Question: Now that we are davening in our homes, must we daven at the same time that we normally daven?
Short Answer: Assuming that there are no more minyanim in Queens, one may daven at any halachically valid time, and does not need to daven at the same time as his now-canceled minyan. However, if there are rogue minyanim still taking place in Queens (chas v’shalom), it is unclear if one must daven at the same time as these rogue minyanim.
I. The Two Gemaros
The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 4b) states that a person shouldn’t daven Musaf by himself during the first three hours of the day on Rosh HaShanah because he does not have the power of the tzibur to protect him. However, if he davens Shacharis during this time, his prayers will not be rejected, because the power of the tzibur protects him, despite not physically being with them.
Tosafos queries how it is possible for a tzibur to protect an individual in his home, when the Gemara in B’rachos (6a) states that prayers are only answered in a shul? He answers that there is a difference between prayers being answered (only in shul) and prayers not being rejected (at home, at the same time as the tzibur is praying in shul). Regardless of the precise meaning of this Tosafos, this Gemara/Tosafos is clear that there is some advantage to davening at the same time as the tzibur, even if not in shul.
Similarly, the Gemara (B’rachos 7b) relates that Rav Nachman was once weak and did not show up in shul. The Gemara notes that Rabbi Yitzchak informed Rav Nachman that he should have requested that a messenger be sent to inform him of the exact time that the shul was davening so that he could have joined together and davened “with them” in his own home, as it an “eis ratzon” to daven when the tzibur is davening. This source in the Gemara is also clear that there is some advantage to davening at the same time as the tzibur, even if not in shul.
II. Opinion of the Rambam
Many of the classic Rishonim do not mention this halachah explicitly, including the Rosh and Rif. Indeed, the opinion of the Rambam is in dispute.
The Rambam (Hilchos T’filah 8:1) writes that an individual should combine (“l’shateif”) with the tzibur, and thus should not daven alone. The Tzlach (B’rachos ibid) interprets this to mean that davening at home at the same time as the tzibur does not accomplish anything, as the Rambam says explicitly that one should not daven alone. However, the Journal Otzros HaSefer (Vol. 19, Rav Spitzer) suggests that the Kesef Mishneh disagrees and interprets the Rambam as codifying these abovementioned Gemaros. “Combining” with the tzibur is best accomplished by davening in shul, but if unable to do so due to sickness, there is a benefit in davening at home at the same time as the tzibbur.
III. Practically Speaking
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 90:9) codifies these Gemaros and rules that if one is unable to come to shul (due to sickness – Mishnah B’rurah), he should daven at home at the same time as the tzibbur.
Notably, the Rama adds that if one lives in a yishuv without minyanim, he should still daven at the time “that the tzibur davens.” The Mishnah B’rurah (32) adds that the Rama means for him to daven at the times that Jews daven, i.e., Maariv after tzeis. In other words, if he is not connecting to a specific minyan, he should focus on davening at the right times. This will connect him to other minyanim that are davening at that point.
IV. Multiple Minyanim
The Acharonim, however, limit the ruling of the Rama/Mishnah B’rurah to a situation where there are no minyanim at all in the town. In such a situation, the individual may connect to any minyan in the world that is davening in the normal proper time. This would likely apply in our coronavirus situation – since there are no minyanim in Queens, one should daven at normal halachic times, and that satisfies this halachah.
However, what about if the city has minyanim, but there are multiple minyanim? Or what if, chas v’shalom, certain shuls are violating the p’sak of all the g’dolei Yisrael (and top doctors) and davening with a minyan in Queens during this dangerous time; must one davening in his home daven at the same time as this rogue minyan? There appears to be a four-way machlokes on this issue.
First, the Kehillas Yaakov (B’rachos, Siman 3) rules that one should daven at the same time that any shul in his city is davening, as the Mishnah B’rurah is limited to cases where there are no minyanim at all in the town. Based on this, if there is a rogue minyan in Queens nowadays, we would have to daven at those times (unless it was not considered a valid minyan for violating g’dolei Yisrael).
Second, the Halichos Shlomo (T’filah 5:18) rules that one must have in mind a specific shul/tzibur that is currently davening with a minyan in order to get this benefit. Based on this, one should have in mind the rogue minyan, but can alternatively have in mind any other minyan davening together (in the same time zone!) at a different time.
Third, the Avnei Yashfe (T’filah, 6, n. 12) cites Rav Elyashiv zt”l as ruling that this entire halachah is inapplicable to a town with more than one minyan. Based on this, presumably this halachah does not apply to Queens at all, coronavirus or not, as we have multiple shuls.
Fourth, the Ishei Yisrael (8, n. 32) cites Rav Y. Neuwirth zt”l as ruling that this halachah requires one to daven at the same time as his regular minyan davens. Based on this, if his regular minyan is canceled, presumably this halachah does not apply and one should simply daven at the proper halachic times.
Next Week’s Topic: To Be Determined – more practical coronavirus issues