to define what he means.

It is therefore fascinating to witness – once a year – the tremendous energy unleashed by the Chabad messianic movement as it congregates and detonates at world Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn.

Having never been there, I have heard that it certainly used to detonate a special extended holiness, however, anyone who has been in the State of Israel, and experienced Succos in Jerusalem, Hevron and the surrounds cannot help but know that they are actually on holy ground, enveloped by a sweeping holiness. that is unleashed and detonated. The same can be said for the “second hakafos” in Israel. That being said, I would posit that even Boteach acknowledges that Brooklyn now, is not the Brooklyn of 25 years ago, and the shining star that illuminated that section of the world, is sadly in another place. There is now much binge drinking where people either drown their sorrows or try to reach moments of detached ecstasy as a substitute. In Melbourne, I haven’t heard a good farbrengen, for example, since Rabbi Groner and those before him departed. Let me know where one is, and I’d love to be enthused by an outpouring of the Torah of Simcha.

The Jewish festival of Sukkot brings together two very different strands of the global Chabad movement. On the one hand, there is mainstream Chabad comprised of residents of Crown Heights – the global hub – together with the worldwide network of Chabad emissaries. Their strength is their professionalism, dedication, and impact.

On the other hand there are the Chabad messianists, a minority to be sure, but vocal, visible, determined, and brimming with life.

Here I assume Boteach defines a Chabad Messianist as either a chanter of one line mantras, or one who imagines he is receiving wine from nobody, or perhaps one who refuses to believe there is a filled grave. It would be helpful if Boteach defined his terms. There are many silent ones who pine for redemption. Some will internally hope that by some Divine rule it will be their Rebbe. Others (a very very small minority) will think this issue of identifying the Messiah, is actually a thorough and useless waste of time. I assume he speaks not about the elohisten.

Mainstream Chabad is uncomfortable with the messianists, believing they give both the movement and the Rebbe himself a bad name. The messianists are millennial, apocalyptic, and, to many minds, irrational. They want to push both Chabad and Judaism into the end of days.

I don’t see them as irrational (but note, I don’t know which category Boteach refers to). I see many of them as post-justifiers. They will cut and dismember Jewish tradition as espoused by the Rambam and acknowledged by the rest of Jewry. Those who think there is nothing in the grave, need psychiatric help.

But there can be no denying that they have tapped into an energy source that appears near infinite.

I do not know what “near infinite” means, let alone in this context.

When I was a young Chabad student in Crown Heights what I remember most was the limitless energy we all experienced in the Rebbe’s court. On Sukkot we could dance nine days running without tiring. We could go for a week with barely any sleep. The Rebbe – then in his eighties – set the pace with superhuman strength and inexplicable vigor.

Although I was not and am not a Chabadnik, I agree, based on the books I have recently read and some videos that I have watched, that it would have been an experience to remember.

That was more than twenty years ago.

Since then, Chabad has conquered the world and gone mainstream, sprouting educational centers in every point of the globe. My wife and I recently spent Shabbat with Chabad of Korea right after I spoke at Seoul’s Olympic Stadium at a global peace summit. A few weeks earlier I had spoken at Chabad of Aspen, Colorado. The local Chabad centers in these two very different places had in common the outstanding young Chabad rabbis, true soldiers of the Jewish people. Watching their impact on their respective communities was inspiring.

I think that Chabad has sprouted and grown, but I don’t know about conquered the world. If there was one word that I was left with after reading the three recent books about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, it was either the word dedication or positivity. I think Chabad has influenced many in that direction.

But for all that, Chabad today – as a movement that has now gone mainstream – has learned to eschew controversy. Gone are the days when Chabad agitated for the territorial integrity of the State of Israel and public stands against trading land for a fraudulent peace.

Those days aren’t gone!?! I hear this message constantly and unwaveringly today.

Gone too are the Chabad emphasis on messianism as being central to Judaism and the Jewish future.

This depends on the Shaliach. Some have adapted to their clientele while others will unwaveringly soldier on with the original message in all it’s vigour and yellow paraphernalia.

Chabad today is effective if not conventional, essential if not somewhat predictable.

