The Halachos of (Not) Skipping Tachanun – By Rabbi Binyomin Radner

tacBy Rabbi Binyomin Radner. What is the source, background and significance of Tachanun a.k.a  Nefilas Apayim, the practice of falling on one’s face and reciting Tachanun? Is Tachanun mandatory or optional? Why is there no Tachanun at Maariv? Are we allowed to skip Tachanun for a yohrtzeit? Can Tachanun be recited while standing up? Is Tachanun recited by both Mincha Ketana and Mincha Gedola?

Background – When Moshe Rabbeinu relates how he prayed on behalf of the Jewish nation after the sin with the golden calf, he tells of three different methods of how he prayed, in order to invoke the divine mercy which ultimately resulted in hearing the most vital words from G-d, ‘Salachti kidvarecha’.

This included praying while sitting, while standing, and while fallen on his face, enumerated as follows:

Devarim 9:9 –  Va’aishev bahar arba’im yom ve’arba’im layla.

Devarim 9:18 – Va’esnapal lifnai H’ karishona arba’im yom ve’arba’im layla

Devarim 9:25 – Va’esnapal lifani H’ ais arba’im hayom ve’es arba’im halayla asher hisnapalti

Devarim 10:10 – Ve’anochi amadti bahar kayamim harishonim arba’im yom ve’arba’im luyla

As we can see from the Pesukim, Moshe Rabbeinu employed the usage of 3 different methods of prayer which were sitting, standing, and falling on the face until he was finally answered in the affirmative with G-d forgiving the Jewish nation on Yom Kippur.

Rabbeinu Bachyai, Parshas Korach 16:22 d.h. Vayiplu Al Penaihem expounds upon the power of Tachanun: There are 3 great things in Tachanun: 1 is to show fear of the Shechina, 2 is to show pain and humility, 3 is to show the bitul of one’s own feelings and emotions. One of the reasons for falling on the left side more than on the right side is that the left side is the free side. Just as on Pesach the leaning is on the left side in order to show cheirus, so too Tachanun is done on the left side in order to subjugate one’s freedom to the will of G-d. When one falls on his face and is concealed from the view of others it is a most opportune time to, in his mind, throw himself completely at the mercy of G-d Almighty, with the realization that one is helpless to accomplish anything without the aid and will of G-d.                                             This lesson is a primary objective of Tachanun. There is a similar idea for why we stand still during Shemoneh Esreh with feet locked together in place, to signify that it is as if one’s feet are chained in relation to G-d, powerless without His aid.

The Gemara, Bava Metzia 59B relates,”There was a dispute between Rabi Eliezer and the Chachamim in regards to the Taanur Shel Achnai. Rabi Eliezer maintained that it was tahor and the Chachamim held that it was tamei. This resulted in the Chachamim, lead by Raban Gamliel the brother-in-law of Rabi Eliezer, to put Rabi Eliezer in cherem. Therefore, Ima Shalom the wife of Rabi Eliezer and sister of Raban Gamliel was concerned for her brother’s well-being and did not allow her husband to fall on his face to say Tachanun . She was fearful that because Rabi Eliezer was excommunicated by Raban Gamliel and obviously quite offended, if he would recite Tachanun it could have catastrophic consequences. One day she let her guard down and was not vigilant in preventing her husband from saying Tachanun. Either because she mistakenly thought it was Rosh Chodesh and that he would not be saying Tachanun anyways, or because she was preoccupied feeding a poor man who had come to the door. Whatever the case was, after she came to she discovered that her husband had fallen on his face and was indeed reciting Tachanun. She said to him, “Stop and get up, you are killing my brother”! However it was too late and soon an announcement came forth that Raban Gamliel the Nasi had died suddenly. Rabi Eliezer asked his wife how she knew about Raban Gamlie’s death so quickly, it had happened just then!                                She responded to him that she had a tradition from her great ancestor Dovid Hamelech that ‘Kol hashearim ninalu chutz mishearai onaah’ – “All Gates are locked except for the Gate of Affliction.”                                                                                                                            Rashi explains that since naturally an afflicted and distressed individual is more prone to tears than others, this is why his Tachanun can be more effective.

