Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Repeating God's Name in Zemirot

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

There are many individuals who choose to sing the Shabbat zemirot in their true original form, including the use of the name of God. This includes those zemirot whose traditional tunes have one repeat the name of God numerous times in immediate succession. For example, in the Shabbat Zemer "Baruch El Elyon" the common tune has one repeating the word "La'el" in the refrain "Hashomer Shabbat, Haben Im Habat, La'el Yeratzu K'minchat Al Machvat" three to four times. I am quite uncomfortable with those who feel that they must speak up against the practice when they see it, often embarrassing others in the process.

It seems that any opposition to repeating God's name in the Zemirot likely originates from a halacha in Hilchot Birkat Hamazon. The Rema rules that in the event that one has omitted "Ya'ale V'yavo" from its proper place in the Birkat Hamazon, it is not to be inserted at any other point, as doing so raises the concern of using God's name in vain.[1]

Click here to read moreThe Magen Avraham[2] questions what he clearly considers to be an obscure ruling. He says that we regularly recite prayers using God's name at all different times without any concern that doing so may be in vain. He further states that only when using God's name in a blessing (to the exclusion of a prayer or praise) is there ever a concern of using His name in vain.

(Based on this Magen Avraham, among other findings,[3] I don’t believe that the issue of repeating God's name in Zemirot is related to the issue of Chazzanim repeating words in the davening[4] or the "Modim, Modim" sugya[5]).

The Biur Halacha[6] seems to agree with this Magen Avraham though he brings a source to suggest why the Rema may have considered the "Ya'ale V'yavo" an exception to the rule that one is permitted to use God's name freely in prayers.

As such, it seems that those who choose to sing the Shabbat Zemirot complete with God's name, even if it means repeating it within the context of the tune,[7] are completely entitled to do so. Oddly enough, the Piskei Teshuvot[8] seems to agree somewhat with this hypothesis, though those who disagree will be pleased to find many opposing views cited there as well.

This debate reminds me of the story of the Rebbe who was "caught" studying Torah on Tisha b’Av by some of his students. Sure enough, the students quickly rebuked the rebbe for studying Torah on the day of mourning, thereby violating the halacha. The rebbe, not to be outdone, quipped back: “Yes my students, you are correct, Torah study is forbidden on this day and I have violated the law. But let me ask you, how could God possibly punish us for studying His Torah?”

I doubt that in the Olam Habah, God will be punishing those who choose to praise Him by using His name, even when doing so multiple times.

(Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin agrees with my conclusions as does Rabbi Michael Broyde who also tells me that Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik ruled likewise.)


[1] Rema O.C. 188:7
[2] O.C. 188:11
[3] Maharam Shick O.C. 31
[4] Although I personally oppose the repetition of words in the davening, it is not clear that doing so is utterly forbidden. Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 338:8
[5] Berachot 33b
[6] Biur Halacha 188 s.v. "v'ayn l'omro levatala"
[7] Of course, one MUST be cognizant that doing so is intended to address and praise God each time – and not merely to fit His name into the tune!
[8] Piskei Teshuvot 215:18

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