It is predictable because it is a continuation of a message. There is no more central figure to initiate new ideas that are to be brought to the world. That is sad; but true. At the same time, there is an enormous corpus that may be applied to today’s world, without change.

Its focus: opening nurseries and day schools, synagogues and mikvehs, looking after special needs children (Friendship Circle) and the elderly, running Sunday schools and day camps. And to quote Carly Simon, nobody does it better.

This is also necessary for the mainstream. Jews are abandoning Shules. The latter can’t survive. They must generate income from nurseries etc simply to survive financially!

It is to this side of Chabad that I adhere and this vision for the building of Jewish life that I am dedicated. Chabad justly evokes in every Jew on earth a feeling of both awe and gratitude.

Which side exactly does Boteach not adhere to? Those that yell Yechi, or those that think it, or someone else?

Without Chabad the Jewish world would be up a creek without a paddle.

I don’t second guess God, nor do I know what he would have done, but there can be no doubt Chabad’s influence has been very significant.

But even as someone who prides himself on his rationality,

I do not know how a Chabad Chossid prides himself on rationality. My understanding is that there is higher level, called Bittul.

I cannot help but be somewhat jealous of the go-for-broke mentality of the other side of the movement, the messianists. The belief that humankind can attain an age of perfection, a belief that Judaism has a global, universal vision that is not limited to Jews, a dismissal of money and materialism in favor of a purely spiritual calling, and placing faith in a great leader who prompts us to embrace that era.

I am not jealous of them. Those that think that they have a minyan with two people and eight pictures, or eat on Tisha B’Av have broken with Jewish Mesorah. If Boteach is saying that he admires their perspicacity, ok.

To be sure, I follow the ruling of Maimonides that the Messiah must be a living man who fulfills the Messianic prophecies which rules out anyone – however great – that has passed from this world without ushering in an age of universal peace, rebuilt the Temple, and gathered in all Jewish exiles. That would exclude my Rebbe as it would exclude all the other great leaders of the Jewish people through the ages however much they have devoted their lives to our people.

It does, but that same Maimonides said, we don’t really know how things will unfold exactly. Which means I agree with Boteach, but I think he may be selective as a Chabadnik.

But that does not change my clear memory of the Rebbe’s incessant and unyielding public calls for Jews to work toward a messianic future, to dedicate every positive deed toward his coming, and to never fear controversy in the pursuit of every aspect of Jewish belief.

I once wanted to visit him for a Yechidus when I was younger. However, I felt that I was not worthy of saying anything of substance nor did I have a particular issue that I wanted to raise. As a Cohen, I also knew that if I blessed Jews with love, God himself would bless me. Not withstanding that fact, after reading the three books, I probably would have gone in if I had my chance again, and simply asked for “an appropriate brocho” Those three words. No more, and no less.

Can you daven with a seriously accused criminal or criminal?

There was an interesting article which appeared in Tablet Magazine (c) by Joshua Berman. In it he essentially questioned the opening stanza before Kol Nidrei wherein we accept all sinners to join us in prayer to God.

I reproduce the article below. Some time ago, I had a related problem. An accused and charged criminal, who was waiting for his day in court, and was on strict bail conditions, appeared in our Shule to daven. My personal feelings were that of revulsion. In the end, I convinced myself that perhaps if they sat in a back corner of the Shule, came and went quickly, and didn’t make  themselves conspicuous that it was questionable. I rang my Rav, for his opinion, and he felt that it was no worse than a Cohen who transgresses but still has to perform Mitzvos Bircas Cohanim (the positive command remains), and it is commonly the case in many Shules that Cohanim who are less than committed to Halacha, Duchen. There is a special law in respect of Bircas Cohanim but that depends on the particular kehilla. In essence then= this person shouldn’t be denied davening with a minyan. He stipulated however that if that person “extended his welcome”, then it would be better for him to Daven at home. With difficulty,  I accepted the Psak, and discussed it with the local Orthodox Rabbi, who agreed. Unfortunately, those who have been party to certain sinful proclivities rarely sit quietly minding their own business. It’s as if some מחלה has overtaken them and they are no longer in control of what we call common sensibility.

