Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 26 November 2011 / 28 Heshvan 5772

Tachanun in Yerushalayim

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
Library Library Kaddish

Visitors to Yeshivas Ohr Somayach’s famous beginner 4:00 P.M. daily Mincha (You are also welcome to join) are wont to comment on the fact that everyone says Tachanun with nefillas apayim, the placing down of the head on an arm, even though the beis medrash where this tefilla is held, the Lauffer Beis Medrash, does not have a Sefer Torah or even an Aron Kodesh.

The reason they find this behavior odd is because the Rema[1], quoting the Rokeach, rules that if there is no Sefer Torah in a shul, Tachanun should still be said, but without nefillas apayim[2]. This is traced back to a Biblical source, that “falling down” in prayer is reserved for when an Aron is present[3]. Although some disagree[4], this remains common practice. If so, the visitors ask, why would Ohr Somayach not follow such a widespread custom?

The answer is: Yerushalayim. Yes, Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh. Ohr Somayach is privileged and blessed to be located in the Holy City of Jerusalem. As such, it maintains special dispensation for certain tefillos, one of them is Tachanun. In the words of Rav Moshe Feinstein[5], “Yerushalayim contains intrinsic holiness and is designated for prayer, and therefore even without a Sefer Torah one should do nefillas apayim, as it is comparable to a place that has a Sefer Torah!!”

This minhag dates back to the 1700s to the famed Pri HaAdamah[6], who writes that since there are opinions that in lieu of Sefer Torah one may still say Tachanun in a room that contains many sefarim[7], then certainly in the Holy City of Yerushalayim which is superior to a house filled with holy books, one would still say Tachanun with nefillas apayim, even without a Sefer Torah.

This special deference for Yerushalayim is noted by many authorities including those who specialize in the customs of Eretz Yisrael, including Rav Y.M. Tukachinsky, creator of the world-renowned Luach Eretz Yisrael[8].

Another tefillah that is said fully in Yerushalayim in any location, for the same above-mentioned reasons, is Magen Avos on Friday night[9], which technically needs to be recited in the presence of a Sefer Torah, or be said in a set minyan[10].

There is, however, a dispute among contemporary authorities as to what is considered the Holy City of Yerushalayim for our intents and purpose, where one would still recite Tachanun with nefillas apayim. It is well known that Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach[11] was of the opinion that this special regard is meant only for the original Holy City, which is now known as The Old City (bein hachomos), similar to the halachos of eating maaser sheini and kadshim kalim in the times of the Beis Hamikdash. The rest of Yerushalayim, he maintains, does not share this unique intrinsic holiness. In fact, unless he was in the OldCityor in a room filled with sefarim in the rest of Yerushalayim, Rav Shlomo Zalman would not do nefillas apayim in Tachanun[12].

However, the majority of contemporary poskim do not make such a distinction and consider all of Yerushalayim, old and new, to contain inherent kedusha, and therefore maintain that when in any part of Yerushalayim one should always say Tachanun with nefillas apayim[13] (as well as Magen Avos on a Friday night).

Although the importance of the tefillah of Tachanun is underappreciated by many, it should not be; it is actually based on Moshe Rabbeinu’s successful entreating of Hashem on Har Sinai to spare Klal Yisrael from punishment after their grievous sins: “Va’esnapel lifnai Hashem[14]- And I threw myself down in prayer before G-d”[15], and is a known catalyst for Hashem to speedily answer our prayers[16]. So the next time you are in Ohr Somayach, or essentially anywhere in Yerushalayim, it is worthwhile to take advantage of the extra dimension and intensity of nefillas apayim that is exclusive to our Holy City.

[1] Rema O.C. 131, 2; Rokeach 324.

[2] It must be noted that general Sefardic practice is to never do nefillas apayim when reciting Tachanun, due to many not having the proper kavannos. See Ben Ish Chai (Year 1, Parshas Ki Sisa 13 s.v. v’heenay) and Yalkut Yosef (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch O.C. 131, 16).

[3] Yehoshua Ch. 7 verse 6.

