Counting Jews Part 2:
As explained in Part 1, it is forbidden to count Jews even for the sake of a Mitzvah, even if it is not for a census taking purpose. The following will now discuss ways of circumventing this prohibition:
How to count in a permitted way:
[The above prohibition is only against counting people directly, however, one may count an external item, such as body parts or items that each person has. Thus, for example, if one wants to make a raffle] he may ask them to stick out their fingers and then count the fingers. [Likewise, to count for a Minyan one may count the number of shirts/hats in the room, and the like. However, some Poskim rule the allowance to count fingers, or any other item on the person, only applies for the sake of a Mitzvah. Practically, the custom of Jewry is to count Jews for a Minyan by reciting the verse of “Hoshia Es Amecha” as it contains exactly ten words. Alternatively, one can say the verse of “Ani Berov Chasdecha” to count for a Minyan, as this verse also contains ten words and is Segula against Ayin Hara. Alternatively, one can say the verse “Veani Sefilasi.” Alternatively, one can say the verse “Veshinantam Livanecha.” Counting through a Pasuk is also symbolic in giving the count a connection to the Torah and Moshe Rabbeinu, who was appointed as the first census taker of the Jewish people.]
It is forbidden to count Jews even for the sake of a Mitzvah, even if it is not for a census taking purpose. It is permitted to count an external item held by each person, such as a finger or shirt, and thus know the number of people in the group. Nonetheless, this form of counting should only be reserved for the sake of a Mitzvah. It is permitted to count for all purposes without using numerical values, as explained in the Q&A below. Practically, the custom is to count using a Pasuk in the Torah, customarily using the verse of Hoshia Es Amecha.
May one count Jews that are not in one’s presence?
Q&A on non-verbal forms of counting
May one count Jews in writing?
It is forbidden to count Jews even in writing.
May one count Jews in one’s thought?
Q&A on counting in an irregular fashion and without numerical values
What forms of counting are prohibited?
It is only forbidden to count in the regular form of numerical values, such as saying 1,2,3. However, if one avoids using the normal form of numerical values, then even though he ends up knowing the total number of people through the method he decided to count with, it is permitted to be done. The following as some examples of this:
May one count Jews by saying “not 1, not 2 etc?”
Yes. This is a valid alternative to counting the men for a Minyan, instead of saying the Pasuk, [as it is not the normal way of counting].
May one count downwards by saying 10, 9, 8, 7?
Seemingly it is permitted to do so as it is not the normal way of counting.
May one count 2, 4, 6, 8?
One may not do so if he is including an equal number of people in that count. However, if he counts each person as 2, and hence says for five people he counts 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and divides it by 2 to know the correct number, then seemingly it is permitted to do so.
May one count Jews in letters, such as Alef, Beis?
One may not count Jews using the Hebrew Alef Beis, as it is considered a synonym for a number and contains a numerical value. [However, seemingly one may count using the English ABC’S as they are not considered a number at all.]
 Admur 156:15; M”A 156:2; Peri Chadash 55:1; Rambam Temidin 4:4; Rebbe Yitzchak in Yuma 22b “It is forbidden to count the Jewish people even for a Mitzvah” based on Mishneh in Yuma 2:2 that the Kohanim would stick out their fingers for the raffle; Brachos 62b that even children know of this prohibition; Pesachim 54b; Sefer Haitim in name of Rav Haiy Gaon; Sefer Pardes of Rashi 99; Sefer Haorah of Rashi 1:56; Rashi Shmuel 1:15-1; Chesed Lealafim 55:10; Kaf Hachaim 55:11; Tzitz Eliezer 7:3 in length; Toras Menachem 5743 2:1138 [printed in Shulchan Menachem 1:203]; Piskeiy Teshuvos 156:24
 Admur ibid; M”A ibid; Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi on Rashi Ki Sisa; omitted in Kitzur SHU”A 15:3; See Pesachim 54b that the Kohen Gadol told Agripas the king to count the amount of Jewish people bringing the Karban through counting one kidney per animal.
For census taking: Some Poskim rule that when counting for purposes of census taking, one may not count fingers, or external items, even for the sake of a Mitzvah, and the only valid method is to use the Half Shekel as prescribed in the Torah. The allowance to count fingers is only for an external purpose, such as for a raffle and the like. [Likkutei Teshuvos Chasam Sofer 7] We do not rule like this opinion. [See Tzitz Eliezer ibid]
 Tosafus Rid Yuma ibid; Radak Shmuel 2:24; Daas Torah 156; Tzitz Eliezer ibid in length in name of many sources, including Ramban Al Hatorah; Shevet Halevi 6:20; 9:35; Piskeiy Teshuvos 156:24
 Tehillim 28 in end
 Kitzur SHU”A 15:3; Padah Es Avraham [Falgi] Mareches Mem 19; Rebbe in Toras Menachem ibid
The reason: The reason this verse became customary to be said despite the fact that the sources [in next footnote] bring a different more appropriate verse, is because this verse contains a request for the redemption, and hence now in the end of exile whenever ten Jews gather together and summon the Shechina with their presence we immediately beseech G-0d “Hoshia Es Amecha.” [Rebbe in Toras Menachem ibid]
 Tehillim 5:8
 Sefer Haitim in name of Rav Haiy Gaon; Sefer Pardes of Rashi 99; Sefer Haorah of Rashi 1:56; Rebbe in Toras Menachem ibid
The reason: This verse contains an advantage over the verse of Hoshia Es Amecha, being that it mentions the words “Avo Beisecha” which refers to a Shul
 Tehillim 69:14
 Pirush Kadmon brought in Otzer Hageonim Yuma p. 86
 Padah Es Avraham [Falgi] Mareches Mem 19
 Rebbe in Toras Menachem ibid
 See Tzitz Eliezer ibid Anaf 8
 Peas Hashulchan in his letter to the Chasam Sofer, printed in content in Tzitz Eliezer ibid
 Chasam Sofer in his response to the Peas Hashulchan, printed in content in Tzitz Eliezer ibid
 Kesav Sofer Y.D. 106 in name of his father; Shevet Halevi 6:20
 Eitz Yosef in Iyun Yaakov Yuma ibid
 Chesed Lealafim 55:10; Pela Yoeitz 2 Mem; Kaf Hachaim Falagi 13:14; Yifei Laleiv 55:3; Kaf Hachaim 55:11; Tzitz Eliezer ibid
 So is understood from the fact the Poskim all allow counting using a Pasuk, that if one does not use the regular numerical values it is not considered counting at all. Even when using numbers, when counting in an irregular way it is also permitted to be done, as evident from the Rebbe’s talk, brought in the next footnote.
 Rebbe in Toras Menachem ibid
 A similar precedent can be brought from the laws of Sefiras Hamoer, in which certainly if one said on the 5th day that “Today is not the 5th day of the Omer” he does not fulfill his obligation, being that the words verbalized do not express a count.
 Chesed Lealafim 55:10; Pela Yoeitz 2 Mem; Kaf Hachaim Falagi 13:14; Yifei Laleiv 55:3; Padah Es Avraham [Falgi] Mareches Mem 19; Kaf Hachaim 55:11; See Admur 489:7 regaridng if counting in letters is considered counting vis a vis Sefiras Haomer