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Shabbat Parashat Emor 5779

Ask the Rabbi: Sitting Next to Someone Who Is Davening on the Bus

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I was sitting next to my wife on a bus, and she was davening. Was I was allowed to remain seated when she got up to Shemoneh Esrei?

: There are two similar halachot having to do with the 4 amot around one who is davening Shemoneh Esrei, which people often confuse, but their parameters and reasoning could be important here. One is not walking in front of one who is davening Shemoneh Esrei (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 102:4-5). The other is our issue of sitting within the 4 amot of one who is davening Shemoneh Esrei (ibid. 1-3).  

The source of the latter halacha is the gemara (Berachot 31b), which in discussing how Eili Hakohen was near Chana who was standing in prayer, derives that he was not sitting too close to her. The main reasons given for this halacha are: 1. It looks as if the one who is sitting does not relate respectfully and thus believe in the davening around him (Tur, OC 102). 2. When one davens, he creates “holy ground” around him, and it is forbidden to take that area lightly by sitting down in it. (Taz, OC 102:3). This differs from the way most explain the former halacha – that walking in front of one who is davening disturbs his concentration.

There are two areas in which to consider leniency. One is based on the difficulty or inappropriateness of standing up. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 102:2) says that if the davener’s neighbor is weak, he may sit. The Mishna Berura (102:10) explains that the logic of looking like one does not agree does not apply when people can tell he is weak. Similarly, since, due to needs of comfort and safety, people avoid standing on a bus, the same leniency applies. Also, the Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 3) says that if one is sitting before his friend starts davening next to him, he is not responsible to get up, at least when the setting is not a shul (Mishna Berura 102:13). However, this latter point is not too helpful in your case. The reason one does not have to get up is because we blame the davener, who should have picked a different place (ibid. 12). Especially here, where the matter is less on the negative impact on the davener but in disgracing Hashem, that would mean that your wife would be at fault for the situation, which you do not want.

Another point is that perhaps it is not problematic to sit next to someone davening if they themselves are sitting. While the K’tzot Hashulchan (20:(26) posits simply that there is no difference, some suggest (see Tzitz Eliezer IX:7) that if the halacha is based on not looking like he respects, it is not a problem if they are both sitting. If it has to do with “holy ground,” then it should not make a difference. While the gemara does not hint at a distinction, the Rambam (Tefilla 5:6) can be read as limiting the halacha to the case of a standing davener. The Meiri, who says that the reason not to sit is to not disturb the davener, is clearer that it applies only when the davener is standing. The Tzitz Eliezer (ibid.) suggests another idea. Sitting for Shemoneh Esrei is on a lower level than standing, to the extent that the Shulchan Aruch (OC 94:9) says that if one had to daven sitting and then has the opportunity to stand, he should daven again. Although we do not follow this (Mishna Berura 94:27), the basic premise is agreed upon. Therefore, maybe the level of holy ground is missing if one sits.

While it is not great to daven on a bus (for the above reason and others), many women are so time-pressed, so that there is little choice but to do so. It seems weird to suggest that such a woman’s husband should not sit next to her, stand, or move away. It is anyway likely that someone will just take his place. As we have seen, there are strong grounds for leniency. There is, though, a win-win idea for a husband in this situation. Some say that if the davener’s neighbor is learning Torah during his Shemoneh Esrei, he does not have to stand (Shulchan Aruch, OC 102:1). So learning would be a good thing, on multiple levels, to do at that time.
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