What’s the Truth About…Davening with a Minyan?

By Ari Z. Zivotofsky

Misconception: The main purpose of davening (praying) with a minyan is to be able to recite devarim shebekedushah (prayers with the status of sanctity), such as Kaddish, Kedushah and Barchu.

Fact: There are many advantages to davening in shul with a minyan: for example, creating community; davening slower and with more kavanah (concentration); responding to Kaddish and Kedushah and hearing the Torah reading. But the main halachic goal of praying with a minyan is to say Shemoneh Esrei simultaneously with a quorum—which is the technical definition of tefillah betzibbur (communal prayer).

Background: The Mishnah Berurah (90:28), citing the Chayei Adam (19:1), sets the record straight.

The main purpose of tefillah betzibbur is Shemoneh Esrei … that ten adult men should daven [it] together. Unlike what the masses think, that praying with a minyan is for the purpose of hearing Kaddish, Kedushah and Barchu…, one has an obligation to get to shul on time in order to daven Shemoneh Esrei with the congregation.1

Significant authorities maintain that tefillah betzibbur2 necessitates that there be ten people actually davening together,3 not just ten people present. According to these posekim, if there are six people davening who are joined by another four who have already davened, the former may recite Kaddish and Kedushah, but they do not get the benefit of tefillah betzibbur.4 (This is not to imply that the saying of devarim shebekedushah is not a valid motivation for davening with a minyan,5 but the most significant reason to do so is to be able to recite the Shemoneh Esrei with a minyan.) The Tur notes that one’s prayers are “heard” only when recited with a minyan in a synagogue (OC 90, quoting and explaining6 Rabbi Yochanan, Berachot 8a).7 The Talmud (Ta’anit 8a) declares that for an individual’s prayers to be accepted, proper kavanah is necessary, but communal prayers are accepted by God even if deficient in kavanah.8 The Talmud goes on to say that one who regularly attends shul, morning and night, will be granted a long life.

Some authorities maintain that it is important to actually begin reciting Shemoneh Esrei with the minyan, i.e., together with the shaliach tzibbur and the congregation (see MB 66:35 and Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 109:2).9 And indeed this was the custom in the famed Kelm yeshivah; the students would all conclude the berachah of Ga’al Yisrael and start Shemoneh Esrei in unison (Rav Sternbuch, Teshuvot Vehanhagot I, 80, in the name of Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler). Nevertheless, if one begins Shemoneh Esrei late, but while the congregation is saying Shemoneh Esrei, he is still considered to be davening betzibbur (Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Halichot Shlomo I, 8:7; cf Iggerot Moshe OC 3:4). According to some, even davening along with the shaliach tzibbur word-for-word is somewhat akin to tefillah betzibbur (Halichot Shlomo I, 8:41; Yalkut Yosef I, 145), although Rav Moshe Feinstein maintained otherwise (Iggerot Moshe OC: 3:9).

Because of the requirement to say Shemoneh Esrei with the tzibbur, there are detailed halachic guidelines enabling the latecomer to “catch up” (for the rules regarding Shacharit, see Shulchan Aruch OC 52). Thus, for example, for Ma’ariv, a latecomer is required to first recite the Shemoneh Esrei with the congregation and then the rest of Ma’ariv (Shulchan Aruch OC 263:3; Chayei Adam 19:7).10 One who is only moderately late may skip the paragraph beginning with the words Baruch Hashem leolam (said by many in chutz la’aretz) in order to say Shemoneh Esrei with the congregation (Mishnah Berurah 236:11).11

Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, the Kovno Rav (Shu”t Be’er Yitzchak, OC 20), opines that the mitzvah of tefillah betzibbur supersedes saying the prayers in the proper sequence.12 Thus, he ruled that a person who arrives (very) late to shul on a day in which Musaf is recited should say Musaf with the minyan and then Shacharit.

