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Shabbat Parashat Vaetchanan 5771

Ask the Rabbi: Eating Before Davening to Enable One to Daven with a Minyan

Rav Daniel Mann

Question:  For medical reasons, I must eat early in the morning. Is it better to eat before going to daven in shul or to daven at home, eat, and go to shul to answer Kedusha, etc.?

Answer:  The gemara (Berachot 10b) cites and explains two p’sukim relating to not eating before davening: “Do not eat on the blood” (Vayikra 19:26), meaning, do not eat before you have prayed for your blood (life). “You thrust me after gavecha” (Melachim I, 14:9) – read as geiecha (your haughtiness) – in other words, only after haughty [involvement in pleasures] did the person accept ohl malchut shamayim (the yoke of Heavenly Kingdom).

The most convincing approach as to the interrelationship between the two derivations is that the second clarifies the first. In other words, there is not a formal prohibition to eat, but rather one should not eat in a manner of haughtiness. Therefore, one may drink water (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 89:3), a “drink of humility.” Also, the Pri Chadash (89:3) says that when one needs to eat for medical reasons (even real food - Mishna Berura 89:24), he may do so before davening even if he can wait.

At this point, we would posit that since davening with a minyan is a real advantage and eating in your circumstances is totally permitted, it is better to eat first than give up on minyan. However, the Leket Hakemach (cited by the Baer Heitev (89:11), the Biur Halacha (to 89:3), and recent poskim (including Yalkut Yosef 89:29 and Ishei Yisrael 13:27)) says it is better to daven first without a minyan than to eat before davening. (The omission of this opinion by such important codes as Chayei Adam, Shulchan Aruch Harav, and Aruch Hashulchan may imply that they do not accept it). There are two approaches one can take to explain the Leket Hakemach. 1) The serious (perhaps Torah-level) problem of eating before davening overrides the preference or lesser obligation of davening with a minyan (Ohr L’Tziyon II, 7:8). 2) The service of Hashem involved in davening first despite one’s need to eat lends the tefilla a strong positive force (see Eretz Hatzvi (Frimer) II, 2).

Nevertheless, we believe, for the following reasons, that you may decide which of the options is more appropriate for you. In addition to the absence of the Leket Hakemach’s opinion in early sources, all the sources that mention it talk about it being a preference, not a requirement (see also Magen Avraham 90:21). Also, in your case the option of eating first and then davening with a minyan later is stronger than in the Leket Hakemach’s case for the following reasons. He spoke about someone whose weakness made it difficult to hold out until after davening but did not address medically required eating, which in your case may make it less problematic. He also spoke primarily about the long Shabbat davening, where it is too long to wait, so the solution is to shorten the first part of davening. In contrast, in your case the standing medical orders are to eat as soon as possible, after which it is time for normal davening. Furthermore, your situation would regularly preclude your davening with a minyan. The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 109:5), discussing the case of one who davens slowly enough that he consistently has to choose between davening with others and answering to Kedusha, rules that davening with others has precedence (even though he rules differently for a one-time basis such as coming late). He reasons that you cannot deprive someone of full tefilla b’tzibbur on a regular basis.

If you follow the standard rule that those who must eat should say the early parts of davening including Kri’at Shema first (see details in Ishei Yisrael 13:27), you anyway avoid the full problem the gemara referred to. After all, you will have first fulfilled a minimal but basic mitzva of tefilla (see Magen Avraham 106:2) and accepted ohl malchut shamayim (see Biur Halacha ibid. and Keren L’Dovid (Greenwald), OC 21). This might suffice even for healthy people according a minority opinion (see Rama, OC 89:3). Therefore, it is legitimate for you to make the call, and even factor in what improves your davening, embarrassment, etc. 

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