Simanim 104-106 Pausing in Prayer

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #57: Simanim 104 - 106

Pages 263-267


by Rav Asher Meir






            Let's make a short summary of what the SA and MB say about pausing in prayer:


1. SA 90:27 - one should move if necessary to complete one's prayers in a clean place.


2. SA 96:2 in Rema - one may move to get a siddur in a known place if this will improve one's tefilla.


3. MB 96:7 - between berakhot,  one may pick up a book which fell on the floor.


4. SA 97:4 - if one's talit falls off PARTIALLY, one may put it back on (does it need a berakha? See SA 8:15), but not if it falls off ENTIRELY.


5. SA 104:3 in Rema - if a snake is wrapped around one's leg, one may move to shake it off.


6. MB 104:2 - if necessary to continue with the Amida, one may even peruse a book or ask a question.


            Note that in every single case, the permission to move during Amida is for the purpose of the Amida itself - in no case does the MB permit moving during Shemoneh Esreh for the purpose of some other mitzva which is more important (except for pikuach nefesh in siman 104).  In one place (96:6) the possibility of interrupting for some other purpose is raised (but not resolved).


            At first, it seems surprising that the MB hesitates on the question of whether consulting a book or asking a question is permissible in the middle of Amida if one doesn't know how to proceed - what other option is there?  And Rav Shlomo Kluger (HaElef Lecha Shelomo OC 50) forbids perusing a book!  The main reason Rav Kluger gives is not that it is "wrong" to look up the halakha, rather that it constitutes an interruption, and therefore is useless.  In his view, even after one has found the answer as to how one should proceed, one can't proceed but must start over since there has been a "hefsek."  THEREFORE, it is a breach of demeanor to move.  It seems that he feels one should wait until the Amida is over, then look up the halakha or ask the question, and then start over.  I don't think that Rav Kluger favors "winging it," guessing what the halakha is and then seeing if this was correct, since one may never say a doubtful berakha.


            The Chayei Adam (25:9, note 1 in the Nishmat Adam) points out that speaking between a berakha and its culmination is considered a hefsek, but if the speaking is for the purpose of the object of the berakha it is not an interruption.  For instance, asking for salt between ha-motzi and eating bread, while improper, is not considered an interruption - OC 167:6.  If the speech is necessary, it is even permissible.


            However, speaking in the middle of the Amida is NOT necessarily considered an interruption [for the Amida as a whole - but the interrupted berahka does need to be repeated] as we learn in siman 114:7 [and also in our siman, 104:6].  We see that interrupting the Amida has a more lenient status, therefore it should certainly be permissible to interrupt one's prayers to learn how one needs to proceed.  (Perhaps Rav Kluger feels that a hefsek in prayer is due to "distraction," whereas hefsek between a prayer and its object is due to "interruption."  Saying "hi" to a friend is an interruption but it's not much of a distraction - it's done instinctively.  Asking for salt is a distraction - it needs to be done deliberately - but it is not an interruption since it relates to the subject of the berakha.)


            The MB rules leniently in accordance with the Chayei Adam, and this is the accepted ruling.


            The real question seems to be if it is permissible to interrupt one's prayers for someone else's question - a common problem for a Rabbi.  Theoretically, there should be no difference between one's own prayers and someone else's, and indeed the Igrot Moshe in OC IV:16 rules that correcting someone else's tefilla between berakhot is not considered an interruption.  (The questioner suggested that one could remind others to say "ya'aleh ve-yavo" for the benefit of his own prayer, so that it would be in a minyan of those praying properly.  But Rav Moshe Feinstein's answer seems to rule that really there is no interruption at all.)


            However, practically, the person asked has the option of finishing his prayers first, so he is not really compelled to interrupt.  It seems that the wait would not be considered an interruption for the "shoel" for two reasons: for him the wait could be considered in effect part of his tefilla (though the Rema in 90:27 rules the opposite; but perhaps that is because another option exists); furthermore, since he is waiting for someone else to finish davening it seems that by definition the wait is less than "kedei ligmor et kulo" - the amount of time needed to finish the entire Amida, and less than that time is not considered an interruption.  I did hear a story suggesting that one may interrupt one's prayers to answer someone else's question, but it is so hard to rule from second and third hand stories, especially against common sense.






            The Rema in 123:1 mentions our custom of praying for the rebuilding of the Temple after stepping back at the end of the Amida.  Is this little prayer considered a pause for the purpose of our siman?  In Tefilla KeHilkheta, chapter 1 note 112, the author cites Rav Scheinberg of Mattersdorf, a leading posek, that this appeal is indeed considered a pause.








            Women, slaves and minors are exempt from Keriat Shema and from tefillin, and obligated in tefilla, mezuza, and grace after meals. (Mishna, Berakhot 20a and 20b).


            Obligated in tefilla: for it is [a request for] Divine mercy.  What would you have thought (if not for the mishna)?  Since it is written [Tehillim 55:18] "Evening, morning and noon [I will speak and cry, and He will hear me]" we might think it was a time-bound commandment, until the Mishna informs us [that it is not so]. (Gemara loc. cit.)


