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In the various Ashkenazic services outside Israel that I have attended, where Birkat Kohanim is only performed on holidays, and with holiday-level pomp and circumstance, I have seen various types of expression from the chazzan in prompting the kohanim, including:

Volume:

  • Calling out the words at full volume

  • Moderate volume

  • Prompting so quietly that most people who aren't as close as the kohanim can't hear him

Singing:

  • Singing a bar or two of melody before prompting the last word of each line

  • Humming a couple of notes before prompting those words

  • No singing, just saying the words

Which of these behaviors, on each of these axes, do sources support? All answers should please include either textual sources or examples of observed behavior with explicit indication of why it's likely that this particular observed behavior was based on a clear tradition.

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    similar judaism.stackexchange.com/q/64292/759 – Double AA Oct 5 '16 at 4:49
  • I think that the general rule is that the chazzan should not be louder than the kohanim. In honesty, though, the bigger problem is to have the kohanim coordinate their singing and pronounce each word at the same time. ("Elderly" people may need a little prodding.) Hopefully, in your shul, the kohanim are / were coordinated. – DanF Oct 5 '16 at 15:42
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    I had assumed (always dangerous) that the singing or humming was a reminder to the kohanim to sing before this final word, giving the congregation opportunity to say things quietly. As such, I would expect it not to be done on Shabbat. – Ze'ev Felsen Oct 5 '16 at 18:01
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Source: duchaning in various schuls.

In my experience, the volume of the sha"tz's calling is dependant on his community of origin, as is his usage of singing. For example, Chabadniks often sing a melody composed for one of their rebbeim before each word (except Hashem) and have the chazzan prompt fairly loudly.

On the other hand, in most other schuls I've davened in (either bechu"l or in Israel) the sha"tz will prompt quietly and will not sing a niggun.

The third practice I have observed is the Italian minhag, in which the words are called out loudly, but as with most other minyanim I've orened with, there is no additional melody from the chazzan.

  • Where did you hear the source of the Chabad one? I've heard that it's from the beis hamikdosh, but I've tried unsuccessfully to find a source – user613 Oct 9 '16 at 12:53
  • Just searched, I found this judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/30515/… Meir zirkind says it was the mittler Rebbe's kapelya. I'd still like to hear a proper source – user613 Oct 9 '16 at 12:58
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Partial answer:

Gleaning some ideas from Mishnah Berurah on O.C. 128:13 and 14:

  • Rama"h adds on s. 13 that the chazzan should pronounce each word prior to the Kohanim.
  • s. 14 says that each word must be said בקול רם. Mishnah Berurah commentary explains this to mean "a medium volume". However, he says that if there are many people praying in shul, "they" have to be loud so that all the people will hear them.
  • While not explicitly stated, I am logically concluding that the "they" mentioned in the previous statement refers to both the chazzan as well as the "kohanim". Thus, it seems that they should both be at the same (or close) volume level.

Regarding singing between the words, see O.C. 128:26. There are various opinions. Rav Yosef Kairo says outright that there should be no extended singing between words and the congregation should be silent and just listen to what the kohanim say. Rama states that it has become customary to say verses, but states that it's preferable not to. A look at Mishnah Brurah commentary #103 indicates that only Magen Avraham and Ta"z allow the recital of the vesres only while the chazzan is reciting the words, not from the kohanim.

See halacha #21 that states a general rule that there should be just one tune. (In many shuls I have attended, I have heard the group of kohanim singing multiple tunes together. It sounds horrible, and, yes, in some cases the kohanim themselves get confused - exactly what Shulchan Aruch describes. It's a good reason for a "kohen gadol" to take charge and coordinate with the others as well as the chazzan beforehand which tune they will sing.)

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    I don't think that your assumption that 128:14 is referring to both the kohanim and the chazzan is a well-founded one. The verb in 128:14 is "מְבָרְכִין" - blessing, which is the action of the kohanim only. – Isaac Moses Oct 5 '16 at 17:10
  • @IsaacMoses That's a very astute comment. I'm not disagreeing ... YET. Technically, the service itself is called ברכת כהנים, so you are correct about the source and obligation of the mitzvah. And, even Shulchan Aruch seems to suggest that the chazzan might not be needed were it not for the phrasing אמור להם - say to them - which implies that someone (i.e., the chazzan) must recite each word to them. See Mishnah Berurah #49 on page I linked to. If the chazzan is a part of ברכת כהנים, it seems that he was have the same volume requirements. – DanF Oct 6 '16 at 15:26
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    If you're inferring ideas from the Shulchan Aruch's words, the inferences ought to accord with what he actually wrote; I remain unconvinced that 128:14 was meant, by the Sh"A, to incorporate the prompting. || Even more so, the two new paragraphs, about singing tunes, are pretty clearly about the berachot themselves and not about the prompting. I think that including so much material about conduct during the berachot themselves confuses matters. – Isaac Moses Oct 6 '16 at 16:07
  • @IsaacMoses The mentioning of the verses is clearly stated that it should be said only when the chazzan is reading. I'll concede that you have a point regarding the singing. I'll try to edit my answer later. – DanF Oct 6 '16 at 17:20
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To add to the other answers - here's a Halacha that has been overlooked:

וְלֹא יְנַגְּנוּ הַכֹּהֲנִים אֶלָּא נִגּוּן הַמְיֻחָד, מִפְּנֵי טֵרוּף הַדָּעַת.‏

The Cohanim should only use the standard tune(s) so as not to get confused.

