Tefillat Mincha (1)

  • Rav David Brofsky



In previous shiurim (see http://vbm-torah.org/archive/tefila/67-20tefila.htm), we discussed the obligation to pray and the origins of the three daily prayers.  We noted that the Sages disagree (Berakhot 26b) as to whether the prayers were created by the Patriarchs or whether they were instituted in place of the daily sacrificial offerings (temidin; singular, tamid).


It has been stated: "Rabbi Yosei be-Rabbi Chanina said, 'The Tefillot were instituted by the Patriarchs.' Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, 'The Tefillot were instituted paralleling the temidin.'"


Regarding Tefillat Mincha (the afternoon prayer), the Gemara traces its origin according to each opinion:


It has been taught in accordance with Rabbi Yosei be-Rabbi Chanina, and it has been taught in accordance with Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.  It has been taught in accordance with Rabbi Yosei be-Rabbi Chanina…  "Yitzchak instituted Tefillat Mincha, as it says, 'And Yitzchak went out to meditate in the field at eventide' (Bereishit 24:63), and meditation means only prayer, as it says, 'A prayer of the afflicted when he faints and pours out his meditation before God' (Tehillim 102:1)…"


It has been taught also in accordance with Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi…  Why did they say that Tefillat Mincha can be said until the evening?  Because the afternoon tamid can be brought until the evening.  Rabbi Yehuda, however, says that it can be said only until pelag ha-mincha, because the afternoon tamid can only be brought until pelag ha-mincha.


The Talmud (Berakhot 6b) places great emphasis on Mincha (which literally means "gift;" see Bereishit 32:14, 43:11), declaring that "A person should always take special care about the afternoon prayer, for even Eliyyahu was favorably heard only while offering his afternoon prayer…"


The Tur (OC 232) explains the unique challenge of Tefillat Mincha.  Unlike the morning and evening prayers, which are recited at fixed times, i.e. upon rising in the morning and in the evening, before and after dealing with one's daily burdens, one recites Mincha in the middle of the day, while busy with mundane matters.  One might suggest that this is reflected in Tefillat Mincha's very identity: we offer the "gift" of Mincha precisely when we are most busy, not to begin or conclude our day, but rather to turn to God while we are most busy with the matters of our day. 


In the next few shiurim we will study the laws of Mincha, including its proper time and the activities prohibited before its recitation. 


The Earliest Time for Mincha:


In order to study the proper times for praying Tefillat Mincha, a brief introduction is necessary. 


Firstly, when discussing time, the Talmud generally employs sha'ot zemanniyyot, seasonal hours, which are derived by taking the total hours of daytime (or nighttime) and dividing them by twelve.  In practice, only twice a year, on the Fall and Spring equinox (actually, on the Fall and Spring equiluxe, when the time between sunrise and sunset is approximately twelve hours, is each "hour" sixty minutes long.  On the other hand, if the sun rises at 6:00 AM and sets at 8:00 PM, each seasonal hour will consist of seventy minutes!


Secondly, the Talmud, as we shall see, refers to two times associated with the tamid of the afternoon (bein ha-arbayim): mincha gedola, which begins a half-hour after midday (i.e., at 6½ sha'ot zemanniyyot), and mincha ketanna, which begins three seasonal hours later, at 9½  hours, or 2½  hours before night.  The Talmud also refers to a period called pelag ha-mincha, which refers to the halfway point between mincha ketanna and the end of the day, i.e., 10¾ hours after day begins and 1¼ hours before night; we shall discuss its significance later.


The Mishna (Pesachim 58b) teaches that generally the tamid shel bein ha-arbayim was slaughtered at 8½ hours and offered on the Altar at 9½ hours, during the later period, mincha ketanna; on Erev Pesach, it was slaughtered and offered an hour earlier, during the period of mincha gedola.  Furthermore, when Erev Pesach would fall out on Friday, the tamid was slaughtered at 6½ hours and offered at 7½ hours.


