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Praying with a Minyan

Praying with a Minyan

Parshat Vayeitzei

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When Jacob was fleeing from his brother Esau, he came to Mount Moriah as the sun was setting, and he prayed. This prayer was the first ever evening prayer.1 Some authorities maintain that he established the evening prayer as a daily event for his descendants as well.2

This article will focus on some of the laws of prayer, specifically those relating to praying with a minyan (quorum of ten men).

The Importance of Praying with a Minyan

A person should make an effort to pray in a synagogue with a minyan.3 G‑d never rejects the prayers of a congregation, even if sinners are amongst the crowd.4 Even if a person's kavanah (concentration, intention) is imperfect, if he prays with a congregation, his prayers will be heard.5 Nowadays, as we all do not have perfect concentration when we pray,6 it is all the more important that we pray with a minyan.7 It is said that in the merit of praying with a minyan, one will make a living more easily and be blessed with the fruits of his labor.8 In fact, even if praying with a minyan causes one financial loss, G‑d will repay him by granting him extra success.9

Praying in a synagogue (with a minyan) is a segulah for long lifeAn elderly woman once came to Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta and said, "I'm very old. My life has become unpleasant. I can't taste food or drink, and I would like to pass away." Rabbi Yossi said to her, "What mitzvah do you do every day?" She replied, "I go early every day to the synagogue even if it means leaving an enjoyable activity." Rabbi Yosi instructed her to stop attending synagogue for three days. She did this and subsequently passed away.10 Thus, we see that praying in a synagogue (with a minyan) is a segulah (spiritually propitious act) for long life.

The verse11 alludes to this: "Fortunate is the man who listens to Me to watch by My doors day by day, to watch the doorposts of My entrances. For he who has found Me has found life, and he has obtained favor from G‑d." The phrase "doorposts of my entrance" refers to the entrance to a synagogue. When ten men pray together, constituting a minyan, the Divine Presence rests on them, as the Mishnah states,12 "When ten are sitting… the Divine Presence rests amongst them." For this reason, the prayer of a minyan is considered more effective than private prayer, because no interceding angels are needed to raise the prayer to G‑d. Rather, the prayers are accepted immediately.13

In addition, when praying with a minyan, one is able to say and/or hear many prayers that are only recited with a minyan (i.e., Kaddish, the repetition of the Amidah [which includes Kedushah], the Torah reading, and more [see below]).

What Constitutes a Minyan?

A minyan is comprised of ten Jewish men above the age of Bar Mitzvah. Some are of the opinion that if nine men are present as well as a child who's old enough to understand the concept of praying, that too can be considered a valid minyan. Others maintain that in this case, the child must hold a Torah Scroll or a Chumash (book of the Pentateuch).14 While some communities rely on this opinion, this is not the generally accepted ruling.15

If one of the men is asleep, some authorities say that he still counts for the minyanIf there's a minyan in the room, but some of the people are unable to respond to the prayer being said – for example, they are praying the Amidah or they are mute – they still count for the minyan. If one of the men is asleep, some authorities say that he still counts for the minyan, but others disagree. Preferably, he should be awoken.16 This holds true for Kaddish or Barchu, but not for the Repetition of the Amidah, for which there must be nine men who can actively respond to the blessings being said.17

Which Prayers Require a Minyan?

No devarim shebikdushah ("holy prayers") may be recited without a minyan.18 These include:

  • Kaddish19
  • Barchu20
  • The Repetition of the Amidah21
  • The Priestly Blessing22
  • The reading of the Torah23 and the Haftorah.24
  • The Seven Blessings recited at a wedding and at the post-wedding feasts.25
  • The introductory prayer to the Grace after Meals which includes G‑d's name ("Zimun BeShem").26
  • The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy as recited in Tachanun, Selichot or when taking out the Torah on Holidays.27
  • Any Aramaic prayer.28 This includes certain parts of the Selichot prayers and certain parts of the Shabbat Musaf prayers. If the congregation has finished reciting the Aramaic section of the Shabbat Musaf prayers but is still praying, one may still recite the Aramaic section.29

What Happens if the Minyan Disassembles During a Prayer?

If one started to say any of the above prayers with a minyan, and then some of the people left such that there is no longer a minyan present, that prayer may be completed provided that there are still six men in the room. They may not, however, start the next prayer that requires a minyan unless the minyan reassembles.

