CONTENTS AT A GLANCE
LAWS FOR BEFORE PRAYER
ABOUT KEY RESPONSES REQUIRED
DURING THE ORDER OF PRAYER
IT IS OBLIGATORY TO
PRAY WITH A MINYAN
HALACHIC GUIDE FOR THOSE
WHO COME TO SHACHARIS LATE
NOT-ALLOWED INTERRUPTIONS DURING PRAYER
LAWS OF PESUKAY DEZIMRA
LAWS OF READING
LAWS OF SHMONEH ESRAY
THE MITZVA OF ADDING
YOUR OWN PERSONAL PRAYERS IN SHMONEH ESRAY
THE OBLIGATION OF
TORAH-BASED HANDLING OF TALKING DURING PRAYER
VARIOUS LAWS RELATED TO
SELECTED LAWS OF THE
HOLINESS OF THE BAIS KNESSESS
QUESTIONS REQUIRE AUTHORITATIVE TORAH INSTRUCTION
The Jew is required to be in the bais
knessess [shul, synagogue] and to pray every day. In shul, he is in the "mikdosh
mi'at," miniature sanctuary that serves in the role of the Holy Temple, while we are
in exile without the Holy Temple. Prayer and shul are very holy and central parts of the
Jew's life. Many of the laws of prayer and shul impact on whether one has fulfilled his
obligations regarding them. One can "go through motions" habitually, make
mistakes and often do things that are altogether forbidden. Often this comes from not
knowing the applicable laws. This section is designed to significantly increase one's
ability to know about - and care about - fulfilling his obligations to the important and
daily facets of Jewish practice: shul and prayer.
If one does not fulfill his obligation in
prayer, then there can be cases where one can say prayer and it is as if one wasted the
prayer. When this happens, one may have to repeat the prayer or may lose it. If one said
Hashem's name in vain, this makes the transgression extremely serious. This is true if one
said G-d's name in vain once...all the moreso when said in vain numerous times throughout
a prayer text.
The Chazone Ish said that the first measure
of whether a person is truly Torah-observant is whether he keeps ALL of halacha [practical
law]. The practice of halacha is, therefore, the first and foremost foundation of any
portion of Judaism. That being the case, I am furnishing several topics in halacha that
are related to our subjects of prayer and bais knessess, so that the reader is in a
genuine position to do and to achieve what the Torah really wants. "Study is not the
main thing, action is" [Pirkei Avos].
It is very important to study laws of
prayers and shul in depth and to take specific questions to a known rabbinical authority
who is well-versed in Torah knowledge and who is known to have Yiras Shomayim (reverence
Many subjects, such as times for various
prayers, what answers are permitted when the individual and the congregation are at
different points in the service, and proper conduct in the bais knessess (shul, synagogue)
or at different times of the service, etc. are complex and must be learned thoroughly,
clearly and correctly; and, more important, practiced!
The following selection of halachos [laws]
is designed to optimize your experience of prayer and shul, and to help you accord your
praying and conduct with the goals and requirements of halacha [Torah law].
Let us study some key laws that tell us how
to conduct ourselves in accordance with the holiness of shul. The laws are very serious
and can be complex. They must really be studied more extensively, if you know how to learn
on your own, or, you must obtain teaching from a qualified orthodox rabbi and bring
practical case-by-case shaalohs [Torah questions] to him for instruction. This abridged
selection of halachos [laws] cannot be deemed a substitute for proper, thorough and clear
study of the laws of prayer and of conduct necessary in a bais knessess, nor for taking
practical questions to a competent rabbi for specific and authoritative instruction.
Jewish law is very involved and complex.
This short compilation is intended to bring to awareness some of the major issues,
concerns and requirements incumbent on the Jew in these subjects, and awareness of major
mistakes that one might make, so that he will be more careful and be better equipped to
fulfill the obligations and goals of praying and of being in shul and achieving personal
The halacha content here focuses on both
basic laws and specific issues that come up in shul situations.
I have been researching this subject for
about eleven years. Halacha content is generally based on Mishna Brurah or private
discussions I have had with, or shaalohs I have brought to, gedolay psak [Torah Law
authorities] including HoRav Avraham Asher Zimmerman, z'l, HoRav Chaim Krauss and HoRav
Yaakov Perlow [Novominsker] of Brooklyn, New York, and several others. Many other
traditional sources have been brought including TaNaCH [Bible], the Talmud [Mishna and
Gemora], the sidur [prayer book] and classic rabbinic sources such as Rambam, Shulchan
Aruch, Vilna Gaon, Shulchan Aruch HoRav, Chasam Sofer, Chafetz Chaim, Aruch HaShulchan,
Chazone Ish, Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Shimon Schwab.
LAWS FOR BEFORE PRAYER
One must pray with a "clean
body." This means that if one needs to use the washroom before prayer, he should
relieve himself before he starts praying, so that he presents to G-d a "clean
body." Prayers which are "clean" and "prepared for" will be more
acceptable in the eyes of Hashem. If one is confronted with the question of taking needed
time to use the washroom and being late for minyan, one should use the washroom all that
he needs in order to clean his body, even if he will miss some or all of the minyan.
There are many reasons in halacha for which
one has to wash his hands. If one woke up from sleep, used a washroom, took a bath, cut
his nails, touched his shoe, touched a corpse, touched an insect, handled his hair [cut,
shampooed, combed or touched his hair], touched a part of the body that normally would
have to be covered in Jewish law by clothes, or when blood is taken out [e.g. by leeches
or by giving a blood donation or transfusion], or certain other conditions, or even if one
is not sure whether he did something that the law requires washing after, he must wash the
hands with water up to the wrist, especially before saying prayer or Shma. Washing the
hands after sleep requires water and a basin in which to catch it and dispose of it
properly (modern day sinks satisfy the requirement), pouring water over each hand three
times, in alternation. For other conditions, one pours two times over each hand and, if
one does not have water, one may rub the hands on wood, a pebble or anything deemed by
halacha capable of cleaning the hands. The laws are complex and require study or access to
a qualified orthodox rabbi.
It is meritorious to run to the synagogue
because it shows that you have zeal for a mitzva. Since the adult Jew does not take long
steps except in an emergency, "running" here means taking short steps at a fast
pace [we do not stop children from running]. When you arrive, you should contemplate
Hashem's kindnesses to you and His holiness, so that you enter into your prayer with
reverence and awe for G-d.
The first thing one should do in the
morning is to go to shul for shacharis. If one needs strength before shacharis, one may
have coffee or tea, but not a meal. Before the long prayers of Shabos or Yom Tov, some
authorities allow eating something light so that the person will have strength for the
entire prayer service. On Shabos or Yom Tov, one may not eat or drink anything after
dovening, in the night and in the morning, until "Kidush."
One should not do private business before
going to the synagogue for morning prayer. One should be zealous about going to shul and
starting his day with spiritual activity. If one needs to do a small task, such as drop an
important letter in a mail box that is not far out of his way, one should first say
several blessings [e.g. al netilas yadayim, asher yatzar, birkas haTorah, Elokai neshama
and birkas tzitzis] in order to not do the secular task before some activity of holiness.
This is only permitted for a task that is small and would lead to a loss if delayed. This
is not permitted for an extensive undertaking nor for a task which results in no
significant loss if delayed till after shacharis.
"Shalom" is the basic greeting in
the Hebrew language. One should not greet people with a term of "shalom" [such
as "shalom alaichem"] before prayer. This is as if one is making greeting a
person more important than greeting Hashem. However, we have a principle called
"derech eretz [civil, polite, considerate behavior]" and, as such, it is
permissible to greet someone before shul with a term which does not have the term
"shalom," such as by saying, "hello" or "good morning." If
someone gives you a greeting before shul, you should reply, but without the term
"shalom." One who is greeted and does not greet back is considered a thief who
stole the greeting.
ABOUT KEY RESPONSES REQUIRED
DURING THE ORDER OF PRAYER
One must respond during Kadish with
"Yehay Shmay raba..." with all of one's power. The Rishonim [earlier authorities
who explain the Talmud] have a machlokess [difference] of how to interpret "all of
one's power." One opinion is: as loud as your voice can go, the other opinion is:
with all of your concentration. Most rabbis adopt the second meaning, saying the phrase
"Yehay Shmay raba..." loud enough to be heard, but never so loud as to be a
degradation of the worship or worshipper, or a mockery or to be plainly disturbing to
Generally, in Jewish law, we favor quality
over quantity and substance over noise. The voice, when saying, "Yehay Shmay
raba...", should be loud enough to sanctify Hashem and to convey that you are praying
with your heart. Chazal tell us that Hashem wants your heart and Chazal also tell us that
the essential "worship of G-d with the heart" is prayer and the reading of Shma.
In shul, this is also another aspect of fulfilling the mitzva of loving Hashem with all
When you are required to answer
"amen" [generally in response to a bracha/blessing], there are rules for the
proper and allowable answer with the word "amen."
The word "amen" must be said
perfectly, e.g. not "men" [leaving out the "a" at the beginning due to
haste or carelessness] nor "amay" [failing to pronounce the "n"].
You must wait until after completion of the
thing to which you are replying. Some people make the mistake of rushing their answer of
"amen" before the other person completes the last syllable. This is wrong
because the blessing was not complete, so you are responding to something which is NOT the
blessing. It only is the blessing when it has been said properly and it has all been said.
You must answer within a time limit called
"toch kiday deebur" [the time it takes to say "shalom alaichem rebbe"
at average talking speed]. Otherwise, the "amen" is considered to be severed
from the blessing to which it must be a reply. It is better to NOT say "amen"
than to say it too soon, too late or pronounced in a way not considered to be the correct
word "amen." Of course, it is best, and obligatory, to say it properly, at the
designated times, according to its rules.
IT IS OBLIGATORY TO
PRAY WITH A MINYAN
A minyan is a religious quorum of at least
ten Jewish males who are at least bar mitzva age and who do not deny Jewish belief in G-d.
The importance of praying with a minyan is incalculable.
It is very important to pray with a minyan,
rather than to pray alone, and very important to pray at the proper times. Shul is so
important that even if you ever pray alone, you should go to shul and pray there [such as
in a case, for example, where you do not feel well at minyan time but a bit later you feel
well enough to go to shul, or if leaving for a business trip prohibits you from dovening
at the time of the minyan and you can go to shul before the minyan on the way to the
airport and pray in shul]. If you must pray alone, when you cannot be in a shul, pray at
the time when the minyan is praying in shul and have in mind to be participating in the
minyan from where you are. Even though you are not with them at the same place, you can
somewhat be with them by praying at the same time and having in mind to be with that
minyan. Prayer in shul is greatly rewarded.
Women have no obligation to pray with a
When men pray without a minyan, the chance
is greater that the individual's prayer may not have the merit to be accepted at all, or
to be answered fully or in the most preferable way. When the minyan joins together to
pray, their union in and of itself produces merit, and glorification of Hashem. When a man
prays and his prayer combines with the merit of praying with the minyan, it is like
"insurance" that the prayer will be received and considered. When the prayers of
the people in the minyan join together, their uniting together is itself a merit. Their
joining is glorification of Hashem and their joining together constitutes peace and unity
between Jews, which G-d wants in the Jewish people.
HoRav Yaakov Perlow (Novominsk) stressed
that there is added obligation to attend minyan on all occasions when the Torah is read.
