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Shabbat Parashat Vayigash | 5769

Is it Better to Daven Without a Minyan or to Start Working Before Davening?

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Question: Is it better to daven without a minyan before work or do some work first and daven with a minyan later (at a halachically acceptable time)?

Answer: Work is one of the things that one should not do before davening once alot hashachar (some 72 minutes before sunrise) has come (Berachot 14a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 89:3). Work, in this regard, is not limited to the place one goes to earn money but includes a wide variety of household tasks of even moderate time duration. The logic is that when one gets up in the morning, addressing his Maker should be the first concern. Therefore, there are significant similarities in logic and halachic parameters between this restriction and those of not traveling, eating, or greeting people before davening (Berachot ibid. and 10b; various places in OC 89).

Generally, if the activity one is involved in is mitzva-related and cannot wait until after tefilla, it is permitted because it is not considered an affront to Hashem (Mishna Berura 89:36). In such cases, one should first recite Kri’at Shema, which is a mitzva from the Torah, (and probably Birkot Hashachar- see below and Ishei Yisrael 13:(61)) before doing the work (Mishna Berura 250:1). Sometimes steps still need to be taken to reduce the concern that one may get carried away and miss davening on time altogether (see Shulchan Aruch, ibid.:6 regarding learning).

The obvious first reaction to your question is that it is better to daven with a minyan before working. However, in cases of significant need, the pre-davening restrictions can be waved. One of the classic examples is going on the road before davening when the caravan will not wait until after one davens (see Mishna Berura 89:20). One should consider whether such a trip is justified (but such distinctions as between a potential loss of money and an opportunity to gain money (see Mishna Berura 90:29) are beyond our present scope). The Ishei Yisrael (13:(47)) says that under similar circumstances of need one could also do work before davening. These circumstances are certainly grounds for missing a minyan (see Mishna Berura, ibid.). 

Assuming that the fact is that you will not be able to both daven with a minyan and before starting work, the question is which factor should take precedence. There do not appear to be many sources on the matter but the consensus is that it is better to daven before work than to start working in order to get a minyan later (Ishei Yisrael 12:13 and Riv’vot Ephrayim  I, 66 in the name of Rav Hadaya). The ruling is readily understandable. It is forbidden to work before davening. In contrast, it is not forbidden to daven without a minyan. Rather, davening with a minyan is an important element of tefilla, which also makes it more effective (Berachot 8a- see Living the Halachic Process A-5). Since a serious inconvenience is grounds to miss a minyan (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 90:16 and Mishna Berura 90:52), avoiding a prohibition is also grounds.

However, the case for always davening first alone is not iron-clad. Firstly, the Rama (OC 89:3) cites and does not totally reject the opinion that after saying Birkot Hashachar one may do work. Although we would not normally condone this, when it enables one to daven with a minyan, it is not unreasonable. Secondly, you might have to daven so early that Shemoneh Esrei will be before sunrise, which is permitted only under pressing circumstances (Shulchan Aruch, OC 89:8). If the minyan alternative would also have the benefit of being at or after sunrise, this might tip the scale. Finally, if davening with a minyan enhances your tefilla, practically or even psychologically (see Mishna Berura 89:39), this too is a major factor. Therefore, we suggest that you discuss the different considerations and options with a rabbi who knows you and your situation well.


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