One day, I had a less than friendly interchange with said person, because I felt, as did others that he had exceeded his task thereby resulting in what might be called a less than quiet moment. He didn’t return after that. It’s a very difficult question from an emotional point of view, even for those who aren’t directly affected, and I was not one of these.

With the consent of the Almighty and with the consent of the congregation, in the assembly of the Heavenly Court and the assembly of the earthly court, we sanction prayer in the company of the delinquent.
I always took comfort in that line, the opening line of the prayers of Yom Kippur night. Despite my shortcomings — which seem to persist over time — the liturgy welcomed me to Yom Kippur. I was one of those “delinquents” with whom those around me could legitimately pray.

But this Yom Kippur eve, I’m experiencing that opening line of our liturgy in a more profound way. Friday night, I’ll be leading Kol Nidre services in my synagogue. Ask anyone who leads prayer services over the High Holidays what it’s like to prepare and they will report the same experience: When you rehearse the lines and the melodies in the days leading up to the service you commune with the rabbis, cantors and teachers who instructed or inspired you in the art of leading the service. You aren’t merely recalling a tune; you recall their voice, their passion, their expression. As you reach mid-age, these days of preparation can be more powerful than the actual synagogue service itself. Recalling the passion and personality of beloved teachers who have since passed on, you cherish the days of preparation as an opportunity to revel in their melodic presence in collective service of the Almighty.

In my mind’s choir I sing along with Rabbi Yehoshua Kreiser and Rabbi Avraham Weiser of blessed memory, the European born rabbis of the small congregation in which I grew up. And I sing along with my beloved Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yehuda Amital of blessed memory, also of European birth. I sing and tear-up in disbelief that my children will probably never experience an old shtetl Jew leading the High Holiday services.

I also sing along with the cantor who prepared several hours of tapes for me when I first led services as a college student 30 years ago. Let’s call him Shlomo. Shlomo taught at the yeshiva day school I attended as a youngster. We were members of the same small congregation. Shlomo had a beautiful voice and everyone in the community felt it a treat when he lead the services.

As I communed this week with all the wonderful rabbis and teachers of my mind’s choir, I paused as I came to a particular bar of Kol Nidre that I identify as a “Shlomo” bar in my repertoire. I recalled the link an acquaintance sent me a few years back documenting that Shlomo had years later served time for sexually abusing young boys.

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra boycotts the music of Wagner because of the role of his music in the rise of the Nazi regime. Should I now “boycott” the music, nay the high-holiday melodies, of a pedophile?

For me, Shlomo was a beloved teacher. In fact, the first time I ever experienced a full traditional Shabbat setting was in his home when I was 11. He had a bunch of boys over for Shabbat. Perhaps with today’s sensitivities such a gathering might never take place. But forty years ago, not much was thought of it. I still remember the chicken fricassee he prepared and the songs around the Shabbat table. But above all I remember his love for liturgy and his generosity in preparing hours of liturgy on tape cassette for me .

I have had no contact with Shlomo in several decades. I can’t imagine what such a meeting would feel like. Of course, I am sickened by the actions for which he has served time, and cannot begin to imagine the justified loathing felt toward him by his victims or by their parents. They were the victims of his darkest impulses. I was the fortunate recipient of his brightest. Shlomo gave me an exposure to Shabbat and a melodic path with which to relate to the Almighty on the High Holidays.

Thinking of Shlomo, the darkness of his personal struggles and the melodies he has passed on to me lead me to new insight into that opening line of the Yom Kippur evening service – “we sanction prayer in the company of the delinquent.” The liturgy does not say, “We sanction prayer in the company of sinners — chot’im. In Hebrew the word I’ve translated as “delinquent” is avaryanim, which is much stronger than just “sinners” — chot’im. Even in medieval rabbinic Hebrew, avaryanim comes much closer to its modern Hebrew meaning of “criminal.” And the term is even stronger, as it is paired here with the definite article, “the avaryanim, implying not merely those many who are imperfect, but those few guilty of the worst deeds.

On Yom Kippur there is no easy ethos of “forgive and forget.” The opening line of the liturgy affirms the functioning of a heavenly court and an earthly one. Each shall mute out justice in its respective realm. But that opening line speaks of a third body – that of the congregation. On Yom Kippur the congregation must find a way to include in its midst not only mere “sinners”, but indeed “the avaryanim.”

