Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sunset After Yom Kippur

[UPDATE: As a careful reader pointed out, this entire post is obviously incorrect. I need some sleep and to stop writing from memory and then filling in the details afterward.]

There is a well-known passage in R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik's Halakhic Man that I found puzzling for many years. It describes how R. Soloveitchik and his father were watching the sun set at the end of Yom Kippur while speaking outdoors (p. 38):

I remember how once, on the Day of Atonement, I went outside into the synagogue courtyard with my father [R. Moses Soloveitchik], just before the Ne'ilah service. It had been a fresh, clear day, one of the fine, almost delicate days of summer's end, filled with sunshine and light. Evening was fast approaching, and an exquisite autumn sun was sinking in the west, beyond the trees of the cemetery, into a sea of purple and gold. R. Moses, a halakhic man par excellence, turned to me and said: "This sunset differs from ordinary sunsets for with it forgiveness is bestowed upon us for our sins" (the end of the days atones). The Day of Atonement and the forgiveness of sins merged and blended here with the splendor and beauty of the world and with the hidden lawfulness of the order of creation and the whole was transformed into one living, holy, cosmic phenomenon.
What, I wondered for many years, were they doing outdoors and watching the sun set during the time of Ne'ilah, the powerful concluding prayer of Yom Kippur?!? I found an answer last year in the Machzor Mesoras HaRav (p. 804):
The Vilna Gaon, in his commentary to the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 623:2, s.v. zeman), rules that Ne'ilah should be completed while it is still daytime, and in he synagogue in Khaslavitch where the Rav grew up, this was the practice; Psalms would then be recited between the conclusion of Ne'ilah and the beginning of Maariv. The prevalent custom, however, is to start Ne'ilah while it is still dayime, but to continue until nightfall.
Ne'ilah was finished by that point and they must have stepped out for a few minutes of thought during the recitation of Psalms.

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This, by the way, seems to negate the suggestion in the commentary to the machzor (pp. 768-769) that this discussion happened between Minchah and Ne'ilah. I e-mailed Dr. Lustiger, the editor of the machzor, about this and he -- at least initially -- concurs with what I've written.

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