The Talmud asserts that one who lives in a town with a shul but does not attend is called a shachen ra—a bad neighbor (Berachot 8a; based on Yirmiyahu 12:14). This gemara is cited by the Rosh (Berachot 1:7), the Tur (OC 90) and the Shulchan Aruch (OC 90:11) as well as others. Rambam, when bringing down this gemara (Hilchot Tefillah 8:1), emphasizes that the person should daven in shul “with the tzibbur.” Stressing the importance of minyan as well, the Mishnah Berurah (90:38) states that if there is a minyan in the house where the people are davening, even if those present do not attend shul, the term “shachen ra” does not apply to them. Iggerot Moshe OC 3:7 rules that one should daven in shul with a minyan even if he can have more kavanah if he davens privately at home.13

Sometimes halachah dictates missing tefillah betzibbur. If one arrives late to shul and realizes that by starting Shemoneh Esrei of Minchah he will not finish in time for Kedushah, he should not start (SA OC 109:1; MB 109:2). However, if one is a “slow davener” and regularly does not finish Shemoneh Esrei in time for Kedushah, many authorities nonetheless advise that he start Shemoneh Esrei with the congregation—thereby benefiting from tefillah betzibbur—and daven at his usual relaxed pace, even though it will mean missing Kedushah (Ishei Yisrael 33:4 and note 25).

Other priorities sometimes overshadow tefillah betzibbur. Even though six daveners and four others who have already davened constitute a minyan (and can therefore respond to Kedushah et cetera) but are not eligible for tefillah betzibbur, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ruled that one should still be part of those six and help make a minyan even if he thereby forfeits having tefillah betzibbur elsewhere (Halichot Shlomo 5:8). Similarly, he ruled that a group of frum soldiers should forfeit tefillah betzibbur on Rosh Hashanah in order to spread out to other bases to blow the shofar for those who would otherwise not fulfill this mitzvah (ibid, note 28). He also ruled that a soldier who has guard duty on Shabbat should not switch it so that he could daven with a minyan if by doing so his replacement will violate Shabbat (ibid 5:6). In other words, certain mitzvot, like strengthening a “weak” minyan, blowing shofar for others and preventing another person’s desecration of Shabbat override tefillah betzibbur.

The Mishnah Berurah (236:14) rules that it is better to daven Minchah privately rather than do so with a minyan after sunset.14 In a similar vein, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, following his grandfather, ruled that it was preferable to daven privately rather than do so with a minyan that recites Shema and its berachot after the proper time.15

There is also no obligation to pay people in order to make a minyan (MB 55:66).16 However, in a town that has trouble getting a minyan, those in the midst of learning Torah should take a break in order to help make one (MB 55:73). Some authorities hold that there is no requirement to experience a loss of either money or a significant amount of time in order to daven with a minyan (MB 90:29; MA 671:12).17 The Magen Avraham (671:12) states that a person who, on occasion, is tied up with business is not obligated to attend shul. Interestingly, a sick person who was instructed by his physician to leave his house at most once a day was told by Rav Auerbach to use that opportunity to go to work rather than shul (Halichot Shlomo, p. 66, note 52). Similarly, if one regularly18 davens vatikin, then doing so takes precedence over davening with a minyan.19

Whether or not the minyan interferes with others is another consideration. According to his students, Rav Auerbach was not in favor of making a minyan on an airplane when it infringed upon others (Halichot Shlomo 8:4, note 12).

The Brisker Rav, Rav Chaim Soloveichik, had an open house in which the poor would make themselves at home, any time of day or night. The one exception was a private corner he set aside for davening.20 Sometimes, instead of davening with a minyan in shul, he would use that area. There is a story told of Rav Archik Bakst, rav in Lomzha and Shavil, Lithuania, who skipped minyan one morning to stay home. Rav Bakst’s wife had gone shopping and there was no one home to offer a potential visitor a bite of food.21 Clearly, the majority of the time Rav Bakst attended minyan, but certain obligations supersede minyan attendance.

Having said all this, is it a mitzvah to daven with a minyan? The Shulchan Aruch (OC 90:9) writes that a person should “make an effort” (yishtadel) to daven with a minyan. Note that he does not write “one must.” Because of this, some deduce that it is meritorious but not obligatory to daven with a minyan. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe OC 2:27) says that there is actually an obligation, and one should not deduce anything less from the Shulchan Aruch.22 Even those who disagree with Rav Moshe have to admit that the Shulchan Aruch requires that “one make a significant effort” to daven with a minyan. Thus, the mechaber rules (OC 90:16) that a person who is traveling not for the sake of a mitzvah must retrace his steps up to a mil (mile) and go forward up to four mil to catch a minyan.