Numerous Halachos regarding Tachanun are derived from this incident:

Ritva questions how is it feasible that Rabi Eliezer’s wife did not leave his presence the whole day to the point that she could prevent him from ever saying Tachanun?                                                                                                                                  From here we can deduce that it is forbidden to interrupt between Shemone Esreh and Tachanun. Apparently then, it was only while he prayed that his wife watched him and prevented him from falling on his face to say Tachanun. Meaning, it could be that he said Tachanun later on, but since she already distracted him from saying Tachanun immediately following Shemoneh Esreh, the Tachanun was not so effective. She was well aware of the power of Tachanun and therefore deliberately distracted him after Shemoneh Esreh, to ensure that his Tachanun would not be so effective. Hence, the first Halacha brought in Shulchan Aruch, O.C. 131:1- Dinai Nefilas Apayim is that one must not interrupt between Shemoneh Esreh and Tachanun with idle chatter.

However, according to the understanding of Rivash 412, as quoted by Mogain Avrohom, (she distracted him from saying Tachanun completely to the point that he forgot about it.  Mogain Avrohom contends that based on this, according to Rivash, there is no proof from the Gemara that one cannot talk between Shemoneh Esreh and Tachanun.                                                                                                                                                            Rivash also maintains that there is no advantage to sitting over standing; it is just a custom to sit but not a me’akev.  Based on this, Mishna Berura O.C. 131:10 rules that one who has finished the silent Shemone Esreh but cannot take 3 steps back because someone is standing behind him,may rely on the Rivash and recite Tachanun while standing up.

The Aruch Hashulchan, O.C. 131:2 notes that we derive 2 things from this passage. Firstly, Tachanun is a reshus and not a chiyuv; otherwise Rabi Eliezer would not have acquiesced to his wife’s request that he skip Tachanun. Secondly, Tachanun is a very powerful tool and can trigger immediate results.                                 This is ironic in that although Tachanun is merely a reshus, it is much more powerful and effective than the prayers which are mandatory.

Tur notes that the prayer of Moshe Rabbeinu was recited while sitting, then while standing, and then while falling on his face, in that order. Therefore, our daily prayers are recited accordingly; sitting until Shemone Esreh, standing during Shemoneh Esreh, and then falling on the face with Tachanun immediately after Shemoneh Esreh. The supplication of Tachanun concludes with ‘Va’anachnu lo naidah’- ‘We do not know’, since we do not know which method of prayer is the most effective, which is why we do all three, to cover all our bases.                                                                                                                           Vaanachnu lo naidah is said sitting down, and then ma naaseh is said standing up.

Bais Yosef, 131:3 brings that there is no Tachanun at night, and it is a sakana to say Tachanun at night.                                                                               Reciting Tachanun at night is likened to ‘cutting trees’. (It is unclear what is meant by likening the reciting of Tachanun after nightfall to cutting trees, or what the analogy is.) However, this is only in regards to falling on one’s face at night, to merely the recite the psalm of Tachanun at night is not a sakana.

Shearim Metzuyanim BaHalacha,1:22:8 cites the words of the Mumkatche Rebbe, Nimukei Orach Chayim, 131 that the custom of omitting Tachanun on the day of a yohrtzeit of a Tzadik has a valid source solely when the tzadik is buried in that city and the townspeople visit his grave to daven there on his yohrtzeit. The source for this idea is in the Gemara, Yevamos 122a that such a day is called a Yoma Deragla. Otherwise, one should not skip Tachanun for naught merely because of a Yohrtzeit, just as we do not skip Maariv without reason although it is a tefilas reshus. Interestingly, he references the Gemara, Shabbos 119A which refers to the day of a siyum mesechta as being called a Yom Tov. He takes this one step further and suggests that perhaps on the day of a siyum one is not required to say Tachanun since it is a Yom Tov. A siyum mesechta is a more valid reason to skip Tachanun than a random yohrtzeit is.

Sefer Tefillah Kehilchasa 15:37 cites the same idea from the Mumkatche Rebbe, Sefer Divrai Torah, 3:83 who speaks harshly against those who skip Tachanun because of a random yohrtziet.

