Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Nitzavim
To dedicate this lesson
At the Shabbat Table

Sound Effect


Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Elul 26 5778
(Based on Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim section 2)

Shacharit prayers had just ended. The congregants stood in their places expectantly, eyes focused eagerly on the men standing at the bima. Many held their fingers in place in their machzorim, pointing to the prayers recited before the blowing of the shofar.
The congregants were startled by a sudden bang! They looked up to see that it was Yeshayahu, the gabbai, who was preparing to make an announcement. "Ahem, ah, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to take this opportunity to remind you that, from the recitation of the blessings, until all of the shofar blasts are completed, at the end of mussaf, talking is forbidden. I repeat, there is to be no talking from now until the end of the shofar blowing, at the end of mussaf!"
Yeshayahu stepped aside. The congregation listened to the recitation of the blessings. Suddenly, the blast of the shofar rang out, its heart rending cry reverberating throughout the synagogue hall. The congregants stood entranced, eagerly, reverently drawing the sound inward, willing it to penetrate their very beings.
The first segment of shofar blowing concluded. Yaakov sank down onto the ornately carved wooden bench, and gave David a nudge. "How much longer do you think this is gonna go on for? I’m getting hungry already!"
Across the row, Aharon was sharing his ratings of the chazzan’s performance during Shacharit. "He was great in the beginning, but, you know, toward the end, I guess he started to get tired. Not like the guy I hear they have on the other side of town. I’m thinking of switching next year, even though it’s a further walk."
As the services continued, conversations of equal levels of importance could be heard in various locations throughout the synagogue. After services concluded, Yeshayahu’s seatmate, Ofir, stood quietly, as he folded his tallit. He turned to the gabbai.
"Yeshayahu," he began. "I know you meant well, but do you realize what you just did? I don’t know what the point was of making that announcement. You know this isn’t the most conscientious crowd. Even after your speech, they were still talking throughout the prayers! All you did was take unintentional sinners, and teach them a law that they were going to violate anyway, which made them into intentional sinners."
"Listen Ofir," Yeshayahu retorted. "I know exactly what I did. I know this crowd. Yes, most of them ignored what I said, but not everyone talked. Maybe there were some people who learned a new law, because of my announcement, and, because of that, chose to remain silent during the prayers. Then it was worth saying something!"

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt"l:
It is correct that one should not protest a transgression when it is clear that the violator will continue to transgress. However, when there is a doubt as to whether or not the transgressor will listen, one is obligated to inform the transgressor that his actions are wrong.
If some people might listen, and some will definitely not listen, it is still preferable to warn the group regarding the prohibition against speaking, for the benefit of those who will listen. Even though this will cause those who continue to sin to take on the status of "intentional transgressors," nonetheless, it is still proper to speak, and help those who will choose to heed the warning. In any case, those who continue sinning were sinners before as well, even though they sinned without knowledge. Therefore, it is worthwhile to risk the slight change in status of those who will continue to transgress, for the benefit of those who will stop sinning entirely.
In practice: if one is certain that no one will listen, one should not advise the crowd regarding the impropriety of talking during the time of the shofar blowing. If there are those who might listen, and desist from talking, it is proper to inform those individuals, privately, regarding this law. However, if it is impossible to know precisely who will choose to follow the law, it is proper to advise the entire congregation regarding the law.
(Rabbi Feinstein adds the following insight: In truth, the law disallowing speech until the conclusion of the shofar blasts is not straightforward. The Ra"n is of the opinion that the shofar blowing has a similar status to that of a festive meal, during which it is permitted to speak. However, the Shulchan Aruch maintains that talking is forbidden, at this time. Because of the lenient opinion of the Ra"n, though, there is reason to suggest that it is not necessary to be concerned that the congregants who choose to talk will now become intentional sinners, because the Ra"n maintains that talking at this point is not a sin! On the other hand, the fact that the Ra"n does not forbid talking at this time might lend support to the other position, that it is not worth advising the congregation not to talk, because the congregants will, in their own minds, be made aware that they are intentionally transgressing, and will be punished for their intentions to sin knowingly, despite the fact that, according to the Ra"n, they are not sinning at all!
Rabbi Feinstein concludes: I do not have a resolution to this matter, however, in practice, one should act according to the ruling stated above.)
Translated by Avigail Kirsch
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