The Talmud (Berachot 47b) states that Rabbi Eliezer once freed a non-Jewish slave, thus granting him the status of a full-fledged Jew, so that he could be the tenth man in a minyan. He did this, despite the prohibition of freeing a non-Jewish slave, because of the importance of the public mitzvah of minyan.23

Minyan is so important that although one may not wake his father for great financial loss, he may wake him for minyan (Chayei Adam 67:11).

Are women obligated in minyan to the same degree as men? And if not, is there at least merit in their davening with a minyan? There is a story in the Talmud about a widow who used to daven in Rav Yochanan’s beit midrash (Sotah 22a). Rav Yochanan questioned the fact that she traveled to his beit midrash, which was much farther than her local shul. (He did not, however, question her attendance per se, implying that it is virtuous for a woman to participate in communal prayers.) Nonetheless, Shu”t Shvut Yaakov OC 3:54 and Shu”t Teshuvah Meahavah 2:229 rule that a woman has no obligation to daven with a minyan. Because of this, the students of Rav Auerbach (Halichot Shlomo I, 61, note daled and 10) point out that a woman coming late to shul has no reason to follow the rules about “catching up” that enable one to say Shemoneh Esrei with the tzibbur.24

Minyan, at least when regularly attended, seems to provide a special “protection” to both men and women. An exceedingly elderly woman once approached Rav Yossi ben Chalafta and expressed a desire to die. He asked her which mitzvah she performed regularly. She responded that she attended morning minyan faithfully, even if it meant putting aside other things that she wanted to do. He suggested she not attend shul for three days. She obliged, and on the third day she became sick and died.25

The protection granted in this story may be related to the “secondary” aspect of davening with a minyan—answering devarim shebekedushah. In other words, even though the main purpose of minyan is to participate in tefillah betzibbur and most authorities seem to feel women have no part in that, both men and women can benefit from attending a minyan by responding to Barchu, Kaddish and Kedushah. And as evident from the story above, this component should not be minimized.

Rabbi Dr. Zivotofsky is on the faculty of the Brain Science Program at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.


  1. This admonition is especially true for Minchah where there is very little “introduction” before Shemoneh Esrei.
  2. See Rav Hershel Schachter, Nefesh HaRav (1994), 123, that Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik used to stress the difference between “tefillat hatzibbur—the prayer of the congregation [via the shaliach tzibbur]” and “tefillah betzibbur—the many individual Shemoneh Esreis said with the congregation concurrently.” See also Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Teshuvot Vehanhagot 1:102, where he too distinguishes between these concepts but in a different manner.
  3. It may not be necessary for the ten to be together. Rav Soloveitchik ruled that even if one is in another room, he may still have the advantage of tefillah betzibbur, just as he may respond to devarim shebekedushah (see Mipninei HaRav [2001], 41).

It may not be necessary to actually daven. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichot Shlomo 5:11, note 17) ruled that a recent ba’al teshuvah who does not know how to daven can count as part of the ten necessary for tefillah betzibbur because he understands the point of davening, and he beseeches God in his own way.

  1. Halichot Shlomo 5:8; Iggerot Moshe OC 1:28; Teshuvot Vehanhagot 1:102. Rav Ovadiah Yosef (see Yalkut Yosef I (5745), 145, based on Yechava Da’at 5:7) and Rav Y.Y. Weiss (Minchat Yitzchak 9:6-7; 10:107:2) disagree with this. To a limited extent, Rav Sternbuch agrees (Teshuvot Vehanhagot 1:102). See Ishei Yisrael, p. 102, note 15.
  2. Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked could a talmid chacham stay up all night, knowing that he would miss morning minyan. One of Rav Moshe’s reasons for responding in the negative was that the individual would miss saying all of the devarim shebekedushah, which brings one’s davening to a higher level (Iggerot Moshe OC 2:27, p. 201).
  3. See Beit Yosef, s.v. lo yitpalel.
  4. See Prisha who explains that the Tur’s opinion is that even without a minyan, it is still preferable to daven in a shul.
  5. See the seemingly contradictory Rambam that implies that even communal prayer must be “belev shalem—with a sincere heart” in order to be accepted, and the resolution suggested by Rabbi Akiva Eiger on Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah 2:6). On the topic of prayers being answered, see the Meshech Chachmah to Deuteronomy 48:22.
  6. As noted, not everyone requires starting with the tzibbur. Note that the Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 422:1) suggests that on Rosh Chodesh the shamash (sexton) start Shemoneh Esrei of Shacharit ahead of the congregation so that he will reach Ya’aleh Veyavo first, and then say those words aloud as a reminder to others.

