Question: With many minyanim giving the baal k’riah all the aliyos because of social distancing, should the baal k’riah recite “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik” after the completion of a sefer?

Short Answer: The baal k’riah should not recite “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik” in this situation, but there are some poskim who allow him to recite it.

Explanation:

I. Background of Chazak

The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 139:11) cites a midrash that states that one should say “chazak ve’ematz” to the person who concludes the Torah since Yehoshua was told “chazak ve’ematz.” The Beis Yosef explains that this is the source of our custom to recite “chazak” to the person after he concludes the reading of the Torah.

Although the Shulchan Aruch does not cite this minhag, the Rama (ibid) cites the Beis Yosef verbatim. Accordingly, it would appear to be our minhag to recite one time the word “chazak” (or possibly “chazak ve’ematz”) to the person who completes a sefer of the Torah, i.e., the person who receives the final aliyah of a sefer (e.g., VaY’chi, P’kudei, B’Chukosai, etc.). The Mishnah B’rurah (ibid) does not comment on this halachah, presumably agreeing with this minhag.

It should be noted though that it is unclear from the Beis Yosef and the Rama when this “chazak” is recited. The sefer Siach T’filah (p. 277) comments that the simple read of these poskim sounds like that the minhag is to recite “chazak” after each aliyah and after the oleh recites the brachah after the leining of his aliyah. Indeed, the Halachah B’rurah (139) notes that this is the source for Sefardim to recite “chazak u’varuch” after the aliyah.

However, the Siach T’filah notes that many poskim, including the Abudraham, interpret this halachah as per our minhag. In other words, the words “chazak” (or some variation thereof) is only recited to the person who gets the aliyah that completes a sefer of the Torah. Indeed, the Maharam Mintz (cited in the Siach T’filah) notes that this custom developed as a form of the Hadran that we recite upon the completion of a masechta of the Gemara or a seder of the Mishnah.

II. Our Minhag

The Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayim 139:15), without much explanation, cites the words of the midrash and concludes that this is the source of our minhag to recite “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik.” He also cites a different minhag, which he says is the custom of some shuls, to say “Chazak, chazak, chazak” because in g’matria this equals the name “Moshe.”

The Be’er Moshe (3:28) writes that the minhag to say “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik” is an error, as saying “Chazak, chazak, chazak” makes more sense because in g’matria this equals the name “Moshe.”

On the other hand, the Divrei Y’tziv (130) explains the minhag to say “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik.” Since usually the one who receives this aliyah is a big talmid chacham, we recite “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik” – that he should have strength and should strengthen our own avodas Hashem and Torah learning. In fact, the Riv’vos Ephraim (8:613) cites the Mikra’ei Kodesh, that saying “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik” is a longstanding minhag. As is evident in many Ashkenazi shuls today, the general minhag is that the tzibur recites “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik.”

III. Baal K’riah’s Repeating

Neither the Rama, the Mishnah B’rurah, nor the Aruch HaShulchan mention anything about the baal k’riah repeating the words “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik” after the tzibur recites them. Nevertheless, the Riv’vos Ephraim (ibid), as well as the Siach T’filah (ibid), takes for granted that this is our minhag. Indeed, the Mikra’ei Kodesh, cited in the Riv’vos Ephraim, assumes that this was the longstanding minhag, as well.

I subsequently saw that the Abudraham (as cited in the pamphlet Umka D’Parshah, gilyon 164-210, p. 334) actually implies that the “chazan” (i.e., the baal k’riah) is the only one who recites “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik.”

IV. Should the Oleh Say It?

There is a discussion among the contemporary poskim whether, in general, the oleh should recite “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik” together with the tzibur.

The Be’er Moshe (ibid) writes that it is illogical for the oleh to recite “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik,” because it is said to the oleh! However, he concludes that if the oleh wants to say these words, he is permitted, but he should do so after he recites the brachah on the Torah. Indeed, the K’tzos HaShulchan and the Divrei Y’tziv (ibid) note this opinion, as well. The Sheivet HaLevi (7:202) similarly writes that it is a hefseik for the oleh to recite “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik,” and moreover, it is illogical (and pointless), as it is said to the oleh.

On the other hand, the Mishneh Halachos (7:22) writes that while it is pointless for the oleh to say “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik,” it is not a hefseik. Similarly, the Riv’vos Ephraim (4:233) acknowledges that there are poskim, including the Mishneh Halachos, who rule that it is not a hefseik to recite “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik,” because it is part of the minhag of our k’rias haTorah. Ultimately, though, he notes that he personally prefers not to receive the last aliyah of a sefer so that he can avoid this halachic conundrum.

The Nishmas Shabbos (2:253) rules that it is a hefseik for the oleh to recite “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik.” However, he cites the sefer Binyan Shalom who rules that it is not a hefseik, since it is comparable to the brachah at the end of a meal, in which one is allowed to talk before making this brachah.

The Shulchan Aruch HaRav (as cited by the sefer Ishei Yisrael (12:18)), however, felt that the oleh should recite “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik.” The Umka D’Parshah (ibid) suggests that perhaps this opinion can be understood based on the reasoning that “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik” is like a Hadran on the Gemara, as even the one finishing the learning (in fact, only he) recites the Hadran.

Based upon the above, unless a shul has a strong minhag to the contrary, it would appear more correct for the oleh not to recite “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik” before he makes the brachah on the Torah.

VI. Baal K’riah Is the Oleh

But what about in a COVID-19 world, where the baal k’riah is the oleh? Should the baal k’riah not recite “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik” until after the brachah? If so, what about the minhag (as mentioned in the Abudraham) that the baal k’riah is the main one who should recite “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik”?

In truth, the contemporary poskim debate this issue, as well, with different minhagim emerging from their dispute. The Riv’vos Ephraim (4:80) cites Rav Y. S. Elyashiv zt”l that even in the situation where the baal k’riah is the oleh, he should not recite “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik” until after the brachah on the Torah.

On the other hand, the Kovetz Beis Aharon V’Yisrael (gilyon 151, p. 131) has an article by Rav Y. M. Roshetzki, where he suggests that in this situation the baal k’riah should say “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik” and rely upon the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, because otherwise it will appear as if we are violating a minhag Yisrael, which is a worse problem. However, in a subsequent Kovetz Beis Aharon V’Yisrael (gilyon 153, p. 155), a Rabbi Avraham Neuman disagrees with Rav Roshetzki because the whole minhag does not apply where the baal k’riah is the oleh, as the “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik” is said to the oleh.

Practically, Yeshiva Torah Vodaath recently published a sefer entitled Minhagei Torah Vodaath (p. 24) in which they cite the minhag of Rav Yisroel Belsky zt”l who would not recite “Chazak, chazak, v’nis’chazeik” even when he was baal k’riah and received the aliyah. Instead, the gabbai recited it aloud after the tzibur.

 Next Week’s Topic: With many outdoor minyanim utilizing tents for shade and protection, may these tents be assembled or disassembled on Shabbos?


Rabbi Ephraim Glatt, Esq. is Assistant to the Rabbi at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and a practicing litigation attorney. Questions? Comments? Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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