Shabbat Parashat Shoftim 5772
Ask the Rabbi: Travelling Before Daveningby Rav Daniel Mann
There are a few things that one is to avoid before davening. The main ones are eating, drinking, doing work, traveling (ibid.), and greeting people (ibid. 2). Each one has its rules and exceptions, either because of need (e.g., someone is weak) or because a certain activity is not a significant activity (e.g., drinking water). It seems, though, that regarding traveling, the rule is intrinsically more limited. If we understood the prohibition too broadly, the halachot would end up being inconsistent, as we shall explain.
How bad is to travel before davening? If one has two shuls in town, there is a preference to go to the one that is farther away so that he can get reward for the extra traveling (Mishna Berura 90:37). Furthermore, consider the following. If one has a shul within eighteen minutes from his house, he is expected to go there to daven with a minyan, but he is not required to do so if it is farther away than that (Shulchan Aruch, OC 90:16). We have never heard that, if the shul is more than eighteen minutes away, it is required or even preferable to daven at home because of the prohibition to travel before davening. So it would seem that your traveling to shul, even if in a different town or part of town, is permitted.
One might claim that there is a distinction: it is fine to travel if the point of the traveling is to go to shul, but if the traveling is intended to get to the place one wants to go, just that there is also a shul there, then it is a problem. If so, we would have to consider how to categorize our case. On one hand, you need to travel to the area irrespective of davening. On the other hand, the reason that you would travel at that time is in order to get a minyan.
One can ostensibly prove that in this complex scenario, the traveling is not a problem. We mentioned that one only has to travel eighteen minutes to be able to daven with a minyan. However, if the minyan is located along a path one is traveling anyway, then he has to travel up to 72 minutes for the minyan (ibid.). So we see that an hour-plus of traveling before davening is preferable to davening first without a minyan, even though one is traveling along a route that is necessary for his personal, non-davening purposes. According to Ohr L’tziyon (II:7:6) one might be able to deflect the proof, as he says that the problem of traveling is only for trips of more than 72 minutes. However, assuming your commute is less than that, he would permit and likely require you to travel to the minyan in any case.
Therefore, our analysis indicates that traveling to another area before Shacharit so that one will be able to join a minyan is permitted and proper even if that is not the only reason he is traveling. This is also the practice of many.
The only authoritative source we found on a similar case is the Shevet Halevi (VIII:19). He discusses a case where one can daven with a minyan near his home, but he is concerned that if he travels later, he will have significantly more traffic. In that case, he recommends first reciting Birchot Hashachar before traveling, as the Rama (OC 89:3) brings an opinion that the prohibition on travel does not apply after doing so. Although the Rama says that it is “good to act stringently in the matter,” the Shevet Halevi reasons that one can be lenient in a case of need. In our case, the ability to daven with a minyan would certainly be a valid need. While we argued that in our case (where there is no option of a minyan before traveling), one should be able to be lenient on fundamental grounds, it does not hurt to recite Birchot Hashachar before going, and, therefore, there is a slight preference to do so.
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