One should proceed through the entire order
of prayer together with the minyan. If this is not possible, one should at least be
praying together with the minyan from Yishtabach through Shmoneh Esray in shacharis and
with the minyan at least in Shmoneh Esray for the other services.
One should start the Amida simultaneously
with the minyan. If there is a majority of a minyan still praying Amida, one who starts a
bit late is still counted as joining that minyan, but the level of "being with the
minyan" is less than if you started together.
It was the practice of HoRav Avraham Asher
Zimmerman, z'l, to arrive at shul for shacharis (morning prayer) extra early in order to
say the entire dovening slowly at his own pace, saying everything carefully and correctly.
By starting early, and calculating the precise and necessary time, he could be together
with the minyan, as required, at the start of the Amida.
One should strive to arrive early so as to
be among the first ten, even if there will be many more people coming to the minyan. G-d
gives the greatest reward to the first ten who make the original minyan.
When you consider that, within prayer, we
beseech Hashem for our needs, and that receipt of our prayer IN Heaven affects what we
receive FROM Heaven, praying is a serious part of life - and a fantastic opportunity.
Proper and regular prayer, in shul and with a minyan, is a major part of optimizing that
HALACHIC GUIDE FOR THOSE
WHO COME TO SHACHARIS LATE - Primarily based on Mishna Brura
The Amida of the morning should be
completed before the end of the day's fourth halachic hour of the day. If one is held back
due to a reason beyond his control, one can complete his morning prayers before the end of
the sixth hour, but this leniency must not be taken lightly nor be used as license to
intentionally delay prayer till after the fourth hour. The basic end time for morning
prayer must be regarded as the end of the fourth hour of the day.
"Shortcuts" below may be used if
it is a matter of saving yourself from praying the Amida later than the minyan or later
than the fourth hour. The shortcuts may not be used to be lazy or to diminish prayer. They
are only allowed to assure that the Shmoneh Esray prayer is achieved together, while the
minyan is praying, and during the set time for the prayer.
A prayer called "Nishmas" is
added to Pesukay Dezimra on Shabos and Yom Tov. It is a factor "for shortcuts,"
in the order of priorities listed below, on Shabos and Yom Tov. Nishmas is not at all ever
said on weekdays.
A. Get to shul early, if necessary, so you
will be able to start Amida together with the minyan, and say the complete dovening in
order, in tact, "as prescribed," as a minyan unit. It is preferable to get to
"Yishtabach" with the minyan; say "Borchu" with the minyan; and say
"Krias Shma" and its brachos with the minyan. However, it is most important to
start Amida with the minyan.
There are halachos for how to skip when one
comes late to minyan, so that one prays in unison with the minyan where doing so is most
important [particularly starting Shmoneh Esray together].
These rules (for skipping when one comes
late) would apply equally to a case when one comes on time, but the reader goes at a
significantly faster pace than the individual, causing the individual to fall behind the
minyan. The point is to be "caught up" and in unison during the parts of
dovening at which it is most crucial to be in unison with the minyan. It is preferable to
be in unison from Yishtabach till Amida, and, if this is not possible, it is most
preferable to start the Amida with the minyan.
B. If you skip anything before Yishtabach,
it is preferable to make it up before the end of the time of shacharis. No changes, skips
or breaks are allowed for material from Yishtabach through Tachanun.
[Items C through H were prepared in
conjunction with, and with heartfelt thanks to, HoRav Chaim Krauss, Shlita, of Brooklyn,
C. Minimal necessities before Pesukai
1. Al Nitilas Yadayim 2. Asher Yatzar 3.
Birkas HaTorah 4. Elokai Neshoma 5. Birkas Tzitzis 6. (if time for D, E 1 & G
available:) Birkas HaShachar [the morning blessings]
D. Boruch She'Amar (if skipped, may not be
said after Amida; it is lost for that day)
E. Priority Levels Within Pesukai Dezimra:
1. Ashray (if Shabos or Yom Tov: also say
"Nishmas," which has the same top-priority level as Ashray) - mandatory
2A. If only time for one more, say Psalm
2B. If time for two more, say Psalm 148
(Hallelu...Min HaShomayim) and then Psalm 150 (Hallelu...Bikodsho)
3. Remaining Hallelukas (Psalms 146, 147
4. Vayivarech David Es Hashem...until:
5A. Hodu [Hodu L'Hashem Kiru
Vishmo]...until Lehar Kadsho Ki Kadosh Hashem Elokainu [being approximately two thirds of
"Hodu"], then skip to just before Ashray and add the two verses ViHu
Rachum...Biyom Korainu. For the purposes of priorities in skipping, these are considered
one unit (the first two thirds of "Hodu" and these two verses just before
Ashray); even though these come from two separate components of Pesukay Dezimra.
5B. Note: this is Nusach Ashkenaz; for
Nusach S'fard: see 6B for item to add here between #5A and #6A.
6A. Weekday remainder in their usual order
[starting from the end portion of "Hodu" till "Shiras HaYam"]
6B. Nusach S'fard [re: between 5A and 6A]
puts Mizmor LeSoda after 5A above [after the beginning part of "Hodu"... till
"Korainu"] and before 6A ["Weekday remainder in their usual order,"
which starts from the end portion of Hodu, after "Ki Kadosh Hashem Elokainu"].
F. Pesukai Dezimra Additions for Shabos/Yom
7. LaMinatzayach Mizmor LeDovid HaShomayim
8. LeDovid Bishanoso
9. Tefilla LeMoshe
10. Remainder of the holy day additions in
their usual order, as time permits.
G. Yishtabach (if skipped, may not be said
after Amida; it is lost for that day).
H. Items C 1,2,3,4,5 and Tefillin are
mandatory even if you will be behind the minyan for Amida.
After saying the verses that you are able
to say from Pesukay Dezimra, you must say Yishtabach; then proceed with the minyan. From
Yishtabach till Tachanun, no changes in the order of prayer are allowed.
On "Hoshana Raba" the added
Shabos and Yom Tov chapters (F, just above) are added to the weekday Pesukai Dezimra, but
Nishmas is not said. Mizmor LeSoda (omitted on Shabos and Yom Tov) is said just before the
Shabos and Yom Tov chapters (F) are added.
Things which are skipped should be made up
after prayer, if at all possible, and within the time of shacharis. The Aruch HaShulchan
writes to make a point to say Birkas HaShachar early in the normal place at the beginning
of shacharis, instead of allowing it to be skipped and made up later. Whenever possible,
this opinion should be followed since saying Birkas HaShachar after Shmoneh Esray can
entail halachic problems.
1. If you ever cannot doven at the time of
the minyan in shul, it is better when you must doven alone to do so in a bais knessess
[shul, synagogue] or bais midrash [yeshiva, house of Torah study]. The Gemara says that
shul is the place of prayer and of praise-songs (i.e Tehilim and Pesukai Dezimra). The
Gemara also says that the holiness of Eretz Yisrael [the land of Israel] is in every shul
and bais midrash. Since the Torah says that living a mitzva life in Eretz Yisrael
increases life, more time and more mitzvos (e.g. dovening, learning, saying
Tehilim/Psalms) in shul or bais midrash could INCREASE YOUR LIFE! ["Lima'an Yirbu
Yimaichem," R. Yehoshua Ben Levi]
2. Pesukai Dezimra has power to open the
flow of blessing from Heaven to those who say it (especially every day) as a complete
unit. Therefore, it is very important not to break, interrupt or skip in Pesukai Dezimra,
if you can help it. Otherwise, you "reverse the pipelines" and block the flow of
blessing. At least, you should strive to say Ashray and all Hallelukas as an unbroken unit
each day. The fact that Pesukay Dezimra can contain changes and skips does not mean it is
unimportant. The "short-cutting" is only because other parts of prayer must be
said in unison or by a certain time limit. You must view Pesukay Dezimra as very
3. One should pray ma'ariv (the evening
prayer) after the onset of dark and before the middle of the night. When one can obtain a
minyan for ma'ariv earlier than dark, and would not be able to obtain a minyan after dark,
one can pray ma'ariv early, after "plag hamincha" with a minyan, but he should
not pray early if he is praying early alone, or if a minyan is available at a more
suitable time later. If one must pray ma'ariv alone, it must be after dark. If one prayed
ma'ariv (with a minyan) before dark, he has to repeat "Shma" at the time of its
mitzva at night. If one was not able to pray before the middle of the night due to a cause
beyond his control or he lost track of the time, one may pray ma'ariv till the end of the
night. One should not intentionally put off ma'ariv till the latter half of the night. One
must consult a reliable Jewish-law calendar or orthodox rabbi for these times, which can
change with location and with the time of the year. One should especially careful to check
the times of these various laws when one is away from home in an unfamiliar location. If
one comes to a ma'ariv minyan late, he may start by saying Shmoneh Esray and Alainu with
the minyan and, when the minyan is concluded, he will say the beginning [Vihu rachum and
Shma and its brachos; and, if it is Saturday night, Veehee noam; and, if it is Friday
night, Vayichulu/Magain Avos].
4. It is very important to learn the
numerous laws for requisite conduct in shul (e.g. when talk or walking in front of another
person praying is prohibited).
5. It is very important to learn the
numerous laws for when you are at a different place than the minyan, in the dovening (e.g.
responses that you normally answer [Amen, Boruch Hu Uvaruch Shmo, Borchu, Kedusha, Yehai
Shmay Raba, etc.]).
6. Bring any and all questions to a
competent Yorai Shomayim orthodox rabbi.
7. Mincha must be completed by shkeeya
[sundown]. Some poskim [law authorities] permit one to start before shkeeya, even if he
will end after shkeeya, or start a certain limited number of minutes after shkeeya if it
means he can doven with a minyan. Others maintain it is better to pray mincha before
shkeeya, even if it means missing praying mincha with a minyan. Check with your rabbi for
specific instruction about the times which govern you, and whether there are any variances
such as when you would be dovening with a minyan vs. when not with a minyan.
8. One says "Ashray" at the
beginning of Mincha, before Shmoneh Esray. Many say "Tachanun" after Shmoneh
Esray of mincha. All conclude with "Alainu" in most cases (Nusach S'fard says
the 27th chapter of Psalms, called "LeDovid" at the end of mincha, from Rosh
Chodesh Elul till Shimini Atzeress [Nusach Ashkenaz says "LeDovid" after ma'ariv
instead; and both also say it a second time each day, from Rosh Chodesh Elul till Shmini
Atzeress, after shacharis]).
9. If one comes to mincha a bit late, and
the minyan has already started Shmoneh Esray, pray Shmoneh Esray with the minyan and say
"Ashray" after the end of mincha.
10. Tachanun is considered by Chazal to be
somewhat an extension of Shmoneh Esray. Therefore, it is an extremely important prayer.
Some people are not aware of how important it is.
If one was praying in a minyan which does
not say Tachanun, and it is his custom to say Tachanun, he does not put his head down
[whether during shacharis or mincha], so that he will not appear to be separating from the
congregation. He says Tachanun silently.
At various points within Tachanun, one must
be in one of several different specific positions (putting down the head on the arm,
sitting or standing). One should study these to make sure he says each portion of Tachanun
in the correct position.
There are certain times when Tachanun is
omitted from the order of prayer. Some do not say it all in mincha, some do not say it on
certain days on which other communities do say it, and on some occasions everybody leaves
Tachanun out. Therefore, one should also study the occasions on which Tachanun is left
out. Different communities have different customs as to when they exclude Tachanun. One
should say or omit Tachanun according to his community's custom.
