Work Before Shacharit during Military Service by Maran HaRav Yehuda Amital, zt”l translated by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


In honor of Rav Yehuda Amital zt”l , a great Torah leader whom the Jewish People lost this past July, we shall share a number of reponsa penned by Rav Amital (Rosh Yeshivat Har Etzion) in response to questions posed by students of Yeshivat Har Etzion during their service in Tzahal (the Israel Defense Forces). We should note that while Rav Amital is generally renowned for his Lamdut (Talmudic analysis) and Hashkafah (Jewish Thought), he was also quite a competent Halachic decider. The three responsa we are presenting in this series address an area of specific expertise for Rav Amital – Halachah observance in the context of service in the Israel Defense Force. In addition to serving for over four decades as the Rosh Yeshiva of Israel’s largest Yeshivat Hesder, where students serve in the Israel Defense Forces, Rav Amital served as an officer in Israel’s War of Independence. Thus, Rav Amital was able to combine his expertise in Halachah with his sensitivity to the special needs of an observant soldier.

Question: When we are on active duty, we are often confronted with the following dilemma. We have a choice between saying Shacharit immediately after we awaken, in which case the other observant soldiers in the unit will not have the opportunity to Daven with a Minyan, or we can say Shacharit later, affording everyone in the unit the opportunity to pray with a Minyan but forcing us to do various work activities prior to our Davening.

Response: The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 89:3) states, “One is forbidden to involve himself in his needs or to set out to travel until he has said the Amidah [of Shacharit].” What is the nature of this prohibition? One possibility is that the prohibition is absolute, that one may not engage in any work prior to Shacharit. A second possibility is that this prohibition applies to engaging in only those types of work that may interfere with one’s eventually praying Shacharit. This would be similar to the prohibition recorded in the Mishnah (Shabbat 9b) that “one should not go to the barber prior to saying Minchah, nor should he enter the bathhouse, nor go to the tanner at that time, unless he has already recited Minchah.” The Gemara explains that the reason for this rule is that Chazal were afraid that people would become preoccupied with these activities and forget to Daven Minchah. Accordingly, one can claim that activities that will not distract one from Davening Minchah would not be prohibited. Indeed, Biur Halachah (232:2 s.v. LeVurseki) cites Rishonim who adopt this lenient approach. Biur Halachah concludes that in cases of need, one may rely on these authorities who permit one to engage in activities prior to Minchah if these activities will not distract one from Davening Minchah.

However, the aforementioned Pesak of the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 89:3) regarding work before Shacharit seems not to allow for such exceptions even in a case of need. Moreover, the Shulchan Aruch forbids not only “work” before Shacharit but even “involving himself in his needs.” However, the Tzlach points out that three major Rishonim disagree with the ruling articulated in the Shulchan Aruch. The latter’s ruling is based on the Gemara (Berachot 14a), which states, “One is forbidden to tend to his needs prior to reciting Shacharit” according to Rashi’s version of Talmudic text. Rif (8a) and Rosh (2:7), however, have a variant reading of the text. Their reading is, “One is forbidden to begin traveling before Shacharit” (see Maadanei Yom Tov no. 19 to Rosh 2:7). According to Rif and Rosh, no Talmudic source prohibits tending to one’s needs before Shacharit. Rif and Rosh would appear to believe that there is no specific prohibition to engage in activities prior to Shacharit beyond those activities which the Mishnah (Shabbat 9a) prohibits doing before Minchah. We have already mentioned that many Posekim limited this prohibition to activities that would distract one from Davening Minchah.

Similarly, the Tzlach argues, Rambam (Hilchot Tefilah 6:4) writes that it is prohibited to engage in work prior to Shacharit. Rambam, however, does not write that one may not engage in one’s needs prior to Shacharit. It appears that Rambam had the same text of Berachot 14a as Rif and Rosh and thus prohibited only work that would distract one from Davening Shacharit.

The Tzlach concludes that even though the Shulchan Aruch records without dissent that one is forbidden to engage in his needs prior to Shacharit, it is clear that Rif, Rambam, and Rosh disagree with this rule. Nevertheless, the Tzlach concludes that in practice, one should follow the strict ruling of the Shulchan Aruch.

Chayei Adam (16:1), however, records this Halachah as follows: “One may not tend to his needs unless there is a great need to do so at that time.” What is Chayei Adam’s source to permit tending to one's needs in a case of great need? One possibility is that he believes that in case of great need, one may rely on the lenient approach of Rif, Rambam, and Rosh. Alternatively, he may believe that the source of this Halachah is not the passage in Berachot 14a but the following passage from Berachot 5b: “Aba Binyamin said that on these two matters he was particularly careful – that his prayers be recited ‘before his bed’ and that his bed should face from north to south.” Rashi (ad loc. s.v. Samuch) and Tosafot (ad loc. s.v. Ela) explain that he was careful not to do work before prayer, so that he would say Shacharit soon after he rose from his bed. Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chaim 3:13) rules that as far as the issue of having the bed facing north to south, the practice is to follow the opinion of the Tur that this is a “mere stringency” and not a requirement. It would seem, therefore, that in cases of significant need, the Aruch HaShulchan permits engaging in one's needs prior to Shacharit because the practice of avoiding chores before Shacharit is coupled with the rule of arranging one’s bed from north to south. Since the Aruch HaShulchan considers the latter rule to constitute a “mere stringency,” it would seem that he would consider the former rule also to be a “mere stringency” which can be waived in case of considerable need.

Another source to be lenient may be found in the Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chaim 89:20), who writes that according to Rambam, the prohibition to work before Shacharit is rooted in the same reason as the prohibition to eat prior to Shacharit. The Talmud (Berachot 10b) states that ”whoever eats or drinks before Shacharit, to him applies the verse (Melachim Aleph 14:9), ‘And you have shed Me behind your body.’” Aruch HaShulchan believes that for this same reason, one may not engage in his personal matters before Shacharit. Accordingly, there may be room to rule leniently based on Biur Halachah, who writes (89:3 s.v. VeLo) that it is not considered to have “shed God behind one’s body” if he has recited Keriat Shema before eating. Presumably, this leniency would apply to the prohibition of engaging in personal matters before Shacharit, as well.

A third basis to rule leniently is Rama’s ruling (Orach Chaim 89:3) that “there are those who are lenient [to permit engaging in personal matters] after one has recited the blessings before Baruch Sheamar, but it is best to be strict regarding this matter.” The source given for this ruling is Terumat HaDeshen (no. 18). However, upon investigating this source, one finds that Terumat HaDeshen completely rejects the lenient approach. In fact, for this reason, Aruch HaShulchan (89:21) and Shulchan Aruch HaRav disagree with Rama and write that one may not rely at all on this lenient approach.

However, an investigation of the newly published long version of Darkei Moshe, Rama’s commentary on the Tur, reveals that Rama’s ruling is not based on Terumat HaDashen (the sources given for Rama’s rulings in the Shulchan Aruch were not written by the Rama). Rather, it is based on the opinion of Orchot Chaim, who states, "But if he has begun to recite the blessings, since he thereby accepted upon himself the Heavenly Yoke, one need not be concerned with [the issue of engaging in personal matters prior to Shacharit] so much."

Based on these three considerations of the Chayei Adam, Aruch HaShulchan, and Rama, one may engage in matters which will not involve excessive effort, provided that one has recited the Birchot HaShachar (morning blessings) or, preferably, recited Keriat Shema, in order to give the entire unit the opportunity to Daven with a Minyan.

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