Where Should I Pray

Certainly, both Bilaam’s desire to destroy the shullen of the Jews, and Pinchas’s praying that the plague end (see Tehillim 106:30), makes this a befitting week to discuss:

Where Should I Pray

Question #1: My Shul or my Minyan?

“Is it more important to daven with a minyan or to daven in shul?”

Question #2: Minyan-less

“I work nights, and by the time I am finished in the morning, there is no minyan with which I can daven. There is a shul near my workplace, but no minyan that accommodates my schedule. Should I go there to daven bi’yechidus?”

Question #3: The Shul I Don’t Attend

“From a halachic perspective, does it make any difference in which shul I daven?”

Question #4: Davening Privately

Davening with a minyan disturbs my learning schedule. May I therefore daven bi’yechidus?”

Introduction

As we will soon see, there are many halachos that determine the preferred location for prayer. Among other issues, I will be discussing the following questions:

What constitutes davening with a minyan?

Should one pray in a shul even when there is no minyan?

Is there a preference as to which shul one should attend?

With a minyan

The Gemara and authorities laud the advantages of praying with a minyan:

“The Holy One, blessed is He, said: ‘Whoever is involved in Torah and chesed and prays with the tzibur, I treat him as if he redeemed Me and My children from the nations of the earth’” (Brachos 8a).

“The prayers of the community are always listened to. Even when there are sinners among them, the prayers of the community are never viewed by Hashem with disfavor. Therefore, a person should always join with the community, and he should not pray by himself any time that he can pray with the tzibur. A person should always wake up early and go to shul, and should always attend shul in the evening, because prayer is not heard at all times, except when recited in a shul. One who has a shul in his city but does not daven there is called a bad neighbor” (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 8:1).

Segulah for longevity

In the merit of praying daily with a minyan, there is a segulah for living a long productive life, as we see from the following passage of Gemara:

They told Rabbi Yochanan: “There are old men in Bavel.” He responded with astonishment, noting that the Torah promises longevity only for those who keep the Torah carefully while living in Eretz Yisroel, but not for those who live in chutz la’aretz, including Bavel. When they told Rabbi Yochanan that these older people were wont to come to shul early and to stay late, he understood that they lived long in the merit of this mitzvah (Brachos 8a).

What constitutes tefillah betzibur?

Davening with a minyan means that one begins the shemoneh esrei at the same time that the tzibur does (Mishnah Berurah 90:28). One who arrives in shul late and therefore begins shemoneh esrei later than the minyan does, fulfills the mitzvah of davening in shul, but does not fulfill the mitzvah of davening with a minyan. If possible, he should attend a later minyan, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of davening with a minyan and in order to make sure that his prayers are heard.

Conflicts with my learning

Someone whose learning will be disturbed by his attending regular minyanim is still required to daven with a minyan (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:27; cf., however, Eimek Brocha, page 7). In the above responsum, Rav Moshe Feinstein does recognize one exception to this rule: Someone who learns in a place where there is no minyan davening is not required to interrupt his learning in order to daven at the same time as a minyan. This ruling will be explained shortly.

How far?

How far is someone required to travel in order to be able to daven with a minyan? This depends on whether he is at home or on the road. If he is at home, he is required to travel at least up to 18-24 minutes in order to be able to daven with a minyan (see Pri Chodosh, Orach Chayim 163:28 and Biur Halachah ad locum s.v. berichuk; however, cf. Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 112:6, quoting Shu”t Beis Yaakov #35, who rules more leniently.) In his above-referenced responsum, Rav Moshe suggests that one might be required to travel even more than this to join a minyan.

I wrote 18-24 minutes because of a dispute among early halachic authorities. This dispute is dependent on how one understands a passage of Gemara (Pesachim 95), and discussing these details is beyond the scope of our current article.

On the road

If someone is on the road and there is a minyan that is not in the direction that he is going, he is required to travel up to 18-24 minutes out of his way in order to daven with a minyan (see Pesachim 46a, as explained by Rashi and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 90:16). On the other hand, if he is traveling and knows that there is a minyan ahead of him, such that traveling to attend the minyan does not take him out of his way, then the halachah is more stringent. He is required to travel up to 72-96 minutes in order to participate in a minyan.

Davening at the time of the tzibur

If someone cannot daven together with a minyan, there is a halachic preference to daven at the same time that the tzibur davens, even though the individual is not davening in the same place where the tzibur is located. In other words, although his prayer will not qualify as tefillah betzibur, the fact that the tzibur is davening at the same time as this individual assists the acceptance of his tefillah. When someone davens with the tzibur, his prayer is always heard, even when his kavanah is subpar. (Of course, the better his kavanah, the more the tefillah is heard and responded to.) Davening at the same time as the tzibur, but in a different place, is considered to be on a somewhat lower level (Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 4b s.v. keivan; see also Machatzis Hashekel 90:17, quoting Shelah Hakodesh).

Rabbi Yitzchak and Rav Nachman

In this context, we are going to eavesdrop on a conversation that transpired between two great gedolim of the time of the Gemara, the great amora’im, Rabbi Yitzchak and Rav Nachman. (Both of these scholars were so well-known that they are usually referred to by their first names. Rav Nachman’s full name was actually Rav Nachman bar Yaakov [Tosafos, Bava Basra 46b s.v. Shalach], and the Rabbi Yitzchak referred to was probably Rabbi Yitzchak bar Pinchas [see Taanis 5a], but it might have been Rabbi Yitzchak bar Acha [see Brachos 27a and Rashi, Pesachim 114a].)

The conversation

Rabbi Yitzchak said to Rav Nachman: “Why did the master not come to shul to pray?” Rav Nachman replied, “I was unable.” Rabbi Yitzchak said to him: “Then you should have gathered ten people with whom to daven.” Rav Nachman responded that he found this difficult to arrange (tericha li milsa). Rabbi Yitzchak then advised, “The master should have instructed the sheliach tzibur to inform him when the tzibur is davening.” To this, Rav Nachman replied, “Is this so important?” Rabbi Yitzchak then quoted Rabbi Yochanan who, in turn, had cited Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai about the importance of davening at the time when the tzibur davens (Brachos 7b-8a).

This passage of Gemara teaches that the highest priority is to daven with a minyan in shul. The second choice, when one cannot daven with a minyan in shul, is to daven with a minyan that is not meeting in shul. Although there are advantages to the minyan in shul (see Mirkeves Hamishneh, Hilchos Tefillah, Chapter 8), davening with a minyan outside of shul is far preferred to davening without a minyan.

The third choice, when one cannot daven with a minyan at all, is to daven at the time that the minyan is davening in shul. The Rema (Orach Chayim 90:9) mentions that those who live in a place where there is no daily minyan should daven at the time that the tzibur davens. This demonstrates that the advantage of davening at the time that the tzibur davens is not limited to a tzibur that is within walking distance. The same rule is true for someone who is traveling – he should try to daven at the time that the tzibur is davening (Magen Avraham ad locum).

Exceptions

The Shelah Hakodesh mentions that there is an exception to this rule, meaning that there is a situation where one must daven bi’yechidus, and he should not daven at the time that the minyan is davening. If the minyan is davening maariv before it is fully dark, he should not daven at the same time that they are, since they have a heter to daven before it gets dark, but he does not. In this instance, he should wait until tzeis hakochavim, definite nightfall, before he davens (quoted by Magen Avraham).

Other poskim mention another instance in which one is not required to daven at the same time that the tzibur does, but can daven when it is convenient for him. If the tzibur davens shacharis later than he would like to, and he wants to be able to begin learning, he may daven before they do, in order to be able to begin his uninterrupted learning afterwards (Be’er Heiteiv). This ruling teaches that there is a difference between davening with a minyan and davening at the time that the minyan davens. As we mentioned before, the requirement to daven with a minyan supersedes his own desire to daven at a time that accommodates his own learning schedule. However, assuming that one cannot daven with the minyan anyway, but could, in theory, daven at the time that the minyan davens, he is not required to daven at their time, when his learning schedule is better accommodated in a different way.

Arranging a minyan

The Gemara mentioned that Rav Nachman did not arrange his own minyan because tericha milsa, it was difficult to arrange. Had it not been difficult to arrange, he certainly would have arranged a minyan. Thus, the halachah is that if someone cannot make it to the shul’s minyan, he is required to arrange his own minyan, unless it is a tircha to do so.

Tircha for whom?

What does it mean that it is a tircha to arrange the minyan? The Machatzis Hashekel cites a dispute among the rishonim whether this means that it is a tircha for the individual who cannot come to shul to make the arrangements that he have a minyan, or that the concern is that it is a tircha for the people to assemble especially for him (Semag). There would be an interesting difference in practical halachah that results from this dispute. According to the first opinion, in the days of Rav Nachman this would have required someone to go door to door or to look in the street for people to form a minyan for him. Today, when one could let one’s fingers do the walking, it would presumably not be considered a tircha to arrange a minyan. On the other hand, according to the second opinion, asking people to come especially to your house to form a minyan certainly involves a tircha for them. By the way, the words of our text of the Gemara, tericha li milsa, imply the first way of understanding the topic. Either way, someone who has this question should refer it to his rav or posek.

In shul

Until now, we have discussed davening either with a minyan or at the same time as a minyan davens. Aside from the importance of tefillah betzibur, it is also important to daven in shul, even when there is no minyan there. The Gemara (Brachos 6a) teaches: “Abba Binyamin says ‘a person’s prayers are answered only in shul, as the verse states, lishmo’a el harinah ve’el hatefillah,to hear the song and the prayer” (Melachim I 8:28). As Rashi explains, rinah means prayers in shul where the community as a whole recites praises of Hashem with beautiful song.

This statement of the Gemara surfaces another time in mesechta Brachos (8a), in this occasion in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, and it is quoted in the halachic works of the three major early halachic authorities, the Rif, the Rambam and the Rosh and by all later poskim. When the Tur (Orach Chayim 90) quotes this halachah, he states that a person should always daven in a shul with a minyan. However, Rabbeinu Yonah cites, in the name of the Geonim, that even if he needs to daven at a time when there is no minyan, he should still daven in a shul, since it is a place designated for the public to daven (Beis Yosef).

The Shulchan Aruch combines the conclusions of the last two discussions as follows: “A person should always try to daven in shul with a minyan. If an extenuating circumstance prevents his attending shul, then he should daven at the time that the tzibur does. And if this is also not possible and he must daven by himself, he should still daven in a shul.” (Orach Chayim 90:9). The Magen Avraham cites illness or weakness as reasons why someone missed the minyan in shul. He also notes that it is preferable to daven with a minyan at home, rather than daven at the time the tzibur is davening, but without a minyan. Again, this is based on the Gemara that we saw above.

Beis midrash versus shul

The Gemara teaches that the great scholars, Rav Ami and Rav Asi, davened in the place where they studied Torah, notwithstanding the fact that there were thirty shullen in their city (Brachos 8a, 30b). Thus, we see that davening in the beis midrash where one usually learns is more valuable than davening in shul. Among the early halachic authorities, we find two interpretations of this practice.

  • Rabbeinu Yonah explains that someone whose full time occupation is studying Torah (toraso umnaso) should daven in a beis midrash rather than in a shul, even at the expense of not being able to daven with a minyan. Alternatively, since he spends his entire day learning in one place without interruption, he should not waste potential learning time by leaving his home for shul (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim, Chapter 90).
  • The Rambam disagrees and rules that he should daven with a minyan. According to his understanding, it appears that the Gemara is teaching that a Torah scholar should daven in a beis midrash with a minyan, and does not need to attend the shul’s minyan. The Rosh follows a similar approach, concluding that the Torah scholar who would not have a minyan where he learns should go to shul to daven for several reasons, including that others will learn from his example and not daven with a minyan (Shu”t HaRosh, cited by Tur Orach Chayim chapter 90).

Choosing between shuls

When one has a choice of shullen in which to daven, does halachah provide a priority as to which one he should choose? Indeed it does, mentioning three rules to follow.

Regular shul

One should preferably have a shul which one attends regularly (Mishnah Berurah 90:28).

Farther shul

Rabbi Yochanan said that he learned from a widow how one should earn reward for mitzvos by walking a greater distance. She would come daily from a different neighborhood to pray in the beis midrash of Rabbi Yochanan (obviously, in the women’s section). Rabbi Yochanan asked her, rhetorically, “Is there no shul in your neighborhood?” to which she answered, “Do I not get extra reward for walking to the farther shul?” (Sotah 22a). We find that Rabbi Yochanan reiterated this lesson in a different passage of Gemara, where he ruled that it is not an advantage to live next to a shul, since one thereby loses the merit of walking a greater distance to shul (Bava Metzia 107a). From both passages, we see that one should try to daven at a shul that involves a farther walk, in order to gain extra merit.

Larger minyan

The halachah is recorded that one should daven in the shul where more people are attending davening (Mishnah Berurah 90:28). This is because of the concept called Berov am hadras Melech (Mishlei 14:28): the more people that participate in a mitzvah, the greater is the honor for Hashem.

Conclusion

The power of tefillah is very great. Through tefillah one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem and overturn harsh decrees. We have to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must continually drive home the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos and He listens to them! Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation.

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us even 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. Certainly, one should do whatever one can to make sure to pay attention to the meaning of the words of one’s Tefillah. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of Klal Yisrael!

 

Shul Shaylos: The Rulings of the Gadol of Brownsville

Since Bilaam’s agenda included destroying all our shullen, it is an appropriate week to discuss:

Shul Shaylos: The Rulings of the Gadol of Brownsville

Question #1: Keeping them Waiting

“Unfortunately, some of those who attend my morning minyan come late, so that the minyan usually forms around Borchu time. Should the chazzan wait until ten people are ready to begin the quiet shemoneh esrei together?”

Question #2: Dwindling Minyan

“For many years, I have attended a minyan that is now severely dwindling. In addition, not all the attendees are capable of davening, and, therefore, there are usually less than ten people praying at a time. Should I continue to attend this shul, or should I begin attending another shul, where there will be a minyan of people who all daven together?”

Question #3: Lowering the Bar

“Some of the ladies who attend our shul are now aging, and it is difficult for them to climb the steps to the ezras nashim, the ladies’ section. May we take part of the downstairs men’s section, place a mechitzah between it and the men, and make it into an auxiliary women’s section?”

Introduction: The Gadol of Brownsville

What do the above questions have to do with a gadol of Brownsville? Actually, there were many great talmidei chachamim who lived in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn during its heyday as a Jewish neighborhood. This article will discuss two shaylos that were asked of a world-class gadol who served as a rav in Brownsville, Rav Moshe Rosen. Rav Rosen is usually known by the name of a series of sefarim he authored, the Neizer Hakodesh, which plows original ground on the entirety of Seder Kodoshim, and also includes volumes on Pesachim, Yoma, Makkos and Niddah.

Rav Rosen was born in the 1870’s in Brainsk, in Polish Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). After marriage and five years of kest (the equivalent of kollel that existed for promising young talmidei chachamim in pre-World War I Eastern Europe), he became rav in Kveidan, a town near Kovno, Lithuania, where he remained through World War I before he moved to America. Even in his youth, he was a profound talmid chacham – as early an author as the Sedei Chemed quotes Rav Rosen with tremendous respect.[i]

In Europe, while yet a young man, the Neizer Hakodesh exchanged halachic correspondence with such luminaries as the nineteenth century’s poseik hador, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector, the Or Somayach, the Chofeitz Chayim, Rav Chayim Ozer Grodzensky, Rav Itzele Ponovitcher and Rav Menachem Ziemba.[ii] The Ponovitcher Rav, Rav Yosef Kahaneman, said that the Neizer Hakodesh’s Torah scholarship and brilliance was in the league of the greatest gedolim of Europe, an opinion that was echoed by another Lithuanian gadol, Rav Yechezkel Abramsky.

One of the other gedolim who knew and admired Rav Rosen when he was still a young man in Europe was the Chazon Ish, whose rebbitzen was a native of Kveidan and where he (the Chazon Ish) resided immediately after his marriage. One short anecdote demonstrates the respect the Chazon Ish had for the Torah greatness of Rav Rosen: Shortly after World War I, the Chazon Ish wanted to print a new edition of the very difficult mesechta, Keilim, with three commentaries, those authored by Rav Chayim Ozer, the Chazon Ish himself and the Neizer Hakodesh.[iii] Apparently, this initiative never saw fruition.

At the beginning of World War I, the Eastern Front of the war — between Germany and Russia — passed right through Kveidan and its environs, and most of the Jews fled to avoid the battlefront. Since no other rav was nearby, the Neizer Hakodesh remained in the area to oversee the chesed and mitzvos that needed to be performed. By the end of the war, there was no Jewish community left in Kveidan,[iv] and the Neizer Hakodesh relocated to America, where he settled in Brownsville.

Once in New York, the Neizer Hakodesh became the first Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. Among his early talmidim, was a young man named Avraham Pam, future Rosh Yeshivah of Torah Vodaas and future Chairman of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah. In a later period, the Neizer Hakodesh would test (farher) the talmidim of Yeshivah Chayim Berlin. Decades later, he was also involved in the organization of the yeshivah Beis Hatalmud of Bensonhurst and of Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood.

Upon arriving in America, Rav Rosen became rav of Khal Anshei Radishkovitz, colloquially known as the Amboy Street shul, one of the largest shuls in Brownsville. He later founded his own beis medrash, which, after his passing, was headed by his son, and later his son-in-law. The shul, now called Beis Hamedrash Harav, was subsequently relocated to Far Rockaway.

Rav Rosen authored over twenty sefarim, of which at least eighteen were subsequently published, most of them called Neizer Hakodesh. Many decades before the Brisker Rav popularized studying Seder Kodoshim in depth, Rav Rosen was attempting to re-breathe life into Kodoshim through his work, out of his home in Brownsville. He also authored several volumes of responsa and commentaries on Shulchan Aruch and Chumash.

Also a man of action, Rav Rosen raised money to support the Chazon Ish when he arrived in Bnei Beraq, and to assist the Brisker Rav when he arrived in Eretz Yisrael. Rav Rosen predeceased the Brisker Rav, passing away on Sukkos 5717 (1957).

A teshuvah from Brownsville

In one of his responsa, Rav Rosen deals with the second question that I asked above: “For many years, I have attended a minyan that is now severely dwindling. In addition, not all the attendees are capable of davening, and, therefore, there are usually less than ten people praying at a time. Should I continue to attend this shul, or should I begin attending another shul, where there will be a minyan of people who all daven together?”

Before I quote his response to this question, we should analyze the background of the issue.

What is a minyan?

We are all aware that several parts of our tefillah may be recited only when there is a quorum of at least ten adult men (a minyan) present. We are also 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).

In a related discussion, the Rambam notes that the repetition of the shemoneh esrei requires that ten adult men be in attendance. He explains that it is not necessary that all ten are davening at this moment, provided that at least six people in attendance daven their quiet shemoneh esrei together prior to the repetition of the shemoneh esrei.

At this point, let us quote the first question asked above:

“Unfortunately, some of those who attend my morning minyan come late, so that the minyan usually forms around Borchu time. Should the chazzan wait until ten people are ready to begin the quiet shemoneh esrei together?”

The questioner is raising the following issue: Do six people davening together while ten are in attendance have all the value of tefillah betzibur, or does their joint prayer not carry all the merits of tefillah betzibur unless ten men are actually praying simultaneously? A corollary of this question is whether there is a preference to daven with a minyan where ten people are actually davening over one where less than ten are actually davening.

To answer this question, many authorities quote the words of the Chayei Adam (19:1):

“Someone who wants his prayers to be accepted should be careful to daven together with the tzibur… the main part of tefillah betzibur is the shemoneh esrei prayer, which means that ten adult males should pray together. The masses think, in error, that the purpose of tefillah betzibur is only to hear Kaddish, Kedushah and Borchu, and, as a result, they are not concerned about davening together, as long as there are ten people in shul. This is a major error. Therefore, it is a personal responsibility of each man to arrive in shul early and begin davening with the chazzan, so that he can daven in the proper order.”

Clearly, the main concern of the Chayei Adam was the bad habit of arriving late for services, resulting in not davening the shemoneh esrei together with the tzibur. However, while emphasizing the importance of reciting one’s prayers at the same time that the tzibur does, the Chayei Adam wrote, “the main part of tefillah betzibur is… that ten adult males pray together.” This is understood by many authorities to mean that although one may repeat the shemoneh esrei (chazaras hashatz) even if only six of the people in attendance have davened, it is not considered full-fledged tefillah betzibur unless at least ten actually davened together. These significant words of the Chayei Adam are quoted by the Mishnah Berurah.

The logic used to explain this position is that a minyan should be treated no different from any other minimum amount required for the performance of a mitzvah. When the Torah requires that we eat a kezayis (the volume-equivalent of an olive) of matzoh on Seder night, it is insufficient for someone to eat most of the volume-equivalent of an olive. The mitzvah is fulfilled only when one consumes an entire olive-sized piece. So, too, although six people davening with four others in attendance allows one to repeat the shemoneh esrei and to recite Kedushah, Kaddish and Borchu, ultimately one does not have a minyan of people davening simultaneously (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:28, 29, 30). Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach also held this position (Halichos Shlomoh 5:8).

Other authorities dispute this conclusion, contending that if ten people are in attendance, tefillah betzibur is accomplished even when only six of them daven at the same time. They contend that the first approach is reading more into the Chayei Adam’s comments than the author intended. The purpose of the Chayei Adam’s comments is only to show that reciting the shemoneh esrei with the tzibur is the primary focus of attending public prayer and not only the recital of Kaddish and Kedushah, unlike  the errant understanding of the common folk.

Those who espouse the latter position note that the Rambam’s comments imply that six people praying with four others in attendance constitutes tefillah betzibur. They note that since the Rambam implies that six people praying together with a minyan in attendance qualifies as tefillah betzibur, how can one infer from the Chayei Adam otherwise? If the Chayei Adam intended to dispute the Rambam’s conclusion, he would explain that he is doing so. Therefore, it is more likely that he agrees with the Rambam and that having six people davening does qualify as tefillah betizbur (Beis Baruch commentary on Chayei Adam). The Eimek Beracha (Tefillah #6) provides several indications that this is true, and rules that this is unquestionably accurate.

Returning to our first question: “Unfortunately, some of those who attend my morning minyan come late, so that the minyan usually forms around Borchu time. Should the chazzan wait until ten people are ready to begin the quiet shemoneh esrei together?”

Well, dear reader, what do you answer our friend? It depends which opinion of the two approaches one holds. According to the first approach, it is preferable to wait until ten people begin shemoneh esrei simultaneously, which accomplishes tefillah betzibur. According to the second approach, it is not required. The rav of the shul should decide which approach they should follow.

Dwindling minyan

At this point, I would like to address the second question posed above:

“For many years, I have attended a minyan that is now severely dwindling. In addition, not all the attendees are capable of davening, and, therefore, there are usually less than ten people praying at a time. Should I continue to attend this shul, or should I begin attending another shul, where there will be a minyan of people who all daven together?”

This actual question was asked of the Neizer Hakodesh. The first step in this question is: Assuming that at least six people are davening, is this considered tefillah betzibur?

The answer to this question is, of course, dependent on our previous discussion. In his responsum, the Neizer Hakodesh assumes that if ten people are not davening shemoneh esrei together, the resultant tefillah does not qualify as tefillah betzibur. However, notwithstanding that remaining in the dying shul deprives the questioner of the mitzvah of tefillah betzibur, Rav Rosen still concludes that he should remain at that shul — for a different reason, based on the following well-known Talmudic story (Berachos 47b):

Rabbi Eliezer, attended by his slave, entered a shul to discover that it was short one Jew for a minyan. Although a non-Jewish slave owned by a Jew is required to observe most mitzvos, he is still not considered a full-fledged Jew until he is freed, and he does not count towards a minyan. Rabbi Eliezer promptly freed his slave so that there would be a minyan and davening could begin. The Gemara asks: Upon what halachic basis did Rabbi Eliezer free his slave, since this act is prohibited by the Torah? The Gemara replies that since freeing his slave in this instance allowed a “community” of Jews to perform a mitzvah, a mitzvah of the community supersedes the prohibition of freeing one’s slave. Thus, we see the importance of enabling the tzibur to perform the various mitzvos, including reciting Kaddish, Kedusha, and Borchu, repeating the shemoneh esrei, and reading the Torah. Rav Rosen ruled that the community’s ability to observe these mitzvos holds greater halachic weight than the individual being able to daven with a proper minyan of ten people davening at the same time (Neizer Hakodesh U’she’eilos U’teshuvos #14).

Moving the ezras nashim

At this point, I would like to address the last of our opening questions:

“Some of the ladies who attend our shul are now aging, and it is difficult for them to climb the steps to the ezras nashim. May we take part of the downstairs men’s section, place a mechitzah between it and the men, and make it into an auxiliary women’s section?”

The question here is based on the following halachic issue. The Gemara states that one may not take an item that is designated for a greater kedusha and now use it for a lesser kedusha (see Megillah 26a). The question is whether, since both the ezras nashim and the men’s section are designated for prayer, they have the same level of sanctity, or if there is any distinction between them.

The Neizer Hakodesh writes that a respected earlier authority, the Divrei Chayim, previously analyzed this question, noting that there are many mitzvos, such as reading the Torah, blowing Shofar, lighting the menorah on Chanukah, and the recital of elements of davening that require a minyan are based in the men’s shul. As a result, the Divrei Chayim concluded that although the ezras nashim certainly has great sanctity, there is more sanctity in the main shul. This precludes changing a section of the shul for use as an ezras nashim (Shu”t Divrei Chayim, Orach Chayim 2:14).

After discussing the issues at length, Rav Rosen voiced concern that should the shul not construct a lower ezras nashim, some women would begin to attend non-Orthodox congregations. He therefore recommended the following: Notwithstanding that the main shul cannot be converted to an ezras nashim, under the extenuating circumstances, one may be lenient that the area above the men’s height does not have the kedusha of the shul, and construct an auxiliary ezras nashim in the air space above part of the men’s section. Since this would not be much taller than the main shul, it would be easy to access with a short ramp or short set of stairs, thus being available to those who require it.

In the responsa of Rav Moshe Feinstein, we find a teshuvah where he was asked a similar question regarding changing the ezras nashim of a shul from a balcony to a section alongside the main shul with a proper mechitzah (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:43). Rav Moshe rules that one may not do this, because we see from the Gemara (Sukkah 51b) that it is preferred for the women’s section to be in a balcony. Although a shul whose ezras nashim is alongside the main shul and separated by a mechitzah is kosher, one should not replace a balcony mechitzah, which is the preferred choice, with one alongside the main shul. Rav Moshe is also clearly concerned that the attempt to change the mechitzah is meant to be a liberalizing step in the shul and could lead to other “innovations” with more serious halachic ramifications. He rules that the rav should fight this innovation of relocating the ezras nashim with all his might. Nevertheless, Rav Moshe rules that if the congregation moves the women’s section from a balcony to an area alongside the main shul with a kosher mechitzah, that the rav of the shul may keep his position, since the shul still has a kosher mechitzah.

Conclusion

I personally enjoy knowing something of the life of a gadol whose Torah I am studying. I hope that our readers similarly enjoyed reading a bit about Rav Moshe Rosen while studying some of his halachic rulings.

 

 

[i] The Sedei Chemed cites Rav Rosen in Volume 8 at the beginning of his exposition on the issues of Chanukah.

[ii] Most of the biographical information was obtained from Volume 3 of Rav Yisrael Shurin’s Morei Ha’umah and a published interview of Rav Rosen’s grandson, Rav Hillel Litwack of Flatbush.

[iii] Finkelman, Shimon, The Chazon Ish, Page 35.

[iv] Finkelman, Shimon, The Chazon Ish, Page 43.

Nine and a Child

torah-1427213-639x479Since the beginning of parshas Tolados discusses the education of Yaakov and Esav, it is appropriate for us to discuss the topic of:

Nine and a Child

Question #1: Nine and a Chumash?

“A friend of mine once moved to a community where the local daily minyan was not that reliable. On a regular basis, services were conducted by having a ten-year old hold a chumash as the tenth man. Is there a basis for this practice?”

Question #2: Studying Chumash

“When the rishonim referred to a chumash, what did they mean? After all, they lived before the invention of the printing press.”

Answer:

When Avraham prayed for the people of Sodom and its four sister cities, he asked Hashem to save them if forty-five righteous people lived among them, which Rashi (18:28) explains would be the equivalent of a minyan of righteous people per city: nine plus Hashem counting as the Tenth. Can one consider that there is a minyan present with a quorum of less than ten?

The basis of this topic is the Gemara (Brachos 47b-48a), which discusses whether one may conduct services requiring a minyan or a mezuman when one appears to be short of the requisite quorum. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi ruled that if one has nine adults and a baby, one can bensch as if one has a minyan. Rav Huna stated that if one has nine adults present one can count the aron hakodesh to form a minyan. To this, Rav Nachman retorted, “Is the aron a person?” Rav Huna explained that he meant that there are situations in which a group of nine people can act as if they are a minyan. Rav Ami ruled that two great talmidei chachamim who sharpen one another in their halachic discussions can be considered the equivalent of three for a zimun. Rabbi Yochanan stated that a child who is almost bar mitzvah can be included as the third for a zimun. Some rishonim (Rabbeinu Yonah) quote a text that concludes that, on Shabbos, one can make a mezuman with two adults – with the day of Shabbos counting as the third “person.”

However, the Gemara concludes that we do not permit a mezuman with less than three adults or a minyan with less than ten — the only exception being that we can count a child for a zimun, if he is old enough to know to Whom we are reciting a brocha. Nevertheless, Rabbeinu Tam rules that one may rely on the above-quoted opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi that nine adults and a baby qualify as a minyan even for prayer (Tosafos, Brachos 48a). The Rivash feels that one should not follow the lenient approach, but rules that those who do rely on it can do so only when the child is at least nine years old (Shu’t Harivash #451). Others understand that a minor can be counted as the tenth man, but only if he is twelve years old, which halachah recognizes as an age of majority regarding oaths and vows (Rabbeinu Yonah). We should note that none of these authorities permit counting more than one child to complete a minyan.

Nine and a chumash

Tosafos (Brachos 48a s.v. Veleis) reports that some people counted a child holding a chumash as the tenth “man.” He then notes that Rabbeinu Tam criticized this approach, explaining that if we follow Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s opinion, a child qualifies as the tenth man even if he is not holding a chumash, and if we do not follow that opinion, counting a child holding a chumash is without halachic basis. Rabbeinu Tam explained further that even should one locate a statement of Chazal that a child holding a chumash completes a minyan, the ruling would mean a chumash as was commonly used in the days of Chazal, which comprised one of the five chumashim (Bereishis, Shemos, Vayikra, Bamidbar, or Devorim) of the Torah written as a scroll, similar in style and appearance to a small sefer Torah or a navi scroll used for reading the haftarah. However, in the time of Rabbeinu Tam, although chumashim were still handwritten, they were no longer written as scrolls, but were bound into books. Thus, there would be no basis to permit counting a child holding the type of chumash used in his era.

What is the source?

What is the source for this custom of counting a child with a chumash for a minyan? Rabbeinu Tam was unaware of any such source in the halachic literature that he knew. However, since the practice was widespread, the possibility existed that there was a halachic source somewhere. Bear in mind that in the days of the rishonim, all halachic material was handwritten, almost always on parchment, and that it was therefore very expensive and difficult to have access to seforim. (Rabbeinu Tam lived approximately 300 years before the invention of the printing press.) Rabbeinu Tam had such profound respect for this custom of Klal Yisroel that he assumed that there probably was a statement of Chazal somewhere, one that he had never seen, with a source for the custom. This is what the Gemara refers to as hanach lahem leyisroel, im ein nevi’im hein, bnei nevi’im hein (see Pesachim 66a), “allow Jews [to continue their practice], if they are no longer prophets, they are descended from prophets,” and their customs are based on solid foundations.

However, Rabbeinu Tam understood that should such a statement of Chazal exist permitting a child holding a chumash to be counted as the tenth, it would include only a chumash written as a scroll and would not apply to what existed in his day.

Later authorities note that having a child hold a sefer Torah would count as the tenth man, according to this custom. Furthermore, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:18) notes that the requirement of having the child hold a sefer Torah scroll would not require that it be a kosher sefer Torah. Even a sefer Torah that is invalid because some words are no longer legible would qualify as a holy scroll for the purpose of counting towards a minyan.

Do we permit a child+Torah?

Most rishonim rule that one cannot count a child as the tenth man even when he is holding a chumash or a Torah. For example, the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 8:4) rules that a minyan for prayer must be a minimum of ten men, although for bensching he allows that the tenth “man” be a child who is seven years old or more (Hilchos Brachos 5:7). This is based on his understanding of the conclusion of the Gemara (Brachos 48a) we quoted above that allows counting a child for a mezuman or minyan for bensching, and this forms the basis of Sefardic practice. However, regarding prayer the Rambam does not allow counting a child who is holding a chumash or a sefer Torah. Praying with a minyan requires ten adult men, no exceptions.

Nevertheless, the Tur mentions that “some permit the inclusion of one child with nine adults if they place a chumash in his hand.” The Tur then notes that his father, the Rosh, wrote that one should never count a child as part of a minyan or a mezuman. This Rosh is the main approach followed by Ashkenazim.

Kerias Hatorah

Some early authorities conclude that a minor cannot be counted as the tenth “man” of a minyan for bensching or for prayer, but can be counted to allow the reading of the Torah (Tashbeitz Katan #201). The reason for this distinction is that a minor can sometimes be given an aliyah to the Torah (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 282:3 and commentaries). Some authorities permit giving a child even one of the seven aliyos, and all authorities permit giving a child maftir and having him read the haftarah. Thus, for this mitzvah he is indeed considered a man.

The Magen Avraham (55:4; 690:24) cites this position of the Tashbeitz, but does not accept it, demonstrating that both the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 143:1) and the Rema (Orach Chayim 690:18) do not accept the line of reasoning proposed by the Tashbeitz (see also Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 55:4).

Shulchan Aruch and Rema

In regard to prayer, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 55:4) concludes: “Some permit the recital of devarim she’be’kedusha [meaning kaddish, borchu, kedusha, reading of the Torah, etc.] when there are nine adults and one minor who is older than six years and understands to Whom we pray. However, this opinion is not accepted by the greatest of the authorities.” With these words, the Shulchan Aruch provides honorable mention to Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion that a child can count, on his own, as the tenth man, but he follows the majority of rishonim who reject it. The Rema comments that although one should not count a child as part of the minyan even if he is holding a chumash, there are those who permit it under extenuating circumstances.

Difference between bensching and davening

Some authorities note a curious reversal in the positions of the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema. The Shulchan Aruch rejects counting a child as the tenth man for tefillah (Orach Chayim 55:4), but accepts counting him as the tenth or third man for bensching purposes (Orach Chayim 199:10). This, of course, reflects the position of the Rambam and most Sefardic Rishonim.

On the other hand, although the Rema mentions the practice of counting a child as the tenth man under extenuating circumstances, he absolutely rejects counting him as the third or tenth for bensching (Orach Chayim 199:10). Thus, he accepts the Rosh’s ruling not to count a child as the third or tenth man for bensching, and cites a leniency only with regard to davening. This is strange, since the halachic sources imply that there is more basis to be lenient regarding bensching than there is regarding davening.

The Maharsham explains that the Rema rules that a minor can count as part of the minyan only if he holds a scroll, which to us would mean that he must hold a sefer Torah. In shul, one may take a sefer Torah out of the aron hakodesh and place it in a child’s arms in order to have a minyan. However, one would not be permitted to bring a sefer Torah to the dining room, and for this reason the Rema rules that one can never include a child in the count of a minyan or mezuman for bensching.

Later authorities

The Magen Avraham (55:5), whose opinion is highly respected by the later authorities, concludes that one may include one minor holding a chumash, but not more than one, to enable the recital of borchu, kedusha or a kaddish that is a required part of davening. However, when relying on a child to complete the minyan, one should not recite any of the kaddeishim at the end of davening (other than the full kaddish recited by the chazzan), since they are not obligatory. This means that when having a minyan of nine plus a child holding a sefer Torah, one may not recite kaddish after Aleinu, or after the shir shel yom.

