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I've found that in chassidish shuls (at least in London and Manchester, UK) that they always do one of the Shir hamaalos and a Kaddish before starting maariv with והוא רחום.

Is there a source and reason for this minhag?

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I found this article at www.daat.ac.il .

He gives several reasons:

Based on a gemoro in Brochos 4b [paraphrased]: a person comes in to the synagogue from his work in the field and he learns what he can learn and afterwards he says Shema and Amidah. So Chazal arranged that we should say Shir Hamaalos before Maariv in order to pray after saying Tehillim. (Shiltei Hagiborim on the Rif Brochos 8b and others.)

או"ז בשם תשובת הגאונים והכלבו, ד"ם או"ח סי' נד says from Kabbalah that one should not interrupt between Kaddish and Borechu. From this we see that we need to say Kaddish before Borechu. (Kaddish cannot be said without some prefatory pesukim (Kol Bo Siman 6 requires at least 3)), so Chazal chose to say Psalm 134 because it contains the words “who stand in the house of Hashem at night”.

And because Psalm 134 contains the words, lift up your hands and bless (וברכו) Hashem so we say this Psalm before ברכו.

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    Interesting. Thanks! Note the שלטי הגיבורים is actually on 2a of the rif. Also the kolbo says that it is good to say the pesukim שלא לשנות מנהג התפילה which I don't really understand... – Moshe Steinberg Apr 9 '17 at 8:07
  • @MosheSteinberg I believe you are misunderstanding the Kol Bo. He is talking about a scenario where the chazzan was mafsik between פסוקי דזמרה and kaddish, and he paskens that he should not say kaddish. He then adds parenthetically that we find a similar din by maariv, where we say barchu but not kaddish. Then he returns to the above scenario, saying that it's good to say at least 3 pesukim and then say kaddish - שלא לשנות מנהג התפילה! – Ploni Apr 24 '17 at 3:43

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