Many people miss starting Shemoneh Esrei with the congregation on Rosh Chodesh when tefillin are removed before Musaf (SA OC 25:13; 423:4). Since some take longer than others to wrap their tefillin, it’s a good idea to remove the tefillin before Musaf but to wrap them afterwards.

  1. Note that this does not work for Shacharit because linking geulah to tefillah takes precedence over tefillah betzibbur.
  2. An interesting opinion advises against skipping parts of pesukei dezimra in order to catch up. See Rabbi Chaim David Halevi, Mekor Chaim I (5736/1976), 175-176. He notes that the specific order of prayer ordained by Chazal is of utmost significance (cf. Iggerot Moshe OC 2:16). As such, one who arrives late to synagogue is faced with two conflicting concepts: tefillah betzibbur and the rabbinically prescribed sequence of prayer. The obvious ideal, emphasized by the “Maggid” to the mechaber (see Beir Haitaiv 52:1), is to get to shul on time. However, one who either comes late or who always davens slower than the congregation has a dilemma. The halachah, which is agreed upon by all earlier and later authorities, is that one should skip, says Rabbi Chaim David Halevi. Nonetheless, there are those who advise reciting all of davening in order (Sha’arei Teshuvah 52:1 in the name of Yosef Ometz). It is reported that many great people acted in such a manner (Kaf Hachaim 52:2). Taking a highly unusual position, Rabbi Chaim David Halevi concludes that it is hard for him to rule against the Shulchan Aruch—who like everybody else says that one should skip—and therefore he leaves it up to each person to determine whether he prefers to get the merits of tefillah betzibbur or that of pesukei dezimra. He concludes by saying, “kol levavot doresh Hashem—for the Lord searches all hearts” (I Chronicles 28:9).
  3. See, however, Tzitz Eliezer 14:6 for discussion and qualifications, and Iggerot Moshe OC:4:68 who disagrees.
  4. For many sources on this, see Rabbis Aryeh A. Frimer and Dov I. Frimer, “Women’s Prayer Services—Theory and Practice, Part I, Theory,” Tradition, 32:2 (winter 1998), notes 100-2 (available at http://www.mail-jewish.org/Womens_Prayer_Service.doc).
  5. See, however, Yechave Da’at 5:22 who states the opposite.
  6. See Rav Hershel Schachter, Nefesh HaRav (1994), 114. I am indebted to Rabbi Avishai David for pointing this out to me.
  7. See, however, Teshuvot Vehanhagot 1:98. The exception is for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Shulchan Aruch and Ramah OC 55:21 and Mishnah Berurah and Biur Halachah loc. cit.).
  8. Rav Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler, Avnei Yashfe (on Hilchot Tefillah) (5753), 6:5, note 7, in the name of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.
  9. “Regular” is defined as any pattern (i.e., every day or every Rosh Chodesh, et cetera).
  10. Biur Halachah OC 58, s.v. umitzvah; Halichot Shlomo 5:17; See Frimer, “Women’s Services,” note 148.
  11. See Rabbi Nathan Kamenetsky, Making of a Gadol (Jerusalem, 2002), 1231-2.
  12. Ibid, 1267. See Ishei Yisrael 12:30, and note 72.
  13. See Minchat Yitzchak 7:6 on the level of obligation, and for another way to understand the mechaber.
  14. Tosafot explain that the mitzvah referred to is tefillah betzibbur. Surprisingly Rashi and Rosh understand that the mitzvah was that of saying devarim shebekedushah. The Shulchan Aruch (YD 267:79) rules that it is prohibited to free a non-Jewish slave; however, for a mitzvah, any mitzvah, even a rabbinic one such as minyan, it is permitted (e.g., Aruch Hashulchan [OC 90:21]; Shulchan Aruch Harav [OC 90:17]). But he does not specify what aspect of minyan he is referring to.
  15. For numerous sources on women’s obligation, or lack of one, in tefillah betzibbur, see fn. 13.
  16. The story appears in Yalkut Shimoni, Ekev 871.
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This article was featured in the Fall 2004 issue of Jewish Action.
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