R’ Ovadya Yosef, Yabia Omer 3:11:9 discourages the practice of skipping Tachanun without basis in the Poskim, despite the fact that this custom has developed against the will of Chazal.  There are those who have the custom to skip Tachanun on the yortziet of a tzadik and instead turn it into a Yom Tov, drink a L’chayim, and bring a proof to this from Lag Ba’omer the Yohrtzeit of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai.                                              Ketzois Hashuclchan notes that some Chasidim in Poland had such a custom.                                                                            Maran exclaims that there is no day that is not the yohrtzeit of a tzadik! So if we were to skip Tachanun every day it was a yohrtzeit of a tzadik we would do away with Tachanun altogether. He paskens that one who finds himself in a minyan which unjustifiably skips Tachanun due to a sham yohrtzeit, and cannot prevail upon them to change their unscrupulous Tachanun-skipping habits, should go ahead and say Tachanun anyways. It is not specified in the teshuva whether our subject should disregard his fellow congregants entirely and say Tachanun in the shul publicly, or if he should first exit and say it in seclusion.

However, according to R’ Shlomo Zalman Aurbach, as brought in  Halichos Shlomo, Tefillah 13:5 one should not publicly defy the minhag of the minyan he is davening with if they skip Tachanun during Shacharis. He should also not say it afterwards either since anyways the prime time for Tachanun is immediately after Shemoneh Esreh, which he already missed out on.                                                                                                                                                                         If the tzibur unjustifiably skips Tachanun by Mincha however, then one should first exit the synagogue and then say the Tachanun privately. Nonetheless, in the event that it is a justified skip e.g. it is too close to sunset; in that case he need not exit the shul in order to say Tachanun. This is because there is valid reason to omit Tachanun when it is in close proximity to sunset based on Kabbalah and on the rule of chamira sakanta ma’isura. (See Kaf Hachayim 131:51.) Despite the fact that Mishna Berua O.C. 131: s.k. 17 mentions that if mincha goes into the period of bain hashemashos then one should in fact say Tachanun, R’ Shlomo Zalman holds that one should not, as it is a sakana to say Tachanun after nightfall. Since bain hashemashos is a time of uncertainty what it is classified as we are machmir and one does not take chances with a sakana. Hence, it seems that we have a dispute between R’ Ovadya Yosef and                              R’ Shlomo Zalman about one who finds himself in a Tachanun-skipping minyan by Shacharis.                                                                                                                                     R’ Ovadya Yosef’s view is to say Tachanun anyways and R’ Shlomo Zalman’s is not to.

There is a discussion among the Poskim as to whether Tachanun is done on the right arm or the left:

The Mechaber, O.C. 131:1 mentions that the custom is to lean on the left side. The Rema argues that during Shacharis when one has Tefillin on his left hand he should do Tachanun on the right hand, out of respect for the Tefillin. The Mishna Berura s.k.6 notes that the custom is like the Rema. But the custom of the Gra is like the Mechaber to always lean on the left hand regardless, and even during Shacharis and on his Tefillin (unless one is in a minyan that does like the Rema.)

According to the Igros Moshe, Chelek 8, O.C. 20:19 – R’ Moshe did Tachanun on both hands simultaneously in order to satisfy the view of both the Mechaber/Gra and the Rema. (It is known that R’ Moshe was wont to follow the customs of the Gra.) This seems like quite an interesting chidush. It is also mentioned by R’ Moshe Shternbuch, Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:133 that he heard that R’ Moshe Feinstein indeed had such a custom, as a way of placating the views of both the Rema and the Gra on this issue. Also R’ Efrayim Greenblatt, Rivavos Efrayim  3:36 and 3:86  mentions that R‘ Moshe had such a custom.

However the Sefer Tefila Kihilchasa 15:8: Footnote 20, by R’ Yitzchok Yaakov Fuchs, contends that he heard testimony from one of the talmidim of R’ Moshe that although he clasped his hands together during Tachanun, he actually only leaned on one arm. It may have seemed to spectators that he was doing Tachanun on both arms but he was actually only doing it on one.

It is not the intention of this strictly informational work to be machria on any issues discussed here.                                                                                                                                                                      For a final psak if and/or when one should (not) skip Tachanun, a Halachic authority must be consulted.

A Guten Shabbos!                                                         Written by: Rabbi Binyomin Radner                                                                                                                                                       For any comments or questions please contact the author at [email protected]

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