Nov 12, 2007

no kissing in shul

Rav Ovadia Yosef wrote an interesting psak halacha this past week in one of the publications associated with Shas. I do not have the original article, but I saw it quoted in the Maariv newspaper and have an image of the article.

Rav Ovadia Yosef is well known for being a supporter of the idea that the sefardic customs following the Beit Yosef (Rav Yosef Karo) should be the predominant minhag of Eretz Yisrael. He explains that the sfardim were always the majority in Eretz Yisrael and anybody coming to the Land should drop his own customs that he has brought from foreign lands and adopt the prevailing custom, which should be the custom following the Beit Yosef.

Needless to say, everybody else disagrees. I have pretty much found that any Rabbi discussing whether it is ok or even preferable to change one's custom will always say it is ok or preferable to change your custom to the one that specific Rabbi follows, as that custom is accurate and sourced in early Jewish tradition while others came later, while changing away from that Rabbis custom is always wrong.

Maybe I am being too general, but in the various responsa I have seen on topics of people asking about changing their customs, that is pretty much what I have found.

Back to the psak - There is a Morrocan custom that after a person gets called up to the Torah in shul, he walks around and kisses and gets kissed (double cheek kisses) by the other congregants.

Rav Ovadia said that this custom of kissing and being kissed is wrong and should be stopped. He does say that the custom to kiss in shul the hand of one's father and the Rabbi and other people who one has an obligation to honor is worthy and proper. But to kiss other congregants, even just to kiss their hands and not their cheeks, is improper and the custom should be discontinued. Kissing the hand is a sign of honor and respect. because we are commanded to show honor to the Rabbi and our fathers (and certain other people), so kissing their hands in shul is allowed and is a mitzva. But to kiss other people in shul is improper and should not continue.

An unnamed Morrocan Rabbi is quoted as responding that the custom is worthy and should continue. He explains that when others kiss the person who had been called to the Torah, they are showing their love and respect for the Torah. This is in addition to creating an atmosphere of love and camaraderie among the congregants.

The opinion of the Morrocan Rabbi reminds me of an article I just recently read about the source for the custom of pointing at the Torah during hagbaa and some even kiss the finger. There were many suggestions as to the source of the custom and I will not go into it here (mostly because I do not remember the specifics offhand - I have a bad memory) and there were others who were against the custom explaining how it developed and how it is mistaken completely devoid from the original intention. Regardless, there were such opinions, similar to the one above, that because it is a sign of respect and honor for the Torah, therefore it is a good custom.

The article, by the way, says nothing about whether this is limited to the mens section of the shul or if one can go to the womens section as well for the kisses... :-)


  1. I was once in a shul where the mechitza has a bit of a problem. You see, from the men's side it is about 6 feet tall, but from the womens side its only about 3 or 4 feet tall. One shabbos my family was in this shul, and we saw a woman lean over the mechitza and kiss a man. (I believe it was at the end of services on the way to the kiddush, but thats a side point). My brother looked and said, see that's the reason we have mechitzas!

  2. that's a good reason for a mechitza....

  3. B"H Is the original p'saq floating around the Net at all?

    Did ROY say whay it was improper? Why didn't he just say that kissing after an aliyah is tarihei hatzibur?

    I don't understand why else he would say that about kissing

    Is turning into an uptight galusized Ashkinazy? Has weHallilahh!

    (Some Litvaks kiss, but to the extent of Sefardim.)

  4. from what I understood, it is not appropriate to be kissing people in shul. If it is kavod ha'torah that is fine, but otherwise it is inappropriate. Shul is not a social club.

  5. Sepharadic halacha and customs come from Bavel- from the Bavli and the Gaonim there. Ashkenazi halachah and customs, although overpowered by the Bavli, always were closer to Eretz Yisrael. The Ashkenazim would ask their halachic questions to the Geonim in EY- not Bavel.

    So if the Sepharadim want to be true to EY,they will adopt the Ashkenazi halacha and minhagim.

    They can do it now, or wait until the moshiach comes, but it's just a matter of time. :-)

  6. anon - I do not know who you are, but that sounds like a machon shilo explanation (I like it anyway!)...

    Rav Ovadia famously holds that since jews came back to Eretz Yisrael, sefardim were always the majority. Therefore the sefardi minhag has become minhag ha'makom. Therefore any ashkenazy who comes to Eretz Yisrael has to adopt the sefardic minhag. Even if at some point the ashkenazim would become the majority, they will have come to a sefardic minhag ha'makom and it would remain sefardic...

  7. i remember learning in high school that the only kissing done in shul should be to the torah. a mother should not even kiss her small child. If the need to kiss a child arises (booboos or something), the mother should take the child outside.

  8. Rav Rafi,

    (2 posts up) I'm one who comments here sometimes under my own "handle" and one who sometimes comments anonymously.

    The point is that when the Sepharadim came to EY, THEY should have adopted the minhag hamakom, which is the Ashkenazi practice.

    That they erroneously (and wrongly, according to Rav Ovadia's logic) brought their own foreign (Babylonian) practices then can't possibly be mechayev us now.

  9. I think it is a halacha in the Shulchan Aruch that you are not allowed to kiss another person in the synagogue. In one of the eulogies for Rav Shapira zt"l, it was mentioned that Rav Shapira kissed Rav J.B. Solovetchik when they met in a synagogue. Rav Shapira later explained that it is permissable to kiss a Torah scroll in the synagogue, therefore kissing R' Yoshe Ber is also permissable!

  10. anon - Actually, Eretz Yisrael would ahve had no minhagim (I think this is how the logic goes according to Rav Ovadia) because the jews were thrown out of Eretz Yisrael. There were no Jews, ergo no official minhag.

    When Jews began coming back, it was the sfardim, thus making the minhag ha'makom to be minhag sfard.

  11. I once almost got my hand kissed in shul friday night by standing next to the rav to ask a question and some sfardic guy grabbed my hand. I jumped back but, close call!

  12. cosmic - interesting anecdote. thanks..

    Lakewood - Why did you jump? did the guy have some boil on his lip?

  13. There were no Jews, ergo no official minhag.

    Au contraire: There were ALWAYS some Jews in EY. There was NEVER a period of the galut where the entire land was Judenrein.

  14. B"H Rafi, Thanks for answering my question. I agree with you on it being inappropriate to make a beth kenesseth into a social club.

    Warning: When I get married, if anyone does not want to get kissed, then don't come.


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