And it is in that spirit that through the inspiration of all my teachers I shall lead the services, confident in the knowledge that I ”have sanction to pray with the delinquent.”

Can or should an Avel perform Bircas Cohanim (Part 4)

Context:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Minhag Chassidim in general, and Minhag Chabad in particular.

Dayan Telsner, who is a good Yedid of mine, wrote a number of articles where he responded to my points in the local Chabad publications הערות התמימים ואנ’’ש

I am not challenging his right to pasken according to the minhag brought by the Ramoh, which he conflates as some universal practice throughout the Ashkenazic world, and for which he uses the ultra-strong words of מנהג עוקר הלכה,I believe out of context.

I will just post this excerpt from Chabad’s own התקשרות magazine, which is referred to religiously by Rabbonim and Chassidim in respect of how to behave על פי מנהג חב’’ד.

My translation follows:

It is written in the Shulchan Aruch HoRav (Ba’al Hatanya), “in our regions, where mourning extends until 12 months on a mother of father, and 30 days after another relative, the Cohen [Avel] does not Duchen, even if he is the only Cohen, and even on Yom Yov…”

But, in practice [despite the listing of the Ramoh by the Shulchan Oruch HoRav] I heard from many [important] Poskim in Chabad, and these include The Gaon and Chosid, R Osher Lemil HaCohen, of Beitar, and the Gaon and Chosid R’ Yisrael Yosef Hendel of Migdal Haemek, they they never saw [in Chabad] even outside Israel that an Avel would avoid Duchening.

They referred to the Nitei Gavriel [of R’ Gavriel Tzinner, who is the Rav HaMachshir of the Melbourne Eruv], who wrote that that the Custom of Chassidim is in accord with the Shulchan Aruch [and not the Ramoh] according to the practice of the Sephardim. He brings as support the view of the Kaf HaChaim, that according to mystical [kabbalistic] line of Judaic practice, one must Duchen even if he is a mourner. An in the responsa Mishnas Shlomo [R’ Shlomoeleh Vilna, the Dayan of Vilna] he brings that according to the Ari Zal, we are especially careful not to show any mourning on Shabbos and Yom Tov, and certainly no Cohen should refrain from Duchening because they are an Avel.

The Kaf HaChaim also quotes the [famous] Mekubal R’ Shalom Sharabi, that Duchening is from the “Great Lights”, and just like an Avel is permitted to wear the Tefillin of Rabenu Tam, which is also permitted because of the same concept as the “Great lights—מוחין דאבא’ a Cohen who is a mourner must also Duchen. He goes on further to write that that one should not even cause Duchening to be displaced during the Shiva itself, because Duchening is an integral part of Davening to the extent that if there is no Cohen, we use a different Nusach as said by the Shaliach Tzibbur.

Notwithstanding this opinion, during Shiva itself, Chassidim do not follow the practice of Duchening of an Avel, and neither do the Sephardim [despite the Kabalistic justification]

It is possible that the reason we do Duchen as an Avel, even in Chutz La’aretz, is because it becomes a very clear expression of public mourning if/when a Cohen who is an Avel purposefully avoids doing so. This is especially so in Chutz La’aratez where it is most noticeable because they (Ashkenazim) only duchen on Yom Tov.

I spoke about this with Dayan Telsner’s brother-in-law, Rav Sholom Ber Groner, and he told me that he would be lenient himself based on this Nitei Gavriel. Interestingly, on a number of issues where I mentioned to Rav Sholom Ber, that his father had a seemingly different opinion, that did not seem to worry him to the extent that he was ossified. He said, in fact, that some of his own opinions changed according to time and circumstance, and that was the way to Pasken.

I will close with two words which are ubiquitous in halacha נתפשט המנהג—the Minhag spread (or became established). These simple words imply as everyone know that despite the fact that there may well be competing MINHAGIM on a RANGE of item, an equilibrium often [but not always] emerges as the “prevalent minhag”.

I’m not here to change anything. I didn’t Duchen once Rabbi Telsner paskened that way in his Shule. I mention it one last time, because I disagree completely with the concept of ossification of quoted ancient minhagim when those are known not to be universally adopted!

