The practice of having a chazzan (cantor) leading services is one that stretches back to Talmudic times. Originally, it was instituted in an age where not everyone had the text of the prayers in front of them and not everyone was expert enough to know all of the words by heart. As such, a person was placed before the congregation who would recite the prayers out loud, and the people would fulfill their obligations of prayer by listening to him.

Nowadays, with the advent of both mass printing and education being more or less a given, there is less of a need for the chazzan to serve in his original capacity. Nevertheless, this practice has not been abandoned, and indeed the chazzan is crucial to certain aspects of the services. However, the role of the chazzan is viewed in different ways in different congregations. In some places, no one is asked to lead the services until it is absolutely necessary (i.e. right by Yishtabach), whereas in other places the chazzan is looked to to provide the musical entertainment for the morning. 

This issue of cantors exhibiting their musical talents has been the subject of much discussion over the years. Already in Medieval times, Rabbi Yehuda HaChassid wrote that one who has a pretty voice should utilize it in the service of Hashem (Sefer Chassidim #18, 158, 768). On the other hand, Rashba (responsa 1:215) was asked about cantors who put on performances and derived benefit from this chance to show off their abilities. He answered that everything depended on intent if the cantor was happy because he was being given the opportunity to praise Hashem, then he is praiseworthy, as it is commendable for the chazzan to have a voice that is beautiful. On the other hand, if the chazzan is intending merely to show off, then he is repulsive and should not lead the services.

Our topic this week stems from this greater issue of cantors who inject a musical element into their prayers. As new tunes are developed or are borrowed from other cultures (which is a topic into itself) there often arises a conflict between the words of the prayers and the tunes, as they do not always fit together perfectly. To solve this problem, there are many chazzanim who fill in the musical lacunae by repeating a word or two (or sometimes more). In some congregations, this practice is smiled upon as an enhancement of the services, while in other places any form of repetition is frowned upon or forbidden. As we will see, the issue is less than totally clear.

What is the problem with repeating words in prayers? The mishna in Berachot 33b says that anyone who says "modim modim," i.e. he doubles the statement of thanks in the Shemoneh Esrei, is silenced by the congregation. Why is this so? The gemara immediately answers that it appears that he is a dualist, giving thanks to the two forces that he believes rule and control the world (a belief popular with the Manicheans during the time of the gemara). Rabi Zeira goes on to say that anyone who repeats the word Shema in davening is considered as if he repeated modim. The gemara notes that while such a person is considered to be repulsive, we do not silence him. As Rashi there notes, he is not silenced since, while his actions are not commendable, they are also not indicative of heretical beliefs, and thus he does not have to be immediately silenced.

There are two main issues left open by this gemara. The first is the fact that this law seems to be very limited. Only one who repeats modim is in violation of this law to the strictest degree, and while one who repeats elsewhere in davening is not doing anything positive, he is also not technically breaking the law. Not all repetition is heresy; only repetition whose meaning implies heresy. The other issue that is unclear from this gemara is whether this law applies to individual words or to longer linguistic elements as well.

Both Rav Nissim Gaon and Tosafot in Berachot refer to the Yerushalmi (Berachot 5:3) which makes one distinction in this law. It claims that the prohibition of repeating modim applies only when one does so as a chazzan for a public audience. However, if one repeats the word in his private prayers it is considered to be a form of increased supplication to Hashem and is permitted. However, there is some discussion in the commentaries if this qualification applies to the case of one who repeats modim or to one of the other cases cited in the mishna. The Mareh Panim believes that it applies to one of the other cases, and the Amudei Yerushalayim also cites a view that holds that way (since the problem with saying modim twice, namely the appearance of heresy, is more serious than the other problems listed in the mishna). However, the Amudei Yerushalayim rejects this view based on the fact that Tosafot use the Yerushalmi specifically as a proof for the case of one who says modim twice.

The Tur (O.C. 61) deals with this gemara and Yerushalmi and writes that one who says the word Shema twice should be silenced, since he appears to be professing a dualistic belief. He then raises the Yerushalmi, but rejects it since the Bavli does not have such a distinction (an interesting methodology which is worthy of much further study). He notes that when the Bavli says that one who says Shema twice is considered to be repulsive, but is not silenced, that is referring to one who repeats the entire verse, whereas one who merely doubles the word is not silenced. However, Rif holds that the issue is repeated the individual word, and thus the Tur advises that we should be strict on both ends and not repeat either. However, he rules that we may repeat an entire parasha (paragraph) without worrying.

The commentaries on the Tur go in divergent directions on this issue. Citing the Semag and Rabbeinu Manoach, the Beit Yoseif rules that we should be careful in not even repeating an entire parasha. On the other hand, the Bach recognizes the fact that neither the Tur nor the Shulchan Aruch allow for the distinction between public and private, yet he himself rules that the Yerushalmi's distinction is valid and that one may privately double the words (he does restrict this to private davening where no one else can hear and not just silent davening in a minyan).

