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Question: If the tefillah begins with an exact minyan and some individuals insist they have to leave, what is to be done – May the tefillah continue as though there were still a minyan? Is there any solution?

Zelig Aronson
Via email



Answer: As you note, the public prayer requires at the minimum a minyan (lit. “quorum”) of ten adult Jewish males. Let us delve into the source for this fundamental rule of Jewish communal prayer. Our Sages derived this from one of the hermeneutic principles (middot) of interpretation through which they expound the Torah, arriving at many of the rabbinical laws. These are the exegetical rules by which halachot are derived from the biblical text. One of them is gezera shava, the principle according to which a law is inferred from verbal analogy. Thus, if the same word or phrase appears in two separate verses in the Torah, and a certain halacha is explicitly stated in one of them, we may under certain circumstances infer on the basis of “verbal analogy” that the same halacha applies in the second case as well.

The Mishna (Megilla 23b) states, “One may not recite (repeat) the introduction to the Shema [Rashi: For the benefit of those who came late to the synagogue, one may repeat the Kaddish, Barechu, and the first blessing of Keriat Shema], nor does one [the Shali’ach Tzibbur] pass before the Ark, nor do [the priests] lift their hands [to bless the congregation], nor is the Torah read [publicly], nor the Haftara read from the Prophets [scroll], nor are pauses made [at funerals], nor is the blessing [of consolation] for mourners said, nor the [formal words of] comfort of mourners, nor the blessing of bridegrooms, nor is the name [of G-d] mentioned in the invitation to say Grace – save in the presence of ten. . .”

The Gemara cites R. Hiyya b. Abba in the name of R. Yochanan, who explains that the source of this requirement is due to the exegesis of a gezera shava involving two verses in the Torah. The first is found in Parashat Emor (Leviticus 22:32), where we are instructed not to violate intentionally any of Hashem’s commands, because it would result in a diminution of Hashem’s honor: “Velo techallelu et shem kodshi venikdashti betoch Bnei Yisrael, ani Hashem mekaddishchem – You shall not desecrate My holy Name, and I will thus be sanctified in the midst of (betoch) the Children of Israel; I am Hashem who sanctifies you.” We must zealously strive to sanctify Hashem, and in so doing we ourselves will be sanctified.

The second verse is in Parashat Korach (Numbers 16:21), when Hashem instructs Moshe and Aharon to separate themselves from the rebellious Korach and his followers: “Separate yourselves from amid (mitoch) this congregation, and I shall destroy them in an instant.”

This leads us to another gezera shava that is drawn between the word “ha’edah” in this verse and a verse in Parashat Shelach regarding the episode of the spies whom Moshe had sent to investigate the land of Canaan. When they returned with a bad report about the land that had been promised to the Children of Israel, Hashem made His wrath known to Moshe and Aharon (Numbers 14:27): “How long [shall I bear] this evil congregation (edah) that complains against Me? I have heard the complaints of the Children of Israel against Me.” Thus, just as there were ten spies, so do we require a quorum of ten people (to form a “congregation”).

Though we find no reference to the situation of our discussion in the Babylonian Talmud, we do find the following in the Jerusalem Talmud (Megillah 4:4) relating to our Mishna: “One may not recite the introduction to the Shema with fewer than ten [men]. However, if they started with ten and some [of them] left, they may conclude. Nor does one [the Shali’ach Tzibbur] pass before the Ark with fewer than ten; however, if they started with ten and some left, they may conclude. Nor do [the priests] lift their hands with fewer than ten; however, if they started with ten and some left, they may conclude. We do not read from the Torah with fewer than ten; however, if they started with ten and some left, they may continue. Nor do we read from the Prophets [scroll] with fewer than ten; however, if they started with ten and a few left, they may conclude.”

The Sages indicate their displeasure with such action as can be seen from the following verse (Isaiah 1:28), “… those who desert Hashem will be destroyed.” This is applied to those who hasten to leave in the middle of the prayer services, thus diminishing the number of those who form the quorum.

Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 8:1) notes that tefillah b’tzibbur, congregational prayer, is always accepted by G-d even if conducted in the presence of sinners. This is based on the statement in Tractate Berachot (8a) stating that we know that G-d does not despise the prayer of a congregation, as it is written (Job 36:5), “Hen Kel kabbir velo yim’as – G-d is mighty and does not despise any.”

He also states (op. cit. 8:4) that congregational prayer is conducted in the presence of not fewer than ten adults who are free men. The chazzan who leads the prayers is included in the count. Rambam adds that the recitation of Kedushah and the reading of the Torah and of the Haftarah (with the appropriate blessings that precede and follow them) cannot take place unless ten are present.

Rambam specifies b’nei chorin, freemen, thus excluding Canaanite slaves, for although the latter were obligated in mitzvot, they were exempt from the category of precepts defined as mitzvot aseh she’ha’zeman gerama, positive commandments whose fulfillment is tied to specific times. Women, too, are exempt from fulfilling these commandments, of which a prime example is prayer.

Now that we understand the need for a minyan of ten, what if, as you ask, it is not available? Is there any recourse?

(to be continued)

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.