Finally, if someone can actually point me to MINHAG CHABAD on this, I’d be obliged. I do not think it exists formally in the sense that it was ever enunciated. This lends more credence to my argument, I’d suggest!

Let me also note to anyone who had observed my exchanges with Rabbi Telsner, that this was ריתחה דאורייתא and God forbid that anyone should think that “bad blood” or “beleidung” would ever enter my head over such matters. I can’t think of a better way to spend time that talking and shouting Torah!

Can or should an Avel perform Bircas Cohanim?

The laws of mourning are those which one customarily does not teach their child in respect of the Torah command to teach Torah to one’s children. It is not part of a School curriculum, and is normally the domain of a Rabbinic curriculum, as these laws often need instant answers with unfortunately little warning.

God should make sure that all those who know nothing about the laws of mourning remain clueless and  בלע המוות לנצח—may death be disposed of from our world, for ever. Indeed, let me take this opportunity to wish all those in need of a רפואה שלמה that therapeutic redress be imminent and complete.

In my personal situation, after the passing of my dear father הכ’’מ, I was in the somewhat unusual situation of needing to lead the congregation on Yomim Tovim. This is permitted by the Poskim in certain situations. In my case, there were at different times three separate reasons to permit it. I did not find leading services on Pesach or Shavuous as difficult as Rosh Hashono/Yom Kippur. Some of this was due to my state of mind. Specific piyyutim, not limited to בראש השנה יכתבון and אדם יסודו מאפר, represented a challenge in terms of me maintaining a controlled comportment. On the other hand, I have been less in control of my emotions during Tefillos during years when I was not a mourner, so it wasn’t anything too unexpected. It is not contraindicated, and if anything, perhaps, just perhaps, God, above, may consider me a worthy representative of the congregation whose prayers I led and lead.

A sad fact about our congregation is that those Cohanim, for whom the opportunity to bless the people באהבה with love was something they would never miss, have now departed this world, especially of late. My father was one of these. Apart from the Rabbi who is also a Cohen, and one or two others, the Duchan for Cohanim was an expansive area. I remember where, pardon the pun, it was “standing room only”. In the early days, I’d snuggle between my father, Mr Blass ע’ה and Mr Erdi ע’ה. Later, my sons, Tzvi Yehuda and Yossi would do likewise. These days, there is easily enough room for another 50 Cohanim to stand on the Duchan and bless the people, as per the Torah command (some say that it’s 3 Torah commands, corresponding to each specific formulaic blessing that should not be said in another language, and should not be changed one iota). I reiterate that many Poskim contend that it’s a Torah command to bless the people (הגר”י עמדין, במור וקציעה סי’ קכ”ח, כתב שנשיאת כפיים בזמן הזה היא מדרבנן). Indeed it is important that the volume of the Bracha be something that binds the Cohanim with the people. A large crowd with few Cohanim means they really should “belt out” the Bircas Cohanim (according to the Beis Halevi if I’m not mistaken, when discussung a pilpul of Shomea K’Oneh and Bikurim and Duchening). Originally, the Beracha was said after the bringing of the Korbanos on the Shmini LaMiluim; today we daven instead of bringing Korbanos).

Outside of Israel, many/most Ashkenazi communities only do so on Yomim Tovim. Some Sephardim also do so each Shabbos. When I used to visit Bombay, I was the celebrity Cohen. None of the native Bene Yisrael were Cohanim, and the remaining elderly Jews of Iraqi descent were also not from B’nei Levi, let alone Cohanim. Similarly, when I was in Singapore for Shabbos, the custom was to perform Bircas Cohanim on Shabbos as well. In Singapore, the Ashkenazi Cohanim performed the Priestly Blessings, even though it was a Sephardi Custom. We were, after all, in a Sephardi Shule. One could cogently argue that this was also the “custom of the place” מנהג המקום. Singapore (like Amsterdam, for example) has always had the custom to Duchen on Shabbos as well as Yom Tov.

It would be an interesting question whether a new Shule made up of those of Ashkenazic descent, should continue Minhag Singapore or refrain from Duchening on Shabbos.

