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From: rhendel@mcs.drexel.edu (Russell Hendel) Date: Tue, 9 Dec 1997 19:36:27 -0500 Subject: Brachos on Megillah...Why/ Why not Harvey Poch raises the fascinating Halachik question on whether to say brachos on "the other megillos". He correctly cites the shulchan aruch and its commentaries as classifying such a bracha as "bracha levatalah" and therefore correctly wonders how anyone else can have a custom to say a brachah. While I ordinarily do not give explanations of halachah, because of the complexity of this issue I thought I should add a few points. For the issue is not only one of SOURCES...it is also one of REASONS. 1st) It is the Vilna Gaon who championed saying Brachos on the other 4 megilloth. As Harvey notes this is a minority opinion and ordinarily should be ignored. 2nd) We must discuss reasons: Why for example do we say a bracha on Megillath esther. See the Rambam (or shulchan aruch)--they point out that it was a specific rabbinic commandment to read the megillah---there are a variety of "other reasons " given such as the idea the reading of megillah=recitation of hallel 3rd) Let us now return to the other 4 megilloth: No one can e.g. claim that the Rabbis made Passover as a holiday and instituted the reading of Shir Hashirim on it!! In fact Passover is a Biblical hodiday. In fact unlike Megillath Esther, Shir hashirim is only indirectly connected with the holiday (e.g. Shir hashirim does not discuss the exodus from egypt). Similarly we say Hallel anyway on Pesach!! Thus there is no REASON to say a brachah on Shir Hashirim...the two possible reasons for saying a brachah on Megillath Esther - it relates the miracle and is a rabbinic enactment - it fulfills Hallel requirements do NOT apply to Shir Hashirim. Similar comments can be made on Ruth and Koheleth. Arguments for Aychah can also be advanced since EVEN though it deals with WHAT HAPPENED ON Tisha Bav it nevertheless is not an intrinsic part of the holiday: For Purim INTRINSICALLY commerorates a miracle Tisha Bav does not commerorate the destruction--there is no commandment to read what happened...it rather commerorates the fast day..and is a day of repentance. 4th) If we have no reason to say a blessing or are in doubt then we SHOULD not say it. There are some opinions that saying a blessing when you shouldn't is a violation of the 3rd commandment. This is the real reason why women don't say blessings on many commandments (because we are in doubt whether they should say it). SUMMARY: Although two specific reasons exist for saying a blessing on Megillath Esther neither of these reasons apply to the other 4 megilloth. Furthermore one should avoid saying brachoth unless one is absolutely sure. I think this clearly explains the Psak that one should not say the Bracha. But wait...why then or how did the Vilna Gaon suggest saying the blessing. Surely he knew all the above. I believe a partial answer can be found using an analogy from the laws of Shma...The blessings over Shma serve a dual purpose...as - blessings for the specific mitzvah of shma - blessings for Learning (=reading shma) Thus e.g. if you didn't say shma and woke up at 11 am you could still say shma and blessings except that it would count as Learning not as shma. Therefore my opinion is that the Vilna Gaon held that the blessings on the Megillah are NOT INFERIOR to the blessings on Shma and would count as Talmud Torah. In fact these blessings would resemble blessings people say when laining from a Sayfer Torah. Therefore in practice I have never said blessings on the other 4 megilloth. But if I was in a shule which did I would not make a fuss on saying such a brachah if I lained from parchment I hope the above clarifies this matter. I believe a true halachik discussion should cite not only sources but should also - give reasons - explain why people differ in spite of the reasons. I close with a statement I heard from the Rabbi of a synagogue: >>The hardest time in my life in learning was when the Rebbe said to >>me...'look, I want to know what Rashi and Tosafoth say and I want to >>know their reasons for so saying AND I want to know what each of them >>does with the others reasons. Russell Jay Hendel; Ph.d. ASA rhendel @ mcs drexel edu