The Rambam (Hilkhot Tefilla 3:2) explains that the tamid was generally offered later in the day, in order to enable individuals to bring their personal sacrifices before the tamid shel bein ha-arbayim, which is usually the last offering of the day.  However, on Erev Pesach, as the paschal sacrifices had to be offered in the afternoon — after the tamid shel bein ha-arbayim and before night — the tamid was offered earlier. 


Regarding the proper time for the prayers in general, and more specifically for Mincha, the gemara relates to the debate regarding the origin of Mincha.  While Rabbi Yosei be-Rabbi Chanina attributes the origin to the prayers of our forefathers, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi insists that the prayers come in lieu of the daily sacrifices, and thus Tefillat Mincha "replaces" the tamid shel bein ha-arbayim offered in the Temple.  Let us return to the aforementioned gemara (Berakhot 26b), which teaches:


Why did they say that Tefillat Mincha can be said until the evening?  Because the afternoon tamid can be brought until the evening.  Rabbi Yehuda, however, says that it can be said only until pelag ha-mincha, because the afternoon tamid can only be brought until pelag ha-mincha…  


Which one is mincha gedola?  From six-and-a-half hours onwards.  And which one is mincha ketanna?  From nine-and-a-half hours and onwards. 


The question was raised: did Rabbi Yehuda [when he discussed pelag ha-mincha] refer to the middle of mincha gedola or the middle of mincha ketanna?  Come and hear, for it has been taught: "Rabbi Yehuda said, 'They discussed the middle of mincha ketanna, which is eleven hours, less a quarter.'"


Shall we say that this is a refutation of Rabbi Yosei be-Rabbi Chanina [who attributes the prayers to the Patriarchs]?  Rabbi Yosei be-Rabbi Chanina can answer: I can still maintain that the Patriarchs instituted the prayers, but the Rabbis found a basis for them in the offerings.  For if you do not assume this, who, according to Rabbi Yosei be-Rabbi Chanina, instituted Tefillat Musaf?  He must hold therefore that the Patriarchs instituted the prayers, and the Rabbis found a basis for them in the offerings.


According to this gemara, one may recite Mincha as early as mincha gedola, i.e., from 6½ hours onward. 


Interestingly, the Gemara elsewhere (Yoma 28b), as understood by most Rishonim, implies that theoretically, the tamid may be brought as early as midday, but by rabbinic decree, it was always delayed one half-hour in order to avoid mistakes.  Rashi (Pesachim 58a, s.v. Ela) insists that even biblically, one may not recite Mincha until 6½ hours. 


If so, one might ask, is midday still considered, even be-diavad (ex post facto), a valid time for Tefillat Mincha?  What if one mistakenly recites Mincha during the half-hour between midday and mincha gedola?


The Magen Avraham (232:1) rules that one who prays Mincha during the half-hour after midday has not fulfilled his obligation.  The Mishna Berura (232:2) cites Acharonim who conclude that one should NOT repeat Shemoneh Esreh if one unintentionally prays during this half-hour. 


Finally, the Mishna Berura, in his Sha'ar Ha-tziyyun (233:8), discusses whether the half-hour between midday and mincha gedola is calculated in sha'ot zemanniyyot or simply as thirty minutes.  While he, and others, conclude that one should use sha'ot zemanniyyot, many (see Luach Eretz Yisrael, for example) add a full thirty minutes during the winter, when the sha'ot zemanniyyot are shorter. 


When is the EARLIEST preferred time to recite Mincha: mincha gedola or mincha ketanna?


The Rambam (Hilkhot Tefilla 3:2-3) reasons that since the tamid was generally offered at 9½ hours, during mincha ketanna, therefore Mincha should also preferably be recited at this time, while mincha gedola remains a possible, yet not optimal, time for the prayer.  The Orechot Chayyim (Hilkhot Tefillat Mincha 1), the Machzor Vitry (pg. 78), and the Me'iri (Yoma 28a) concur with this ruling, which is also found in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Berakhot 4:1).  Shulchan Arukh (232:1) rules accordingly.


