Friday, June 30, 2017

Let's Face It

If your average gentile passed by a group of Jews saying קדוש לבנה they would probably be quite confused - not because a group of individuals appear to be blessing the moon but because they see ten Jews facing eleven directions. Many people seem to face all sorts of different directions in order not to face the moon. While this seems like a perfectly innocent practice, there are some serious issues involved.

The reason why people do this is so as to not appear to be gazing at the moon (either so as not appear to be praying to or worshiping the moon or simply to avoid the prohibition to gaze at the moon.) This is certainly a concern that is brought up in halachah. Mishnah Berurah (426:13-14) quotes from poskim that one should not gaze at the moon, even during the berachah. Rather, one should give a quick glance beforehand. He also states that we dance by standing on our toes because the bending of our knees might appear as bowing. However, nowhere, does it mention that one should turn away from the moon. I do not know of any other sources who do suggest to turn away but what I do know is this: It is nothing short of blasphemy to direct the following words at HaShem:
ברוך יוצרך, ברוך עושך, ברוך קונך, ברוך בוראך
These words must be directed at the moon. I would think that the same would hold true for כשם שאני רוקד כנגדך ... which again is certainly talking about the moon. I am not sure if people just don't know what they're saying or just aren't thinking but I myself have seen people face away from the moon towards the shul from the beginning of קדוש לבנה until the end. I think this an unfortunate example of over-zealousness gone awry. I might even go as far as to put this in the same league as people turning their backs on ברכת כהנים - a practice which is fortunately diminishing but is still found here and there. I feel rabbanim should bring this to their congregants' attention.

UPDATE: A reader has brought to my attention two sources which actually do discuss this practice.
:לבושי מרדכי
:יסוד ושורש העבודה

I nevertheless still maintain that the source for this is obscure, at best. And certainly of note is the point made by יסוד ושורש העבודה to which I was מכוין, regarding those two phrases. If there is a concern related to gazing at the moon, I still do not feel that is reason to turn away. But at the very least, if that is to be the practice, everyone ought to get together and decide to face the same direction. In או"ח צ"ד, it is made very clear how careful one must be with the direction they face for שמונה עשרה, so as not to make the ציבור appear disjointed. While this is outside of the בית הכנסת, I think the same care should be taken. (Especially now considering the יסוד ושורש העבודה suggesting that one needs to stand in the same manner as in שמונה עשרה.)


Ari S. said...

I think the Mishna Berurah proves your point. If you are not facing the moon, how could one look like they are bowing to the moon? Rather, it is clear that the Mishna Berurah assumes the individual is facing the moon.

MG said...

Unfortunately, in your over-zealousness to critisize, you have accused others of over-zealousness.

"The reason why people do this is so as to not appear to be praying to or worshiping the moon."


Gazing at the moon is UNRELATED to issues of Avodah Zarah. If we were that concerned with Avodah Zarah, how could we possibly allow the words "Ksheim She'ani Rokaid Kenegdaich...Kach Lo Yuchlo Oyvai etc.", which is a Tefillah! It's hard to imagine anything that could possibly come closer to appearing like Avodah Zarah ch"v!!

The issue of looking at the moon is an ancient one and is the same concern with looking at a rainbow and certain other natural objects. Had you looked in the Sefer Chareidim that the Mishna Berurah brings down, you would have seen that. Here's the link:

And see the Kaf HaChaim here:

Also see Sefer Taamei HaMinhagim(Kuntres Achron to Siman 464:22) who equates moon-gazing with rainbow-gazing.

Rainbow-gazing itself is completely unrelated to Avodah Zarah, see Chagigah 16a, V'ayn Kan HaMakom L'ha'arich.

You don't have to "face" the moon while saying "Baruch Yotzraich" in order to "direct it" at the moon, so your concern of blasphemy is unwarranted. People simply turn away from the moon to avoid gazing, a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

The ONLY chashash related to Avodah Zarah is appearing to BOW, which we do take caution on. The Gemarah Brochos 59a voices the same concern with bowing to a rainbow.

This is usually an excellent blog, but I think you are in error. When it comes to finding fault with a practice that Klal Yisroel is nohaig, you better do your research.

Shtikler said...

I do appreciate your contribution to the discussion, especially with the linked sources. However, I think your criticism of my criticism is misguided.

Here is the bottom line: You cannot show me anyone who says to face away from the moon. All indications are that one should be facing the moon. Therefore, you cannot charge me with "finding fault with a practice that Klal Yisroel is nohaig." Klal Yisroel is not nohaig this. I would say that most do face the moon.

Do you face away from the moon to be חושש for the ספר חרדים et al.? If so, I can respect that. But I have a sneaky suspicion that most who face away from the moon believe it has something to do with praying towards the moon. After all - how many people do you know who say קדוש לבנה by heart? Everyone is looking in the סדור. Why would there be a חשש of gazing at the moon?

To restate the bottom line: There is no מקור for this practice and I fear (I would love to be wrong) that it reflects a general lack of awareness of what we are doing and what we are saying - perhaps not by you, but by others.

MG said...

The point is, your critisicm is needless. People don't face the moon, because they don't want to gaze at the moon, and there are very good reasons for not gazing at the moon. That is how the minhag began.

You're saying people TODAY need to KNOW why they are not looking at the moon? People do what their fathers did. At one time, people didn't look in a siddur. And even if you use a siddur, you're telling me that because of that, there's no chashash AT ALL of gazing? Of course there is.

So because I can't show you a source to NOT face the moon, ergo, one must face the moon. How very logical.

There is NO indication whatsoever that one needs to face the moon. Not in the tefillos, nowhere. Nor is there an indication to face the moon. However, this we do know: gazing at the moon is prohibited. So I'd rather be melamed zechus on the minhag and say that people don't face the moon because they don't want to gaze, then find fault. We need zechusim right now, not psuedo-intellectual exercises designed to critisize.

Shtikler said...

Just because people start to do something, doesn't make it a מנהג. I think that is a very critical misconception.

Yes, we do need זכויות (aren't you the same MG who keeps me on my toes @ Dikdukian?) but I have already stated clearly why I believe we should all be facing the same direction and why that direction should be that of the moon and I stand by that.

Son of a Preacher Man said...

You gotta relax. I see how you think you're being a Kanuy for Minhag Yisrael but you're not. Agree to disagree and stop being angry. Klal Yisrael need Zchusim, and we get Zchusim through Shalom.