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 Hilchos Tefilla 128 (page 6)
 מאמצע סעיף ו והלוי עד סעיף ט

Who Washes the Kohein's Hands?
A Beracha on This Washing, and the Question of Whether the Levi Should Wash His Own Hands First
Stepping Forward During Retzei

Who washes the kohein's hands?
It is customary for the leviim to wash the kohanim's hands prior to birkas kohanim. It is not a disgrace for a levi who is a talmid chochom to wash the hands of an uneducated kohein. On the contrary, it is an honor for the levi to involve himself in a hidur mitzva. In some circles it is customary for many leviim to jointly pour the water on the hands of one kohein when there are fewer kohanim than leviim. Some contemporary poskim disapproved of this practice, since in many areas of halacha a job that could have been done by one person but was performed by two is considered a shinui (aberration) and inappropriate for a mitzva. If there are no leviim in shul, a bechor (a mother's eldest child) pours the water on the kohanim's hands. (There is an opinion, based on the Zohar, that only a levi may pour the water and when a levi is unavailable, the kohein should wash his own hands.) When there is no levi or bechor, it is preferable for the kohein to wash his own hands rather than have a Yisrael wash his hands.
 ( סעיף ו וס"ק כב; ביאורים ומוספים דרשו, 32, 34, ו־35)
A beracha on this washing, and the question of whether the levi should wash his own hands first
The kohanim do not recite a beracha ( al netilas yadaim) during the handwashing prior to birkas kohanim. However, there is an opinion (which the custom does not follow) that if the kohein's hands were soiled, or if the kohein had been distracted from watching the cleanliness of his hands since the morning's washing, he should recite a beracha on this washing.  It is preferable for the kohein to be careful to keep his hands clean from the time he washes neigel vasser so as to avoid the issue of whether or not to recite a beracha. According to the Mechaber, the levi should wash his own hands before washing the kohein's hands. The Ashkenazic practice, based on the opinion of the Rama, is that the levi does not wash his own hands first. However, if his hands are soiled or if he was distracted from minding the cleanliness of his hands after washing them in the morning, it is preferable for him to wash them prior to washing the kohein.
( סעיף ו-ז וס"ק כג-כד; ביאורים ומוספים דרשו, 39)
Stepping forward during Retzei
In the Beis Hamikdash, birkas kohanim was performed as part of the service of the korbanos. When Chazal appended birkas kohanim to tefilla, they associated it with the beracha of Retzei and required the kohanim to step forward to perform the mitzva during this beracha. A kohein who is still in the middle of Shemoneh Esrei at that point should shuffle his feet a bit. If the kohein waited to step forward until near the end of the beracha he may still, bedieved, recite birkas kohanim. If he did not move at all or if he headed in the wrong direction, even to wash his hands, he may not recite the blessing. Instead, he should leave the shul. The poskim discuss whether a kohein may head to the front prior to the beginning of Retzei.
( סעיף ח, ס"ק כח ושעה"צ ס"ק כח; ביאורים ומוספים דרשו, 40 ו־45)

  • Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai instituted that kohanim may not recite the birkas kohanim when wearing shoes.
  • Kohanim serving in the Beis Hamikdash were required to wash their hands [and feet] from the kior before beginning their service. Chazal mandated that the kohanim must likewise wash their hands prior to the birkas kohanim.
  • Passing near people davening is permitted when necessary, and the need to fulfill the mitzva is sufficient reason to permit it in the case of birkas kohanim. According to a second opinion, the need to wash overrides the prohibition of passing in front of those davening. There is a machlokes as to whether a kohein may pass in front of someone davening in order to recite the beracha. One opinion permits him to pass near the person davening but not directly in front of the person. A second opinion permits him to pass in front as well.

  • Answering Amein after the Shaliach Tzibur's Modim

  • Various customs for calling up the kohanim

  • Conflicts between kohanim and members of the congregation


PLEASE NOTE:  The information in this email is for learning purposes only. Please review the Mishna Berura and Biurim U'Musafim before making a halachic decision. Hebrew words are occasionally transliterated to enable a smoother reading of the text. Common Ashkenazi pronunciation is generally used in these cases.