Getting back to me leading the davening as a Cohen, there is a disagreement among the Poskim whether a Cohen leading the service should stay silent or whether he should join the other Cohanim and utter the priestly blessings during the repetition of the Amida. One can find both opinions, and much has to do whether the Cohen will get mixed up switching roles. In our Shule, the Cohen does Duchen, and in fact, I find it an opportune moment to actually catch my breath. On Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur, I’m exhausted at that stage, and having a regular Yisrael leading the calling of the special blessings, and only having to answer, is something I find quite easy. The Rabbi of our Shule does likewise, and he is a Cohen. This seems to be even more important now, where there is a veritable dearth of Cohanim.

In summary then, during the year of Aveylus after my father, I had already duchened on Pesach, Shavuos, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Over the last few weeks I’ve endured a stubborn virus (at least that’s what I think it was) which thankfully only affected my voice in a minor way on Yom Kippur. I didn’t fancy the longer trek to where I normally davened, and instead attended services at a closer Shule which follows Minhag Chabad. I daven Sefard anyway, and have a seat there, and am certainly no stranger to that Shule. Well before Retzeh, as is the custom among some fellow Mispallelim at this Shule, I am asked “have me in my mind please” and so on. In fact, the revered Rabbi Groner ז’ל always asked me to remember יצחק דוד בן מנוחה רחל and I had the merit of being the last Cohen to give him ברכת כהנים before he passed away from our world. I mention this, because there is and was already an expectation that I was to Duchen, well before uprooting myself prior to Retzeh, let alone upon hearing the clarion call “Cohanim”.

So, up I went on Day one of Succos. Even though this was the major Chabad Shule in Melbourne, there were only a paltry four Cohanim, of which I was one. I didn’t think twice about it. It is one of the joys of my life to be chosen, al pi chazaka as a Cohen, to use those specific words to bless everyone באהבה with love. Furthermore, I was one of a number; I wasn’t the only Cohen. In fact on Simchas Torah, I also give Bircas Cohanim to anyone who has missed it (although the Dayan once told me that it was B’aal Tosif, which after checking  I could not understand in any form). It’s Ba’aal Tosif is you add a new ברכה, not if you repeat the same formula, but I digress.

Normally, when I descend, there is the usual cacophonous יישר כח כהן and this extends to Rabbinic authorities in the Shule whom I pass on the way back to my seat. This time, however, it was different. The Dayan of the Shule, instead chose to alert me to his view as was “an open din in Shulchan Aruch” that an Avel shouldn’t Duchan on Yom Tov. I asked how it was possible for me to have already duchened on earlier Yom Tovim and been expected to duchen only to now bow out in a manner which could only be described as a דבר בולט, or in other words, an explicit אבילות דפרהסיה, לכאורה. He said that was another Shule.

The so-called “open din” in Shulchan Aruch או’’ח קכח didn’t appear that way to me, when I looked at it at lunch time. Instead, it looked as if the Mechaber was describing the Minhag in Israel (which obviously also affected Sephardim on Shabbos outside of Israel) whereas the Ramoh described the custom במקומות אלו, which one presumes to be the Minhag that the Ramoh experienced in Ashkenaz. What was the reason for the Minhag in Ashkenaz, as also paskened in the Mishna Brura and of course the Shulchan Aruch HoRav (with just a very slight difference)? I will leave side-reasons of immersion before Duchaning to one side. Of course, Chabadniks immerse every day (or ought to). Others, such as בעל כנסת יחזקאל םי׳ י״ב (see also (ליסא) דרך החיים)) disagree with the Ramoh.

The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch was more emphatic

אבל תוך שנים עשר חודש על אביו ואמו או תוך שלשים על שאר קרובים אינו נושא את כפיו, וצריך לצאת מבית הכנסת קודם רצה עד אחר נשיאת כפים. ואם אין בבית הכנסת שני כהנים אחרים, מותר לאבל לישא את כפיו תוך שנים עשר חודש על אביו ואמו ותוך שלשים על שאר קרובים, אבל תוך שבעה, כגון הקובר מתו ברגל, אפילו אם אין שם שני כהנים אחרים אינו נושא את כפיו.

