Question: Is it correct that one who strikes one’s friend cannot be part of a Minyan, even after one has repented?
Answer: The Gemara (Sanhedrin 58b) states that one who strikes one’s friend is considered “wicked”. Striking another is a terribly grave sin.
The Rama writes in his gloss on Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat (Chapter 420, Section 1), as follows: Some say that an ancient excommunication takes effect upon one who strikes one’s friend and it must be annulled for one to be able to join a Minyan.”
This means that striking another is so egregious that our Sages imposed an excommunication on one who does so, the most notable repercussion of which is that one may not join as part of a Minyan in the synagogue.
If the striker wishes to stand before a rabbinical court so that they may analyze his actions, the Rama (ibid.) writes that they annul the excommunication immediately. This means that when one accepts the laws of the Torah, his ban should be annulled and he should immediately be permitted to join a Minyan. This is even true if the party who was hit does not agree to this. Indeed, many great Poskim concur, including Hagaon Rabbeinu Chaim Benbenisti in his Kenesset Ha’Gedolah (Notes on Tur ibid, Section 12 and in his Responsa Ba’eh Chayeh, Volume 1, Chapter 235) and the Aruch Ha’Shulchan (ibid, Section 2).
Our dear friend, Hagaon Rabbi Gad Yazdi Shlit”a was asked regarding whether or not this law applies to one who hit another on the back playfully, as is unfortunately quite common in many places. He replied that there are certain times when this is not even forbidden and one is certainly not excommunicated as a result of doing so, based on the words of the Rambam (Chapter 5 of Hilchot Chovel U’Mazik, Halacha 1).
Nonetheless, Rav Yazdi added that even with regards to someone who actually struck another in earnest, the saintly Ben Ish Hai writes in his Responsa Rav Pe’alim (Volume 2, Orach Chaim, end of Chapter 11) in the name of Hagaon Rabbeinu Chaim Palagi (in his Ruach Chaim, Yoreh De’ah, Chapter 334, Section 18) that if the striker does not accept the law of the Torah, his excommunication should not be annulled and he should not be joined in a Minyan although he was never formally excommunicated. Nevertheless, Hagaon Rabbeinu Yosef Haim adds: “This matter is quite common, however, and we have not observed the sages of the generation performing an annulment of excommunication to permit all those who have struck others to join a Minyan. Certainly then, the order of Annulment of Vows and Excommunications customarily performed before the month of Elul, then again on Erev Rosh Chodesh Elul, and finally on Erev Rosh Hashanah and Erev Yom Kippur will suffice for this matter and the panel intends for this to be the case as well. Moreover, this ancient excommunication regarding one who strikes another is completely unbeknownst to most people.”
Based on this, he concludes that if one repents, one may rely on the order of Annulment of Vows customarily recited on Erev Rosh Hashanah and Erev Yom Kippur and he may be joined as part of a Minyan. It goes without saying that one must appease the person one struck and request his forgiveness.
Furthermore, he writes that in a situation where this person goes up to serve as Chazzan and he cannot be prevented from doing so for whatever reason, the congregation may answer Amen to his blessings and prayers. (See Reponsa Chatam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat, Chapter 182 and Aruch Ha’Shulchan, ibid.)
When one requests forgiveness from the struck party, he should not act overly hard to appease, rather, he should be flexible and easy to forgive. This is certainly true if the one who struck him did not mean to do so in earnest.
The following incident occurred in the Yeshiva of Kefar Saba, where Hagaon Harav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman zt”l served as Rosh Yeshiva. Once, a few minutes before the start of the daily Talmudic lecture, one of the young men stood outside the door of the classroom. Another student who wished to play a practical joke locked the door from the inside so that the boy on the outside could not enter. Soon thereafter though, the Rosh Yeshiva himself arrived a bit early to the classroom and wished to enter but the door was locked. The student outside the door whispered frantically to his friend, “Open quickly, Rav Aharon Leib is here!” The student who locked the door was convinced that he was lying in order to get him to open the door. The Rosh Yeshiva just stood there for several minutes along with his student, locked out of the classroom.
A few minutes later, the boy who locked the door began to wonder if it was really possible that the Rosh Yeshiva had truly arrived and was locked out of the room. He quickly unlocked the door. In order to avoid shaming the boy who played the practical joke, the Rosh Yeshiva quickly turned his head away so that he could not see who the culprit was. May his merit protect us all, Amen!