Shabbat Parashat Toldot| 5765
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Question: I often am asked to go to a significantly later minyan than I like in order to ensure a minyan in a house of mourning. On those days, I do not have time for breakfast between davening and work. To further complicate matters, in the morning, I have to take medicines that cannot be eaten on an empty stomach. May I have breakfast before davening under these circumstances?
Answer: The gemara (Berachot 10b) brings two p’sukim as the basis for the prohibition on eating before Shacharit. While the first one seems to indicate an objective problem, Chazal interpret the second in a manner that implies that it is an act of haughtiness to involve oneself in eating before addressing Hashem, his Creator and King. The Beit Yosef (Orach Chayim 89) understands that the prohibition is rabbinic and the p’sukim are only an asmachta (an informal basis within Tanach for a rabbinic law). He explains that Chazal formulated the derivation in a way that would imply that they forbade eating only when it, subjectively, displays haughtiness. What are some examples where eating before Shacharit ispermitted under these guidelines?
The Avi Haezri (cited by Rosh, Berachot 1:10 and accepted by Shulchan Aruch (OC 89:3)) says that drinking water is not indulging enough to be considered haughty. Mahari Abuhav (accepted by Shulchan Aruch, ibid.) says that, by the same logic, one can eat foods whose purpose is medicinal. The Biur Halacha (ad loc.), based on the Pri Chadash and Pri Megadim, says that in a medicinal context, it is permitted to eat even if one is capable of waiting until after Shacharit. Another scenario is where one is too thirsty or hungry to daven with proper concentration. According to the strict letter of the law, one should not pray in such a state of mind (Rambam, Tefilla 5:2). Even though we are resigned to sufficing with a lower than proper level of concentration, one has the right to eat or drink as necessary to enable better concentration (Beit Yosef, ibid.). The Pri Megadim (Eshel Avraham 89:13) says that this too is not considered an act of haughtiness and was never included in the prohibition.
The question, in your case, is whether eating which is not medicinal, but is preparatory for taking medicine, is permitted before Shacharit?The Pri Chadash (89: 4) is bothered by the need for special permission given to one who is thirsty to drink before davening. After all, one can drink water even if he is not particularly thirsty. He re-reads the Shulchan Aruch to say that if one is thirsty but considers it unhealthy to drink water on an empty stomach, he can even eat to enable him to drink. So we see that any eating which is necessary to enable an activity which halacha deems important before davening (including taking medicine) is permitted. The Biur Halacha (ibid.) suggests that before eating, one should at least say Kriat Shma (first paragraph), which needs to be preceded by Birchot Hatorah. Others add a suggestion to say a prayer that contains an element of supplication and/or Birchot Hashachar. Sincethese anyway need to be said before P’sukei D’zimra, it is not a big deal to say them a little earlier, before eating.
The only limitation is that the poskim are strict about extending these leniencies beyond the necessary minimum. (See, for example, the Mishna Berura (89: 21) regarding what one who needs to drink tea in order to concentrate can put into it and many other sources.) Thus, while you are permitted to eat the amount necessary to prevent the medicine from having a detrimental effect on your health (consult your doctor), that would not permit you to take the opportunity to have a full breakfast at that time.
It is wonderful that you are willing to arrange your schedule in order to accommodate mourners. We hope you can find a way to start the morning with the nutrition and calm needed to get a good start, but without compromising the primacy of tefilla as the beginning of one’s activities. We assume that, with further planning and continued dedication to doing things right, you can work out the situation in the best possible way.
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