- This article refers to the prayer note; for the card game see Kvitlech.
Kvitel (Yiddish: קוויטל, "little note," plural קוויטלך, kvitlach), also spelled kvittel, is a note containing a petitionary prayer, such as a general request for health, wealth or success, or a specific request for a wedding match, prosperity in business, etc.
The term originated in the Hasidic courts of Europe, where a Hasid would bring a kvitel to his Rebbe, inscribed with his name and, occasionally, his request, in order to receive the Rebbe's blessing. The Hasid would include with his kvitel a pidyon (redemption) — a sum of money which the Rebbe would use either for the upkeep of his own court or to distribute as charity to the poor. Kvitlach are often placed on the grave of a Rebbe or tzadik, with the hope that the soul of the deceased will pray for the petitioner in the upper worlds. It is also a centuries-old tradition for Jews and non-Jews alike to place kvitlach between the stones of the Western Wall in Jerusalem as personal petitions to God.
In its plain sense, the word kvitel refers to any kind of note. In this respect, it is used in a greeting between Jews on Hoshana Rabbah, the seventh day of the holiday of Sukkot. The Zohar says that while the judgment for the new year is closed on Yom Kippur, it is not "sealed" until the end of Sukkot, during which time one can still repent. Consequently, the blessing which Jews give each other on Hoshana Rabbah — פתקא טבא (piska tava), which in Yiddish translates as "A guten kvitel", or "A good note" — is a wish that the verdict will be positive.
It is unclear when the custom of giving a kvitel to a Rebbe or tzadik began. This custom is not mentioned in the writings of the early kabbalists nor in the works of the school of the Ari. The first time it is mentioned is during the time of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples.
Some surmise that the giving of a kvitel to a Rebbe or tzaddik is based on the Ramban's interpretation of the Torah verse: "These were all the countings of the Children of Israel, according to their fathers' households, from twenty years of age and up, everyone who goes out to the legion in Israel." While Rashi and other commentators say that the census was conducted by each person giving a half-shekel, and the coins tallied, Ramban states that Moses asked each Jew to come before him to be counted. This personal appearance of the Jew before the tzadik foreshadowed the ceremony of the giving of a kvitel by the Hasid to his Rebbe or to a tzadik for his blessing. 
Once the giving of a kvitel was established in Hasidic courts, it was treated very seriously. There were cases where Hasidim hired a non-Jew to ride or travel to the tzadik's town on Shabbat to deliver a kvitel for one who was ill, a clear violation of Shabbat law. In his Shu"t Maharsham (III, 225), Rabbi Sholom Mordechai Schwadron mentioned in his response to someone who questioned whether one could send a telegram on behalf of a sick person on Shabbat: "In my hometown of Zlatshev, there was a desperately sick person. When the Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom, was in Brod for Shabbat, the local rabbi allowed the Jews to have a gentile write the name of the sick person and his mother's name and send this kvitel to Brod." This action was vehemently protested by Rabbi Shlomo Kluger as well as by the Belzer Rebbe, and the rabbi was removed from his post.
Writing the kvitel
In Hasidic courts, the kvitel is inscribed with the names of the petitioner and his family members, along with their specific requests. The form of the name is the person's full Hebrew name and his mother's Hebrew name (e.g. Shmuel ben Chana), even if the Rebbe or tzadik already knows who he is. It is customary to write the kvitel on a blank, unlined piece of paper.
Customs differ as to who writes the kvitel. In some courts, the Rebbe's gabbai writes the kvitel on behalf of the petitioner; in others, one person is paid to write the kvitlach. Alternately, the petitioner himself writes the kvitel.
Various customs arose around the writing of a kvitel. It was considered a bad omen if the kvitel fell to the ground, or if sand was placed on it. Care was taken to write the kvitel without any mistakes, as Hasidim believe that kvitlach contain deep secrets.
Giving the kvitel
The kvitel is either sent to the Rebbe by messenger or mail, or given personally by the Hasid during his private audience with the Rebbe.
The kvitel is usually given together with a sum of money known as a pidyon, which is used by the Rebbe for the upkeep of his court or for distribution to charity. Some Rebbes requested from the Hasid a sum of money equal to twice the numerical value of the Hebrew word chai (life). Others took an amount of money equal to the numerical value of the names of the Hasid or his wife.
