Is it proper to daven in public in a large minyan
(such as at a highway rest stop or in an airport)?
There are two matters that come into play here Bein Adam laMakom 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 a Kiddush Hashem?
But first, the Mechaber (Orach Chayim 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 difference between Taz and Drisha about this issue.
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 only 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 where 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.
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; 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. In fact doing so offers the public at large, whether they are aware or appreciative, great spiritual protection, as 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 effect 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, Torah Editor, The Jewish Press;
Rav, K’hal Bnei Matisyahu, Flatbush, Brooklyn: Presidium Chairman,
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.
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In two words: It depends.
By way of explanation, I would turn our attention to a powerful interpretation offered by the Gemara (Yoma 96a) for the phrase: “V’ahavata et Hashem Elokecha – And you shall love the L-rd, your G-d.“
Chazal suggest that one fulfills the mitzva of “loving G-d” by ensuring “that the name of heaven shall become beloved through you.
“[If] a Jew studies written and oral law, ministers to Torah scholars, deals faithfully in business and interacts pleasantly with his fellow man, the rabbis explain, what do others say of him? Fortunate is this individual who has studied Torah! Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah! Fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah! This individual who studied Torah – see how pleasant are his ways and how appropriate his actions…
“However,” Chazal continue, “he who studies written and oral law, ministers to Torah scholars, but does not deal faithfully in business, nor deals pleasantly with his fellow man, what do others say of him? Woe to this individual who studied Torah! Woe to his father who taught him Torah! Woe to his teacher who taught him Torah! This individual who studied Torah – see how corrupt are his ways and how repugnant his behavior…”
Chazal could not be clearer. How we act in public, even during the performance of mitzvot, has the potential to sanctify or, G-d forbid, desecrate Hashem’s name. We should, therefore, be always cognizant of how our actions affect those around us.
If a public minyan can be organized in such a fashion as not to intrude on the space or comfort of those around us – Jews and Non-Jews alike – then, by all means, we should daven in public in such a minyan.
If, however, our efforts toward Tefillah b’tzibur will encroach upon others present, it is preferable to daven b’yichidut. For this reason, numerous poskim have argued against minyanim on airplanes that might disturb other passengers (Rav Herschel Schachter, Torahweb.org 2010, citing Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Halichos Shlomo, page 75; Rav Moshe Feinstein, Igros Moshe Orach Chaim vol. 4 siman 20; and others).
— Rabbi Goldin, author of “Unlocking the Torah Text”
series and past president of the RCA.
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Yes, assuming that the minyan does not interfere with the movement of others and always remains considerate of the rights, needs and purposes of the people who frequent rest stops and airports. Don’t block the sidewalk, or concourse.
That being said, there is a tremendous Kiddush Hashem that is brought about by joining diverse Jews in davening, and especially in unusual places. (I once davened Mincha with a minyan in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. There was no shul in the vicinity.) It makes a positive impression on passersby and can even induce Jews who would not otherwise daven with a minyan (or daven altogether) to participate. It reminds everyone that, wherever we are, our Torah responsibilities come first and our sense of nationhood is predominant. That is a great lesson for children – and for ourselves.
These days, it is particularly worthwhile to reinforce our Jewish identity in public and to proclaim to all our pride in being Jewish and serving Hashem. As the Rema notes at the beginning of Orach Chaim: we “should not be embarrassed in front of people who mock us for serving Hashem.” We are honored and privileged to be able to serve the King. We must not be aggressive in carrying out our duties but nor should we ever shy away from them.
While traveling once in an Arab country, I noticed that every service station has a little mosque designated for prayer, just as I have seen Muslims in airports and rest stops in America stretch out their prayer rugs and perform their devotions. Obviously, then, we should be proud and fearless in serving Hashem together with our fellow Jews. It is not only proper – it is laudable.
— Rav Steven Pruzansky is Israel region vice-president for the
Coalition for Jewish Values and author of “Repentance for Life”
now available from Kodesh Press.