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Shabbat Parashat Shemot 5777

Ask the Rabbi: How Many People Together to Start Shemoneh Esrei? part II

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I daven at a small minyan at which some people daven slower than the rest and others come late. We do not always have ten ready to start Shemoneh Esrei with the chazan. Should we wait for ten, or is six enough?

[Last week we saw the main sources and arguments of the sides on this matter.]

Several important poskim say that six davening in the presence of another four (= 6+4) is considered tefilla b’tzibbur, based on their understanding of the Rambam and Magen Avraham. This includes Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yechaveh Da’at V:7), Minchat Yitzchak (IX:6,7), Shevet Halevi (XI:20), Beit Baruch (19:3), and B’tzel Hachocma IV:135). Several also report this to be common practice.

The stringent camp includes (in addition to Rav M. Feinstein, see last week) Halichot Shlomo (8:5, in the name of Rav Auerbach), Teshuvot V’hanhagot (I:102, also citing the Brisker Rav), and Rav Y.C. Zonnenfeld (Salmat Chayim, OC 52). The contemporary Ishei Yisrael (12:7) and Tefilla K’hilchata (8:71) treat it as a machloket with a slight leaning toward stringency.

The primary disagreement between the two sides may be more conceptual (is it called tefilla b’tzibbur?) than practical (may one daven in that manner?). For example, the Minchat Yitzchak (IX:7), a member of the lenient camp, says that ten starting together is preferable to 6+4. On the other side, Igrot Moshe (Orach Chayim III:16) relates to 6+4 as a reasonable option in some cases. After all, tefilla b’tzibbur is not an absolute obligation and requires the investment of only moderate efforts (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 90:16). There are many questions discussed (including in this column) of preference between full tefilla b’tzibbur and other tefilla enhancers. 

There are also levels of connection between tefilla and tzibbur. It is best to start Shemoneh Esrei exactly with the minyan, but starting later is also significant (see differences between Igrot Moshe, OV III:4 and B’tzel Hachochma IV:3). Starting Shemoneh Esrei as chazarat hashatz begins has value but may not be full tefilla b’tzibbur (see this column, Vaeira 5773). Davening even in an empty shul has value, as does davening at home at the time of davening in shul. 6+4 may also have a status of significant but incomplete value. Teshuvot V’hanhagot (ibid.) calls 6+4 tefilla b’tzibbur and ten together tefillat hatzibbur. Igrot Moshe (ibid. 29) says that the presence of ten men draws the Divine Presence (see Berachot 6a), but only with ten davening together are the tefillot accepted in the best way (see ibid. 8a).

The Rambam (see last week) seems to view 6+4 for chazarat hashatz as ideal tefilla b’tzibbur because chazarat hashatz’s importance exceeds that of a minyan for silent Shemoneh Esrei. The Chatam Sofer (Kovetz 4) holds this, whereas Igrot Moshe (OC III:9) denies such an opinion. The Rambam thus can agree that 6+4 counts only for chazarat hashatz but say this suffices. If so, for the majority, who prefer silent Shemoneh Esrei to chazarat hashatz, the Rambam is not a proof. It might also work only with a full nine people answering every beracha and only for those who answer (see Kinyan Torah Ba’halacha IV:5). It also would not help at Maariv.

So, there is relative value in being stringent, but at what price?

Philosophically, approaching prayer united with the community is crucial (see Ein Ayah, Berachot 1:48,89). While it is hard to prove that ten starting Shemoneh Esrei together are a condition for unity, the Talmudic sources stress maximizing these elements. Therefore we urge the following. A minyan that has time for a complete tefilla experience (e.g., a yeshiva), should wait as long as necessary for ten to start together. Waiting can also remind individuals to come early enough and/or learn the halachot of skipping. A minyan that needs to stick to schedule (e.g., people must be on time to work) and/or is harder to educate may rely on the lenient opinions rather than tack on minutes. (One should try to internalize his responsibility for a minyan’s existence/proper functioning (see Rama, OC 55:22).)

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