Therefore, if one is saying Tachanun in any
minyan which is not saying Tachanun, he should say it all in one position, either sitting
or standing, without putting his head down at all. By saying it silently in one position,
he does not call attention to the fact that he is saying Tachanun (at variance with the
minyan). He chooses the position (between sitting or standing) most likely to NOT show
that he is differing from the minyan in which he is praying.
In a case where one should say Tachanun and
he is with a minyan that is not saying Tachanun, 1. keeping peaceful with, and being
respectful of, other Jews is more important than taking the various positions and 2.
saying Tachanun (according to what is customary for his community) is more important than
according with what the minyan prays. By assuming a position that does not show he is
saying Tachanun, people will not know what he is silently saying. At the same time, he
says what is required of him.
If one says Tachanun while dovening with a
minyan which does not say it, it is preferable to say Tachanun in its proper place in the
order of prayer (right after Shmoneh Esray). As a practical matter, this may be difficult.
For example, in mincha, the minyan may go right to Kadish and Alainu after Shmoneh Esray.
Since these require unison, all must say Kadish and Alainu together. In such a situation,
one may say Tachanun immediately after the end of the prayer service. If circumstances
permit, one might say Tachanun before the end of prayer. For example, there can be time
available to say some of Tachanun between aleeyos or during "hagba and geleela"
on mornings when the Torah is read in shul. He can say/conclude Tachanun silently before
proceeding to Ashray and to the conclusion of shacharis.
11. If he was saying "Shmoneh
Esray" of mincha [afternoon] and missed "Tachanun" with the congregation
(he was still in Shmoneh Esray), he will say "Tachanun" after "Alainu"
and, if he came late and missed "Ashray," he will say "Ashray" last,
because one should always keep the order of prayer the best he can, and
"Tachanun" should come immediately after Shmoneh Esray. In such a case, he will
say Shmoneh Esray, Alainu, Tachanun and Ashray; keeping Tachanun "attached" as
closely as possible to Shmoneh Esray.
12. However, if it is just before shkeeya,
and there isn't time to say both "Tachanun" and "Ashray" before
shkeeya, which is the end of the time of mincha, he should say "Ashray" and not
say "Tachanun" because "Ashray" MUST be said three times every day
[the day ends with shkeeya] and "Tachanun" may not be said after shkeeya.
REQUIRED VS. NOT-ALLOWED
INTERRUPTIONS DURING PRAYER
There are four main portions of shacharis:
1. the morning blessings and preliminaries, 2. Pesukay Dezimra [Chapters of Praise], 3.
Shma and its blessings and 4. Shmoneh Esray. Each is a step in a rising progression. Each
step requires a greater degree of devotion and each one's halachos/laws, as a matter of
praying, becomes more advanced and sublime. Your attention in each elevates, accordingly,
to the point at which you should be truly speaking with G-d with closeness, attachment,
love and concentration throughout Shmoneh Esray [including: with proper pronunciation of,
and with understanding of the meaning of, the words]. One corollary of this four-part
progression is that all halachic interruption-responses are allowed in the first stage
[before Boruch She'amar], and then the interruption-responses get progressively more
restricted as you proceed from the "Pesukai Dezimra stage" through to the
"Shma and its blessings stage" to the final "Shmoneh Esray stage" [in
which no interruption-responses whatsoever are allowed].
The halachos [laws] for forbidden
interruptions during different portions of prayer are very complex. There are different
rules at different stages in the dovening. Therefore, it is important that every Jew study
these laws of interruptions.
If you are able to, learn these on your
own. Or, if you are not able to learn on your own, ask practical questions and obtain
instruction from a Torah authority who can teach you what to do at the various different
stages. Whether by your own learning or by instruction from an authoritative teacher, one
must be familiar with the laws. In order to remain familiar, one must review the laws
regularly enough to keep them clear and on the forefront of his mind every time he prays,
From the beginning of Pesukai Dezimra until
the end of Shmoneh Esray, interruptions, even for prayer purposes, are limited and
During Shmoneh Esray, no responses are
allowed, but one may interrupt to use the washroom if he feels the urge, delaying the
blessing until after Shmoneh Esray. He takes tefillin off when going to the washroom and
puts them back on (without saying their blessings) before resuming his prayer. No verbal
interruption is allowed.
There is a category of situations during
prayer called "bain haprakim [between chapters]." The paragraph after the
blessing of "Shalom" (the last blessing of Shmoneh Esray), which starts
"Elokai netzur..." [till "va'anaynee] has the status of "between
Similarly, when one says Hallel, one makes
a blessing before and after it. As such, one is required to say the complete unit called
"Hallel" and is similarly restricted from interrupting. Wrong interruptions mean
that one did not say the unit called "Hallel." In such a case, the blessings for
the reading of Hallel, which contain G-d's name, will have been said in vain, Heaven
forbid. Hallel has the status of "between chapters."
After the Shmoneh Esray, the first
meditation after the end of the blessing of "Shalom" ["Elokai
netzur..."] has the status of "between chapters." However, one must say the
verse "Yihiyu leratzon..." before any interruption [which you would be required
to say, after the blessing of "Shalom," at the end of Shmoneh Esray] may be
Some people have the custom of saying
"Yihiyu leratzon" twice: 1. after the end of "birkas Shalom" and 2.
after "va'anaynee." Saying "Yihiyu leratzon" twice this way is a
correct practice, and the one with the most halachic advantages.
Those who say "Yihiyu leratzon"
after "Shalom" can say the permitted ["between chapters"]
interruption-responses automatically. Those who do not say "Yihiyu leratzon"
till after "va'anaynee," would have to add a "Yihiyu leratzon" before
saying any interruptions, if they are holding after "Shalom" but have not yet
said "va'anaynee." "Yihiyu leratzon" is necessary for separating from
the part of the Shmoneh Esray in which no answers are at all allowed and entering into the
part in which any interruptions are allowed. If one's custom is to say "Yihiyu"
twice, the first one (after "shalom") permits entering the status of
"between chapters" in the paragraph "Elokai netzur." If one said
"Yihiyu" after "Shalom," one may generally answer all responses after
saying "va'anaynee," even before saying the second "Yihiyu."
In contrast, if one's custom is to only say
"Yihiyu" once, which would be only after "va'anaynee," meaning to say
that if one did NOT say "Yihiyu" after "Shalom" (or sometime in
"Elokai netzur" before "va'anaynee"), he cannot make any responses at
all after saying "va'anaynee" till he says the verse "Yihiyu
If one said "Yihiyu" after
"Shalom," then after "va'anaynee" one may generally answer all
responses prescribed by halacha [not only the limited "between chapters"
interruptions]. "Vayichulu" [on Friday night] is an example of an exception. It
is said as a statement of testimony that G-d completed creation. One may not serve as a
witness while still in the position associated with prayer. To answer
"Vayichulu," one must take the three steps back first. The difference is
that the other interruptions are said with AND MADE OBLIGATORY BY a minyan. In contrast,
"Vayichulu" does not have to be said with a minyan and is not made obligatory by
virtue of there being a minyan.
Interruption-responses called for during
prayers do NOT apply within a verse from TaNaCH. In a verse from TaNaCH, only
"amen" may be said. In "Elokai netzur," there are two verses from
* "Li'ma'an yaicholtzoon yideedecho
hosheeya yi'mincho va'anaynee" [written twice: Psalm 60:7 and 108:7];
* "Yihiyu leratzon imray fee vihegyon
leebee Hashem tzuree vigo'alee" [whether said a first time or second time, this is a
VERSE, Psalm 19:16].
In the next paragraph, "Yehee
ratzon," there is a verse:
* "Vi'arva laShem minchas Yehuda
veerushalayim keemay olam uchshanim kadmoneeyos" [Malachai 3:4].
Within these verses, as with any verse from
TaNaCH, no response-interruptions other than "amen" are allowed.
Tachanun is partially considered to be an
extension of Shmoneh Esray in that one should connect it to Shmoneh Esray and not
interrupt needlessly. However, one may interrupt Tachanun for all interruptions that are
called for by halacha. Note, though, that much of Tachanun consists of verses from TaNaCH.
One must follow the rules of interruptions that apply to verses of TaNaCH when saying
them, whether saying the verses by themselves or saying verses within a prayer; such as,
for example, within "Yotzair Or," the "Elokai netzur" and "Yihee
ratzon" paragraphs after Shmoneh Esray, "Tachanun," "Alainu;"
"Nishmas" or "Slichos." In order to be allowed to say a name of G-d in
a verse, one must say an entire verse as it appears in TaNaCH. Otherwise, one will have
said G-d's name in vain, Heaven forbid. One may say "amen" within a verse from
TaNaCH but no other interruptions within a verse, especially if one has said a name of
G-d. If one has started a verse and has not said a name of G-d, and is holding at a place
where he is allowed to say the congregation's present response, the person can interrupt
the verse, make the permissible response with the congregation and then go back to start
(the beginning of the verse) and say the verse as an unbroken and complete unit.
From Boruch She'Amar [at the beginning of
Pesukay Dezimra] until the end of the blessings after Shma, the following answers are said
or forbidden. Items with * are "between chapters," to be said during
"Elokai netzur" [after birkas Shalom AND AFTER "Yihiyu leratzon"],
during Hallel [between the chapters], between the blessings "Yotzair Or" and
"Ahava," between "Ahava" and "Shma," between
"Shma" and "Vihaya im shamoa," between "Vihaya im shamoa"
Boruch Hu uvoruch Shmo - forbidden
Brich Hu [in Kadish] - forbidden
"Amen" to any blessings -
permitted before "Borchu;" after "Borchu" it is a machlokess
[disagreement between authorities], but most authorities prohibit "amen" except
the exceptions below in this chart [the opinion permitting the few exceptions permits them
ONLY BETWEEN, but NOT WITHIN, chapters]. Within the final bracha-segment of "Boruch
She'amar" and of "Yishtabach, after "Boruch ata Hashem..." no
interruptions at all are allowed [in "Boruch She'amar," where "Boruch ata
Hashem" appears twice, this refers to the second time, not the first]. This will be
more thoroughly explained in the "Laws OF Pesukay Dezimra" section below. Right
now, suffice it to say that these two places are exceptions to these laws of interruptions
in Pesukay Dezimra [i.e. no interruptions are allowed in the final bracha portions of
Boruch She'amar and Yishtabach].
* "Amen" in response to the
reader's "HaKail HaKadosh" and "Shomaya tefila" [during the repetition
of Shmoneh Esray] - say
* In Kadish: "Amen, Yehay Shmay
raba..." and the "amen" after "de'amiran bi'alma" - say
The bracha of putting on a tallis -
permitted to put the tallis on; if the tallis is put on before Yishtabach, the blessing is
delayed till after Yishtabach before kadish; if the tallis is put on at a point later than
Yishtabach [may not be put on during first paragraph of Shma, when one must fully
concentrate], the blessing is delayed until after Shmoneh Esray
Putting on tefillin or the bracha of
putting on tefillin, if in Pesukay Dezimra, say BETWEEN chapters but NOT WITHIN;
Putting on tefillin or the bracha of
putting on tefillin, if from Borchu till the end of the blessing after Shma - say BETWEEN
chapters but NOT WITHIN, except during "Viyatzeev vinachon..." you do say.