One should not leave a minyan if his absence will cause the minyan to be deactivated. In fact, regarding a person who leaves in the middle of a prayer such that he depletes the minyan, the Torah states30: "Those who forsake G‑d shall perish."31

Practically speaking, if the minyan dissipated (but at least six men remained present) in the middle of:

  • Kaddish… the Kaddish may be completed.
  • The Repetition of the Amidah… the Repetition may be completed. In fact, in this case, the Half Kaddish following the Amidah and the full Kaddish after U'va L'Tzion may also be recited, as they are considered a continuation of the Repetition of the Amidah.
  • The blessings of the Shema of Ma'ariv… the half Kaddish before the Amidah may be recited, as this is considered the completion of those blessings.
  • The silent Amidah of Maariv… the Kaddish after the Amidah may be recited, as this is considered a continuation of the silent Amidah.
  • The Priestly Blessing… the Blessing may be completed.
  • The Torah reading… the Torah reading may be completed.
  • The Haftorah… the Haftorah may be completed.

As mentioned, this only allows a prayer that has already been started to be completed, but doesn't permit the beginning of the next prayer. This means that:32

  • If the Ashrei of Minchah was begun with a minyan and then the minyan dissipated, the remaining men may not say the Half Kaddish which precedes the Amidah.
  • If one started Yishtabach with a minyan and then the minyan dissipated, those remaining may not say the Half Kaddish and subsequent Barchu.
  • If the Shir Shel Yom, Aleinu, or similar prayers were recited with a minyan and then the minyan dissipated, those remining may not say the subsequent Kaddish Yatom.
  • If there was a minyan when the silent Amidah began, but then it dissipated before the cantor began the Repetition, the cantor may not start the Repetition.
  • If the Minyan dissipated in the middle of the Torah reading, the Haftorah may not be chanted.
  • If the minyan dissipated in the middle of the Repetition of the Amidah, the Kohanim may not recite the Priestly Blessing.33

Which Prayers Should Be Recited with a Minyan?

There are other prayers that one may recite privately as wellIn addition to the prayers listed above that may only be recited with a minyan, there are other prayers that one may recite privately as well, but it is best to recite them with a minyan. Some of them are:

  • The first blessing of the Shema in the morning. The reason for this is that some authorities maintain the Kedushah in this blessing should be recited with a minyan.34
  • The silent Amidah. In fact, it is proper to begin the silent Amidah together with the minyan.35 According to the Code of Jewish Law,36 this is so important that one should even skip certain parts of the prayer service to begin the Amidah with a minyan. (In practice, however, since every part of the prayer service has great kabbalistic significance, some people do not skip parts of it at all.37)
  • The recital of the Shema. This is because the Shema contains 245 words, and to reach the significant number of 248 (the amount of limbs in the body), the chazzan repeats the last three words of the Shema on behalf of the congregation.38
  • The prayer of U'va L'Tzion. Some maintain that the Kedushah in this prayer should be recited with a minyan too.39
Footnotes
1.

The reason he didn't pray this prayer earlier is because until now, for the past 14 years, he had been studying in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever (Talmud, Megillah 17a). One who studies Torah continuously, without interruption, is exempt from prayer (Talmud, Shabbat 11a. But see Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 106, that this no longer applies). Now that he was traveling, he had the time to pray (Commentary of Mahari Assad on the Torah).

2.

See Talmud, Brachot 26b.

3.

Code of Jewish Law, ibid., 90:9.

4.

Mishnah Berurah, ibid. 28.

5.

Talmud, Taanit 9a.

6.

See Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 98:2.

7.

Responsa Eretz Tzvi, s. 22, d.h. Derech Agav.

8.

Ma'or Vashemesh Parshat Mishpatim, d.h. Va'avadtem.

9.

K'tav Sofer on the Torah, Parshat Eikev, d.h. Ule'avdo.

10.

Yalkut Shimoni Parshat Eikev ch. 871.

12.

Ethics 3: 6. See also Tanya vol. 4, ch. 23.

13.

Shulchan Aruch Harav, ibid., 101:5.

14.

Shulchan Aruch Harav, ibid., 55:5, in the name of Rav Hai Gaon and Rabbeinu Tam.

15.