However, the Rif (Responsa 320), the Rosh (Responsa 4:9) and others disagree, insisting that preferably one should pray Mincha soon after 6½ hours.  Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yechavveh Da'at 4:19), after listing the Rishonim who agree with the Rif and Rosh, including Rav Se'adya Gaon, the Ra'avan and the Ritva, concludes that one should preferably pray at mincha gedola.  Furthermore, he even suggests that had Rav Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Arukh, seen all of the Rishonim who prefer praying at mincha gedola, including two of the "pillars" of Halakha, the Rif and the Rosh, he would not have ruled in accordance with the Rambam!


The Mishna Berura (233:1), after citing both views, concludes that "certainly if one wishes to eat or embark on a journey, or if one is able to pray with a minyan, and if he waits until mincha ketanna he will not be able to pray with a minyan, he may pray ab initio from 6½ hours onwards."  The custom of many yeshivot is to recite Mincha at mincha gedola.


The Latest Time for Mincha:


The Mishna (Berakhot 26a) teaches: "Tefillat Mincha [can be said] until evening; Rabbi Yehuda says, 'Until pelag ha-mincha."  The Gemara (26b), as mentioned above, explains this debate based upon the different origins of the obligation to pray.  Apparently, the period of 1¼ hours before night shares qualities of day and evening.  In fact, the Gemara (Berakhot 27a) concludes:


Seeing then that it has not been stated definitively that the law follows either one or the other: if one follows the one he is right, and if one follows the other he is right.


We will analyze this passage in greater detail in a future shiur dealing with the laws of Tefillat Arvit; however, it is sufficient to note that one who recites Tefillat Arvit after dark may recite Mincha until then, and one who says Tefillat Arvit after pelag ha-mincha should recite Mincha BEFORE that time. 


Assuming that Tefillat Mincha'stime is "until evening," we must question the precise definition of "evening."  The Posekim approach this question from two different (yet related) perspectives. 


Some look towards the tamid shel bein ha-arbayim, asking: until what time may it be offered?  Rav Aryeh Leib ben Asher Gunzberg (1695–1785), for example, discusses this issue in his famous work, Sha'agat Aryeh (17).  He notes that many Rishonim, including Rashi, the Ra'avya, and Rav Avraham ben David (cited by the Shibbolei Ha-leket, 48), believe that the sprinkling of the tamid's blood could be performed until tzet ha-kokhavim, "when the stars come out," well after sunset (shekia).  Similarly, the Hagahot Maimoniyyot (Hilkhot Tefilla 3:3) cites Rabbeinu Chananel, who writes that, according to the Yerushalmi (Berakhot 4:1), Mincha actually parallels the incense (ketoret) offering, which may be performed until tzet ha-kokhavim (see Yoma 31b).  Others assume that this question must depend upon a larger debate regarding the halakhic definition of daytime and nighttime.


The Determination of "Day" and "Night" in Halakha:


The question of how to define "day" and "night" in Halakha is complex, yet relevant to many areas of Jewish life, including Shabbat, fast days, Keriat Shema, Sefirat Ha-omer, and the Mincha and Arvit prayers.  The halakhic terms of "shekia," "bein ha-shmashot" and "tzet ha-kokhavim" must be defined.  While we will return to this topic when we study the laws of Tefillat Arvit, we will now briefly outline the major positions here and their relevance to our question.


The question begins with two seemingly contradictory passages in the Talmud, both attributed to Rabbi Yehuda. 


On the one hand, in Tractate Shabbat (34b-35a), the Gemara says this about bein ha-shmashot (twilight):


Our Rabbis taught: "As to bein ha-shmashot, it is doubtful whether it is partly day and partly night, or the whole of it is day, or the whole of it night; [therefore,] it requires the stringencies of both…


Rabba answered, quoting Rabbi Yehuda in Shemuel's name… "What is bein ha-shmashot?  From sunset, as long as the face of the east has a reddish glow; if the lower [horizon] is dark but not the upper, that too is twilight.  But when the upper horizon is dark and the same as the lower, it is night… [It lasts] three quarters of a mil


Rabba bar Bar Channa said in Rav Yochanan's name: "The law follows Rabbi Yehuda in respect to Shabbat…"


Rabbi Yehuda said in Shemuel's name: "When [only] one star [is visible], it is day; when two [appear], it is bein ha-shmashot; three, it is night."


