Minyan Matters

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Megillah 4:4) cites a Biblical allusion regarding the requirements for a minyan, based on the ten sons of Yaakov who traveled to Mitzrayim together.

Question #1: Ten for Haftarah?

“I know that a child may recite the haftarah. Does this require a minyan?”

Question #2: Ten for Kaddish

“We had a minyan when we began saying Aleinu, but when we finished, we were short. Can I still say kaddish?”

Question #3: Lost our Minyan

“In the middle of the sheva brachos, we lost our minyan. What can we do?”


The Mishnah teaches that communal davening (tefillah betzibur), duchening, sheva brachos, reading of the Torah and the haftarah, and various other practices all require ten adult male Jews (Megillah 23b).

A different passage of Gemara explains that, at times, the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem also requires a minyan (Sanhedrin 74b). The situation is when an evil person coerces a Jew to violate the Torah only because he wants the Jew to violate the Torah, but not because he has any personal benefit from the prohibited activity. If this is done in public, the Jew is required to give up his life, rather than violate the Torah. This commitment to observing the Torah fulfills the mitzvah of sanctifying Hashem’s Name in public, kiddush Hashem (see Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 5:2). However, this halacha is true only if ten Jews are present. To quote this passage: Rabbi Yaakov quoted Rabbi Yochanan, “‘In public’ means that there are at least ten people.”

The Gemara continues: “It goes without saying that these ten people must be Jews, since the Torah states, ‘and I shall be sanctified among the Jewish people.’ Rav Yirmiyah inquired: ‘What is the law if there are nine Jews and one non-Jew?’” The Gemara concludes that the mitzvos of kiddush Hashem in public, and its opposite, chillul Hashem, should the Jew not be willing to give up his life, apply only when there are at least ten Jews present (Sanhedrin 74b). Based on evidence within the Gemara, the consensus of halachic opinion is that the mitzvos of kiddush Hashem and chillul Hashem in public apply when there are ten Jews aware of the situation, even if they are not present at the time of the coercion (Shach, Yoreh Deah 157:4; Darchei Teshuvah 157:23; cf. Or Ne’elam, cited in Darchei Teshuvah). (There are other situations in which the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem and chillul Hashem apply, which we will leave for a different article.)

The prayers of a minyan

Similarly, we are aware that prayers recited together with a minyan accomplish more than when one prays by himself. To quote the Rambam: “The prayer of the community is always heard. Even when there are sinners among them, the Holy One, Blessed is He, does not despise the prayer of a group of people. Therefore, everyone is required to make himself part of the tzibur. One should not pray in private any time that one is able to pray with a community” (Hilchos Tefillah 8:1).

Number of minyan

How do we know that a minyan consists of ten people? Although the definition of a minyan as ten adult men is part of the oral Torah that Moshe received on Har Sinai, there are several Biblical and hermeneutic sources, in addition to the source from this week’s parsha that I cited above. For example, prior to Boaz arranging his betrothal of Rus, he gathered ten men (Rus 4:2). According to the Gemara (Kesubos 7a), this is the source that sheva brachos require a minyan.

Other Biblical sources for a minyan include the ten spies that the Torah refers to as an eidah,a community, which the Gemara (Megillah 21a) uses as a source for a minyan to be required for a davar she’bikedusha, such as for reciting kaddish or kedusha, repeating the shemoneh esrei (chazaras hashatz) and similar such communal prayer requirements.

Davar she’bikedusha

The Mishnah mentioned above requires a minyan for repeating shemoneh esrei. However, this presents a question. Since many halachic authorities rule that the requirement to pray daily is only rabbinic in origin, how can the laws of davar she’bikedusha, which are an aspect of this mitzvah, require a minyan min haTorah? This question is asked by the Ran, who explains that the requirement for davar she’bikedusha is certainly only rabbinic, and that each of the Biblical sources is only an allusion, what is called asmachta in halachic literature.


At this point, let us address our opening question: “I know that a child may recite the haftarah. Does this require a minyan?”

It is true that the haftarah may be read by a boy who is not yet bar mitzvah (Mishnah Megillah 24a), a topic beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, the Mishnah (Megillah 23b) requires a minyan of adult men for the haftarah to be read.

Disappearing minyan

What is the halacha if you begin your davar she’bikedusha with a proper minyan, but someone leaves, and you now have less than a minyan? For example, in the middle of the repetition of the shemoneh esrei, some men left, which they are not permitted to do, but, as a result, you no longer have ten men in attendance. Must you stop the communal prayers in mid-brocha?