Ibid. See also Mishnha Berurah 55:24 and Sha'arei Halacha U'minhag vol. 1, pg. 138.

16.

Ibid. 8

17.

Shulchan Aruch Harav, ibid., 55:7 and 11.

18.

Mishnah, Megillah 23b. Most of the prayers below are listed there.

19.

Shulchan Aruch Harav, ibid., 1.

20.

Ibid.

21.

Ibid 124:6.

22.

Ibid 128:1.

23.

Code of Jewish Law, ibid., 143:1.

24.

Talmud, Megillah ibid.

25.

Code of Jewish Law, Even Ha'ezer 62:4.

26.

Shulchan Aruch Harav, ibid., 192:3.

27.

Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 565:5. See Mishnah Berurah ibid. 12, that one may recite them as one would read from the Torah; i.e., with the tune of one reading from the Torah.

28.

Shulchan Aruch Harav, ibid., 101:5 and Mishnah Berurah 581:14.

29.

Piskei Teshuvot, ibid. 12.

31.

Shulchan Aruch Harav, ibid., 55:3-4.

32.

The source for the following list is in the Shulchan Aruch Harav 55:4, Mishnah Berurah ibid., 6 – 22, and Piskei Teshuvot ibid., 8.

33.

But see Mishnah Berurah 55:10 that the cantor still recites an "abridged" Priestly Blessing.

34.

Shulchan Aruch Harav. ibid., 59:2.

35.

Mishnah Berurah 66:35.

36.

Orach Chaim 52.

37.

See ibid. Sha'arei Teshuvah 1, and Sha'arei Halacha U'minhag vol. 1, page 147.

38.

Shulchan Aruch Harav, ibid., 61:3,

39.

Shulchan Aruch Harav, ibid., 125:1 and Code of Jewish Law, ibid., 132:1.

Rabbi Aryeh Citron was educated in Chabad yeshivahs in Los Angeles, New York, Israel and Australia. He was the Rosh Kollel of The Shul of Bal Harbour, Florida, and is now an adult Torah teacher in Surfside, Florida. He teaches classes on Talmud, Chassidism, Jewish history and contemporary Jewish law.
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Aryeh Citron Surfside June 7, 2017

Hebrew and Minyan It is better to pray in the language you understand than to read a transliteration of the Hebrew. (I'm not sure why they print prayer books with the transliteration.) But, since Hebrew is a holy language with many deeper layers of meaning, it would by a good idea for you to learn the meanings of the prayers (a bit at a time) and then switch over to the Hebrew. (I would recommend learning how to read Hebrew, if you have the time.)
In terms of keeping up with the prayers, the Chabad custom is not to skip any prayers in order to keep up with the congregation. Best to start the prayers with them and then pray at your own pace, even if you fall behind. That being said, there are certain prayers that are cited responsively. These should be said with the congregation. Similarly, if they are reading the Torah you should pause your own prayers to listen to that.
Wishing you well on your spiritual journey! Reply

Manny June 7, 2017

I sometimes attend synagogue services but my Hebrew is very weak… A few questions should I read English? Transliteration? Or Hebrew slowly… When the leader continues the service should I skip to where the leader is at or continue from where I am… Thank you Reply

Anonymous May 11, 2017

I believe that it may be possible that the mentioned Gemorah in Taanis (note 5) is actually on daf 8a, and maybe not on 9a.

An amazingly resourceful and informative article. Reply

s Staten Island, NY October 23, 2012

woman to Rabbi Yosi Does this mean that it is a mitzva for women to also go every day to minyan? Reply

Tzvi-Gad Sydney, Australia April 15, 2012

Rubbish I had gone to "minyanim" in different countries and in different places, different hashkafot, and one thing remained true...I never EVER felt part of a minyan. It is NOT in my opinion true that all that is necessary is that there be another nine Jewish men there. The reason is that although HaShem may grant tefilla of a minyan, the minyan has to have the same intentions during tefilla, and I have never seen this union happen. Moreover, no one cares what I need. Worst of all, people just don't understand what tefilla is about. It is not "asking" for anything. It is supposed to be a precursor to action, but the only action I have seen people being intent on is to get out of the bet knesset quicker. I no longer go, because I just feel empty from such a "minyan". I'm sure HaShem is done listening also. Reply

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