By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
No doubt readers are well aware of the differing customs on how to respond to Kaddish when the leader reaches "Brich Hu". According to some customs, the proper response is "Brich Hu", while others respond "Amen." Which one is the proper response? How did the two differing customs evolve?
A simple reading of the Shulchan Aruch seems to indicate that the proper response at this point of the Kaddish is "Amen". This is the custom of the Sefardim, Chabad, and a sprinkling of others based on the teachings of the Arizal. The Rema however writes that "Amen" would not be an appropriate response at this point, as he holds like the view of the Or Zarua that there should be no interruption whatsoever between the words "Brich Hu" and the following "L'eila". According to this view, "Brich Hu" is actually intended to be a part of the words that follow it, not those which preceeded it. It may just even be that the Rema opposes any response or interruption at this point, whether from the leader or the congregation. Perhaps this is why that in the Zilberman minyan in the Old City of Jerusalem they don't answer anything at all. It is said that this was the custom of the Gra. Alternatively there is a view which says that "Brich Hu" actually belongs to the words which preceed it, not those that follow it.
Click here to read moreThe Kaf Hachaim explains the Arizal's view which is that the "Amen" after "Brich Hu", along with the other Amens of Kaddish are all vital and strategically stationed in order to properly separate between the different components of the Kaddish. The Shaarei Teshuva explains and supports the view of the Arizal as well. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik subscribed to this view and always answered "Amen" in Kaddish.
The true source for the custom to answer "Brich Hu" is obscure and not clearly stated anywhere. It seems to derive from the Likutei Maharich, based on the Taz, who says that answering "Brich Hu L'eila" is intended to serve as a "sign" to the one reciting Kaddish that his "Brich Hu" is connected to the following segment which continues with the words "L'eila Min Kol Birchata". Such a response however posses a problem as one can be misled to believe that God is only to be praised "L'eila", above in Heaven, and not below here on Earth. Therefore the word "L'eila" was dropped and the response was left simply as "Brich Hu". It seems that it was only a congregational response of "Brich Hu L'eila" that was deemed problematic, however the custom of some ba'alei tefilla to recite the words "Brich Hu L'eila Min Kol Birchata" in a single uninterrupted utterance when reciting Kaddish does not pose such a problem.
The Levushei Mordechai states that the congregational response of "Brich Hu" is the true Ashkenazi custom with "Amen" belonging to the Sefardim. It is explained that according to the view of the Rema that the leader should recite the Kaddish as "Brich Hu L'eila Min Kol Birchata" in a single uninterrupted utterance, responding "Amen" would serve no constructive purpose as no "interruption" should be made at that point! A response of "Brich Hu" however, is more consistent as it can be viewed as a concurrent prayer rather than an interrupting response. The Eliyahu Rabba subscribes to this latter view. It should be noted that "Brich Hu" is actually one of God's names.
Those whose custom it is to follow the Arizal who specifically requires an interruption between "Brich Hu" and "Leila Min Kol Birchata" responding "Amen" fills precisely this function as it is explained in the Shaar Hakavanot. It seems however that the Mishna Berura would prefer the response of "Brich Hu" over "Amen" even for those who follow the Arizal.
It is interesting to note that it is not so clear that it is permissible for those whose custom it is to respond "Brich Hu" to do so when hearing Kaddish while in the midst of Pesukei d'Zimra, as it is deemed by some authorities as an unwarranted interruption. It goes without saying that this ruling is the same for one who hears Kaddish while in the midst of "Birchot Kriat Shema", and even "bein haprakim". Indeed, I am told that Rabbi Mordechai Willig does not even answer "Brich Hu" to the Kaddish before Barchu even when he himself is holding with the congregation. One should always be careful when reciting or responding to Kaddish to properly say "Brich Hu" and not accidentally say "Brichu".
NEXT WEEK: "The Evolution of Shabbat Candle Lighting Times". Please send me your lesser-known and obscure sources as well as anecdotes for inclusion. I truly thank and appreciate all those who sent me tidbits in preparation for this article. firstname.lastname@example.org
 Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 56:6
 O.C. 56:2
 1:42, cited in Piskei Teshuvot 56:7
 Rema O.C. 56:2
 O.C. 56:29
 O.C. 56:6
 Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 56:6
 This paragraph based on Minhag Yisrael Torah O.C. 56:1
 2:10, cited in Minhag Yisrael Torah O.C. 56:1
 Berachot 19a
 Cited in Kaf Hachaim O.C. 56:29
 Shaar Hatziun 56:30
 Igrot Moshe 2:16, Tzitz Eliezer 11:3
 Kaf Hachaim 56:14
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin