Alternatives to the Shemoneh Esrei

  • Rav David Brofsky



            Last week we discussed the structure of Shemoneh Esrei, as well as the relationship between the various sections and berakhot of the tefilla.


            However, one might ask: is there another way to fulfill the obligation of prayer?  At times, the entire Shemoneh Esrei may seem long and burdensome.  May one who is sick or traveling recite an abridged version?


 Alternatives to Shemoneh Esrei: Havineinu and Tefilla Ketzara


            Are there times in which one may fulfill tefillat Shemoneh Esrei in a different format?


            The mishna (Berakhot 4:3) distinguishes between two alternatives.  Firstly, the mishna relates to what is known as an “ABRIDGED Shemoneh Esrei”.


Rabban Gamli'el says, “Every day, a man should say Shemoneh Esrei.” 

Rabbi Yehoshua says, “An abridged (me’ein) Shemoneh Esrei.

Rabbi Akiva says, “If he knows it fluently, he should say [the full] Shemoneh Esrei; if not, an abridged Shemoneh Esrei.”


            This mishna presents three opinions regarding the condensed prayer.  While according to Rabban Gamli'el, one should ALWAYS recite the full Shemoneh Esrei, and according to Rabbi Yehoshua, one may always recite the short form, Rabbi Akiva asserts that only one who is not fluent in the full eighteen berakhot may recite an abbreviated version.  Halakha rules in accordance with the position of Rabbi Akiva.


            What is the “abridged Shemoneh Esrei”? The Gemara (Berakhot 29a) cites Shemu'el, who gives the text as follows:


            Give us discernment (Havineinu), Lord, to know Your ways; circumcise our heart to fear You; forgive us so that we may be redeemed; keep us far from our sufferings; fatten us in the pastures of Your land, and gather our dispersed from the four corners of the earth; let they who err from Your prescriptions be judged; lift up Your hand against the wicked; let the righteous rejoice in the building of Your city, the establishment of Your sanctuary, the exalting of the horn of David Your servant, and the arrangement of a light for the son of Yishai Your anointed; before we call, may You answer.  Blessed are You, Lord, who hears prayer.


            Shemu'el's text, known as Havineinu, incorporates the themes of all thirteen middle berakhot into one blessing,  its conclusion matching that of the last of these, “Shomei'a tefilla.


            On the other hand, the following mishna (4:4) refers to another prayer, known as the “tefilla ketzara,” the short prayer: “Rabbi Yehoshua says, 'If one is traveling in a dangerous place, he says the tefilla ketzara.'”


            Furthermore, the Gemara (29b) records a debate regarding the precise text of this short prayer, and concludes that Halakha is in accordance with those who say:


Our rabbis taught: “One who passes through a place infested with beasts or bands of robbers says the short prayer.  What is the short prayer?…  'The needs of Your people Israel are many and their wit is small. May it be Your will, Lord our God, to give to each one his sustenance and to each body what it lacks.  Blessed are You, Lord, who hears prayer.'”


            What is the difference between the ABRIDGED prayer and the SHORT prayer?  The Gemara (30a) explains:


What is the difference between Havineinu and tefilla ketzaraHavineinu is accompanied by the first and the last three blessings, and when he returns home he need not pray again.  Tefilla ketzara requires neither the first nor the last three blessings, and when one returns home he must pray again.  [Furthermore,] the law is that while Havineinu must be said standing, tefilla ketzara may be said either standing or walking…


            Apparently, the Gemara offers two types of alternatives to the Shemoneh Esrei.  One who finds it difficult to recite the Shemoneh Esrei, as we shall explain, may recite an abridged version.  This version, known as Havineinu, is similar to the Shemoneh Esrei in both content and structure, and one who recites Havineinu has fulfilled his obligation of Shemoneh EsreiTefilla ketzara, however, is intended for those who are truly unable to recite Shemoneh Esrei and may indeed be exempt from tefilla, due to extenuating circumstances.  Therefore, it differs in content and form, and one who recites tefilla ketzara must still say the Shemoneh Esrei if possible. 


            This distinction supports our premise, developed above, that tefillat Shemoneh Esrei, by definition, must follow the order set out by the members of the Kenesset Ha-gedola, i.e. three berakhot of praise, berakhot of bakashot in the middle, and three berakhot of gratitude at the end.  Apparently, however, the berakha of Havineinu suffices for the middle berakhot.


            Practically speaking, the rabbis severely limit the possibility of reciting Havineinu. For example, Rav Nachman (ibid.) teaches that “a person may say Havineinu at any time of the year, except as Shabbat and festivals end,” since he must formally indicate the end of the holy day with an insertion in the first of the middle blessings, “Ata chonen.”  Furthermore, Rav Bibi bar Abbayei rules that “a person may say Havineinu at any time of the year, except in the rainy season, because he is required to make a request [for rain] in the blessing of 'Bareikh aleinu.'”  Even more striking is the Gemara's anecdote (29a) that “Abbayei would curse anyone who prayed Havineinu.”  The Semag explains that this refers to one who would habitually say Havineinu in place of the proper Shemoneh Esrei.


 The Practical Halakha:


            The Shulchan Arukh (110:1, 3) concludes:


In extenuating circumstances, such as one who is traveling, or one who is standing in a place where he is distracted and fears that he may be interrupted, or one who is unable to concentrate for the entire Shemoneh Esrei, he should say Havineinu after the first three berakhot

One who passes through a place infested with beasts or bands of robbers prays, “The needs of Your people Israel are many,” etc., and he does not need the first three berakhot


            The Arukh Ha-shulchan (110:6), after concluding that one who recites the Havineinu under normal conditions has NOT fulfilled his obligation, notes:


However in our times we have never heard of someone who would recite Havineinu, and the reason is clear.  In previous generations, when they would pray with much concentration, they established Havineinu for those who were unable to properly concentrate.  However in our day, when, regardless of the situation, we do not concentrate well [when praying], as we have mentioned, what would be the purpose of Havineinu?


            The Biur Halakha (110:1) expresses a similar sentiment.


            Interestingly, the Chayei Adam (24) (possibly based on the Or Zarua, 1:90), sanctions reciting a shortened Shemoneh Esrei, in which one abridges each of the thirteen middle berakhot, on Saturday night and during the winter; he even presents a text of this abridged Shemoneh Esrei!


            Next week, we will continue our study of the Shemoneh Esrei, focusing on the laws of insertions such as “Mashiv ha-ruach,” “Ve-ten tal u-matar,” and “Ya’aleh ve-yavo.”