Significance of the “Amen” Response

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

We must recognize the importance of answering amen during the Chazarat HaShatz (Repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei). When the Shali’ach Tzibbur recites a Beracha, and one fails to answer amen, there is an element of implication that one is not in full agreement with the words of the Shali’ach Tzibbur. In fact, according to Rambam, during the Chazarat HaShatz, the Berachot cannot be related to the Tzibbur (congregation) without the recitation of amen. [Rambam, Tefillah 8:9]

According to Rav Soloveitchik, the refusal to answer amen can have far reaching significances; one can even be guilty of transgressing the aveira of Avodah Zarah. In the kina of “Eicha Yasheva Chavatzelet haSharon”,recited on Tisha B’Av, Rabbi Elazar HaKalir lists the failure to answer amen as one of the reasons for the churban, as he states,“VE’ATA ANOT AMEN LO AVU”[But now they refuse to answer “amen” [to the rebuke of the Navi]. The idea that the Jewish people refused to answer amen stems from the Midrash, [Sifrei, Devarim 320] Rabbi Dustai ben Yehuda says, “Do not read the pasuk ‘lo emun bam’ [there is no faithfulness in them] (Devarim 32:20), rather, the pasuk should be read as ‘lo amen bam’, there is no amen in them’. They did not wish to respond amen to the Nevi’im (prophets) even when the Nevi’im were blessing them.

The Rav noted the phrase in the Kina, “Anot Amen Lo Avu”, meaning, they deliberately refused to answer amen, not that they simply failed, or missed the opportunity to do so. This active refusal demonstrates that they refused to accept the basic principles of our faith. Recitation of amen constitutes ha’amanat Devarim, as in “Va’ya’aminu BaHaShem U’veMoshe Avdo, a declaration that “the words are true (Shevu’ot 36a). So, in effect, by refusing to answer amen, one could be considered guilty of the aveira of avoda zara.

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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