[4] The Chida (Birkei Yosef O.C .131, 1 and Shiyurei Bracha there 1) argues that one should always do nefillas apayim in Tachanun, due to the fact that the Shulchan Aruch does not bring this as psak l’maaseh, even though he mentions it in his Beis Yosef commentary (ibid s.v. kasav haRivash); also, this was the Mahari”mat’s minhag. See also Ben Ish Chai (Year 1, Ki Sisa 14, who writes that nefillas apayim applies everywhere and all the time) and Kaf Hachaim (ibid, 40). The Taz (O.C. 131, 5) also questions this practice, but concludes that nevertheless the halacha still follows the Rema and Rokeach. The Chayei Adam (32, 33), Shulchan Aruch HaRav (ibid 3), Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (22, 4), Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 131, 10), and Mishna Brura (131, 11) rule this way as well, that without a Sefer Torah, nefillas apayim is not done.

[5] Shu”t Igros Moshe (Y.D. vol. 3, 129, 2).

[6] Mizbach Adamah pg. 2, s.v. siman 268. The Ben Ish Chai (Year 2, Vayera 10) dates this minhag back to the times of the Rashash.

[7] Shiyarei Knesses HaGedolah (O.C 131, Haghos Beis Yosef, 6), Olas Tamid (ibid 10), Magen Giborim (Elef HaMagen ibid, 7), Orchos Rabbeinu (vol. 1 pg. 67). However, many do not agree with this and maintain that even with sefarim one would not do nefillas apayim, including the Elyah Rabba (ibid 5), Derech HaChaim (Dinei Tachanun 5), and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (22, 4). The Mishna Brura (ibid 11) does not rule conclusively on this.

[8] Sefer Eretz Yisrael and Luach Eretz Yisrael (Dinei Tzom Gedalya in the brackets).

[9] Pri HaAdamah above, Ben Ish Chai (Year 2, Vayera 10; and in Shu”t Rav Pe’alim vol. 3 O.C. 23 ), Shalmei Chagiga (2, 27), Luach Eretz Yisrael (Dinei Shabbos Shuva), Shu”t Har Tzvi (O.C. 152), Kaf HaChaim (O.C. 268, 50), Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer (vol. 7, 23 s.v. zohee), Ishei Yisrael (Ch. 36, 35).

[10] Elyah Rabba (268, 19), Pri Megadim (ibid M.Z. 8) Mishna Brura (ibid 24), Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. vol. 4, 69, 3), based on the words of the Shulchan Aruch O.C. 268, 10. See also Ishei Yisrael (Ch. 36, 35, footnote 93) for more on this topic.

[11] For example see Shmiras Shabbos K’hilchasa (vol. 2, 65, 58), V’aleihu Lo Yibol (vol. 1, pg. 95, 105; pg. 298, 15; pg. 348, 2), Ishei Yisrael (Ch. 25, footnote 39), and Halichos Shlomo (Tefilla Ch. 11, 11).

[12] Halichos Shlomo - Tefillah Ch. 11 footnote 37.

[13] Including the Luach Eretz Yisrael above, Shu”t Igros Moshe above, Leket Kemach Hachadash (vol. 4, 131, 23), Beis Baruch on the Chayei Adam (32, 170), Shu”t Ba’er Moshe (vol. 7, Dinei Bnei Eretz Yisrael pg. 208 s.v. y”o), Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol. 4, 43, 9), sefer Olas Reiyah (brought in Halichos Shlomo above), Ishei Yisrael (Ch.25, 10), and Tefillah K’hilchasah (Ch. 15, 2, quoting sefer Dinei Eretz Yisrael U’Minhageha). Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv explicitly ruled that this includes all of Yerushalayim (Shvus Yitzchak on Purim pg. 92 and Ashrei HaIsh vol. 1, Ch. 24, 3). Although he implies that the minhag follows Rav Shlomo Zalman in an earlier responsa (Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos vol. 2, 79), Rav Moshe Sternbuch, in a later responsa (Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos vol. 4, 41) gives an explanation why the minhag is to consider all of Yerushalayim equal for this aspect. In fact, Rav Shlomo Zalman himself acknowleged that the common custom is not to follow his opinion on this (V’Aleihu Lo Yibol above).

[14] Devarim (Parshas Eikev Ch.9, verse 18 and 25).

[15] Tur O.C. 131.

[16] Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 131, 2), based on Gemara Bava Metzia 59b.

For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author:

Disclaimer: These are just a few basic guidelines and overview of the Halacha discussed in this article. This is by no means a complete comprehensive authoritative guide, but rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issue. One should not compare similar cases in order to rules in any real case, but should refer his questions to a competent Halachic authority.

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.

L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda, and l'zchus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam and her children for a yeshua teikef u'miyad!

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