Sunday, September 16, 2007

Customs of The Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

One of the more informative publications in recent years is Dr. Arnold Lustiger’s Machzor Mesores HaRav, based on the Hashkafos and teachings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. There are two volumes, one for Yom Kippur and one for Rosh Hashanah. The early section of the Machzor contains among other things a list of 94 Minhagim… customs practiced by Rav Soloveitchik.

Not that these customs were unique to him but that he departed from many of the traditional ones practiced by Klal Yisroel. What was fascinating to me is that I have adopted many of these Minhagim myself not knowing that these were his Minhagim too. I’d love to say that great minds think alike but compared to the Rav’s mind, mine is extremely puny. Of course some of these were based upon those of my Rebbe Rav Ahron, the Rav's brother.

For those who do not own a copy of this Machzor, I’d like to share a few of the more interesting customs that I noticed.

* In the morning prayer service, Rav Soloveitchik’s custom for P'Sukei D'Zimra when reciting the Shira (Oz Yashir) was to end it with ‘HaShem Yimloch L’Olam Voed’. He did not add ‘Ki Vo Sus Paroh’ since it is not part of the Shira. This is indictaed by the fact that ‘HaShem Yimloch L’Olam Voed’ is repeated, signifying that it is the end of the Shira.

* When reciting the Kaddish he pronounced the opening words with a Tzeirei not a Pasach: ‘Yisgadeil ViYiskadeish’ and the word ‘Chirusei’ was prounced as ‘Kirusei’ ...that being grammatically more correct.

* He would never say ‘Ki Shem HaShem Ekra’ at the beginning of the Amidah at Mincha even though it is printed in just about every Siddur since there is no source for it anywhere in the Gemarah as noted by Rabbi Elijah Kramer, the Gra.

* He added the phrase Morid HaTal in the summer months as do those who Daven Nusach Sefard and the Bnei Eretz Yisroel (Israelis) whose customs are based on those of the Gra.

* During Chazaras HaShatz (…the cantor’s repetition of the Amidah) he would never answer ‘Baruch Hu Avaruch Shemo’ (…blessed is He and blessed is His name) as is the common practice and which is mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch.. He held that the cantor’s Amidah was a congregational (Tzibur) requirement and as such no interruptions may be made if we are to fulfill our obligation. This is the Halacha by Brachos. If one is to fulfill the requirement of the Bracha, one may not interrupt the Bracha by saying ‘Baruch Hu Avaruch Shemo’. One must only answer Amen at the end of each Bracha.

* At Maariv, the evening service, he did not say anything past Hashkivenu. Since the mention of the Geula (the final redemption) is supposed to immediately precede Teffilah (the Amidah) and Hashkivenu is considered as an extention of the Bracha 'Go-al Yisroel' (the Redeemer of Israel) one ends with the Bracha of Hashikivenu. That is then followed immediately by the Amidah. He would for this reason not say any of the other additions customarily said at various times of the year such as VeShamru at Maariv on Friday night. This is also the Minhag of Chabad and of the Bnei Eretz Yisroel (Israelis) who follow the customs of the Gra.

* He was opposed to singing Yigdal at the end of Davening, a common practice in many synogogues. Yigdal is a song that includes our principles of faith. Rav Soloveitchik held that there is no reason to do so and additionally, it mimics the practice of Catholics who summarize their dogma via the recitation of a catechism during their prayers. The Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria, was insistent that Yigdal not be said.

These were some of the more interesting customs among a great many more.

Perhaps the most interesting of the Rav's Minhagim was that in his later years he stopped saying Brich Shmeh. This prayer is recited by the congregation when the Sefer Torah is taken out of the holy ark for Kriyas HaTorah, the reading of the weekly Torah portion. His original practice was to say it but skip the following line: ‘Velo Al Bar Elohin Samichna’... ‘I do not rely on the son of God.’ His grandfather, Rav Chaim explained that by saying this line one is acknowledging the existence of a 'son of God'… but that we just don’t rely on him. It is therefore wrong to say this line.

Frankly I never noticed that line since Aramaic is not my language and I didn’t really pay attention to the words as I said them in a rote like fashion. Besides, I haven’t said Brich Shmeh in years. But now that it was pointed out to me, it is ceratinly troubling that such a line is in a Tefilah taken from the Zohar that is commnly said several times a week. ArtScroll translates the phrase ‘Bar Elohin’ as angels. I think that is pretty much the accepted version. But it was pretty strange ...almost shocking realize what they actually translate to.

Rabbi Binyamin Shlomo Hamburger in his Sefer, Shroshei Minhag Ashkenaz discusses Brich Shmeh in much detail and mentions this problem among other problems with it.

Among them…

* It is not mentioned anywhere in the Gemarah. It was not said by the Geonim nor was it said by the Rishonim. It is not mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch or by the Rama.
* Since it is taken from the Zohar, which is the Sefer of Kabala, saying it counters the practice of avoiding Kabala adopted in Klal Yisroel since the days of Shabsai Tzvi.
* This prayer contains the phrase ‘Ana Avda D’Kudesha Brich Hu’... ‘I am the servant of God”. According to the Chafetz Chaim we are not worthy to use that description about ourselves as this (Eved HaShem) is the phrase that the Torah ascribes to Moshe Rabbenu.

Rav Hamburger mentions that a student of Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, the Nodah B’Yehuda, asked him about skipping the words ‘Velo Al Bar Elohin Samichna’ when saying Brich Shmeh. The Nodah B'Yehuda answered him that he could skip the entire Brich Shmeh.

It should be noted that Rabbi Chaim David Azulay, the Chida, mentions that just because the custom to say it is near universal that does not mean it is correct to do so.

Far be it from me to propose eliminating a long established Minhag of Teffila in Klal Yisroel. But it certainly makes one wonder about just how appropriate it really is.

It is therefore proper for people who do say it to continue doing so if they wish. But it is also proper not to say it... as was the Rav's custom in later years... as long as the intent is L'Shem serve God.