In the court of the Ruzhiner Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, the Hasid would enter the Rebbe's room, place his kvitel on the Rebbe's desk, and then secretly toss his pidyon into the handkerchief of the Rebbe's gabbai as though he were ashamed to give it. The Rebbe himself took no interest in whether or not the Hasid gave a pidyon.
The giving of the first kvitel cements the status of a newly-appointed Hasidic Rebbe. In Belz tradition, the first kvitel to a new Rebbe is proffered by a descendant of the Ropshitzer Hasidic dynasty. Thus, when Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach assumed the mantle of leadership after the death of his father, Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach, he was given his first kvitel by Rabbi Yissachar Dov of Bisk, a Ropshitzer Hasid. Thirty-three years later, following the funeral of Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, his son and successor, Rabbi Aharon Rokeach, received his first kvitlach from Rabbi Yissachar Dov of Bisk and two other Ropshitzer Hasidim.
The Gerrer Hasidim have in their possession the Kotzer Kvitel, a long note written by an elderly Hasid who had attended the courts of the Sefas Emes, Rabbi Chanoch Henoch of Alexander, the Chiddushei Harim and the Kotzker Rebbe. This Hasid presented the kvitel, containing his memories of the previous Gerrer Rebbes, to the Imrei Emes upon the latter's ascension to the leadership of Ger.
Reading the kvitel
If the kvitel is delivered by mail or messenger, the Rebbe's assistant reads them to the Rebbe. If the Hasid is present, the Rebbe reads the kvitel during their audience. Afterwards, the Rebbe blesses the petitioner.
Hasidic rebbes traditionally devote their utmost attention to reading kvitlach. It was said of the Bohusher Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Friedman, that when he read a kvitel, he put his whole being into the piece of paper before bestowing his blessing. The Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, was known to scrutinize each kvitel and point out errors in the writing of names of people he had never met.
Stories are told about Rebbes who were able to read into a kvitel the situations of those who were named in it. Once a bride-to-be and her mother visited the Bohusher Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Friedman, for a blessing. The gabbai wrote the kvitel hastily, noting next to the mother's name that she was about to marry. The Rebbe glanced at the kvitel and said, "She is already married."
When the Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Aharon Rokeach, was hiding from the Nazis in the Kraków Ghetto in 1942, he accepted a kvitel from one of the men who was assigned to protect him. As the names of the man's children were read aloud, the Rebbe continually stopped the reader when he reached a certain child's name and asked him to begin reading the kvitel again. This happened several times. Later the man learned that this son had died suddenly during the war, but the rest of his family survived.
At a grave
It is a common practice for Hasidim to bring a kvitel to the gravesite of a Rebbe or tzadik so that the latter will pray for him in the upper worlds. The visitor usually sits beside the grave to write his kvitel and meditate on his request, and then tears the kvitel and throws it on top of the grave. Many graves of tzadikim are constructed with special apertures for the insertion of kvitlach.
At the Western Wall
The kvitlach placed in the Western Wall differ from the kvitlach given in Hasidic courts. These notes are usually addressed to God rather than to a Rebbe or tzadik. Unlike the formulaic composition of the Hasidic kvitel, a note in the Western Wall can be in any language and any format. One person might write a long request, another a few words; one might write a poem and another quote Torah verses; it all depends on personal preference. There are also no rules on the type of paper or ink that one should use. The kvitlach seen in the cracks of the Western Wall are written on colored paper, notebook paper and even bubblegum wrappers. The kvitel may be inserted by the petitioner himself or by an intermediary.
The practice of placing kvitlach between the stones of the Western Wall began over 300 years ago. The earliest account of this practice is recounted by the Munkatcher Rebbe and is recorded in Sefer Tamei Ha-minhagim U’mekorei Ha-dinim. The story involves Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar, the Ohr Hachaim, in Morocco. A certain man came to him in great distress after he had become so destitute that he couldn’t afford to buy food for his family. The Ohr Hachaim wrote him an amulet in Ashuri script on parchment and instructed the man to place it between the holy stones of the Western Wall. Another story is told involving a student of the Ohr Hachaim who planned to emigrate to Jerusalem from Morocco. The Ohr Hachaim instructed him to place a note in the Wall upon his arrival. The pupil, who later became known famously as the Chida, attributed his personal success to the note, which read, “Dear God, please let my student Azulai become successful in Israel”.
Today, visitors to the Western Wall can see hundreds of thousands of folded notes wedged into the spaces between the stones. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, Rabbi of the Western Wall, also receives hundreds of letters yearly addressed to "God, Jerusalem," which he folds and places in the Wall. Based on the cherem of Rabbeinu Gershom which prohibits reading another person's mail, it is halakhically forbidden for a Jew to read a note that has been inserted in the Western Wall.
The tradition of leaving notes for God in the Western Wall has also been adopted by Christian pilgrims and people of other faiths. Foreign dignitaries who have publicly placed a kvitel in the Western Wall include Pope John Paul II in 2000, Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2005, and U.S. Senator Barack Obama in 2008. After Obama and his entourage departed, his kvitel — written on hotel stationery — was removed from the Wall by a seminary student who sold it to the Maariv newspaper. The newspaper published the kvitel, prompting criticism from other news sources and from the Rabbi of the Western Wall for violating the privacy that is inherent in kvitlach placed in the Wall.
Disposal of kvitlach
Kvitlach may not be thrown away; there is a difference of opinion as to whether they should be burned or buried. According to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, author of Minhagei HaKotel, a book of halakhot about the Western Wall, burning is a "pure" way to deal with the notes, but burying them is more honorable. Twice a year, Rabbi Rabinovitch and his assistants collect hundreds of thousands of kvitlach left in the Wall and bury them in the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.
Kvitlach left at gravesites are traditionally burned. The ohel of the sixth and seventh Lubavitcher Rebbes, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, includes an on-site fax machine which receives over 700 faxes a day, and a computer which receives 400 e-mails daily. These kvitlach are all printed and then taken to the graves, where they are torn into shreds and placed atop the graves. When the pile grows too high, the shredded notes are burned.
In today's electronic age, many online services offer petitioners the chance to send their kvitel to the Western Wall via e-mail, fax, text messaging and Internet; the kvitel is then printed out and inserted in the cracks of the Wall. The "Send a Kvitel Service" of kevarim.com receives kvitlach via internet and then dispatches them to the gravesites of tzadikim in North America with people who travel to these gravesites. The Nikolsburger Rebbe himself accepts kvitlach and pidyonos via internet.
Sending kvitlach to the grave of a tzaddik has also become a fund-raising tool. Mosdos Kever Rachel (Kever Rachel Foundation) encourages donors to send messages and prayers which will be read out at Rachel's Tomb. Similarly, the Breslov Research Institute website offers donors the opportunity to send a "digital kvitel" to be read by the grave of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Ukraine.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 Jacobs, Louis (1972). "Hasidic Prayer". http://books.google.com/books?id=AH09AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA133&lpg=PA133&dq=why+kvittel+at+grave&source=bl&ots=qHOzY9zDKf&sig=2jKiozR-UaiGTdemMp3r-tqdpsw&hl=en&ei=MuhMS9-HFseZjAek1sSyDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CBoQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=why%20kvittel%20at%20grave&f=false. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Katz, Lisa. "What is the origin, process and reason behind placing notes in the Western Wall?". about.com. http://judaism.about.com/od/prayersworshiprituals/f/kotelnotes.htm. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ Tavori, Prof. Yosef (14-21 October 2000). "Hoshana Rabbah as a Day of Judgment". Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center. http://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha/eng/sukot/tab.html. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ Feshbach, Rabbi Michael (27 September 2002). "Jewish Language of Repentance Keeps Vibrant Culture Alive". jweekly.com. http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/18517/jewish-language-of-repentance-keeps-vibrant-culture-alive/. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Wertheim, Aharon (1992). "Law and Custom in Hasidism". Ktav Publishing House. http://books.google.com/books?id=_n-Hb634XUIC&pg=PA247&lpg=PA247&dq=kvitlach+at+grave&source=bl&ots=q_mub3D776&sig=FvWME2w0_jf_LVIHFJPjpCAtAhA&hl=en&ei=1Zk6S8SaIN22jAetgbGmDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CAsQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=&f=false. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ Numbers 1:45.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 Unger, Menashe (Vol. V, Issue 24, March 2001). "The Kvittel (Part VI)". Wings of Morning: A Torah Review. http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/review/archives/tezave61.htm. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ Taamei Haminhagim III, 45, quoting Lev Same'ach.
- ↑ Welhelm, Zushe. "Mentioning the Patient’s Name, and That of His Mother, When Praying For a Sick Person". chabad.org. http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/273310/jewish/29-Mentioning-the-Name-and-Mothers-When-Praying-For-the-Sick.htm. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ "A Practical Guide to Rosh Hashanah". Tzaddik Magazine. September 1999. http://www.nachalnovea.com/LiveTransmission/tzaddikarchive/roshhashanah5760/rhpracticalguide.pdf. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ Taamei Haminhagim II, 90.
- ↑ Ibid. Sand was commonly used as a drying agent for ink on paper.
- ↑ Avir Haro'im (1935), 60.
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 Unger, Menashe (Vol. V, Issue 22, February 2001). "The Kvittel (Part V)". Wings of Morning: A Torah Review. http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/review/archives/mishpatim61.htm. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ Israel, Yosef (2005). "Rescuing the Rebbe of Belz". Mesorah Publications, Ltd.. http://books.google.com/books?id=BSrcTG_xMxIC&pg=PA57&lpg=PA57&dq=rebbe+reads+kvittel&source=bl&ots=ojJJEHVXHy&sig=1-tt_CGKw-Kb7pmU7xkTdH7FXzU&hl=en&ei=1SgxS7brH9OJ4QbH96CqCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CBkQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=kvittel&f=false. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ "A Man of Truth Becomes a Rebbe". 11 January 2008. http://heichalhanegina.blogspot.com/2008/01/man-of-truth-becomes-rebbe.html. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ Wolpin, Nissan (2009-08-16). "The Last Lion: The Satmar Rov, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, zt"l, On His 30th Yahrtzeit". matzav.com. http://matzav.com/the-last-lion-the-satmar-rov-rav-yoel-teitelbaum-ztl-on-his-30th-yahrtzeit. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ Friedman, Yisroel (1997). The Golden Dynasty. Kest-Lebovits Jewish Heritage and Roots Library. p. 265.
- ↑ Israel, Yosef (2005). "Rescuing the Rebbe of Belz". Mesorah Publications, Ltd.. http://books.google.com/books?id=BSrcTG_xMxIC&pg=PA221&lpg=PA221&dq=rebbe+reads+kvittel&source=bl&ots=ojJJEHVXHy&sig=1-tt_CGKw-Kb7pmU7xkTdH7FXzU&hl=en&ei=1SgxS7brH9OJ4QbH96CqCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CBkQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=kvittel&f=false. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ Sperling, Avraham Yitzchak (1999). Sefer Tamei Ha-minhagim U’mekorei Ha-dinim; Inyanei Hilula D’Rashbi, p. 270. Jerusalem: Shai Le-morah Publishing.
- ↑ 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 "Where do all the prayer notes go?". ABC-Australia news report. 5 September 2007. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/09/05/2024359.htm. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ Shevet HaKehusi 1:315:1, quoted in Lebovits, Rabbi Moishe Dovid, "Reading Another Person's Mail", Hamodia Features, 6 January 2010, p. C3.
- ↑ "Letter Placed by Pope John Paul II at the Western Wall". Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 26 March 2000. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2000/3/Letter%20Placed%20by%20Pope%20John%20Paul%20II%20at%20the%20Western. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ "Pontiff visits Judaism's holiest site, the Western Wall". necn.com. 12 May 2009. http://www.necn.com/Boston/World/2009/05/12/Pontiff-visits-Judaisms/1242122092.html. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ "Hillary Clinton visits Jerusalem's Western Wall, attends Rabin memorial service". Israel Insider. 15 November 2005. http://web.israelinsider.com/Articles/Diplomacy/7032.htm. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ 26.0 26.1 "Rabbi condemns release of purported Obama prayer note". cnn.com. 27 July 2008. http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/07/27/obama.prayer/. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ Olidort, B. (18 June 2007). "At the Ohel". lubavitch.com. http://lubavitch.com/news/article/2018794/At-the-Ohel.html. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ "Not in Yerushalayim? Send a Kvittel to the Kosel via Twitter". matzav.com. 22 July 2009. http://matzav.com/not-in-yerushalayim-send-a-kvittel-to-the-kosel-via-twitter. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ "Send a Kvitel Service". kevarim.com. http://kevarim.com/contact/kvitel/. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ "Send a Request/Kvitel to the Rebbe". nikolsburg.org. https://www.nikolsburg.org/Kvitel.aspx. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ "Send a Prayer". Mosdos Kever Rachel. https://www.keverrachel.com/kvittel.asp?lang=en&pageid=5. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
- ↑ "Digital Kvittel". http://www.breslov.org/Uman/. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
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