            This gemara is subject to a very important difference of opinion, hinted at in the MB:


            According to the approach of the Rambam, the gemara can be understood according to its plain sense: prayer is a Torah obligation, seemingly a time-bound one since our custom is to restrict it to specific times; we learn from the mishna that tefilla is NOT time-bound.  However, according to the Rambam, the reason for the obligation is NOT because prayer is "Divine mercy," and it seems that these words were not in the Rambam's text.  (See the Rif on this mishna, and the Arukh HaShulchan on our siman.)  This is the understanding of the Rif (Rav Yitzchak Alfasi, who is generally the source for the rulings of the Rambam), and also of the Rosh.


            According to this understanding, tefilla derabanan seems to be a time-bound mitzva, and women would be exempt.


            Rashi (according to Tosafot's understanding of Rashi) understood this reading the same way.  Yet, since he understood that prayer is altogether a Rabbinic requirement, for which there is no exemption for time-bound commandments, he struck this passage from the text.  Women are obligated exactly as men.


            Tosafot make an intermediate interpretation.  They hold that women are indeed exempt from time-bound commandments even when they are derabanan, so it would be logical for us to assume that women are exempt from tefilla even though it is only derabanan.  The conclusion is that they are obligated EVEN THOUGH it is a time-bound mitzva.)


            According to Rashi and Tosafot, it is clear that women are obligated in the tefillot derabanan.  According to the approach of the Rambam, they are definitely obligated in tefilla deoraita; they would be obligated in regular prayers also if they are obligated in Rabbinic time-bound mitzvot (as Rashi assumes) or if prayer is an exception to the usual exemption (as Tosafot learn), but it seems that Rif and Rambam actually exempt women, as mentioned in the MB.


            It is not surprising that the SA, who rules according to the majority of Rif, Rambam, and Rosh, considers tefilla to be a non-time-bound commandment.  The Rema relies on the Ashkenazi authorities much more than the SA, so from that point of view we would have expected him to comment.  On the other hand, the Rema rules according to custom much more than the SA, so from this point of view his silence is predictable - since the custom in Europe, as mentioned in the MB in the name of the Magen Avraham, was for women to make informal daily prayers, not to daven Shemoneh Esreh.


            The weight of authority, then, is to obligate women in regular Shemoneh Esreh; the weight of custom, as suggested in the MB s.k. 4, is different.  I suspect that most of the ladies who receive this shiur are stringent on themselves and conduct themselves according to the MB.


            It's amazing how difficult it can be for a mother of young children to find even the few minutes necessary for Shemoneh esreh, but this has no connection to the ruling of our siman - a man is also exempt from tefilla if he is preoccupied with a pressing mitzva such as supervising youngsters.




            One may not sit before the barber close to the time of Mincha until he prays, nor may he enter the bathhouse, the tannery, or to eat or to court.  But if one started, one need not interrupt.  One interrupts for Keriat Shema, but not for tefilla. (Mishna Shabbat 9b)


            Rava noticed that Rav Hamnuna used to pray at length, and said to him, You are neglecting eternal life and occupying yourself with transient life!  But he [Rav Hamnuna] was of the opinion that time for prayers and time for Torah are separate [one does not weigh one against the other].  R. Yirmiya was sitting before R. Zeira, and they were absorbed in their learning.  Time for prayers came, and R. Yirmiya started to rush (his learning).  R. Yirmiya applied to him the verse (Mishlei 28) 'One who turns his ear from hearing Torah, even his tefilla is an abomination.' (Shabbat 10a)


            "One interrupts for KS" - yet previously the mishna says "But if one started, one need not interrupt!"  The end of the mishna deals with learning Torah, as it is taught [in a beraita]: scholars who are occupied with Torah, interrupt for KS but not for tefilla.  R. Yochanan said, this only refers to someone like R. Shimon Bar Yochai and his colleagues, whose Torah is their whole way of life [umanut].  But someone like [one of] us, must interrupt [his learning] for KS and for tefilla. (Shabbat 11a)


            Many deep and exalted things have been written and said about the Torah learning of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai and his colleagues, and the reason it exempts them from tefilla.  I will add one insight, based on the approach to tefilla which I outlined in the shiur on intention in tefilla.


            I explained (in accordance with many commentators) that the word "mitpalel" is the reflexive of "discernment," meaning that through prayer a person clarifies who he is.  This is because prayer represents a person's innermost desires.  In the case of the fixed prayers, the prayer also shapes the person in such a way that these desires be consonant with asking God for redemption of the Jewish people, building the Temple, etc.  This does not contradict but rather complements the aspect of prayer as petitioning for one's needs, because one cannot ask one's needs until one has adequately clarified what they are!


            A person who occupies himself with Torah study every moment can effectively fuse his identity with the Torah.  There is no "self" which is absorbing the learning; rather, the self and the Torah are one.  Then, there is no more need for discerning and molding the self; one's very soul becomes, like the Torah, a vehicle for bringing holiness into the world.