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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Friday Night Blessings

Growing up Haber, it was the regular thing. Every Friday night after Kiddush, we would all line up in front of our parents for a bracha, a blessing that we should be like Ephraim and Menashe for the boys, or like the Matriarchs for the girls, followed by the standard Priestly Blessing. I thought this was replicated in all Jewish households all over the world. As we got married, we all continued the tradition of our parents, blessing our children on Friday night.

Last week while reading Rabbi Oizer Alport’s excellent Parsha Potpourri, I came across an interesting dispute between Rav Yaakov Emden and the Vilna Gaon. In his Siddur, Rav Yaakov Emden writes that the Minhag Yisrael is to bless the children Friday night, gives several Kabalistic reasons for it, and then adds that both hands should be placed on the child’s head, “unlike those who are mentally deficient and think that only on hand should be put on the child’s head.” His own father, he adds, the Chacham Tzvi, used both hands when blessing him.

In the Siddur of the Vilna Gaon the custom to bless one’s children is also cited but he says that only Kohanim can use two hands, everyone else has to use one to differentiate. The stance of the Vilna Gaon is also cited in the Torah Temimah Chumash (Bamidbar 6:23). (see also Biur Halacha OC 128 and Piskei Teshuvos).

I was spurned by this to conduct an informal, unscientific survey, as to what people do. The choices were:
a) One hand
b) Two hands
You can imagine my surprise when about 85% of the respondents came back with:
c) None of the above

People don’t give their kids bracha’s!!

My respondents ran the gamut of European geographical backgrounds, from (non-practicing) Yekke’s to Hungaian, Romanian, Lithuanian and Polish. There were unfortunately no Sephardim available.

It seems obvious that Rav Yaakov Emden and the Vilna Gaon practiced this Minhag, in addition the Talmidim of the Arizal speak about it. In fact, the Arizal would kiss his mother’s hand upon arriving home Friday night, in order to “prepare” it for the blessing. This is the origin of the Sephardic Minhag to kiss the hand of one about to give a blessing. There is also a custom for the blessee to kiss the blesser’s hand after receiving the blessing (Otzar Hayedios).

Chaya Fisherman quotes sources in Russia, the Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities of Amsterdam and the Ethiopian communities that say that parents blessed their children every Shabbos. The Chasam Sofer (OC 23) entertains the notion that one should give the brachos every day!
The reason given are many, ranging from the Kabalistic to the educational to the Siddur Noam Shabbos who write that parents may inadvertently curse their children out of anger during the week, and the blessings reverse that.

It’s interesting to note that when discussing this Minhag, both Rav Emden and the Gra say that it applies to both Rabbis and parents. As far as I know there is no community where the Rabbi systematically blesses all the children. The extremely notable exception to this is the K’hal Adath Jeshurun community where the kids all line up to get a blessing from the Rav Friday nights. Indeed Dr. Elliot Bondi (in the biography section of the Torah Dimensions project from the OU) reports that Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer ZT”L would hold this custom very dear and insisted on giving every child a bracha even at the advanced age of 98!

So, I’m still befuddled as to where this Minhag has gone. If anyone has any further information please hit the comments.



JBlog

Posted on 01/11 at 06:14 PM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch HaberRabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber is sought after by all who know him for his Halachic and practical advice. His keen ability to put complicated matters into a digestible perspective coupled with his ability to get the facts, make him the perfect blogger to help us all “Do It Right”.

A native of Buffalo, NY, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber spent his childhood globetrotting with his family. His pioneering spirit first surfaced in Melbourne, Australia, where he was excited to be a member of the opening class of Mesivta Bnei Torah. From Australia the Haber family settled down in Monsey, NY. Ever the maverick, Tzvi promptly left home to study in Yeshiva Ohr Hameir in Peekskill, where he became a mainstay of the Yeshiva, and inspired his younger brothers as well as several friends from the Mesivta in Melbourne to follow him. He then joined his chaburah in Jerusalem, first at the Mir Yeshiva and then at the Bais Medrash of Rav Dovid Soloveitchik, a senior scion of the famed Brisk dynasty. As his globetrotting family returned to Jerusalem, Tzvi returned to the US, to freeze in the famed, yet comparatively chilled Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood.

 In 2004 he met his wife, Suzanne Schor, a native of the warmer Los Angeles climate, and the couple settled in Lakewood, where he focused his pioneering and independent strengths on the study of Halacha, or Jewish law. His innovative spirit and innate ability to help others seeking to clarify the finer points of Judaism and integrate them into their daily lives inspired his decision to commute daily from Lakewood to the Lower East Side of Manhattan in order to bask in the day to day exposure to the world renowned Posek, HaRav David Feinstein. The daily commute was more than compensated for when he received Semicha from Rav Feinstien and the Kollel L’Torah U’lhorah (a division of Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem) in Tamuz 5768, June 2008.

In August 2009, the Habers moved west, heading toward Los Angeles where Rabbi Haber joined the LINK-LA Kollel. After being an active member of the Kollel for several years, he joined the business world, however he is still actively involved in teaching and learning in LA.

Actively involved in all aspects of TorahLab, Tzvi has taken upon himself a quasi-role as administrator of quality control and has effectively improved and upgraded many of the smaller yet vital details involved in our site. His advice is eagerly sought and gracefully given.

Rabbi Haber is now living in the La Brea section of Los Angeles with his wonderful family. He can be contacted at tzvi@torahlab.org