[This applies to one who was lacking
tefillin or when the time for the mitzva did not yet come when shacharis started. One
should not intentionally delay putting on tefillin at the appropriate time (which is
towards the beginning of shacharis). The failure to do any mitzva according to its laws,
such as putting on tallis or tefillin at their proper time, should only come about due to
a mishap or emergency that is beyond one's control. There is an opinion that one who
receives tefillin while saying "Shma" shall put them on immediately, and say the
blessing, even within a chapter, because the mitzva of Shma requires wearing tefillin.
Note: if, for any reason (e.g. to put on tefillin or to use the wash room), one ever
interrupts Shma for a duration that is as long as it takes to say the entire Shma (or
interrupts for longer), one must go back to the beginning and start Shma over.]
* Kedusha, if AFTER "Borchu" -
say only the verses "Kadosh" and "Boruch"
Kedusha, if BEFORE "Borchu" -
ALSO say the verse "Yimloch"
* "Borchu" [including for Torah
reading] - say
Aleeya to the Torah - permitted blessing
"asher yatzar" - say, if before "borchu;" after, it is delayed until
after Shmoneh Esray [one may no longer say "asher yatzar" if one feels the urge
to use the wash room again]
First verse of Shma - before
"borchu" say, after: it is forbidden to say, but one must intone his voice as if
for Shma and cover his eyes, so as to be as if joining the congregation in Shma
* Modim de'rabonon, if AFTER
"borchu" - say only the first three words, "modim anachnu lach."
Modim de'rabonon, if BEFORE
"borchu" - say the entire paragraph
One may not interrupt at all during the
first verse of Shma, the next sentence "Boruch shaim k'vod..." nor between
"Ani Hashem Elokaichem" and "emmess viyatzeev."
Once one has completed the blessing,
"Ga'al Yisrael" [just before starting Shmoneh Esray] one may say nothing till
after completing Shmoneh Esray. Between "Ga'al Yisrael" and Shmoneh Esray, one
may put on tefillin or go to the wash room, and he will say the blessing for either
(putting on tefillin or having used the wash room) after Shmoneh Esray.
If one is in Shmoneh Esray and the
congregation is reading the Torah or saying Kedusha, he will stand still silently, listen
and concentrate on what is being said [one proceeds with Shmoneh Esray between the
aleeyos; he resumes his Shmoneh Esray after Kedusha, after completion of the repetition of
the last verse, "Yimloch"].
Between chapters, one is permitted to say
"Amen Yehay Shmay raba...". Some have the custom of adding at the end of
"Amen Yehai Shmay raba..." the word "Yisborach." Since only the basic
sentence of "Amen, Yehay Shmay raba..." is permitted between chapters, the
person may NOT say "Yisborach" at such a time. This would be the same as any
other interruption that is not permitted between chapters.
If one is in a situation where one can say
"amen" to something the congregation is saying but not more, but the person will
be able to say the rest while at least a majority of a minyan will still be saying it, one
can say the "amen" within "toch kiday deebur" [of the thing he is
responding to] and say the rest separately. For example, if one hears "Kadish"
or the reader's "Modim" while reading a verse from Tanach, one can say
"amen" immediately, finish the verse and then say "Yehay Shmay
raba..." or "Modim anachnu lach" [or the complete Modim de'rabonon
paragraph, if appropriate] if the majority of a minyan are still saying that response.
The above material describes situations
that occur in shacharis. When comparable conditions apply in mincha or ma'ariv, the same
rules apply. For example, during mincha, one who is in "Elokai Netzur" says
"between chapters" responses if the minyan gets to Kedusha, and he says
"amen" immediately, when he is in the middle of a verse in Tachanun and he waits
till the end of his saying the verse to add "Yehay Shmay raba..."; and in
ma'ariv, during Shma and its blessings, the same rules apply as during Shma and its
blessings in the morning; or if one is in "Elokai netzur," he answers Kadish or
"Borchu" in accordance with "between chapters."
Generally, the responses are firmly either
mandatory or forbidden, with nothing left to doubt nor personal wish. Therefore you must
learn the responses for each point in the prayers, in order to know what you must say and
must not say.
If you have practical questions, take them
to a rav.
LAWS OF PESUKAY DEZIMRA
Pesukai Dezimra consists of portions of
TaNaCH (Bible) that praise Hashem. This portion of shacharis is for the praising of
Hashem, appreciatively recounting His miracles and gifts to us and raising our devotion
level for the subsequent portions of Shma (with its blessings) and Shmoneh Esray (the
essential act of prayer). "Boruch She'amar" is the blessing which starts Pesukay
Dezimra and "Yishtabach" is the blessing which concludes Pesukay Dezimra.
The blessing, "Boruch She'amar"
has three divisions, regarding the response-interruptions which are allowed while saying
it. During the beginning (before the FIRST "Boruch ata Hashem"), any
response-interruption is allowed. Starting from the first "Boruch ata Hashem,"
and BEFORE THE SECOND "Boruch ata Hashem," the responses allowed are the same as
those of Pesukay Dezimra. During the last sentence (from the second "Boruch ata
Hashem" till "Batishbachos") no interruptions whatsoever are allowed.
Nusach Ashkenaz puts the blessing
"Boruch She'Amar" before "Hodu," which is the first segment of Pesukay
Dezimra [praises of Hashem]. Nusach S'fard puts "Hodu" first.
"Hodu" was sung by the Levites
during the sacrifices in the Holy Temple. The section of shacharis which is just before
Pesukay Dezimra is "korbonos [recitation of the sacrifices given at the Holy
Temple]." Nusach Ashkenaz maintains that Hodu is a praise and belongs in the section
of praises, Pesukay Dezimra. Nusach S'fard maintains that "Hodu" should be
adjacent to the section of the sacrifices, because "Hodu" was the praise sung
when the sacrifices were actually conducted in the Holy Temple.
Each shul has one official prayer nusach
[text variation]. We have a rule than one must not separate himself from the congregation.
When one prays a different nusach than the nusach of the shul, anything which one says,
that is different from the official nusach of the shul he is praying in, must be said
silently. However, when one prays nusach Ashkenaz in a nusach S'fard shul, he can say the
end of Boruch She'amar loudly and not be afraid of separating from the congregation,
because, since this is a blessing and people can answer "amen," this is
considered creation of the mitzva of answering "amen." Since answering of
"amen" is allowed within Pesukai Dezimra, one who prays nusach S'fard in a
nusach Ashkenaz shul, can also say the end of Boruch She'amar out loud to create answers,
by other people, of "amen." When saying the end of Boruch She'amar out loud,
when you are not saying it precisely together with the reader, only say the last sentence
out loud ("Boruch Ata Hashem Melech Mihullal Batishbochos"), so that you not
annoy or disturb others, nor appear to be separating from the congregation.
Again, saying this sentence (so that those near you can answer "amen") is
considered creation of a mitzva, not a separation from the minyan.
If you are in a shul whose nusach is
different than yours, and you say Boruch She'amar at a different position in the order of
prayer, but if your reading of the blessing/bracha happens to come out at the same time as
when the chazan [reader] says it, do not say "amen" if it will come within
"toch keday deebur [the time it takes to say, "Shalom alaichem rebbee
umoree" at usual speaking speed] after the end of your own blessing. This is because
it will be the equivalent of saying "amen" to yourself, which we generally do
not allow [except in the blessing for Yerushalayim in Birkas HaMazone/Grace After Meals].
You must answer "amen" to a blessing within toch keday deebur when saying
"amen" is required. You must NOT say "amen" to your own blessings. If
you say a blessing, you may not answer "amen" to someone else saying that same
blessing within the time of toch keday deebur.
In "Hodu," the first segment of
Pesukay Dezimra, there is a verse, "Kee kol elohai ho'amim elilim...". After
saying "elilim," one must pause before continuing the rest of the verse
"viHashem Shomayim awsaw." The pause must be just under "toch kiday
deebur" [the length of time it takes to say "shalom alaichem rebbe" at
average talking speed]. The reason is that "elilim" refers to a false god. The
next word refers to Hashem, true G-d and Creator of Heaven and Earth. We want to separate
between the two words so that we make clear we do not imply that Hashem is a false god,
Heaven forbid. The separation should not be as long as "toch kiday deebur,"
because this would be considered splitting what is one verse into two. However, we require
a separation between the reference to false gods and Hashem. By pausing after the word,
"elilim," just under the time span called "toch kiday deebur," we
accomplish all of the requirements.
"Ashray" is said three times a
day, twice in shacharis and once in mincha. Saying it three times a day is a segula
(Heavenly assist) for eternal life, so it is recommended that women as well as men say
"Ashray" three times every day, even if the women do not doven morning and/or
afternoon. When saying "Ashray," the verse "posayach es
yadecha...ratzon" must be said with kavana [concentration, intention, understanding
of the meaning]. If the verse is not said with kavana, you must say it again with kavana.
This halacha is so strict, that the Shulchan Aruch says that you may not proceed to the
next verse until you have achieved saying this verse with kavana. Here is the meaning:
es yadacha...Your hand
lichol chai...to every living thing
ratzon...what each wants.
If one is running late, the minimum to say
in Pesukay Dezimra is Boruch She'amar, Asray and Yishtabach.
On Shabos and Yom Tov, a section called
"Nishmas" is added towards the end of Pesukai Dezimra. Nishmas, on these holy
days, is included in the minimal requirements that must be said in Pesukai Dezimra. One
may not say less than the minimum, as applicable on that day.
Most of Nishmas is statements of praise
which are NOT complete verses from TaNaCH. Even so, Nishmas has the same status as Pesukay
Dezimra, regarding questions of which response-interruptions are said or forbidden.
However, a small measure of Nishmas comes from complete verses of TaNaCH, wherein the
rules of interrupting a verse from TaNaCH apply. As such, within any complete verse in
Nishmas, you can answer any "amen" but nothing else. These complete verses in
* "Kol atzmosai tomarna Hashem, mee
chomocha matzeel anee maychazak meemenu, vi'anee vi'evyon meegozlo" [Psalm 35:10];
* "Le'Dovid borchee nafshee es Hashem
vi'chol k'rovai es shaim kodsho" [Psalm 103:1];
* "Raninu tzadikim baShem, layisharim
nava seheela" [Psalm 33:1].
There are several partial verses and
"borrowed terms" from TaNaCH in Nishmas. These do not have the name of G-d and
do not have the special limitations of complete verses. They may be interrupted like the
majority of Nishmas, meaning that they have the same status as Pesukay Dezimra.
In the blessing of Yishtabach, before one
gets to "Boruch ata Hashem," the status is "between chapters." From
"Boruch ata Hashem till the end, no interruptions whatsoever are allowed.
The Mishna Brura [Orech Chayim 53, note 1],
writes that the shleeyach tzeebur [reader for the congregation] has the additional
restriction during "Yishtabach" to not interrupt at all during the 15 words of
praise, from "sheer ushvacha..." till "may'ata." The reader must be
very careful because his saying these 15 words uninterrupted is very serious.
Rabbi Yaakov Perlow (Novominsker Rov) told
me that if one gets to Yishtabach before the reader gets there, since one would not be
allowed any speech at that point, one can only use the time in holy thoughts [e.g.
reviewing some Torah or planning to do a mitzva] or looking in a sefer [Torah book], till
the reader reaches Yishtabach. One is not allowed to speak from the beginning of Boruch
She'amar till the completion of Shmoneh Esray [or, when applicable, after Tachanun].
When "Nishmas" is said, it is
customary for the reader to go up to the podium and start the out-loud prayer at a point
during "Nishmas" that is shortly before "Yishtabach." On shabos, the
reader starts at "Shochain Ahd." On Yom Tov, he starts at "HoKail
bisa'atzumos" and on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, he starts at "HaMelech."