Bach goes even further. He notes that the practice in some places was to repeat the words Shema during the recitation of Selichot and in Ne'ilah on Yom HaKippurim. In defense of this practice, he notes that when the entire congregation is participating, there is clearly no worry that it will look as if anyone is proposing that there are two divine forces, and thus with that factor avoided there is no issue and it is permitted. The Magen Avraham (O.C. 61:9) attacks the Bach and claims that he is neglecting to consider the gemara in Succah 53b. There the gemara discusses the various practices of the Simchat Beit HaShoeiva, which included the recitation of prayers that doubled words. As Rashi there explains the gemara's solution, the practice was permitted because the seemingly doubled word actually was the same word serving as the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next, and thus the issue was a non-issue. However, notes the Magen Avraham (and the Be'eir Heitev and Chochmat Shlomo), the fact that this practice was challenged as being a violation of the prohibition of repeating words shows that even when everyone is saying something that does not serve to make it permitted.

This issue has been given a bit more extensive coverage in the past century. The Aruch HaShulchan (O.C. 53:13) states simply that it is forbidden to repeat words. It should be noted that this statement is made in the context of the laws of Birchot HaShachar (the morning blessings in the midst of a discussion about qualification for a chazzan. As such, it seems that he is expanding this law from being solely about Shema and Shemoneh Esrei to being about all of davening. By contrast, the Torah Temimah, the nephew of the Aruch HaShulchan, allows for the repetition of words if it is done with the full intent of beautifying the prayer to Hashem , and not for one's personal glorification. Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch, in a responsa (Shemesh Merapeh O.C. #4), wrote that any repetition of words should be frowned upon, as sometimes it may show a lack of belief in the unity of Hashem and in any case it makes the holy institution of prayer into a less serious matter than it should be.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe O.C. 2:22) investigates the various problems that could arise when one repeats words. First he discusses the issue of repeating words in the middle of a blessing (such as a chazzan who repeats words in his repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei). Rav Feinstein notes that in such a case the problem is very clear-cut: the repetition serves as a hefsek, a forbidden break in the prayer. However, there are different levels at work here. If the repetition results in prayers that can be translated validly without compromising the meaning of the blessing, then we do not make the person repeat the prayer. On the other side of the spectrum, if the resultant meaning of the prayer is one that is false or blasphemous, then we rule that the prayer is no good and must be said over. In the middle are the cases where the resultant meaning was neutral or nonsensical. In such a case, Rav Feinstein rules that if the repetition was brought about as a means of "going with the flow" of the music, then we do not do anything. However, if a tune was devised that called specifically for words to be repeated and was used knowingly in this way, then we make the cantor repeat the prayer.

Rav Feinstein then goes on to tackle the problem of how universal this law is. Dealing outside of the context of blessings, and thus outside of the context of potential hefsek, he rules that only the specific cases in the gemara, namely repeating modim and adding in certain extra praises of Hashem are forbidden. In any other case, even though the person may not be acting in accordance with the will of the Sages, he nevertheless is not silenced since there is no issue of potential heresy of the appearance of heresy.

Rav Ovadiah Yoseif (Yechaveh Da'at 2:5) takes a harsher stance on this. He claims that the cases in the gemara are merely prototypes and that one may never repeat words. As proof, he adduces the view of the Maharam Schick that one should never repeat words, throwing in the concept of hefsek in addition to that of heresy. Interestingly, Rav Yoseif cites Rav Feinstein among his proofs, seemingly ignoring Rav Feinstein's distinctions between different parts of the prayer service and casting him as agreeing with Rav Yoseif's monolithic view of this issue. It should, however, be noted that Rav Yoseif does not say that there is a clear-cut violation of law at work here. Rather, he makes this ruling in the context of an issue that cantors should be warned about (he says that repeating words is "similar to" the cases in the gemara).

Finally, Rabbi J. David Bleich (Contemporary Halachic Problems, volume 2) brings down a letter published by Rav Yoseif Dov Soloveitchik in 1965 in the Cantorial Council of America Bulletin, in which he opposes the repeating of words at any point in the prayer services (including Hallel). Rabbi Bleich surmises that this view is based on the statement in Ta'anit 27b and Megillah 22a that we may not divide any verse that Moshe himself did not already divide ("kol pasuk d'lo pasak Moshe anan nami lo paskinan see last week's Chabura). Since the repetition of a word constitutes the creation of a new verse, it would fall under this restriction and thus be forbidden.

As a final note, we should point out that there are places in the prayers where words are repeated, most famously at the end of Psalm 150 in the daily services and at the end of Psalm 118 in the recitation of Hallel. Each of these cases is dealt with by the gemara and poskim and has a special exemption from whichever issues would otherwise render such a practice forbidden (especially since both occur between two blessings, and thus hefsek might be a legitimate issue).

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