Counting Jewish People

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General

  1. There’s a prohibition to count Jewish people. [1] According to most authorities this prohibition is a biblical command. [2]

Permissible ways

By means of something else

  1. Counting through something else like counting the fingers of people is only permitted for a serious need or need of a mitzvah. [3]

For a mitzvah

  1. The prohibition applies even counting for a mitzvah. [4]
  2. The minhag is to allow counting for a mitzvah using the פסוק of Hoshiyah Et Amecha…הושיעה את עמך וברך את נחלתך ורעם ונשאם עד העולם in order to count for a minyan. [5]

In thought

  1. Many poskim permit counting in one’s thought (by looking and counting in one’s head without making any motions) for a mitzvah or any need. [6]

Other examples

  1. Numbering Jewish graves is prohibited, however it’s permissible to number each section assuming that there’s different number of graves in each section. [7]
  2. It’s a problem of counting Jewish people for people or children standing in a line for each one to say his number. [8]
  3. Counting Jewish names on a list is a dispute. [9]

The census

  1. Participating in the Israeli consenus is permissible. [10]

Links

  1. http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/756058/Rabbi_Aryeh_Lebowitz/Ten_Minute_Halacha_-_Counting_Jews
  2. http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/735675/Rabbi_Dr._J._David_Bleich/The_Halachic_Controversy_Concerning_the_Israeli_Census

References

  1. The source in Torah for the prohibition is found in Shemot 30:12 which says that each person counted must give an atonement in order to prevent a plague. Gemara Brachot 62b relates that when David HaMelech made a mistake to count the Jews a plague actually did come onto the people. Gemara Yoma 22b rules that it's forbidden to count Jews even for a mitzvah purpose based on Shmuel 1, 15:4 which says that Shaul counted the people by means of lambs, giving one to each person and then collecting them again. Most achronim (Magan Avraham 156:2, Pri Chadash 55:1, Kaf HaChaim 13:10) hold that the prohibition still applies nowadays and are supported by the Rambam Temidin UMussafin 4:4. The Aynayim LeMishpat (Brachot 62b) who says that there’s no prohibition nowadays based on Rabbenu Chananel in Brachot, however, the Sh”t Tzitz Eliezer 7:3 (Chapter 1 section 2) strongly disagrees in explanation of the Gemara. All achronim agree that there’s still a prohibition in effect nowadays including the Magan Avraham 156:2, Gra (Aderet Eliyahu Parshat Ki Tisa).
  2. Sh”t Tzitz Eliezer 7:3 (Chapter 1 section 1)
  3. S”t Tzitz Eliezer 7:3:8, Seridei Esh 1:140, Sh”t Shevet HaLevi 1:34
  4. Magan Avraham 156:2
  5. Kitzur S”A 15:3, Piskei Teshuvot 156:24, and Minchat Asher Parshat Bamidbar (Siman 1)
  6. Yalkut Yosef (Piskei DeZimrah 55 note 2, Sherit Yosef vol 2 pg 93) permits counting for a minyan in one’s mind. Sh"t Tzitz Eliezer 7:3:8, Minchat Asher (Bamidbar 1) in name of the Kaf HaChaim Sofer and Kaf HaChaim Palagi permit. However, Etz Yosef (Yoma 22b; quoted by Piskei Teshuvot 156:24) is strict.
  7. Sh”t Igrot Moshe Y”D 2:117(2)
  8. Shevet HaLevi 1:34
  9. Chatan Sofer (Y”D 106) in name of his father the חתם סופר who says that it’s forbidden Deoritta.
  10. Sh”t Shevet HaLevi O”C 9:35, Sh”t Mishpatei Uziel 4:2, Sh"t Seridei Esh 2:48, Menachem Kasher (Sh"t Divrei Menachem 1:36), Rabbi Unterman quoted in Techumin (vol 4 pg 335) versus Rabbi Goren (HaTzofeh Sivan 5743), Rav Chaim Kanievsky (HaTzofeh vol 15 pg 8 col 1; Nachal Eitan 6:10(7)), Sh"t Tzitz Eliezer 7:3, and the Edah Charedit (HaEdah Behalotcha 5733)