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