The primary reason for not allowing the Cohen to Duchan, was because as an Avel I’m not considered שרוי בשמחה (steeped in שמחת יום טוב see מטה משה סי’ קצ”ח) to the extent that I would be able to effectively make a Brocha באהבה and repeat the Bircas Cohanim together with the three other Cohanim.

בתשובת מהר”ם מינץ כתב: “וכן ראיתי בחנוכה, בלילה הראשונה מתפלל האבל, אך להדלקת הנרות שיש בהן ברכת שהחיינו שראוי לברך מתוך שמחה, יש מהנזהין ואמרין דאחר דלאו אבל ידליק הנרות, וכן זכרוני בהיותי במענץ שהיה מהר”ר זוילין ז”ל אבל על אביו והתפלל בערב חנוכה, והיינו נושאים ונותנים בדבר אם האבל ידליק ג”כ הנרות או אחר שאינו אבל, ונשאר המסקנא שראוי ונכון שאחר ידליק הנרות, וכן נהגתי אח”כ בכל מקום מתוך אגודת חבריי ורבותיי”. ועיי”ש שדימיהו לאבל באמירת הלל בר”ח. ולפי”ז הרי הוא הדין בכל מקום שמוציא אחרים ידי חובתם וכגון במקרא מגילה.

This Mahari Mintz on which the Magen Avraham סימן תקנ”א ס”ק מב  appears to be  based, restricted his view to when the Cohen was a Sh’liach Tzibbur who alone was מוציא אחרים, as opposed to the Magen Avraham in Hilchos Nesius Kapaim, as referred to in Shulchan Aruch HoRav and the Mishne Brura.

בשו”ת מנחת אלעזר (ח”ב סימן לב) כותב בתו”ד “ורק לענין הדלקת נרות בבית הכנסת בחנוכה שזה אינו חיוב כלל על עצמו של כל אחד ואחד, רק משום פרסומי הנס בצבור נהגו כן, והמצוה העיקר להדליק בביתו, על כן כיון שברכת שהחיינו בנר חנוכה בביכ”נ הוא רק בעד הציבור לשמחה ולזכר הנס, הנהיגו שיברך אחר שהוא בשמחה, משא”כ האבל שאינו בשמחה, אבל בקריאת המגילה שהוא חיוב על כל אחד ואחד לקרות בציבור דוווקא, והברכת שהחיינו על המגילה בצבור גם האבל מחוייב בה בביהכ”נ בקריאת המגילה, והוי כמו הדלקת הנרות בביתו דלכולי עלמא מברך האבל בביתו כמבואר בשו”ע שם, וגם יוצאים בני ביתו בברכת שהחיינו שיברך בביתו בנר חנוכה, וכן הכא [במגילה] אם אחר יברך והוא האבל שומע כעונה ועונה אמן , הוי הוא גם כן המברך, וכיון שהאבל מחוייב בעצמו לברך הברכה בביהכ”נ במגילה, גם האחרים יוכלו לצאת בתורת שומע כעונה, ודו”ק”, ומסיים בענין שאלתו אודות זה “שהוא רגיל ומוחזק לקרוא את המגילה בצבור בביהמד”ר דקהלתו, ועתה שהוא תוך י”ב חודש על אביו ע”ה ונפשו בשאלתו כדת מה לעשות, ואם יברך שהחיינו”, ע”ז מסיים בהמשך להנ”ל, “ע”כ הבו דלא להוסיף עלה במה שמצינו בט”ז סי’ תרעא לענין ברכת שהחיינו רק בחנוכה, ולא לענין פורים כנזכר, ובפרט שהוא קורא תמיד בכל שנה ושנה”, ועיי”ש מה שכתב עוד שגבי הרגיל בקריאת המגילה בכל שנה, הרי כשלא יקרא הוה אבילות בפרהסיא דיש לחוש ע”ז מדינא.

I was to learn that a number of Chabadniks in חו’’ל had duchened while they were in Aveylus, and that was according to Piskei Din of Chashuvei Rabonnei Chabad. I tried to remember what Rabbi Groner ז’ל had paskened for my father, and I do recall him being uncomfortable with my father standing alone during Hakofos, and suggested that someone go around with him in a type of Mechitza so that he wouldn’t technically be part of the Hoshanos Parade. To the best of my ability, I cannot, however,  recall what my father  have did for Duchening. Certainly the Rav of my father’s Shule, who was also a Cohen, and his own children, who were also Rabonim, duchened during their Aveylus.