This question is raised by the Talmud Yerushalmi, which answers that one may complete the section of prayer that was begun. The poskim conclude that this is true, provided one still has at least six adult men, which comprise the majority of a minyan (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 55:2).

Five and someone new

What is the halacha if you started chazaras hashatz with ten people, then five left, and subsequently one of the original ten who had left now returned, so that you have a majority of the original minyan, but, at one point, the minyan had been interrupted. Did the minyan effectively end when its number dwindled to only five, the return of an individual being unable to resuscitate it, or not?

In his notes on the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Akiva Eiger discusses this exact question, suggesting that once the minyan’s number had dwindled to five or less, the original minyan is considered to have dissipated, and adding people does not reconstitute it, unless one reestablishes a full minyan of ten. In conclusion, Rabbi Akiva Eiger leaves this matter as an unresolved halachic inquiry.

May not leave

Returning to our earlier question, notwithstanding that, if individuals leave so that the minyan has less than ten, one may complete the section at hand, the Yerushalmi states in no uncertain terms that these people may not leave, even for an extenuating reason. The Yerushalmi explains that the posuk in Yeshayahu (1:28), “Those who forsake Hashem will be consumed,” refers to those who walk out in the middle of the services, leaving less than a minyan behind.

This curse applies only if someone left them without a minyan. However, someone with an extenuating reason to leave shul will not receive this curse if there is a minyan without him (Rema, Orach Chayim 55:2). The Mishnah Berurah notes that, even under these circumstances, he is permitted to leave only if he has already heard kedusha and kaddish.

Already shorthanded

The Biur Halacha asks the following question: What is the law if one of the ten already left, and the minyan is proceeding shorthanded, as mentioned above, with only nine people, and one of the remaining people has an extenuating reason to leave? May he do so, notwithstanding the words of Yeshayahu, since they already are short of a full, proper minyan? The Biur Halacha leaves this question unresolved.

New section

The rishonim note that, although the Yerushalmi rules that one may continue the davening, even though the minyan is no longer intact, one may complete only the section of prayer that one has started, but one may not begin a new section of the davening. Of course, this ruling spawns a whole literature of halachic discussion: What is considered a different section?

The Terumas Hadeshen (#15) rules that if a minyan was assembled at the time that the chazzan recited borchu, they may complete through the birchos kerias shma, but may not proceed with anything requiring a minyan past that point. This means that should this happen at maariv, one is permitted to recite the half-kaddish that the chazzan says immediately prior to the shemoneh esrei, which is considered part of the birchos kerias shma section. However, one is not permitted to recite the full kaddish (kaddish tiskabeil) or any of the mourner’s kaddeishim at the end of davening.

If this should happen during shacharis, meaning that the minyan dissipates sometime between borchu and the beginning of the repetition of the shemoneh esrei, the chazzan cannot begin the chazaras hashatz, since that comprises a new section for which there is no requisite minyan. Since birchos kerias shma (between borchu and ga’alYisrael) and tefillah are two different mitzvos, they are treated as distinct prayer sections.

A new “section” has another halachic ramification. The Mishnah Berurah (55:12) explains that, if there are nine people, and a tenth person, who has davened already, joins them, so that they now have a minyan, he is required to stay until they complete the section, but he is not obligated to stay for a new section. Thus, should nine people be saying pesukei dezimra together and a tenth person joins them for kaddish and borchu, he is not required to remain with them once they said borchu, since chazaras hashatz is a different mitzvah. However, should he join them for chazaras hashatz, he may be required to remain with them until they complete the full kaddish at the end of davening.

By the way, pesukei dezimra is considered a section of its own and, therefore, if you had a minyan for part of pesukei dezimra that then dissipated, one may recite the kaddish before borchu, which is considered part of pesukei dezimra, but not borchu, which is part of a new section, that of the birchos kerias shma (see Aruch Hashulchan 55:7).

Started chazaras hashatz

What is the law should your minyan dissipate after the chazzan began the repetition of the shemoneh esrei?

The halacha is that one may complete the repetition of shemoneh esrei, recite the half kaddish said after tachanun (Levush, Orach Chayim 55:2) and also recite the full kaddish at the end of davening (Terumas Hadeshen #15; Levush, Orach Chayim 55:2). This is because the prayer beginning with the words tiskabeil tzelose’hon, accept our prayers, which is recited only as part of the full kaddish, refers back to the shemoneh esrei.