After quoting this statement of the Magen Avraham, the Mishnah Berurah writes that many later authorities rule that one should not count a child as part of a minyan even under the limited circumstances established by the Magen Avraham. However, the Graz (Rav Shulchan Aruch 55:5) rules that one should not correct someone who completes a minyan under extenuating circumstances by counting a child at least six years old who understands to Whom we are davening, even if the child is not holding a chumash.

We should note that, although the Magen Avraham ruled that even those who are lenient permit the inclusion of only one child, a much earlier authority (Shu’t Min Hashamayim #53) ruled that one may include even two children, provided they are old enough to daven. He explains that since the mitzvah of davening with a community is rabbinic in origin, a child old enough to daven can be included in the count since he is also required to daven as part of his training in the performance of mitzvos (Mishnah, Brachos 20). (The obvious question is that this reasoning should permit counting more than two children, yet Shu’t Min Hashamayim permits only two, but we will leave this question for the moment.)

The shul in which I don’t daven!

In this context, it is highly educational to study two relatively recent cases recorded in the responsa literature. In the late nineteenth century, the Bruzhaner Rav, known also as the Maharsham, Rav Shalom Mordechai Hakohen Shvadron (the grandfather of Rav Shalom Shvadron, the famed maggid of Yerushalayim), was asked the following (Shu’t Maharsham 3:162): The only minyan in a small community in Hungary has been meeting for the past 25 years on Shabbos and Yom Tov in the house of a local wealthy individual. Recently, this individual has been insisting that they incorporate certain innovations in the davening, including changing the nusach of the “shul,” and requiring that the audience recite the entire davening extremely quietly and that not even amen should be answered aloud. The individual who owns the house where the minyan has been davening has now agreed to allow some members of the community to form their own separate minyan whereby they will be able to daven as they are accustomed. However, the group desiring to form their own shul has only nine adult men. Their question: May they lechatchilah begin their own shul, knowing that, according to most authorities, they will not have a minyan?

After listing many of the authorities who rule that they are forbidden to conduct services because they do not have a proper minyan, the Maharsham concludes that he is highly wary of the baal habayis of the original shul and therefore feels that they should rely on the lenient opinions and form their own minyan. He further concludes that they could rely on the opinion that, if necessary, upon occasion, they could have two children holding sifrei Torah to complete the minyan, thus ruling according to the above-quoted Tashbeitz and against the Magen Avraham. The Maharsham is the only late authority, of whom I am aware, who permits eight men plus two children to be considered a minyan.

Another responsum

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked a similar question in which an established shul’s membership had dwindled to the point where there were only nine adults at its daily minyan. If the shul cannot count a child for the daily minyan, it will be forced to disband. Rav Moshe discusses whether they may continue their minyan notwithstanding the fact that there is another shul in the neighborhood, although it is a bit distant. Rav Moshe notes that although a majority of poskim contend that one should not allow the recital of kaddish, kedusha, etc. when there are less than ten adult men present, maintaining the existence of this shul is considered extenuating circumstance. Since the prohibition of reciting a davar she’be’kedusha without a minyan is only rabbinic, this extenuating circumstance would allow one to follow the minority opinion against the majority. He concludes that since the members of this shul may not make the trek to the other shul, and will also stop attending the shiurim provided in their current shul, the minyan should be continued.

Rav Moshe then raises a few practical questions. The Magen Avraham, upon whom Rav Moshe is relying, permits counting a child for the tenth man only if he is holding a sefer Torah. However, this creates two interesting halachic questions.

  1. One is not permitted to hold something while reciting shma and the shemoneh esrei, so how can the child be holding the sefer Torah then?
  2. While the sefer Torah is being held by someone who is standing, everyone is required to be standing, which means that the entire membership of this shul will be required to stand for the entire davening. (It appears that Rav Moshe understands that one may count the child for a minyan only when he is standing. I am unaware of the source for this ruling.) Therefore, Rav Moshe suggests that the sefer Torah be placed on a table, and that the child stand next to the sefer Torah with his hands holding the atzei chayim, the “handles” of the sefer Torah, which Rav Moshe considers equivalent to holding the sefer Torah.

Rav Moshe writes that it is preferable to have a 12-year-old child hold the sefer Torah, citing the authorities we quoted above who permit a 12-year old to be the tenth man of a minyan.

Rav Moshe recommends that the shul relying on these heterim not have a repetition of shemoneh esrei (chazaras hashatz). This is because reciting chazaras hashatz without a minyan present involves a brocha levatalah, a brocha in vain, which, according to some authorities is prohibited min hatorah. Rav Moshe rules that the chazzan should not recite the quiet the shemoneh esrei, but, instead, should wait until everyone has finished their shemoneh esrei and then he should recite his own shemoneh esrei aloud.

Conclusion

At this point, let us return to our opening question: “A friend of mine once moved to a community where the local daily minyan was not that reliable. On a regular basis, services were conducted by having a ten-year old hold a chumash as the tenth man. Is there a basis for this practice?”

If we follow Rav Moshe’s psak and consider it applicable to their situation, then a child should hold the atzei chayim of a sefer Torah that is placed on the table. Only the kaddeishim required according to halachah should be recited, and no mourner’s kaddish or kaddish derabbanan. The chazzan should preferably not recite his own quiet shemoneh esrei.

The Gemara teaches that Ein Hakadosh Baruch Hu mo’eis bitefillasan shel rabim, Hashem never despises the prayers of the community. Certainly, this should inspire all of us to daven with the tzibur whenever we can.

 

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