Detours for davening: When Minyan and maps collide

  (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

The Torah passages and Israel's holidays are full of important messages that are relevant and empower our day-today lives. Rabbi Shai Tahan, head of the Sha'arei Ezra community and head of the Arzi HaLebanon teaching house, opens the gates for us to understand these messages, from their source, in a clear way. This week - Detours for Davening: When Minyan and Maps Collide

During this time of year, when families and individuals find themselves with a break between camp and school, it's common to plan trips to various destinations. However, traveling raises important questions about the spiritual atmosphere of such places.

Choosing kosher Accommodations:

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, (Halichos Shlomo, Mo'adim, page 174), delved into the question of whether it is advisable to embark on vacations and trips. He emphasized that such trips are sometimes indeed recommended, provided they don’t result in neglecting Torah study, failing to fulfill mitzvot, or weakening one's devotion to avodat Hashem.

Responding to criticisms that sought to belittle the value of such trips, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman recounted his own experiences as a student at the respected yeshiva, Etz Chaim. He shared that during his youth, they undertook trips under the guidance of the institution's leaders, who were themselves accomplished Torah scholars. Notably, that traveling has been embraced by esteemed scholars across generations. However, it's crucial to exercise discernment when choosing the intended destination, as it may present spiritual challenges for both individuals and their families. Rabbi Nissim Karelits (Chut Shani, Shabbat, volume 3, page 70) offers a word of caution against vacation spots and resorts that are disconnected from a sense of Torah and kdusha.

Choosing Accommodations Near a Minyan:

When selecting a vacation destination, it's important to consider proximity to a synagogue or a minyan. Opting for a place distant from the possibility of praying with a minyan should be avoided. Unfortunately, often accommodations in such locations are expensive and come with a high price tag, making them inaccessible to many people. Consequently, individuals are compelled to choose more distant spots for their vacations.

Numerous poskim have emphasized the importance of refraining from leisure travel to areas without a minyan, unless there's a genuine need for the vacation, such as the requirement to de-stress and rejuvenate after a challenging year or for health-related purposes.

In our contemporary era, the situation has evolved, and staying home with children during the interval between camp and school could be construed as a necessary form of travel. This perspective emerges because children often contend with profound boredom during this period, which might, in the best scenario, lead to conflicts among siblings and frustrate parents. In a less desirable scenario, it might even lead them to engage in activities that run contrary to our parental aspirations.

In order to understand when it is permissible to forgo praying with a minyan, one must first understand the importance of the communal prayer obligation. While there is no explicit mandate found in the words of our sages in the Talmud, there are several statements highlighting its significance. By comprehending the depth of this importance, one can better gauge how much care should be exercised in this matter. The Talmud teaches (Brachot 6a) that the Divine Presence rests upon ten men who pray together, as it is stated, 'Hashem stands in the congregation of the mighty. Similarly, in Tehilim (69:14), it says, "But I, my prayer is to You, Hashem, at a time of favor." Our sages ask: When is this time of favor? And answer when the congregation prays. Rabbi Yitzhak bar Rabi Hanina quoted another pasuk (Isaiah 49:8), "So said Hashem: In a favorable time I have answered you." 

Maimonides also ruled (tfila 8:1): "The prayer of the congregation is always accepted, and even if sinners are among them, Hashem does not despise the prayer of the multitude. Therefore, a person should involve himself with the congregation and not pray alone whenever he can pray with the congregation."

Understanding the Level of Obligation to Pray with a Minyan.

Regarding the level of obligation to pray in a congregation, we find several opinions. Some, like Rabbi Yaakov Yair, believed that there is not such a strong obligation. The Eshel Avraham, saw it as a rabbinic obligation. Others took it a step further, considering it even greater than a biblical obligation, as in the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, given the many "Amens" recited and the fulfillment of the mitzvot of Kadish and Kdusha.

The Shulchan Aruch states (Orach Chaim 90:19): "A person should make an effort to pray in the synagogue with the congregation." The phrasing of "should make an effort" has led to debates among the halachic authorities. In Yed Eliyahu (Siman Yud) and in Or L'Tziyon (Volume 2, Page 63), it's understood straightforwardly that there isn't an absolute obligation to pray in a congregation, but rather an obligation of exertion

This understanding stands in contrast to the opinion of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, O.H. 2, Siman 27), who wrote that the responsibility to pray with the congregation is an absolute obligation. He interpreted the wording of the Shulchan Aruch to mean that there is only an obligation of exertion in places where there was generally exemption. For instance, according to Rabbi Feinstein, a person must make the effort to travel only up to a distance of a mil (approximately 18 minutes) in order to pray with a congregation. But beyond that, he is not obligated to exert effort. However, Rabbi Feinstein explained that even though it's not obligatory, one should still exert more effort than what the obligation requires. This is the intention of the Shulchan Aruch's wording "should make an effort."

Rabbi Yitzhak Weiss also wrote that praying with a congregation is an obligation. The wording "should make an effort" is understood by him as emphasizing the exertion specifically to pray in a synagogue. This signifies that while it's permissible to gather ten people for prayer in one's hotel room or bungalow, it's advisable to put in the effort to attend a synagogue for prayer.

If the time for prayer arrives while someone is traveling and there is a group of ten men praying somewhere in the proximity of the traveler, even if it's not along the path he intended to take, it's obligated to backtrack or take a detour for a maximum of 18 minutes to join the minyan.

However, if the minyan is actually on the same road he’s traveling, he should keep going and not pause for the next 72 minutes until he reaches the minyan. The reason we are more particular in this situation is because the person isn't losing travel time, as the minyan is conveniently located along their route.

Accordingly, if someone is in their room, they should travel for about 18 minutes to join a minyan of ten people for prayer. But if the minyan is more than 18 minutes away from where they are, they can pray alone in their room. While there isn't a strict obligation to travel beyond an 18-minute distance to join a minyan for prayer, it's commendable to put in the extra effort and travel a longer distance to do so.

As mentioned earlier, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's perspective aligns with the belief that the Shulchan Aruch's recommendation to strive for praying with a minyan pertains to situations like this. He proposes that this effort should go beyond times of strict obligation, as in this specific scenario.

Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg (Halichot Shlomo, Tfila page 358) supported the viewpoint that while it is advisable not to travel to a location without a minyan, it is not explicitly prohibited.

The Obligation to Travel to a Minyan When It's Dangerous.

When visiting locations where attending a minyan at night could potentially pose risks, such as passing through unsafe neighborhoods or navigating mountainous roads with limited visibility, especially during rainy conditions, an individual might be excused from the obligation to pray with a minyan.

Indeed, in several instances, we have found that there are situations where a person is exempt from praying with a minyan if there's a genuine concern for their well-being. In Shulchan Aruch HaRav (Chapter 90, 17), it is stated: "One who lives in a town where ten people pray together in a minyan must go every morning and evening to pray with the minyan." Ketzot HaShulchan (Chapter 13, 64) explains that this directive specifically applies to the afternoon prayer (Mincha) and not the evening prayer (Maariv), as it can be dangerous to travel at night. Similarly, Mishnah Berurah (Chapter 90, 72) states: "One should go every morning to pray with a minyan, but not in the evening, because there's no need to travel at night for the sake of a minyan." Kaf HaChaim (Chapter 90, 77) also states that a scholar of Torah and a person who fears God finds himself in a location devoid of other Jewish individuals, and there exists a village nearby, a half-hour's journey away, where a quorum of ten men gather for the morning prayer at dawn, it is forbidden for him to jeopardize his safety by departing from his home half an hour before daybreak to arrive at that village and join them in prayer.

This article was written in cooperation with Shuva Israel