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: 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.

Mishloach Manos and Aveylus

As everyone knows, an Avel (mourner) is still required to give Mishloach Manos, but is not meant to be given Mishloach Manos. What is the essential difference? Clearly, an Avel is still someone who must do good deeds, including Chesed (kindness) and acts of goodness. This is claimed to not only be good for the Avel, so to speak, but is something the Neshama (my father, הכ”מ) gets an Aliya/Nachas from. So far so good.

We can understand why someone should not be involved in giving to an Avel. Likely, the Mishloach Manos is (meant to be) a contribution to the Avel’s Purim Seuda. The Avel’s Purim Seuda, though, in a year of Aveylus, isn’t what it normally is. One isn’t supposed to go (based on the Ramoh) to someone else’s Seuda. Rather, it should be a relatively “quiet” and home-bound one, much like the rest of Aveylus of the 12 months, which is characterised by an avoidance of more public modes of enjoyment and celebration.

An interesting question arises in regards to a family Seuda. What is the Halacha, if customarily, the wider family, including siblings, who are also Aveylim, get together each year for Purim Seuda under normal circumstances. Should they also get together in a year of Aveylus? You can always argue that the “Niftar would prefer that”, but it’s not that simple. Like many laws of Aveylus, one may well get two different answers from two Rabonim. We also say that הלכה כמיקל באבילות. There is also a fair amount of grey area. If you open up a Nitei Gavriel you can probably find every type of a הנהגה under the sun, but that doesn’t really help when you seek direction and clear Psak. Telling me that in the community of “bochunovich” they did XYZ doesn’t offer Psak. Nitei Gavriel is a wonderful “encyclopedia”. It’s often difficult to “pasken” from unless of course one is from “bochunovich”.

So, I was pretty convinced that it should be okay: Aveylim with Aveylim at a Purim Seuda, without the usual dancing and banter, what could be wrong. I asked the question to מו’’ר Rav Hershel Schachter, and he replied that it is better during the year of Aveylus, that the Aveylim have their seudos individually in their own homes.

Purim, being a Yom Tov from the Rabbis, somehow places itself in this Halachic “no man’s land”. It’s not a Torah Yom Tov, nor is it a normal Yom Chol. You are meant to drink, be merry, etc to a level of עד דלא ידע. This means that although it’s a happy day with certain Mitzvos it’s perhaps not quite as important enough in terms of Toraitic שמחה. It’s a day of perhaps “wanton” happiness for want of a better word. This isn’t the natural domain of the Avel. Instead, they should partake of this סעודה meal at their own home with one’s direct family, in the first instance.

Ironically, as I delivered some Mishloach Manos today, I was pleased in a macabre way that some people could not give me Mishloach Manos in return. You know the scene, you give, and then they scurry out the back and give you one “in return”. This time, I had pure giving. I was the initiator. I didn’t need anything in return (thank God). It might sound weird, but that’s how I felt. I actually got some strange comfort out of it.

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