SUMMER VACATION SERIES
Edited by Aryeh Werth
Is It Proper To Daven In A Minyan In A Busy Public Place
Like An Amusement Park Or Highway Rest Stop?
There are two matters that come into play here: bein adam la’makom and bein adam l’chaveiro. Thus, the question might be as follows: “Is it proper to place the Ribono Shel Olam in competition with man, and is it proper that our prayer should be viewed as a public nuisance, is this kiddush Hashem?”
First, the Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 124:4) rules that if nine people are not concentrating on the words of the chazzan during the Shemoneh Esreh, the berachot may be considered berachot l’vatalah – a blessing (with Hashem’s name) uttered in vain. There is a machlokes between the Taz and Drisha about this issue.
The Taz would never include an individual who does not hear what is being recited even though he is within sight of the minyan, because the requirement is that the nine who listen to the chazzan must concentrate on the words.
Drisha, on the other hand, considers a blessing recited in a minyan lacking concentration close to being a blessing in vain, but not actually so. Drisha refers us to the Mechaber (infra 55) who rules that if the berachot of the Shemoneh Esreh were started by a minyan of ten, and some participants left, the chazzan continues. Further, in his longer Beit Yosef commentary to the Tur (55 ad. loc.), the Mechaber notes that even if some are sleeping or in the midst of conversation, the chazzan is to continue the tefillah to its conclusion. Yet most would understand this to be bedi’avad – a last resort.
Now this would definitely relate to our situation, prayer in a public space. Generally, such a venue could not be expected to be quiet, thus making it difficult for the participants in the minyan to concentrate. Without proper concentration what value is such prayer?
There are many views on this matter from some of our contemporary geonim, but Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, and Rabbi Shmuel Wozner, to name a few, are all of the opinion that if such a minyan would entail disturbing others, then it is far better to pray b’yechidus – privately sans a minyan.
Now, on the other hand, where it can be arranged such as a designated pray area away from the public’s way, then there should be no problem with forming a minyan for prayer. A perfect example is the Sloatsburg northbound stop on the NYS Thruway, where to the best of my knowledge there is a designated and obviously sanctioned by the Thruway authority Mincha Prayer area. In fact, such a sanctioned area offers the public at large – both Jew and gentile, regardless of whether they are aware or appreciative – great spiritual protection as well. Our prayers are not only for us, but for humanity at large as well.
It is important to remember that one of the purposes of tefillah b’tzibbur – congregational prayer – is to affect kiddush Hashem – sanctification of the Holy Name. Without proper consideration to others, the opposite can occur from a minyan organized in a public venue.
– Rabbi Yaakov Klass is chairman of the Presidium of the Rabbinical Alliance of America; rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn; and Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and Rabbi@igud.us.
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It is more than just proper. If done correctly it is admirable and a kiddush Hashem. There are several considerations.
First, we must ensure that we can have appropriate kavanah. I am not suggesting that Jews are already familiar with davening in noisy places, G-d forbid, but it is possible to drown out background noise in order to focus on tefillah. It is still important to find an area in which there aren’t sudden noises, disruptions or heavy pedestrian traffic that render concentration difficult or unlikely.
Second, it is absolutely critical not to block access to those patrons who are not davening or are not entirely sure what it is we are doing. Amusement parks and rest stops have primary functions. To hinder other people from enjoying those functions because we are standing in the middle of their path is repugnant. We do not and cannot serve Hashem by trampling on the rights and privileges of others.
Third, we should always remember the impact that we have on people around us, both Jews and Gentiles. The Jew who davens in such a public place, and even forms a minyan, reminds other Jews of the obligation of tefillah and to be conscious of Hashem in every environment. And when Gentiles see Jews praying with sincerity and devotion, and certainly when they see a group of Jews davening together, it reminds them of the special character of the Jewish people. We are a nation of “shiviti Hashem l’negdi tamid” (Tehillim 16:8), that always sets Hashem before our eyes, reveres Him, and never misses an opportunity to pray to Him.
And that is a kiddush Hashem.
– Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is Israel Region Vice-President for the Coalition for Jewish Values and author of Repentance for Life now available from Kodesh Press.
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Like many situations in life there are pros and cons. A clear negative aspect of davening in such places is the noise and the distractions, which would make it more difficult to have kavanah, to actually focus on the act of davening, to concentrate on the fact that I am speaking directly to Hashem. In that sense, certainly if it could be avoided it would be better to daven in a more appropriate place.
However, I assume we are talking about a situation where there is no alternative to this; it would be davening here or davening b’yechidus. In that sense a minyan in a busy place would be the superior alternative. Especially considering the positive element of it, the kiddush Hashem of showing the world how Jews daven; that we speak to our creator and that we do it appropriately is definitely a huge positive aspect of it. In that sense the positives outweigh the negatives.
– Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz and author of 10 Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make (available at theshmuz.com).
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It is a great mitzvah and obligation for Jewish men to daven with a minyan. Much emphasis should be given to this vital mitzvah. In addition to its intrinsic value and importance, a major defining point in the life and identity of a frum erliche Yid is minyan attendance. Once a person begins making exceptions to davening with minyan it can become difficult for him to maintain his commitment in general. For this and other reasons many holy Jews have the practice to go to great lengths to make it to a minyan even though there may be no such obligation.
Despite the above argument most chachmai Torah hold that minyanim should not and may not be organized in a place where it inconvenience others. In particular, davening with minyan in planes can run into this problem and can sometimes cause chillul Hashem.
However, in situations where no disturbance is caused, it is proper to make minyanim even though it may cause onlookers to wonder what is taking place or think it is strange. It’s true that this setup is not an ideal way to daven, as davening should take place in an enclosed and private place, but in under such circumstances it is ok.
– Rabbi Yehoshua Heber is Rav of Khal Tomchai Torah at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and Dayan at Bdatz Mishptai Yisrael.