We wrote before that there is a skipping
order in Pesukay Dezimra, if one comes late to shul. If one finishes the segments that are
higher in the order of priorities, one goes back and finishes as much of the rest as
possible before the congregation gets to "Yishtabach." Nishmas is a top priority
[it is mandatory that it be said, as well as Ashray].
Since Nishmas is divided into two sections
[the part before the reader comes up to the podium and the part after the reader comes to
the podium to lead the prayer service], one might think that he might break
"Nishmas" into two divisions, if he is running late and is skipping according to
the order of priorities [reading "Nishmas" and then going back to read other
materials]. One should NOT break "Nishmas" into separate parts, if he is going
to read other segments of Pesukay Dezimra after. He should read "Nishmas" as one
complete unit, then go back to the materials that he has time for [until the congregation
gets to "Yishtabach"]. We only divide "Nishmas" for the purpose of
determining where the reader starts leading the service.
Certain parts of Pesukay Dezimra must be
said standing. We wrote before that if one does not complete Pesukay Dezimra during the
services with the minyan, he should make up the missed parts before the end of the time of
Shacharis that morning. When one is making up omitted parts of Pesukay Dezimra after
dovening, the standing is optional.
If the end time is coming for the mitzva of
reading Shma, or if one recalls that he has not said birkas haTorah [the blessings on the
Torah, said at the beginning of the order of prayer], one may interrupt his Pesukay
Dezimra for either of these. This is because he is obligated in the mitzva of saying Shma
[within its appointed time], and he does not have permission to say Pesukay Dezimra
without first saying birkas haTorah. In a case where reading Shma in the siddur later, in
its regular place, would come after the time of the mitzva, one should read Shma before
Boruch She'amar. One may not delay Shma or Birkas haTorah intentionally, such that he
would have to say it after Boruch She'amar during Pesukay Dezimra.
If one is given an aleeya during Pesukai
Dezimra, after Boruch She'amar and before Yishtabach, he may accept it and say the basic
blessings, but he should not read the Torah along with the reader, as this reading would
be considered an inappropriate interruption to his prayers.
You must put on tefillin and say the
blessings on the mitzva of tefillin towards the beginning of prayer, in the proper place
in the order of prayers. If, for whatever reason, you did not, you have permission to put
on tefillin and say the blessings on tefillin during Pesukay Dezimra at certain limited
places. In Pesukay Dezimra, you may put on tefillin and you can say the blessing on
tefillin only "between chapters." The status of "between chapters,
regarding tefillin," basically means that you can put on tefillin and make the
blessings on them between complete chapter-units, but not within the chapter-units.
Pesukai Dezimra has many complete units from several of the books of TaNaCH [Bible] which
praise Hashem, including from the books of Shmos/Exodus, Tehilim/Psalms, Nechemya and
Divray HaYomim/Chronicles. Pesukai Dezimra also has sections which are anthologies of
individual verses with common themes brought together in groupings that are not of
Biblical origin. If you'll recall, the first two-thirds of "Hodu" are one of the
elements in the order of priorities for late-comers skipping within Pesukai Dezimra. That
is because this is an actual unit from TaNaCH. The last third of "Hodu," as well
as the entire section "Yehee K'vod" and some verses after "Shiras
HaYam" are anthologies of separate verses, drawn together in the sidur [prayer book]
from various places in TaNaCH. In anthologies of separate verses, you may put on tefillin
and say the blessing on tefillin between individual verses, because these portions of
Pesukay Dezimra are not units from TaNaCH. All you need, to put on tefillin or make the
blessing on tefillin, is to be between verses in these anthology-sections. You may not put
on tefillin or say the blessings on tefillin within a verse. But, within these
"anthology sections" you do not have to be between units, because these are not
units which are actual Biblical-chapters. As such, one may put on tefillin or say the
blessings on tefillin between verses which are not from Biblical chapter-units.
LAWS OF READING
Saying "Shma" twice every day,
each morning and night, is a commandment from the Torah. The mitzva of Shma consists of
reading three paragraphs from the Torah, a sentence "Boruch shaim kavod..." and
the repetition of three words which are said in order to bring the total number of words
up to 248, which corresponds with the number of parts in the human body. The contents and
order can be found in the sidur [prayer book].
Shma is built into the morning and evening
prayer services. Theoretically, when a man prays morning and evening services, he can
discharge his obligation to say Shma.
The times for saying Shma and for prayer
are not identical. It is possible to pray shacharis in the morning at a time which is too
late for the mitzva of Shma. In such a case, one must read the three paragraphs of Shma
before starting Pesukai Dezimra. Similarly, it is possible to pray ma'ariv (evening
prayer) before the time of the evening mitzva of Shma. In such a case, one must remember
to say Shma again in the evening after praying ma'ariv. Times for both prayer (Shmoneh
Esray) and Shma vary, depending on location and time of year. Check with a reliable Jewish
calendar or a competent, G-d-fearing rabbi for exact times, and to determine if the times
when you pray match the times of the mitzva of reading Shma, especially when you are away
from home in unfamiliar territory. When the times for prayer and Shma do not overlap, you
have to say Shma before or after prayer, at the time during which the mitzva of Shma
applies. If the time passes without fulfilling the mitzva, the mitzva is lost forever and
one is guilty of having negated an obligation from the Torah.
When one says Shma in shacharis or ma'ariv
with a minyan, the reader adds the three words which bring the count of words in Shma up
to 248, as required, so the individual does not have to add them himself. However, when
one says Shma alone, such as when praying without a minyan, or saying Shma for the mitzva
before shacharis or after ma'ariv, he must add three words to bring the word count up to
248. There are different customs as to which way one adds three words, so check with your
When one says Shma for the mitzva before
shacharis or after ma'ariv, one says, in the regular way, the reading of Shma which is in
the order of prayer, when praying shacharis or ma'ariv. Shma fulfills an additional role
in the order of prayer, besides the mitzva of reading Shma morning and night. It brings
words from the Torah into the order of prayer [Rashi]. Therefore, when one says Shma in
its proper time, separately from the order of prayer, one still says Shma in its usual way
in the Sidur [prayer book] and he has the merit of saying words of Torah, when reading
Shma in its regular place in the order of prayer. There is no problem that he is saying
Shma twice, he is adding a mitzva.
The first paragraph of Shma focuses on
accepting the Kingship of G-d and on love of Him. The second paragraph focuses on
accepting His commandments and on the reward for obeying them and the punishment for
violating them. The third paragraph focuses on the mitzva of tzitzis, which is a reminder
to fulfill all of G-d's commandments; and on G-d's taking our people out of the land of
Egypt in order that He be our G-d.
When saying the verse "Shma," you
must have kavana [intention, concentration], know that the reading of Shma is a mitzva
from the Torah and understand that you are accepting G-d as your King.
When saying the word "Shma," you
must have in mind that you understand that you are accepting the "ol malchus Shomayim
(the yolk of the Kingdom of Heaven)," which you can only achieve if you mentally
concentrate on understanding that you are taking on this commitment. Without knowing and
understanding what you are doing, you cannot truly take on G-d's authority or commit
yourself to it.
When you say the word "Yisrael,"
have in mind that every Jew in general accepts G-d's authority and that you, yourself in
particular, are accepting it.
When you say Hashem's name
("Ado..."), have in mind, "He is the L-rd of everything and He always was
[existed in the past], He now is [exists in the present] and He always will be [will exist
in the future]." This applies also when you repeat this name of Hashem in this verse
the second time.
When you say "Elokainu," have in
mind that G-d is all-powerful, all-capable, He can do everything.
When you get to the word,
"echod," you have distinct thoughts for each of the three letters, as you
pronounce them each. Each meaning relates to the numerical value of each letter. When you
pronounce the alef [whose numerical value is one], have in mind that G-d is One. When you
pronounce the ches [whose numerical value is eight], have in mind that Hashem is the ruler
in the seven Heavens and on earth [in all eight domains]. Rav Moshe Feinstein poskined
[decided as a matter of conclusive law] that it would be a limitation on G-d to think this
alone, since G-d is everywhere, beyond even where we humans know Him to be on earth and in
the seven Heavens. Therefore, one should have in mind that G-d is on earth and in the
seven Heavens, AND everywhere else beyond that. This way, we specify the eight domains
indicated by the numerical value of the letter ches [and required by halacha], while not
"limiting" G-d in any way to "only eight" domains. When you get to the
dalet [whose numerical value is four], have in mind that "Hashem is King in all four
directions: north, east, south and west."
If possible, have kavana throughout all of
Shma. If you do not know Hebrew, study the meaning with a good and Torah-loyal
translation. If you can't manage to concentrate on the meaning of what you are saying all
throughout, have kavana for the first paragraph. If you can't, have kavana till
"hayom al livavecha." If you can't, have kavana till "mi'odecha." If
you can't, have kavana in the first verse and the next sentence, "Boruch shaim
kavod...vo'ed." If you can't, the minimum is the first verse, as described above (the
complete verse from "Shma" till "echod").
It is a mitzva to pronounce every word
clearly and separately. This is particularly important when the last letter of a word is
the same as the first letter of the next (e.g. bichol livovcha, al livavecha, vi'avaditem
mehaira) or when a word starts with the letter alef, the letter ayin, or the vowel-vov
which is pronounced as "u." In such cases, the words are "at risk" of
being joined together and slurred, as if two words have become one double-length word. In
the failure to have pronounced two separate words separately and properly, you have not
correctly said the words of "Shma." If a person joined two words together
because this was the way he was trained to say Shma, even though it is not correct, Rabbi
Moshe Feinstein wrote that we can be lenient and he does not have to go back and repeat
Shma. However, the person who joined separate words, even when not canceling the mitzva of
Shma, has lost the mitzva of saying Shma properly. It is proper to learn how to pronounce
and to separate every word correctly, to say the mitzva as it should be.
In the word "yevulah" there is a
"mapik heh," which is a letter "heh" specifically at the end of a word
which has a dot in it. A "mapik heh" means that you pronounce the vowel just
before the heh and then end the word with the heh sound (like the English letter
"h") AFTER the vowel sound. Without this dot, a heh at the end of a word is
silent. With the dot, the heh must be pronounced and this must be AFTER pronouncing the
vowel. In this case, it must be pronounced "aH." If one does not say this word
(in the second paragraph of Shma) pronouncing the mapik heh ("yevulaH"), one may
fail to be yotzai (fail to satisfy his obligation to say Shma), because it changes the
meaning of the word. In this case, the mapik heh transforms the noun from a plain form
into a possessive form. Without the mapik heh, "yevula" means
"harvest," and with the mapik heh "yevulaH" means "its
harvest." Without the mapik heh, you are failing to say that the land will give ITS
harvest, which is the meaning that is required. Therefore, you would not fulfill the
mitzva of reading of Shma.
When saying, towards the end of the third
paragraph, "asher hotzaysee eschem mi'eretz Mitzrayim," have in mind that
"Hashem took us out of the land of Egypt." The Talmud, tractate Brachos, says
that remembering (at this point in Shma) that G-d took us out of the land of Egypt is a
mitzva in and of itself. You can accomplish both mitzvos (reading Shma and remembering the
exodus) at the same time.
If one says a wrong word in the reading of
Shma, it is as if he is changing the mitzva, which is not allowed. One who changed any
word would fail to fulfill the mitzva of reading Shma. Therefore, one must pronounce the
dalet [d] in "echoD" and the zayin [z] in "tiZkaru" and the zayin in
"uZchartem" with emphasis because each is similar sounding to a different word,
and any different word would be wrong in the reading of Shma.
If one says a part of Shma incorrectly, or
fails to have the kavana necessary, one has to repeat the reading of Shma. If one repeats
Shma, one should say the repetition in a whisper, so it does not seem to any onlooker that
the person, by saying Shma twice, is accepting two g-ds.
If one forgets where he is in the reading
of Shma, or loses his place, or is in doubt, he must go back to where ever he must in
order to be definite that he says the complete Shma, and to say it without any doubt or
Shma may be said in one of several
positions; e.g. standing, sitting, lying down on one's side [but, not facing up or down],
walking. However, one must say the entire Shma in one position. It is forbidden to change
positions in the middle. At the start, one must be still, in order to concentrate on the
meaning, during the beginning of Shma. If one is walking, one must stand still and have in
mind the meaning of the words, especially during the first sentence [as described above].
Opinions vary for how long one must stop walking and stand still to concentrate. All
opinions agree that one must stop for the first sentence. Some add the sentence
"Boruch shaim kevod..." and some add the verse "Vi'ahavta...". Some
say for the entire first paragraph, others say for a certain part of the first paragraph.
Ask your rabbi for precise instruction [for how much of Shma would you have to stand
still, if you were saying it while walking].
If one interrupts Shma for the amount of
time it normally takes to say Shma (or interrupts for longer), one must start again from
the beginning and read it as a unit.
LAWS OF SHMONEH ESRAY
The Shmoneh Esray is to be said silently
and with concentration. One must say Shmoneh Esray forming the words only with the lips,
not with the voice, because the sound will disturb the kavana of others. It is forbidden
to even use a low voice. If one is praying in an isolated or private place, and no one
will hear, the voice is not prohibited.
One must have kavana for at least the first
bracha of Shmoneh Esray. Among Ashkenazic Jews, one does not go back to repeat the prayer
if one did not have kavana in the first bracha, if he said every word correctly. The law
for Sefardic Jews is to go back and repeat the prayer if one did not have kavana for the
first bracha, even if he had kavana for the entire remainder of the Shmoneh Esray. It is
best to have kavana for the entire Amida. If this is not possible, one should try to have
kavana for the first three brachos. If this is not possible, one should have kavana for at
least the first bracha.
If one loses or forgets his place in
Shmoneh Esray, he must go back to where he will be definite that he says the entire
Shmoneh Esray. The law requires saying a complete Shmoneh Esray as a unit. In such a case
(where one goes back, in order to assure that he says everything), one may risk saying
certain blessings within the Shmoneh Esray twice, which presents the potential problem of
saying G-d's name in vain, when said the second time. To undo the problem, have in mind
praise of Hashem and the names of G-d (which are said duplicatively) will be purposeful
and, therefore, no sin.
If one forgets to say "Ya'aleh
ViYavo" in the Shmoneh Esray on Rosh Chodesh (the New Month), one does not repeat
Shmoneh Esray of ma'ariv (night) [nor repeat birkas hamazone (blessings after a meal)].
However, one MUST go back and repeat Shmoneh Esray if he left out "Ya'aleh
ViYavo" in shacharis (morning prayer) or mincha (afternoon prayer) on Rosh Chodesh.
One MUST repeat everything (prayer or blessings after a meal) if "Ya'aleh
ViYavo" was forgotten on Yom Tov.
One should try to pray within four amos of
the wall, facing towards the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (for example, if you are in America,
you would face eastward during prayer). There should be no permanent fixed object between
you and the wall, or else it is not considered as if you are in front of the wall. One
must forego prayer near the wall if it would mean an argument with anyone else over it.
Peace is generally among the highest of priorities in all things and at all times.
It is forbidden to speak, except for
prescribed components of the prayer service, from the beginning of Pesukai Dezimra until
the end of Tachanun, including during the reader's repetition of the Shmoneh Esray; as
well as during the reading of the Torah, Haftara, any Kadish and any of the five megilos.
During Shmoneh Esray, you must realize 1.
that you are standing in Hashem's presence and 2. that you are speaking to the Creator of
the universe, which you must do with awe, fear, love, reverence, holiness, spiritual
attachment, humility, respect and your complete heart. We must understand, and concentrate
on, the meaning of the words and concepts in the prayer. We must not pray mindlessly or
mechanically or as if it is a burden. We may not even think in Torah during Shmoneh Esray.
The Vilna Gaon had an ingenious mind.
Brilliant Torah thoughts ran through his mind so quickly, that after he was 40 years old,
he stopped writing because he couldn't write as fast as he could think. He was once
dovening Shmoneh Esray and had 54 chidushim [new understandings] in a verse in TaNaCH.
After he completed Shmoneh Esray, he had forgotten all 54. He couldn't bring himself to
recall any of it. He realized that he was being punished by Heaven for taking his
concentration off the Shmoneh Esray. He made up his mind to keep his concentration on his
prayer from then on. The next time he had those 54 chidushim pop into his mind was during
another Shmoneh Esray. He forced himself to push the thoughts out of his mind and to keep
entirely concentrated on his dovening. Because he maintained pure concentration on his
prayer, Heaven rewarded him by allowing him to remember every one of the 54 thoughts that
tried to come to his mind during the prayer.
After the finish of your Shmoneh Esray,
take the prescribed three steps back. Wait the time it takes to walk four amos [about
eight feet or two meters] and then step forward three steps to the original place in which
you prayed. There, you say Kedusha. This is if the reader has already started the
repetition of the Shmoneh Esray. If you finish your Shmoneh Esray before the reader
finishes his silent Shmoneh Esray, when you step back from your Shmoneh Esray, you may not
return forward yet. You must remain still, in place. A reason for not stepping forward yet
is that you may disturb the concentration of other people who still are praying. You
return forward [with three steps, to the original place in which you just prayed] for
If you are in the "Yehee ratzon"
paragraph said after stepping back, and the congregation gets to Kedusha, you take the
three steps forward, say the entire Kedusha with the congregation and the "amen"
after "haKail hakadosh," then take three steps back and complete the "Yehee
ratzon" from where you left off. Be careful because part of the "Yehee
ratzon" is a verse from TaNaCH [the last sentence: "Vi'arva l'aShem minchas
Yehuda Veerushalayim keemay olam uchshanim kadmoneeyos"]. You may not interrupt in
the middle of the verse [except "amen"]. If you are in the verse from TaNach,
finish it before joining the Kedusha; or, catch yourself before saying it and resume with
saying it after Kedusha. After saying "amen" to "hakail hakadosh,"
proceed with the three steps back and continue with the unsaid part of the "Yehee
ratzon." When finished with the completed "Yehee ratzon," take three steps
forward in the usual fashion.
If you are saying something which is part
of the order of prayer, and you are in a place where you are allowed to answer some or all
of Kedusha, you are allowed to continue saying the thing you are in the middle of while
the congregation starts the first introductory sentence of Kedusha (Nikadesh es
Shimcha...) if 1. you will complete something that is a complete unit necessary in the
order of prayer [for example, the section "Elokai Netzur...Va'anaynee" at the
end of Shmoneh Esray, or if you are at the end section of the blessing of
"Yishtabach"] and 2. you will be finished in time to join the congregation by
the start of "Kadosh, kadosh...", even though you skip the initial sentence
"Nikadesh es Shimcha...". If you do not expect to finish the unit on time to be
able to join Kedusha with the congregation by the start of "Kadosh, kadosh...",
then you would be obligated to pause in what you are praying, in advance of the start of
Kedusha, and say all of "Kedusha" together with the congregation (as much as you
are allowed to, depending on where you are holding).
This also applies for necessary silent
pausing when you are within Shmoneh Esray. You are obligated to pause, listen and
concentrate when the congregation gets to Kedusha or a reading of the Torah, even though
you are in the middle of Shmoneh Esray and must remain still and silent. If, for example,
you are in the middle of one of the brachos of your silent Shmoneh Esray and the
congregation starts Kedusha ["Nikadesh..."], if you will finish the bracha (that
you are in the middle of) in time to become silent and still for "Kadosh,
kadosh," then finish the bracha and then silently listen and concentrate till the end
of Kedusha. It is better to pause between brachos, rather than while in the middle of one.
However, if you do not expect to finish in time for "Kadosh, kadosh...", then
stop for "Nikadesh."
THE MITZVA OF ADDING YOUR
OWN PERSONAL PRAYERS IN SHMONEH ESRAY
It is meritorious to say personal prayers
for your needs and the needs of other Jews; for example, for health, safety, peace between
two or more people, a shidduch [finding one's marriage mate], livelihood, correct
direction in a life decision, help from trouble, protection, etc. One should not forget to
pray for spiritual needs as well as worldly needs including, for example, for growth in
Torah, success in fighting a yaitzer hora [evil inclination], getting over a nesayone
[test from Heaven] successfully, Heaven's help in doing tshuva [repentance] or in
recognizing who your true mate is when he or she comes along. The more one prays,
the more one shows Hashem that he has faith that He is the One Who answers prayer. For
men, such prayers should be done in shul and with a minyan, to improve the likelihood that
the prayer will be acceptable to G-d.
Some people say the verse "Yihiyu
leratzon" twice at the end of Shmoneh Esray: 1. right after concluding the blessing
of "shalom" and 2. after "va'anaynee," just before stepping back. Some
people say this verse only once after Shmoneh Esray, only after "va'anaynee."
This verse "Yihiyu leratzon" serves the purpose of concluding the portion of the
prayer in which no response-interruptions are permitted and permits one to proceed to the
next "category" of being allowed to answer.
If you are adding personal prayer, even if
your basic custom is to say "Yihiyu leratzon" only once, you must, when adding
personal prayer, use the following procedure. You say "Yihiyu leratzon" both
times: after "Shalom" and after "Va'anaynee." The optimum way to add
personal prayers is to say "Yihiyu leratzon" after the bracha of
"shalom," say "Elokai netzur" till "va'anaynee." Then, right
after "va'anaynee," say any prayers you wish, in the language that you can best
express yourself in.
You can pray for as many things as you
want, for as many Jews as you want, for as long as you want, as often as you want. The
more your prayers include other Jews, the more your prayer is deemed unselfish and
meritorious. This is one of the main reasons that most of our prayers are worded in plural
language (so that we pray for every Jew to whom each prayer applies; e.g. help US do
tshuva [repentance], heal ALL Jews with illness, hear OUR prayers, etc.). If you need
things and you know of other Jews who need the same things, when you sincerely pray for
them, you are answered first. If you know of other Jews who have needs or troubles [even
when not things that apply to you], it is a great kindness to pray for them. If you can do
any practical things to help them or be kind to them, it is a great and important mitzva
to do good deeds for others, besides the praying, and to do these practical good deeds in
the nicest way you can and with a pleasant attitude. When the matter is truly beyond your
ability to help, so that there is no practical act available to you, then prayer is
considered a practical kindness.
The most important thing in praying is to
give G-d your complete heart and concentration; that the prayer be sincere and with
complete trust that G-d is the only One in control of the supply of all needs and that He
will do what He deems to be for the best.
When adding prayers at the end of Shmoneh
Esray, you say the verse "Yihiyu leratzon" TWICE. The first time is after
"Shalom." You then say "Elokai netzur" till "va'anaynee,"
followed by your personal additions. Then, after completing your personal prayers, you say
the second "Yihiyu leratzon" and proceed as you normally would: step back, say
"Oseh Shalom bimromav...", bow and say the concluding "Yehee ratzon"
It is important for men to keep in mind
that while in the "Elokai netzur" section, one has a status of "between
chapters." Adding personal prayers as just described [within the "Elokai
netzur" section"] means that you are extending the time you are in the
"between chapters" status. This means that while you are saying your personal
prayers, you will be obligated to respond to those certain things which would be
interruptions required by halacha (see chart above, items marked with * in the section:
REQUIRED VS. NOT ALLOWED INTERRUPTIONS DURING PRAYER).
You have to pause during Kedusha
[especially the part of Kedusha starting from "Kadosh, Kadosh..." until you say
"amen" after the reader's "haKail HaKadosh] and during reading of the Torah
[you may continue between aleeyos].
If you are in "Elokai netzur" and
the minyan comes to a point which requires your response [i.e. something in the
"between chapters" category], if for any reason [whether you are adding personal
prayers or not] you have not said "Yihiyu leratzon" immediately after
"Shalom," you must say "Yihiyu" before you have permission to make any
"between chapters" response.
If you said "Yihiyu" after
"Shalom," in the "Elokai netzur" paragraph, you are "between
chapters." If you do not add personal prayers, you leave this status after saying
"va'anaynee." If you do add personal prayers after "va'anaynee," you
extend this "between chapters" status for as long as you are adding, and you
leave this status with the conclusion of your personal additions. The "common
denominator" is that you become able to make all responses JUST BEFORE the second
"Yihiyu leratzon." After saying "va'anaynee," or after the conclusion
of your personal additions, you are no longer considered "between chapters" and
you can answer everything.
After "Va'anaynee," or (if you
add prayers after "Va'anaynee") after the personal prayers, you will say
"Yihiyu leratzon" a second time.
You conclude prayer in the normal fashion:
step back, "oseh shalom bimromav...", bow and "Yehee ratzon."
THE OBLIGATION OF
TORAH-BASED HANDLING OF TALKING DURING PRAYER
The Shulchan Aruch specifies that talking
during the repetition of the Shmoneh Esray is strictly forbidden and is a sin that is so
severe and enormous that the perpetrator cannot bear it. The Shulchan Aruch does not make
as specific or strong a statement about talking during the quiet Shmoneh Esray. Here we
have a fabulous example of how one must be taught how to learn halacha under the guidance
and training of a talmid chocham [scholar] who can give over da'as Torah [the ability to
instruct Torah] and yiras Shomayim [fear of G-d]. Let me illustrate with this true story.
A fool once said proudly that he learned
the laws of prayer and it does not say in the Shulchan Aruch that one must be quiet during
the silent Shmoneh Esray. Therefore, he reasoned, he can talk, even disturb others, during
the minyan's silent Shmoneh Esray. This is a good example of someone who can read Hebrew
BUT CAN'T LEARN TORAH. The Shulchan Aruch says that one cannot say his silent Shmoneh
Esray with his voice. The Mishna Brurah specifies, "not even with a low voice."
He can only say its words on his lips. If one cannot say Shmoneh Esray with his voice, kal
vichomer [all the moreso] he may not say anything which is NOT Shmoneh Esray. And, since
this offensive and self-congratulating idiot apparently did not learn the laws of the
holiness of the bais knessess, he doesn't know that any talk at all that does not serve a
holy and serious purpose is altogether forbidden in the shul.
During the reader's repetition of the
Shmoneh Esray, it is obligatory for the congregation to remain totally silent and to make
the responses required by halacha, such as "amen," Kedusha and
"modim." If anyone speaks, this is a very serious and massive sin. This causes
others to be less able to hear the things to which they are obligated to answer. Others
are required to vigorously protest, even if it is necessary to shout at the talker.
BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING IN A REAL-LIFE CASE,
TAKE THE QUESTION TO A POSEK [RABBINIC AUTHORITY] BEFORE YOU START SCREAMING AND RANTING
IN PUBLIC AT ANYBODY.
When the congregation correctly listens to,
and answers the required responses during, the repetition of the Shmoneh Esray, that
produces huge merit and increases the acceptability of the prayers which we each have
said, when we prayed our individual Shmoneh Esray. It is not allowed to speak Torah or
sing along with the reader during the repetition of the Shmoneh Esray. Talking:
* destroys the connection being produced
* excludes the talker from the worship,
* causes the one addressed to miss required
* tempts the one addressed to also talk.
The talking is a chilul Hashem [profanation
of G-d], which is a very seriously punished sin. Chilul Hashem cannot be atoned without
tshuva [complete repentance] and the perpetrator's death. The speakers' behavior is both
selfish and destructive. The speaker is harming:
* the people he talks to,
* the congregation and
* the shul.
Chazal tell us that all Jews are
responsible for one-another. We do not have the option of standing idly by a sin that is
Often what one wants to speak about in shul
is something which the person would not be interested in speaking about outside of shul,
proving that the drive to talk is entirely due to the yaitzer hora [evil inclination], not
the merit of the subject matter. When one person talks, it breaks down other people's
safeguards against talking; it makes it easier for others to permit themselves to talk
also, so the talking can spread and spread. Talking in shuls destroys the shuls. Shulchan
Aruch HoRav adds that one who talks while the congregation is reciting the praises of
Hashem demonstrates that he excludes himself from those who worship the G-d of Israel,
which is a form of apostasy/denial of G-d. The Mishna Brura says to remember that Hashem
dwells in the bais knessess. Sins where He dwells are of utmost seriousness.
The halacha specifically obligates us to
protest against one who speaks during the repetition of Shmoneh Esray. If it would work,
one should start gently. If the person would not be responsive to a soft approach, one
should be strong, or even shout, if necessary. If there ever is talking at times
designated for praise of Hashem or prayer, when talking is prohibited and we must be able
to listen and respond according to the laws of prayer, we must protest and make clear that
the talking is not legitimate nor acceptable.
You do NOT protest loudly if the person
does not know the act is a sin. You do not protest at all if you expect that the person
won't change from doing a sin or if the majority is talking [if more people are talking
than not, Rachmona litzlon]. In such a case, the best idea is to leave and get another
shul that is more learned in, and committed, to halacha.
When you are allowed to protest, you may
continue until the person says he will either hit or curse you, if the sinner:
* is doing it on purpose,
* knows that it is wrong and
* is in the minority.
Then there is a chance that the rebuke will
be effective and accepted. If any sin is one that is openly stated in the Torah, you would
be obligated to censure him at least once, even if you expect it will not be effective. If
the violation is in public and produces a chilul Hashem, if a gentle and discreet attempt
to correct the person does not help, it is permissible to shame the person to stop him
from his sin, from disturbing the congregation and from offending Hashem.
A certain shul in Brooklyn was founded by a
group of dedicated yeshivish men who wanted their shul to embody the requirements of a
shul, including: no talking during prayer. Some were so dedicated to the fulfillment of
the laws of prayer and synagogue that they formed a "vaad mora mikdosh (association
of those with awe for a holy place)." Members of the vaad agreed never to talk at all
in shul except for that which is required for prayer and to control their younger
On Friday nights, an "outsider"
would come steadily and he would talk to a friend during services. The friend was not
active about talking, but since the other would come over and start to talk, he would be
Zundel, one of the original members, was
offended and bothered by the rude, talkative individual. After many months of holding in
his upset, Zundel, one Friday night, said "Shhh" very emphatically a few times.
After dovening, the talker gave Zundel an argument for embarrassing him in public.
After the shul emptied, Zundel complained
to Yitzchok, founder of the "vaad" (the group of those who do not talk at all in
shul) about the chutzpa of this incessant talker, who claims the right to not be
embarrassed about his talking during dovening! In fact, Rambam writes in Hilchos Dayos
that one should scream and revile one who violates a sin that is bain odom leMakome
[towards G-d], such as talking in shul. And all he said was, "shhh." He didn't
even rebuke the talker with words! The audacity! Zundel was upset.
Yitzchok had an idea. Instead of escalating
what could develop into a major confrontation, he would work on the second fellow who the
talker always talks to. His father was a rav and a talmid chochom [scholar]. Yitzchok
would propose to the listener that he join the "vaad," on the grounds that this
would have him behave in shul as his father would have wanted. He would have no choice but
to be silent in shul, except for the prayers. Then, when the talker will have no one in
shul who will listen to him, he will have no way to talk.
During the coming week, Yitzchok had
occasion to propose that the listener join the "vaad." He agreed to think about
it. About a week later, he decided to join. The next Friday, the talker came over to him
and went into his chatterbox routine. The man silently pointed to the "vaad"
list on the door of the shul [which now had his name written on it], demonstrating that he
could have no part in talking during the services in shul. The man had no one to talk
with, and Zundel was saved from a fight.
The Mishna Brura [124:27] writes that each
shul should appoint specific people to enforce the no-talking rules that must be in effect
in the congregation.
Rambam (Hilchos Dayos) writes that it is
human nature to be influenced by other people and to influence other people. People affect
each other's attitudes, thoughts and behaviors. Therefore, we should be with righteous and
learned people, who will be good influences on us, who will strengthen us spiritually and
elevate us. We must stay away from evil or compromising people and we must ignore
peer-pressure. Don't let anyone pressure, humiliate or intimidate you into talking in
shul. Don't be afraid of being ostracized or labeled as an "extremist." Chazal
say it is better to be laughed at and called "idiot" all your life than to be
seen as evil before G-d for one moment. Chazal also say that this is a "reversed
world." This means that in this world people honor the person who is rich, arrogant,
noisy or powerful. However, in Heaven, the humble, poor, spiritual and Torah-loyal person
is the one who is honored.
You are not allowed to put a stumbling
block before any other person [i.e. it is a mitzva to not cause someone else to sin] and
talking is causing another to talk, which causes them to stumble in sin. Talking lets
other people to cause you to talk. This gives them the power to make you stumble
spiritually. Conversing when it is forbidden makes both parties cause each other to
stumble. This also can violate other Torah commandments such as the obligation to be holy,
to fear G-d's sanctuary, to never slander people or hurt someone's feelings nor to get
When bringing children to shul, train them
to answer "amen" and "Yehay Shmay raba..." and how to behave in shul.
Do not bring them to shul until they are
prepared to be trained to conduct themselves in shul properly and to recognize that it is
a serious place, unlike other places where they can play or have free reign to do whatever
they want. If they do not behave, do not bring them to shul. If they come to shul before
they can understand that shul has a behavior code and obligations, they will learn to
disrespect shul, they disturb other people, and, if they are not disciplined, they will
learn that being wild or misbehaved is alright. This attitude will attach itself to the
child and may never leave him, in full or part, in shul and elsewhere, throughout life.
To disturb and distract others from doing a
mitzva is one of the 24 sins that Rambam writes are very difficult to do tshuva on
[Hilchos Tshuva, chapter 4]. Since this entails interpersonal obligations which require
forgiveness, and appeasing someone when one has wronged another, it is more difficult
because, when children are distracting, it is difficult to determine who in the shul was
disturbed and how much.
One cannot restore the person's lost prayer
or concentration or peace of mind [like one can restore something physical that was stolen
that one can give back]. It is difficult to forgive lost opportunity for doing the mitzva
of praying, for that person's asking for his physical and spiritual needs from Hashem, for
that person's asking forgiveness from Hashem, for that person's attaining closeness to
Hashem. If these things are interfered with or lost, there is no way to evaluate or
measure how to make this up, how to forgive this or how much it cost the person who was
disturbed and intruded upon. This makes proper repair of the sin difficult at best, and
impossible at worst.
Therefore, each Jew should do everything
possible to prevent himself from talking or making noise in shul, or bringing children who
are not able to understand that they must behave and control themselves. This is
especially so when the disturbance in any way offends or compromises the quality of the
prayer services or the holiness of the bais knessess.
VARIOUS LAWS RELATED TO
It is forbidden to walk in front of someone
saying Shmoneh Esray. If one must walk in front of someone praying Shmoneh Esray, it must
be more than four "amos" (about eight feet or two meters). There are two
reasons: 1. it disturbs the concentration of the person praying and 2. it interferes with
the person's uniting with the Sh'china (Divine Presence) during Shmoneh Esray. This is
something that can be violated in crowded shuls, but it is nevertheless wrong and
forbidden, regardless of how crowded any given shul is.
If a shul is overcrowded, it might consider
adding more minyan times. Fewer people will be at each minyan.
One should not place himself where he will
be within four amos in front of another person praying Shmoneh Esray.
If you are praying Shmoneh Esray and you
are ready to step back, and there is someone dovening Shmoneh Esray within four amos
behind you, or, if by stepping back you will come within four amos of another person
praying Shmoneh Esray, you would have to stand still in place until the person behind you
finishes his Shmoneh Esray, because of the law that you may not go four amos in front of
someone praying Shmoneh Esray. This is the same whether the person behind you was there to
pray when you started or he came to pray Shmoneh Esray after you were already praying. If
you are in a place where someone could be behind you within four amos, look back before
you move, to see if you are allowed to step back.
It is permitted to walk behind one praying
Shmoneh Esray or on his sides.
If one is davening in a place where people
will be prone to walk in front of him (within four amos), he is causing those people to
stumble in sin. For example, if there is a door to a bais knessess or bais midrash that
people walk in and out of, or if there is an aisle in front of him through which people
walk, and there is physical space (within four amos of the place near the door or aisle)
in which one could pray, such that people will walk in front of him while he is praying,
the person who prays there is called "machshol," [one who causes others to
stumble into sin]. People may not see him praying [e.g. if they come through a door from
another room] or they may not know the law. By praying in such a location, he is setting
up potential sins [when people walk in front of him]. Causing another to sin is itself a
sin. Therefore, one must make sure, each time that he prays, that he selects a place where
people will not walk in front of him (within four amos) while he is praying.
The Chazone Ish says to be stringent and
consider children to be the same as adults, for the law of not walking four amos in front
of one praying Shmoneh Esray, whether the koton [child] is in front of the gadol [adult]
or the adult is in front of the child.
There is someone who publicly said recently
while giving a shiyur [lecture] that the rule of not walking four amos in front of one who
is praying Shmoneh Esray is no longer in effect. When I mentioned this to a major rov, who
is posek [law authority who is called from all over the world with shaalos/Torah law
questions], the rabbi of a shul, a dayan on a bais din [judge on a Torah court] and a rosh
kollel [head of an advanced Talmud and halacha study academy], he simply said, "That
person doesn't know what he's talking about." Halacha never "retires." It
is in full force at all times, in all generations.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, z'l, was once going
to a wedding. He had to doven mincha before leaving. He was under a bit of pressure
because, due to his busy schedule and multiple obligations, he was running late. You would
think that he would rush out to do the mitzva of participating in creating joy for a
couple and get to that wedding as soon as possible, with his driver, who was also at that
After Rabbi Feinstein had finished his
Shmoneh Esray, his driver was gesturing that they had to go. Rabbi Feinstein wouldn't
move. It was as if he were frozen in place like a statue.
Afterwards, he was asked, since they were
running late, why he wouldn't hurry to leave. He replied that there was still one person
praying. Since the only path out was in front of this person who was still praying, he
couldn't violate the law which prohibits walking within four amos [about eight feet or two
meters] in front of someone who is praying Shmoneh Esray. Reb Moshe, z'l, said that one
has to consider it as if there is a wall there, in front of person dovening Shmoneh Esray.
The same way you can't walk through a wall, you cannot walk four amos in front of someone
praying Shmoneh Esray.
TO RAV FEINSTEIN, HALACHA WAS A REALITY! IT
CONSTITUTED A WALL! He couldn't walk through the pathway - the same way he couldn't walk
through a wall - because it would have required him walking within four amos in front of
someone praying Shmoneh Esray there, which is prohibited.
This anecdote about Rabbi Feinstein, z'l,
tells us about the HOLINESS OF SHUL, PRAYER, HALACHA AND THE PERSON WHO IS PRAYING! These
are all very important things! And they are all still in full effect!
There are various kinds of wrong that are
committed in crowded shuls, and these must be guarded against, and are not justified by
the crowding. These can include, putting on tzitzis such that the strings whip the face of
the next fellow, pushing, shoving, talking about secular matters or at forbidden times,
leaving something in a place that can cause someone to trip and get hurt, arguing, etc.
These are not only sins themselves, they can also be the additional sin of "chilul
Hashem (profanation of G-d)." Shul is a place in which one should never cause harm or
damage of any kind. Shul should never be destructive, shul should only be constructive.
Rabbi Shimon Schwab, z'l, chief Rabbi of
the German Jewish community in the recent generation, pointed out that thousands of Jews
are returning to Torah observance (in what is called "the baal tshuva
movement"). When returnees to Judaism see any chilul Hashem [profanation of G-d],
desecration of the prayers or any misconduct by Torah-observant Jews, these baalay tshuva
may be turned off and lost forever to Judaism. The Jew who disgraces Jewry or
Torah-observance through his behavior, who "turns someone off" or causes them to
be alienated, carries the severe responsibility for the sins that the person did that
could have been prevented had the observant Jew created a good impression and brought the
baal tshuva [returnee to Torah] or "religious seeker" closer to Torah.
There is a principle called "tircha
detzeebura/imposition on the public." One must not do a thing which imposes upon the
public. Examples of this can be seen in shul on a fairly regular basis. If one is
scheduled to lead the services and he is late, the shul should start on time with someone
else because accommodating the original fellow (by waiting and delaying the start of
services) would impose upon the public. If someone wants to lead the services and he sings
in a long and drawn-out style, this can be considered an imposition on the public,
especially if his voice is unpleasant. In general, anything which imposes on the public
must not be done and, at least, should be the basis for a shaalo [Torah question] brought
to a rov [rabbinic authority]. Since a bais knessess or bais midrash is a holy and serious
place, there is extra yaitzer hora [evil inclination] regarding them. One must be
particularly careful not to do things at the expense of any Jewish individual and, all the
moreso, against an entire congregation. We may not impose upon a group anywhere in general
but, since people gather in shul, and it is a holy place, we should be careful there in
It is best to select a steady place in shul
that you go to most, if not all, of the time. Preferably it should be by a wall without
something fixed in position between yourself and the wall when you pray.
If you are traveling, you have to go four
miles further than your destination or back one mile from your destination, to pray with a
minyan, even if this interferes with your convenience. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, z'l, said
that we see from this the seriousness of the obligation to pray with a minyan and
One cannot say prayers or blessings in a
place considered dirty [such as a bath or any room with a dirty diaper] or if there is
dirt or a foul smell that one can see or smell. If one starts to pray Shmoneh Esray and a
foul smell materializes, one should pause until the smell goes away.
If one is the reader leading the service in
a shul which uses a different nusach [prayer text variant] or havara [accent or
pronunciation of Hebrew] than his, the reader is to use the nusach of the shul and is to
use his own havara. Similarly, if the one who reads the Torah pronounces Hebrew
differently than the congregation, he reads with his personal pronunciation.
If more than one person is saying Kadish,
they must make a point specifically to speak in unison, particularly so that they come to
the points of congregational response in unison, and such that the congregation's
responses are all said together and in unison.
"Alainu" must be said in unison.
If you are at another place in the prayers, and the congregation says "Alainu,"
you are required to join them [if you are in a place which allows interruption]. After
"Alainu," there often is a Kadish. After this Kadish [or after
"Alainu" if there is no Kadish] you pick up where you left off. The obligation
to say "Alainu" in unison is indicated by the prayer itself. "Alainu
lishabayach" means that it is incumbent upon US to praise G-d - all must acknowledge
His Oneness and that He is L-rd over everything. This is a fitting conclusion to the
prayer service. It summarizes why we have come to shul, what we have come together in a
minyan for and what the shul itself is for.
The Chasam Sofer points out that when we
say Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, this is a "minhag [custom]" and not a mitzva.
Therefore, the Hallel of Rosh Chodesh [as opposed to Yom Tov] presents us with a dilemma,
because we say the bracha on "the mitzva" of Hallel, even on Rosh Chodesh when
Hallel is not a mitzva. The problem, of course, is potentially saying Hashem's name in
vain, in a potentially invalid blessing. Since the power of prayer with a minyan is so
great, the blessing is acceptable when one prays with a minyan, even if the blessing might
itself be a halachic problem. Therefore, one should make every effort to start Hallel and
to say its bracha with a minyan. If one's prayer is at a different pace, or if he is
holding at a different point in the prayer than the minyan, one should make every effort
to reach Hallel with the minyan, start it together and say the blessing together with the
minyan, on Rosh Chodesh.
SELECTED LAWS OF THE
HOLINESS OF THE BAIS KNESSESS
It is prohibited to enter the shul for a
personal purpose, such as to take shelter from heat or rain or to take a short-cut. One's
head must be covered in shul. A person and his clothes should not have dirt on them in
shul. The shul should regularly be kept cleaned. Even if a shul is ruined or destroyed,
its place should be kept clean. For example, if grass is growing through the floor, it
should be removed, to show honor, to encourage the community to rebuild the shul if
possible, to publicize the fact that this is G-d's sanctuary, to show the holy place is
not abandoned and to make it more likely that the place will not come to be used for any
ugly or shameful purpose.
Generally, it is forbidden to use a bais
knessess for personal purposes such as to eat, drink, sleep, smoke or go through the shul
to use it as a short-cut. There are some exceptions which include, for example,
* if you need a quick nap just before or
during Yom Kippur [the eve of the Day Of Atonement] so that you will fast better,
* if there is a seudas mitzva [a meal
served for a mitzva purpose, such as for a bris/circumcision],
* if you are learning Torah for an extended
period of time or because the shul has a large Torah library (and you need to eat or drink
or nap to keep learning without interruption caused by going out), or
* if you go in to the shul through one door
to pray, you are allowed to go out after the prayers through another door; this is not
considered using the shul for a short-cut, since you went there to pray.
A shul may not used for eulogies, except
for a leader of the community.
One may not be lightheaded or silly in
shul. One may not speak of secular or purposeless things. One must always have a serious
demeanor in shul; characterized holiness and by fear of, and honor for, G-d and His
PRACTICAL LAW QUESTIONS
REQUIRE AUTHORITATIVE TORAH INSTRUCTION
Practical laws can be complex, detailed and intricate. They
should be studied thoroughly and reviewed regularly. Questions should be directed to a
qualified authoritative and G-d-fearing orthodox rabbi. The essential transmission of the
Torah is from father to son or rabbi to disciple. It is crucial that this subject, and
every aspect of Torah knowledge, be obtained from in-person teaching and living example
from those who know, live and embody the Torah.