Question: Should minyanim during coronavirus only wait for six people to finish Sh’moneh Esrei before starting Chazaras HaShatz?

Short Answer: In general, there is a machlokes whether the chazan must wait for (i) nine other men, (ii) eight other men, or (iii) five other men to finish their Sh’moneh Esrei before starting Chazaras HaShatz. It is a prudent and safe measure in these coronavirus times to rely on the lenient poskim and start Chazaras HaShatz when only six people (including the chazan) have finished their silent Sh’moneh Esrei. This would decrease the time that the tzibur is together, thereby increasing the safety. Rav Mordechai Willig shlita agrees with this approach.

 

Explanation:

I. Combining for a Minyan

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 55:6), citing the Hagahos Maimoniyos, writes that if one (out of ten) men started davening Sh’moneh Esrei and now cannot “answer” along with the other nine men, they nevertheless have a minyan. Moreover, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 55:7) states that a tzibur should wait to say Kaddish if one man is davening Sh’moneh Esrei.

The Mishnah B’rurah (32) cites a machlokes Acharonim whether there is still a minyan where more than one out of the ten men are in the middle of Sh’moneh Esrei. While the Elya Rabbah and the Derech HaChayim rule that you still have a minyan as long as there are six people not in the middle of Sh’moneh Esrei and who can answer, the Chayei Adam and the Ba’eir Heiteiv disagree and require at least nine men answering.

Note that it is unclear from the Shulchan Aruch as to what these men are answering. In other words, are we discussing Chazaras HaShatz or just other parts of davening? From the Mishnah B’rurah, who cites the pasuk of “v’nikdashti,” and from the Bei’ur Halachah, who mentions K’dushah explicitly, it appears that we are discussing K’dushah as well.

Accordingly, based on this Shulchan Aruch, ideally a minyan should wait until everyone has finished his own private Sh’moneh Esrei before starting Chazaras HaShatz. However, certainly Chazaras HaShatz may be started when only six or nine people have finished, based on the machlokes cited in the Mishnah B’rurah.

II. Waiting To Begin

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 124:4), when discussing Chazaras HaShatz later on, also addresses this issue. Based on the Rosh and the Tur, he writes that if nine people (other than the chazan) are not paying attention and answering to Chazaras HaShatz, it is as if the chazan recited a b’rachah l’vatalah. Indeed, the Mishnah B’rurah (19) writes that if the chazan knows that nine other people are not answering to his Chazaras HaShatz, he should have in mind that his Chazaras HaShatz is a t’filas n’davah – an extra private Sh’moneh Esrei – and not Chazaras HaShatz.

Accordingly, based on this Shulchan Aruch, a minyan must wait until at least ten men (including the chazan) finish their silent Sh’moneh Esrei before starting Chazaras HaShatz. This is in contrast to the earlier Shulchan Aruch, which only required five or eight men (other than the chazan).

[Note that a separate discussion, outside the scope of this article, is the Mishnah B’rurah’s ruling (124:13), based on the Rama, that our custom is to wait for the rav to finish his Sh’moneh Esrei].

III. Reconciling the Contradiction

Numerous answers are given to reconcile this contradiction:

The Shulchan Aruch HaRav (55:7) interprets the first Shulchan Aruch, requiring only five or eight men plus the chazan, as only referring to Kaddish. But, for Chazaras HaShatz, which was instituted to be motzi the tzibur, nine men plus the chazan are required. See also the Tzitz Eliezer (12:9) and sefer Shiras Miriam (p. 551). Thus, according to this reconciliation, the chazan must wait for nine other men before starting Chazaras HaShatz.

The problem with this answer, in the opinion of this author, is that the Mishnah B’rurah, as discussed above, clearly interpreted the first Shulchan Aruch as discussing K’dushah, as well.

A second answer is proposed by the Drishah, cited in the Tzitz Eliezer (ibid). Notably, the second Shulchan Aruch, requiring nine plus the chazan, uses the language “karov” – “it is as if” the chazan recited a b’rachah l’vatalah. This language highlights that really, only five or eight men (other than the chazan) are necessary, but the second Shulchan Aruch was just suggesting that it is much more preferable to wait for all nine men (other than the chazan). Indeed, the Eimek B’rachah (T’filah 6) suggests a similar answer.

A third answer is brought in the Tzitz Eliezer, based on a distinction mentioned in the Aruch HaShulchan between a sleeping person and a person still reciting his silent Sh’moneh Esrei. A person reciting his silent Sh’moneh Esrei is involved in “tzarchei Shamayim” (Heavenly pursuits) and is thus able to combine to the minyan. This is the context of the first Shulchan Aruch, which allows five or eight men (other than the chazan). The second Shulchan Aruch, which requires nine men, is discussing people who are talking, and thus rules that it is tantamount to a b’rachah l’vatalah.

IV. Practically Speaking

The Ishei Yisrael (15:2) rules stringently, that the chazan must wait for all nine other people to finish Sh’moneh Esrei. This is based on the first answer above, that the first Shulchan Aruch was not discussing Chazaras HaShatz/K’dushah at all. Indeed, the Ishei Yisrael cites Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l as ruling that the first Shulchan Aruch’s leniency is limited to reciting Kaddish, but for Chazaras HaShatz/K’dushah, nine other men are necessary. The Mishnah B’rurah’s comments regarding Chazaras HaShatz are not the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch.

On the other hand, the Ishei Yisrael (ibid) cites Rav Chaim Kanievsky, who rules leniently, that there is no difference between Kaddish and Chazaras HaShatz/K’dushah. Presumably, eight other men (aside from the chazan) is sufficient. This is the opinion of the Tzitz Eliezer, who rules that eight other men is sufficient, especially where there is a fear that people will need to leave early to run to work.

Finally, the Piskei T’shuvos (55:11) cites many Acharonim, including the Kinyan Torah, Mishnas Yosef, and Mishneh Halachos, who all rule that six (including the chazan) is acceptable. However, he agrees that certainly for Chazaras HaShatz, one should try to be stringent. [See also FN 94 where the Piskei T’shuvos attacks the stringency of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, as cited above in the Ishei Yisrael].

V. A COVID World

It would appear to me, as of the writing of this article, that it would be a prudent and safe measure in these coronavirus times to start Chazaras HaShatz when only six people (including the chazan) have finished their silent Sh’moneh Esrei. This would decrease the time that the tzibur is together, thereby increasing the safety.

When I presented this idea to Rabbi Mordechai Willig, shlita, he agreed that you only should wait for six people.

Next Week’s Topic: Should you rest your head on your arm for Tachanun in outdoor minyanim?


Rabbi Ephraim Glatt, Esq. is Assistant to the Rabbi at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and a practicing litigation attorney. Questions? Comments? Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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