On the next morning, the second day of Succos, I approached the Dayan of the Shule, and asked him whether it was true that he paskened that Chassidiei Chabad could attend Farbrengens for Simchas Beis HaShoeva during their year of Aveylus, and whether he agreed that it was incongruous for Simchas Beish Hashoeva Farbrengens, with the singing, merriment and drink (and Toras Hachassidus) there was no impediment for a Chasid who was an Avel, and yet for the Avel who felt that he had absolutely no problem expressing אהבה through the Bracha, and for which the זכות resulting from Hashem was ואני אברכם he would theoretically deny me the opportunity to perform Bircas Cohanim. I asked him, that despite the Minhag quoted by the Ramoh, whether there was  actually an established Minhag in the Shule Itself where the Rav would make it his business to inform Avelim that they should disappear early enough before so that they would not have to be in the Shule for Duchening. He was not happy with my line of questioning, and gave vociferous voice thereto. In the end, he passed on a message through a Gabbay that he would “prefer I would not Duchen”.

At that point, I decided to do what my father would have done—run away from Machlokes, and leave early enough so that people wouldn’t even mention “have me in mind”. I know that many were disappointed and that they felt that, like הושענות and many dinim of Aveylus, this was a personal הרגשה, and that it was not quite right to tell someone effectively, your level of שמחה (even with בשר ודגים and ביום שמחתחם) wasn’t enough to effect Brachos as an agent of Hashem.

I did find that the Aruch Hashem of Navardok seemed to be equally troubled by the concept of being מבטל an עשה or three over such a matter, and to paraphrase him, he could not understand what was wrong. Perhaps this is a Litvishe thing. The Biur HaGro (who also saw the “open Shulchan Aruch”) as did the פרי חדש and others also felt that one should not interfere with the Avel and let him go his way depending on how he felt. According to the encyclopaedic Rav Gavriel Tzinner, this is also the practice of “all” chassidim and the view of the Griz, although he doesn’t bring a specific Mekor for those assertions. When he is next in Melbourne to examine the Eruv here under his Hashgacha I may well seek him out for sources for these statements.

I was unable to unearth a specific מנהג חבד on this matter, save the Shulchan Aruch HoRav quoting the Ramoh and then Magen Avraham in his usual manner. That per se, however, doesn’t mean it is  מנהג חב’’ד as is well know from later glosses in his Siddur and elsewhere (or the later comments of the last Rebbe זי’’ע on issues of Minhag Chabad)

I do not know whether Rabbi Groner ז’ל would have gone up to an אבל after the act, and said, “don’t duchen tomorrow”. The Dayan finally said it was his “preference” that Aveylim not Duchan in the central Chabad Shule of Melbourne.

I will have opportunity to Duchen on Shmini Atzeres, and in sobriety during Shachris on Simchas Torah, before my year of aveylus ends. I think it prudent to avoid Machlokes and being too evocative with the Dayan by davening there on these days (even I have done so for at least 40 years).

I have absolutely no hard feelings. It’s Torah, and we need to learn and understand and follow it. I just don’t understand how I’m considered unable to bless באהבה. If anything, and I think this is mentioned by Acharonim, the אבל is more sensitised to the needs of others and able to express genuine blessing to all (despite מדת הדין hanging around an אבל during the year). I thought that the pre-requisite (כלי המקבל) for Kabolas Brachos was HaSholom, Peace!

נשיאת הכפיים קדימה מבטאת את העתיד, שהרי הידיים מתקדמות אל מעבר למקום שאליו הגיע הגוף. ועל-כן הכהנים נושאים את כפיהם, לבטא את הכמיהה והתפילה המובעות בברכת כהנים, אל עולם שלם ומתוקן  –– עולת ראיה ח”א רפד).

Postscript: I just received this from a good friend with excellent access to מנהגי חב’’ד who quoted

Minhag Chabad Avelylus Bircas Cohanim