This gemara, after explaining the concept of bein ha-shmashot, concludes that the law is in accordance with Rabbi Yehuda, who maintains that night begins ¾ of a mil after sundown, when three stars appear.  Though a mil (plural, milin) is technically a unit of distance approximately equal to a kilometer, it is often used in the Talmud to refer to the amount of time it takes for the average person to walk a mil, about twenty minutes (although precise opinions differ, as we will see).


On the other hand, the Gemara in Pesachim (94a) teaches that according to Rabbi Yehuda, "from sunset until the stars appear, four milin," not ¾, as appears in the first passage!


There are two major attempts, relevant to our topic, to reconcile this apparent contradiction. 


Rabbeinu Tam (see Tosafot Berakhot 2b, s.v. Dilma; Shabbat 35a, s.v. Terei; Pesachim 94a, s.v. Rabbi Yehuda) suggests that there are actually two different shekiot (sunsets) in a day.  The first shekia begins as the sun disappears below the horizon.  The second shekia occurs much later, when the sky is completely dark, except for its western extremity, which glows red from the sun below the horizon.  This second shekia, described by the source from Shabbat cited above, ends when the whole sky is totally dark (tzet ha-kokhavim), ¾ of a mil later.  The period of time between the SECOND shekia and dark is bein ha-shmashot.  The source from Pesachim refers to the first shekia, that which is most noticeable to the average observer, and asserts that that nightfall is four milin after this shekia.  The laws of Shabbat depend upon the second shekia, and therefore prohibited labors may be performed on Friday until 3¼ milin (about an hour) after the first shekia!


The Geonim (See Responsa Maharam Alashkar, 96, citing Rav Sherira Gaon and Rav Hai Gaon) and the Gra (see Bei'ur to Shulchan Arukh, 261:2) disagree.  They explain that the passage from Pesachim (94a) is not relevant to the laws of Shabbat, as it refers to the appearance of "all of the stars," not just three.  Thus, we accept Shabbat 34b-35a, which simply asserts that from sunset to nightfall (tzet ha-kokhavim) is ¾ of a mil, and the period in between constitutes bein ha-shmashot.  The Gra, aside from his textual objection to Rabbeinu Tam's opinions, simply states "ha-chush makhchish," "[common] sense contradicts" Rabbeinu Tam, as it is clearly dark during that time that he maintains is still day. 


However, the Gra does notes that the times mentioned in the Gemara, i.e., ¾ of a mil and 4 milin, apply only to the latitude of Israel and Babylonia, during the times of the fall and spring equinox; however, in Northern Europe, for example, bein ha-shmashot and consequently tzet ha-kokhavim occur much later. 


How Long is a Mil?


The Rishonim also differ as to the time it take to walk a mil, which impacts upon the precise time considered tzet ha-kokhavim


The Terumat Ha-deshen, cited by Rav Yosef Karo, in Beit Yosef (YD 69) and Shulchan Arukh (OC 459:2), and the Rema (OC 261:1), rules that it takes 18 minutes to walk a mil.  If so, ¾ of a mil, the time in between shekia and tzet ha-kokhavim, known as bein ha-shmashot, would be 13½ minutes.


The Mishna Berura, in Bei'ur Halakha (OC 459), cites those who calculate a mil as 22½ minutes, in which case ¾ of a mil is close to 17 minutes.


The Rambam (Commentary on the Mishna, Pesachim 3:2) states that the time it takes to walk a mil is twenty-four minutes.  Rav Ovadya Bartenura and others follow this opinion; if so, ¾ of a mil would be 18 minutes.


As mentioned above, Rav Yosef Karo and the Rema (see also Magen Avraham, 331:2, and Responsa Chatam Sofer, OC 80) accept the 18-minute mil.  Based upon this ruling, many are stringent and do not end Shabbat until after the tzet ha-kokhavim of Rabbeinu Tam (see Iggerot Moshe, OC 4:64), and some communities (especially Chassidic ones; see Responsa Divrei Yoel 18) accept this opinion as normative. 


