Sunday, September 30, 2007

When and Where to Answer Amen

Tefillos (prayers) carry great power, when one beseeches HaShem to do something, though just because someone recites a tefillah, doesn't mean that they will get what they desire (in the end, everything happens for the best). Similarly, one should answer "Amein" (Amen), an affirmation to the prayer, only if the prayer deserves that "Amein". In addition to being an affirmation and agreement to the tefillah that was recited, "Amein" is the root of the word "emunah", which can be translated as "belief", similar to "ani ma'amin" - "I believe". It is of utmost importance for the person to make sure that they are in agreement with the entire prayer that is being said. For all prayers that were instituted by the Anshei K'neses HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly), and other great Jewish rabbinic leaders, one can be completely confident that it is proper and encouraged (and often necessary) to respond "Amein" to the tefillah at the proper point in time. Nevertheless, it is still recommended that one review the tefillah so that they understand what is being said.


When one comes to respond "Amein" to the b'racha (blessing) being recited, they have a brief span of time in which they are permitted to respond "Amein", approximately two seconds (or less), or the amount of time it takes someone to recite the words "Shalom Alecha Rebbi" (assuming they are familiar with reciting the above). If one responds "Amein" either too early or too late, they do not fulfill any obligation which requires the response of "Amein", whether it be Kiddush, HaMotzei, or any of the other mitzvos through which someone can fulfill their obligation.

"Amein Chatufah" - The Snatched Amein:

When one responds "Amein" prior to the completion of the prayer it is referred to as an "Amein Chatufah", or a "Snatched Amein", this being the case as the person responds "Amein" when it is not applicable. In order for the "Amein" to count for a person to be considered as if the person truly responded "Amein" - in addition to reciting the word "Amein" properly (not "Uman", "Umein", etc., perhaps unless such is the manner in which the person regularly talks in general) - the person must wait until the one reciting the blessing has completed the final word of the blessing. Though those present have an obligation to respond at the proper point in time to the tefillah, the chazzan (prayer leader) must similarly not stretch his words out, especially at the end of a blessing and should be careful to not sing a tune that would lead any of those present (within reason) to respond to early to the blessing. For example, the last blessing in the Repetition of the Shemonah Esrei concludes with "ha'm'vareich es ammo Yisrael ba'Shalom" - "He who blesses His Nation Israel with peace". If one were to respond "Amein" too early, they would be considered as if they had not responded to that prayer, as they had "snatched" the "amein" too early. The prayer would sound like "ha'm'vareich es ammo Yisrael ba'sha'mein" - "He Who blesses His Nation Israel with fat (instead of peace)" - this being a mixture of the voices of some of the congregants and the chazzan.

"Amein Y'somah" - The Orphaned "Amein":

The orphaned "Amein" is an "Amein" that is answered too late (approximately more than two seconds). Such an "Amein" is considered very severe and may, chas v'shalom, carry along with it negative consequences. Therefore, if someone didn't answer "Amein" within the allotted period of time, if they can catch themselves, they should try to avoid saying "Amein".


The tefillos concerning which a person should be cognizant of, and often avoid responding "Amein" are often to blessings which beseech HaShem for many good things, in addition to some potentially bad things. For example, if there is an army which is comprised of good people (for the most part) and fights for a good country, many people may want to bless and answer "Amein" to tefillos on behalf of that army. Of course, we want HaShem to protect them from danger. However, when a prayer is worded in a careless manner, such as "grant them success and blessing in all their actions", such a request would carry good, along with potential bad, unless that army is known to be perfect. Therefore, one should be cognizant when responding "Amein". What if someone were to ask HaShem that all of a given country's enemies are overtaken by them. What if another good country becomes the enemy of that country. There is a simple recommendation. Simply add that the given army have "success and blessing in all of their good actions" and that the other army overcome all of the "evil countries".

There is another prayer for members of government of a given country, which states that all "constituted officers of the government" enjoy blessing, protection, assistance and being exalted. Again, such a prayer is careless. Even if a country is moral and good and a minority of the people who comprise the government have evil designs, such a prayer is asking for that which is negative, in addition to anything that might be good which is requested in the prayer. This prayer should also be reworded. Before rewording any of the above three prayers, or anything similar to them, the prayers should, at the very least, be reworded to not throw in the bad with anything which may be good.


In maseches "Kesuvos" (65a), we learn of an incident involving the daughter-in-law of Nakdimon ben Guryon. The Chachamim (scholars) gave her a portion of wine each erev Shabbos from which she benefited. She "blessed" the Chachamim that their daughters should be apportioned wine in such a manner. However, the gemara notes that she was a yavam - her husband had died and she was supposed to marry a brother of his. Since the Chachamim were careful, they didn't respond "Amein" to her "b'racha" (bracha), as the gemara records, as that would have turned out for them to be a curse, as that would in effect mean that their sons-in-law would die.

Shortly after learning this piece of gemara, I responded "Amein" to a "b'racha" from someone, wishing that I would have a lot of distractions (the implication was that they were "good" distractions) so that I wouldn't focus on a certain potentially dangerous situation that the person considered unimportant. At that time, I was trying to extricate myself from that situation, and, for approximately one week, did have distractions - I got the stomach flu. However, as I was determined to move out from the potentially dangerous environment, HaShem gave me great assistance and the distractions didn't stop me - I moved out.

I only give this example as a way to better understand the potential seriousness of answering "Amein" when it shouldn't be answered. The rabbis, it might have seemed at first glance, were being blessed by this woman. However, the rabbis were careful to not recite "Amein", as that "blessing" could have turned out to be much more of a curse than a blessing. What one must be careful about is to look past all of the good aspects of the blessing to determine whether there is something negative mixed in - whether intentionally or unintentionally - and based on that, decide whether it is of benefit or potential detriment to answer "Amein" to the given b'racha.