Sunday, July 30, 2006

Nachem Nowadays

On Tisha B'Av, we add in the Shemoneh Esreh a prayer for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple which starts with the word "Nachem". After the capture and reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, the question arose whether the language of Nachem needs to be adjusted for the new reality. This was discussed by a number of posekim and Dr. Yael Levine Katz ably summarized the debate in a 2001 article in the journal Techumin. The following comes solely from her article, although it omits much material including the reactions of a number of academics whose views I do not believe belong in a serious halakhic article.

Some of the questions that arise in this discussion are:

1. When was the original prayer written? Was it written by the men of the Great Assembly, when the Temple had just been rebuilt, or by Tannaim in the first or second century CE?

2. If there are very different versions of the prayer, is combining them a change from the words of the Sages?

3. Is Jerusalem considered rebuilt if the Temple is still destroyed?

He are some of the positions of posekim:

1. R. Shlomo Goren, at the time the chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, wrote an entirely new text of Nachem by combining the existing versions in the Talmud Yerushalmi, Siddur Rav Amram Gaon and Mishneh Torah into a version that removes some adjectives about Jerusalem being empty and denigrated. Interestingly, R. She'ar Yashuv Cohen, R. Goren's brother-in-law and the rabbi of Haifa, said that this text was never approved by the Chief Rabbinate and therefore should not be used. (Cf. IDF Siddur; HaTzofeh, 8 Av 5728, p. 2).

2. R. Tzvi Yehuda Kook opposed any changes to public recitation of Nachem but allowed for personal deviations. However, he was also of the view that as long as the Temple has not been rebuilt, Jerusalem is still considered destroyed and denigrated. This is even more so when there are churches and mosques throughout the city. (Cf. HaTzofeh, Shabbos supplement, 13 Tammuz 5727, p. 1; R. Shlomo Aviner, Shalheveskah -- Pirkei Kodesh U-Mikdash, p. 5)

3. R. Isser Yehuda Unterman, at the time the Chief Rabbi of Israel, also opposed any changes to the text of Nachem because the old city was still full of synagogues in various states of destruction and disrepair while churches and mosques were in abundance. (Cf. HaTzofeh, 8 Av 5729, p. 2)

4. R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik was opposed to any change in liturgy that was instituted by sages of the past. Additionally, he was of the view that Jerusalem is part of the Temple and as long as the Temple is destroyed, the city is not considered to be rebuilt. (Cf. Mesorah, vol. 7 p. 19 [PDF]; R. Hershel [Tzvi] Schachter, Nefesh Ha-Rav, p. 79)

5. R. Chaim David Halevi felt that while it was too soon to change the prayer, one would could not honestly say that the city was in a state of destruction and denigration. Therefore, he advocated adding the word "she-haysah -- that was" before words of destruction, indicating that the city had been destroyed etc. (Cf. Aseh Lecha Rav 1:14, 2:36-39, 7:35; HaTzofeh, 9 Av 5753, p. 4)

6. R. Ovadiah Yosef opposed any change in the text. He states that since the text of the prayer was established by the men of the Great Assembly, we lack the power to change it. Additionally, not only is the physical state of the city on a low level, but the religious level of the people of Israel in general is severely lacking. (Cf. Yechaveh Da'as 1:43)

7. R. Shlomo Min HaHar, at the time the rabbi of Bayit Vegan in Jerusalem, opposed any change in the text because the spiritual state of the people of Israel had yet reached the level for which we pray.

8. R. Shaul Yisraeli, at the time a lecturer in Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav, opposed any public change in the text but allowed individuals to recite whichever version appeals to them.

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