According to the calculations above, based upon the accepted opinion that a mil is 18 minutes, tzet ha-kokhavim, according to Rabbeinu Tam, occurs 72 minutes after sunset.  Some maintain that Rabbeinu Tam himself calculates a mil to be 22.5 minutes, in which case, one who consistently adheres to Rabbeinu Tam should end Shabbat 90 minutes after sunset.  Some report that Rav Chaim Soloveitchik held that the time between shekia and tzet ha-kokhavim is one-sixth of the day; as one-sixth of a 720-minute day comes to 120 minutes, this would forbid one from ending Shabbat until two full hours after sunset!


In any case, common custom is in accordance with the Geonim, although the Posekim debate when tzet ha-kokhavim occurs at each latitude.  We will relate to this question in our discussions of Tefillat Arvit and Keriat Shema.


The Latest Time for Mincha - Conclusion:


Regarding Mincha, we noted that there are two questions which one must address.  Firstly, may one pray until sunset or until tzet ha-kokhavim?  Secondly, when do sunset and tzet ha-kokhavim occur?


Rav Yosef Karo and the Rema (OC 233:1) seem to rule that one may recite Mincha until tzet ha-kokhavim (see Arukh Ha-shulchan 233:9, as opposed to Mishna Berura 233:8); Rav Gunzberg in Sha'agat Aryeh, cited above, concurs.  Indeed, this was the custom in many areas of Eastern Europe, aside from Lithuania.


The Gra, however, questions this practice, and the Mishna Berura (233:14) and the Arukh Ha-shulchan (233:9) disagree, insisting that Mincha must be recited by shekia.  This seems to be the custom among most non-Chassidic communities.


If one unintentionally neglects reciting Mincha BEFORE shekia, according to many, one may still recite Mincha until 13½ minutes after shekia, during which time everyone agrees it is before tzet ha-kokhavim (see Piskei Teshuvot 233:6).


The Mishna Berura even prefers that one pray individually, without a minyan, to praying with a minyan after shekia.  Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yechavveh Da'at 5:22) and others (see Piskei Teshuvot 233:6) disagree.


Interestingly, the Mishna Berura (233:14) writes that bi-shat ha-dechak, under extenuating circumstances, one may recite Mincha up to ¼ of an hour before tzet ha-kokhavim (see also Sha'ar Ha-tziyyun 233:21).  It seems that this suggestion is relevant only to those who follow the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam, in which case one may pray Mincha until 3¼  milin after shekia, which if calculated according to an 18-minute mil equals 13½ minutes before tzet ha-kokhavim, at which point bein ha-shmashot begins.  If so, this leniency should not be accepted by those who follow the Geonim, who maintain that bein ha-shmashot begins immediately after sundown (see Piskei Teshuvot 223:8).  


However, some do accept this leniency. The brief compendium Halachos for the Traveler (pgs. 116-117), authored by Rav Donneal Epstein, for example, cites significant American rabbinic figures who accept this ruling.  According to Rav Yisroel Belsky, for example, one may recite Mincha in New York until 35 minutes after shekia (assuming that tzet ha-kokhavim occurs fifty minutes after shekia, as suggested by Rav Moshe Feinstein, Iggerot Moshe OC 4:62).  Rav Dovid Feinstein (son of Rav Moshe) insists that be-diavad one may recite Mincha until 58½ minutes after shekia, thereby accepting Rabbeinu Tam's shekia for extenuating circumstances.  The Acharonim differ as to whether one may begin Mincha before the latest time if one will conclude afterwards (see Arukh Ha-shulchan 110:5 and Yabbia Omer OC 7:34). 


As for the repetition of the Shemoneh Esreh, while many recommend reciting an abridged repetition (http://vbm-torah.org/archive/tefila/10tefila.htm) close to shekia, the Arukh Ha-shulchan (223:6) cites the Ari, who insists on reciting the entire repetition, and he records that such is the custom.  It seems that one should avoid extending Chazarat Ha-shatz beyond 13½ minutes after shekia.



Next week, we will continue our discussion of Tefillat Mincha.