However, this shorthanded group may not take out a sefer Torah to read, which is a new mitzvah section, even though it is recited in the davening before the kaddish tiskabeil. The Terumas Hadeshen demonstrates that the full kaddish is part of the shemoneh esrei section, since, on Rosh Chodesh and Chol Hamo’ed, we recite full kaddish immediately after shacharis, rather than at the end of davening as we usually do. This is because on  Rosh Chodesh and Chol Hamo’ed there will yet be a musaf tefillah for which there is its own full kaddish.

Kerias haTorah

The Terumas Hadeshen explains that kerias haTorah is its own, independent section. Therefore, if the minyan dissipated during kerias haTorah, one can complete the required reading and recite the half kaddish that follows. If one was reading the Torah at mincha on Shabbos or a fast day and the minyan dissipated, he may complete the reading of the Torah and then recite the half-kaddish that precedes the quiet shemoneh esrei, but one may not continue with the chazaras hashatz. On a fast day, one would not be permitted to recite the haftarah (Aruch Hashulchan 55:8), since this is considered a separate section.

The Magen Avraham explains that, if the minyan dissipates during Shabbos morning davening, one should call up only seven people for their proper aliyos, but not add any extra aliyos, nor call up maftir.

One might ask: When you have less than ten people still attending your Shabbosminyan,” virtually everyone is getting an aliyah. Why would you want to add aliyos?

Here is a situation where you might want to. A family of kohanim or levi’im is celebrating a bar mitzvah and making their own minyan. The father of the bar mitzvah received the Kohen or Levi aliyah. The plan is for zeide to receive the acharon aliyah immediately before maftir, and the bar mitzvah bochur to receive maftir. In the middle of kerias haTorah, some people leave and they no longer have a minyan. What are they allowed to do?

The halacha is that they can complete the kerias haTorah and recite the half kaddish after the reading of the Torah, but they can call up only seven aliyos, excluding maftir. (What to do about the haftarah will be discussed in the next paragraph.) This would certainly mess up the family’s plans, since both the grandfather and the bar mitzvah bochur would be left without aliyos! Moral of the story: If you are invited to a bar mitzvah, don’t leave earlier than you should!

Torah and haftarah

Is reading the Torah and reading the haftarah considered the same section? The difference in halacha is in the following situation: Some time during the reading of the Torah, the minyan dissipates. As we have learned, one can complete the Torah reading and even recite the kaddish afterwards. The question is whether one may read the haftarah. The Magen Avraham (143:1) rules that one may complete the entire reading of the Torah, and implies that the seventh person (if it is Shabbos) should read the haftarah. The Elyah Rabbah disagrees, explaining that reading the Torah and reading the haftarah are two different mitzvos, created at different times for different reasons. The Mishnah Berurah and the Aruch Hashulchan both conclude like the Elyah Rabbah; the Mishnah Berurah does not even mention the opinion of the Magen Avraham, which is very unusual for him.

Ten for kaddish

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: “We had a minyan when we began saying, but when we finished, we had less. Can I still say kaddish?”

This actual question is addressed by an early halachic authority, Rav Mordechai Yaffe, author of the multi-volume work called Levush Malchus. He rules that, even if they started Aleinu with a minyan and the minyan disappeared while they were reciting Aleinu, they may not recite kaddish (Levush, Orach Chayim 55:3). The beginning of this section is the actual reciting of kaddish. Thus, if they began kaddish with a minyan, and then the minyan disappeared, they may complete the kaddish (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 55:2).

Lost our minyan

At this point, we can discuss the last of our opening questions: “In the middle of the sheva brachos, we lost our minyan. What can we do?”

We first need to understand what is meant by, “in the middle of the sheva brachos?” The answer is that once someone recites the words, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu…, of the first of the sheva brachos (shehakol bara lich’vodo), it is considered that the section called sheva brachos has begun, and all the sheva brachos, including borei pri hagafen, may be completed, even though the minyan has dissipated (Sova Semachos 4:36, quoted by Hanisuin Kehilchasam pg. 272, footnote 121, based on Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 62:13 and Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 62:14). However, if the minyan dissipated prior to the actual reciting of this brocha, they will be unable to recite the sheva brachos, even if they have already begun reciting birkas hamazon and said Dvei haseir and baruch Elokeinu at the beginning of bensching. In other words, birkas hamazon and sheva brachos are two different sections.


Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three very high points — the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers.