Can I Skip Tachanun?

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On happy occasions, Tachanun, the extra supplications added after the Shacharis and Minchah Amidah, is omitted. The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 131:4,6-7) lists such days. However, some congregations stretch the definition “happy occasions” to the limit, and sometimes beyond. What do you do if you are in a synagogue where the congregation improperly omits Tachanun?

Rav Natronai Gaon (quoted in Tur, Orach Chaim 131) states that Tachanun is only optional. The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (Orach Chaim 131:2) states that in the approximately thousand years since Rav Natronai’s time, Jews have universally accepted Tachanun as an obligation. This is, presumably, similar to the Talmudic statement (Berakhos 27b) that Ma’ariv is optional. The Rif (Berakhos 19a) states that Ma’ariv was subsequently established as an obligation (although Tosafos [Berakhos 26a sv. ta’ah] says it was always obligatory). Just like we treat Ma’ariv as a requirement, we should also treat Tachanun as a requirement. Therefore, you cannot simply omit Tachanun without proper justification.

R. Asher Bush (Sho’el Bi-Shlomo, ch. 6) points out that the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Tefillah 7:17; 9:5,8) includes Tachanun in the order of prayers for both an individual and a congregation. Evidently, Tachanun is not merely a congregational passage but part of the daily prayer services that must be recited in private or public. The Shulchan Arukh does not indicate any difference between an individual’s and a congregation’s prayer text in this respect. Even if the congregation skips Tachanun, you still have to say it.

However, R. Bush states that even in such a case, you should not be obvious about saying Tachanun. While the custom is to lean forward during the beginning of Tachanun (see this post: link), in order to avoid conflict you should not do so in such a situation.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

20 comments

  1. From a Sephardic perspective – Harav Ovadiah Yosef maintains that Tahanun is optional.

  2. R. Soloveitchik based the idea that tachanun is part of tefilla on the Rambam in Tefillah 5:1 according to R. Howard Jachter’s discussion of this topic. That proof seems much more on point than the one R. Bush offers.

    And R. Jachter concludes: “One should fallow his local Shul’s Minhag regarding which days warrant the omitting of Tachanun.”

  3. The Rambam pretty clearly says that this is all a minhag and places it after he goes through the whole tefillah. He does this in quite a few places we wouldn’t dream of skipping and his siddur is still remarkably short even with them. His Tachanun, whatever the day, is also quite short.

  4. What kind of question is this? Tahanun by its very nature is reshut, there is no gezera mi-derabbanan. If there is any obligation at all it can only be public recitation in the synagogue by force of custom. But there is certainly no obligation for an individual ever to say it (even in the synagogue if he omits it discretely). And if the synagogue itself isn’t saying it then he should certainly respect that tzibbur.

    The comparison to Ma’ariv doesn’t hold water. There is a rabbinic obligation to recite the 18 blessings morning and afternoon, and rabbinic permission to do even more often as a personal nedava. The custom became for the tzibbur to turn that nedavah into an obligation at night. But tahanun has no mandatory form (even today the different edot say entirely different things) and by its very nature is never an obligation!

    Additional point: Those shuls who say vidduy as part of tachanun (Sefard/Mizrahi) are not just doing something that isn’t obligatory, but doing something that is absolutely forbidden. They have effectively instituted the prohibition of vidduy peh by mandating its recitation on a daily basis.

    Fair disclosure: In an average minyan I try to say the amidah at the pace of normal human conversation. The result is that at minchah I never say tahanun at all, and often at shacharit as well.

  5. RJM: “From a Sephardic perspective – Harav Ovadiah Yosef maintains that Tahanun is optional.”

    No need for a Sephardic perspective. Rav Ovadiah is simply stating what is peshat in the Rambam and Shulchan Arukh (despite Rabbi Bush).

  6. “Those shuls who say vidduy as part of tachanun (Sefard/Mizrahi) are not just doing something that isn’t obligatory, but doing something that is absolutely forbidden. They have effectively instituted the prohibition of vidduy peh by mandating its recitation on a daily basis.”

    The custom is based on Zohar Pekudei and Ariza”l
    See Piskei Teshuvot

  7. Tuvia: The custom is based on Zohar Pekudei and Ariza”l.

    That is correct in general, although for Nusach Ashkenaz in Israel it is simply based on a 19th-century compromise with Sephardic neighbors (and thereafter mistakenly called nusach ha-Gr”a).

    Source notwithstanding it is a very problematic custom for the reason posted above. It isn’t the first time that a custom with kabbalistic roots is highly problematic halakhically, nor will it be the last time.

    A great source of information about how kabbalistic customs (like this one) strongly affected Ashkenazic liturgy are the notes in Siddur Ezor Eliyahu (the Vinograd edition of Siddur Ha-Gr”a). The Sephardic impact was, of course, far greater in every respect, to the extent that the kabbalah reshaped the Siddur entirely. The tefillah described by the Rambam in the Mishneh Torah (“nahagu ha-am”) is so distance from current Sephardic practice that there is hardly any resemblance at all.

  8. let’s assume it is “voluntary” -why does there seem to be a great urge to dispense with saying it?
    KT

  9. “let’s assume it is “voluntary” -why does there seem to be a great urge to dispense with saying it?”

    You have it backwards. The post is trying to show that you are *obligated* to say it discreetly even when the congregation doesn’t! Even if the Aruch ha-Shulchan is correct, that is still a far-fetched conclusion which people are objecting to.

    Furthermore, the fact that there are so many customs not to say Tachanun on so many days actually indicates the opposite of the Aruch ha-Shulchan’s opinion, namely that it always has been and still remains essentially optional.

  10. The way I have understood it, Tachanun, even according to the “Chiyuv” position of the Rambam that it is a necessary epilogue to the Shmoneh Esrei is a concept not limited to the chosen texts of Tehillim 6 (Ashkenaz) or 25 (Sefardim).

    Therefore, the solution I have offered people in these situations is to put one’s head down briefly and say one line, like “Rachum V’Chanun Chatasi…”. This can be done without making a scene and missing the next part of davening.

  11. “let’s assume it is “voluntary” -why does there seem to be a great urge to dispense with saying it?”

    Because none of us both understand and identify with its message.
    אשחה בכל לילה מטתי בדמעתי ערשי אמסה – how many of us cry ourselves to sleep every night? I would guess very few. We are praying a lie, so no wonder we want to avoid it.

  12. “It isn’t the first time that a custom with kabbalistic roots is highly problematic halakhically, nor will it be the last time.”

    So why do “we” accept these customs? I personally find it quite perplexing. One example is the 6-item Seder plate that seems almost ubiquitous in Haredi circles.

    R. Student: Sounds like this would be a great idea to explore more fully it a separate article/thread.

  13. I had a friend who married one of Rav Schwab’s granddaugthers. (While the Rav was still alive.)

    Rav Schwab told the Chosson that it’s better he should daven at home b’yechidus that cause the shul not to say Tachanun.

  14. Perhaps apropos, R’ Schachter once said that the Monday-Thursday version is clearly made up of three different parts, and he only says a third each day.

  15. Simchah on February 16, 2011 at 8:24 am
    “let’s assume it is “voluntary” -why does there seem to be a great urge to dispense with saying it?”

    You have it backwards.
    =============================
    Not really, I was not relating to the post but to the practice I’ve observed. Unfortunately I think Shlomo has it right.
    KT

  16. >So why do “we” accept these customs? I personally find it quite perplexing. One example is the 6-item Seder plate that seems almost ubiquitous in Haredi circles.

    Because most of “us” make a seder plate the way our daddy did and does, and the Ari’s plate won. And if we don’t know how our daddy did, most haggados and books helpfully tell us to make it the way the Ari did.

  17. My impression is that the widespread practice of pious women who daven multiple times per day is not to say tachanun in private (as a result of which many of them have never said it at all). I don’t know what the case was historically. Given your assertion that tachanun has become obligatory, could you adress this contemporary reality?

  18. Emma: No more troublesome than the reality that most women don’t say mincha at all.

  19. OK. I believe most girls-only schools and camps do have minchah, but do not teach the girls to say tachanun. (My experience on this front is admittedly old and limited.)

    Here’s what I was looking for: I know some people are of the view that women must say shacharis and minchah, but maariv remains “reshus” for women because they never “accepted it” the way men did. Is there something similar re: tachanun, or is it just an example of widespread disregard of what acc. to R. Enkin’s presentation is a clear halacha?

  20. ishai israel quotes RSZA as holding that if the shul skips tachnun the individual should follow suit

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