IOW: It's improper to start introducing new tunes for Birkat Cohanim; each shul should keep to its traditional ones so as not to get the Cohanim confused.

Source: Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 100:12

שְּׁלִיחַ הַצִבּוּר מַקְרֶא אוֹתָם בִּרְכַּת כֹּהֲנִים מִלָּה בְּמִלָּה, וְהֵם אוֹמְרִים אַחֲרָיו כָּל מִלָּה, עַד שֶׁמְסַיְּמִים פָּסוּק רִאשׁוֹן, וְעוֹנִין הַצִּבּוּר אָמֵן, וְכֵן אַחַר הַפָּסוּק הַשֵּׁנִי וְאַחַר הַפָּסוּק הַשְּׁלִישִׁי. לֹא יִקְרָא שְּׁלִיחַ הַצִבּוּר בְּעַל פֶּה, אֶלָּא מִתּוֹךְ הַסִּדּוּר, שֶׁלֹּא יִתְבַּלְבֵּל. וְיָכוֹל לוֹמַר גַּם הוּא הָאֲמֵנִים שֶׁלְּאַחַר הַפְּסוּקִים וְלֹא הֲוֵי הֶפְסֵק, שֶׁזֶּהוּ צֹרֶךְ תְּפִלָּה. אֵלּוּ תֵבוֹת שֶׁהַכֹּהֲנִים הוֹפְכִים בָּהֶן לַדָּרוֹם וְלַצָּפוֹן, יְבָרֶכְךָ, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ, אֵלֶיךָ, וִחֻנֶּךָ, אֵלֶיךָ, לְךָ מִשּׁוּם דְּתֵבוֹת אֵלּו הֵן לְנֹכַח, לָכֵן הוֹפְכִין אֶת עַצְמָם גַּם לַצְּדָדִין, כְּדֵי לְבָרֵךְ אֶת כֻּלָּם. וְכֵן הוֹפְכִין גַּם בְּתֵבַת שָׁלוֹם, לְפִי שֶׁהִיא סִיּוּם הַבְּרָכוֹת. וּבְשָׁעָה שֶׁמַּאֲרִיכִין בְּנִגּוּן שֶׁל הַתֵּבוֹת שֶׁבְּסוֹף הַפְּסוּקִים, דְּהַיְנוּ, וְיִשְׁמֶרְךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָ, שָׁלוֹם, אוֹמְרִים הַצִּבּוּר רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם וְכוּ'. וְהַמַּקְרֶא, אֲפִלּוּ אֵינוֹ שְּׁלִיחַ הַצִבּוּר, לֹא יֹאמַר, רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, מִפְּנֵי הַטֵּרוּף. וּמִכָּל שֶׁכֵּן שֶׁאִם הוּא שְּׁלִיחַ הַצִבּוּר, שֶׁלֹּא יֹאמְרוֹ מִפְּנֵי הֶפְסֵק בַּתְּפִלָּה. וְלֹא יְנַגְּנוּ הַכֹּהֲנִים אֶלָּא נִגּוּן הַמְיֻחָד, מִפְּנֵי טֵרוּף הַדָּעַת.‏

The Chazzan reads to them the Birkas Kohanim word for word, and they repeat each word after him until the conclusion of the first verse, whereupon the congregation responds Amein. [In this manner, the Chazzan reads the second and third verses as well.] After the second verse and after the third verse, [the congregation also responds Amein.] The Chazzan should not recite (these verses) from memory but should read them from the Siddur in order not to get confused. The Chazzan, too, may respond Amein after these verses. It is not considered an interruption because it is necessary for the prayer. When reciting the following words, the kohanim turn (partially) toward the South and then to the North: Yevarechecha, Veyishmerecha, Eilecha ["May He bless you" "and safeguard you," "to you"] Vichuneka, Eilecha, and Lecha, ["and be gracious to you" to you" "you"] because these words are in the second person. therefore, the kohanim turn also toward the sides, in order to bless the entire congregation. They also turn thus when saying the word Ahalom, because it is the conclusion of the blessings. While the kohanim prolong the slow chant before saying the concluding words of each verse, which are Ve'yishmerecha, Vichuneka and Shalom, the congregation recites (the prayer) Ribono Shel Olam etc. "Master of the Universe …" The one who prompts the Kohanim, even though he is not the Chazzan, should not recite Ribono Shel Olam, in order not to get confused. Certainly the Chazzan should not recite it because it would be considered an interruption of the Amidah. The Kohanim should chant only the customary melody in order to avoid confusion.

  • Hmm You sure that doesn't mean "uniform" like everyone should be sure to sing the same tune and not have different people at different places in different tunes a the same time? – Double AA Apr 18 at 12:02

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