Beit Midrash

  • Prayer
To dedicate this lesson
Chapter twelve-part two

Before the Shacharit Prayer-part two


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

4.Ritual Immersion (Tevilah), Bathing, and Shaving
Included in the prohibition to engage in one’s needs before the prayer service is the prohibition to get a haircut or to enter a bathhouse (Rambam Tefillah 6:7). However, to wash one’s hands is an obligation. It is also proper to wash one’s face and brush one’s teeth before praying (Shulchan Aruch 4:17; 46:1).
It is permissible to ritually immerse oneself in a mikveh before praying since there is no affront to the respect due to prayer. In fact, just the opposite is true – it is a preparation and purification towards it.
Similarly, it is permissible to take a shower before praying, since the washing of one’s whole body in nine kabin of water, which is approximately 12.5 liters (approximately 3.3 US liquid gallons), also constitutes a preparation and purification towards prayer (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 88:1; Mishnah Berurah 89:4; Minchat Yitzchak 4:21).
According to a number of poskim, it is prohibited for the person who is bathing to wash himself with soap before prayer because that kind of washing is included among the types of prohibited bathing. However, in practice, one who feels that he is dirty and his intention is to become clean, and not to pamper himself, may wash his body with soap on condition that he does not arrive late to the minyan because of this. 5
Likewise, it is prohibited to get a haircut before prayer; however, regarding shaving there is uncertainty. There are those who say that shaving is included in the ruling against haircuts. However, it seems that the halachah is that a person who normally shaves every day is allowed to shave before prayer, since shaving for him is one of the regular morning waking activities and is not considered tending to one’s own needs before prayer. It is especially proper to permit such an act if it is done as preparation for prayer. 6

5.One Who Is Traveling
Before amud hashachar a person is allowed to travel, provided that he plans his departure in such a way that he will succeed in reciting Shacharit on time. However, after amud hashachar, a person is prohibited from going on his way; instead, he must pray first and only then may he leave. Even if he has to leave home so early that he will miss praying with the minyan in his area, whereas he will still be able to pray in a minyan at his destination, it is preferable for him to pray individually before departing (Mishnah Berurah 89:20).
This prohibition refers to setting out on a long trip, for that is the meaning of "yotzeh laderech" (going on one’s way). One interpretation maintains that the words refer to a journey that lasts at least 72 minutes (Shut Or L’Tzion, part 2, 7:6). In times of need one may rely on that opinion. Therefore, concerning a person who must start traveling earlier than the time of the minyan in his area, if his trip lasts less than 72 minutes, it is preferable for him to leave and then pray in a minyan at his destination. However, if his trip lasts longer than 72 minutes, it is best that he pray first in his area individually.
If the entire trip is for the sake of prayer, for example, traveling to recite Shacharit at the Kotel, one is permitted to depart before praying, even if the travel time will last more than 72 minutes, for he is traveling to pray and not for his own personal needs (Or L’Tzion there). 7

6.Eating and Drinking Before Prayer
From the time of amud hashachar, it is forbidden to eat or drink before praying. The Chachamim support their words (Berachot 10b) on the verse (Leviticus 19:26), "Do not eat on the blood," which they interpreted as, "Do not eat before praying for your blood." 8 Further, they teach, "Anyone who eats and drinks first and [only] afterwards prays, Scripture says of him (I Kings 14:9), ‘You have thrown Me behind your body’ ("gavecha," the word used for "your body," alludes to "ga’avatecha" – your pride). HaKadosh Baruch Hu said, ‘After this person acts arrogantly he accepts upon himself the yoke of Heaven?!’"
However, water is a permissible drink before prayer because there is no aspect of pride in drinking it. Similarly, one is permitted to eat food and drink beverages that are intended for medication. Because they are being used as medicine, there is no aspect of pride in consuming them (Shulchan Aruch 89:4). For example, someone who is suffering from constipation is permitted to eat prunes before prayer since he is eating them as medicine (see Mishnah Berurah 89:24).
Someone who is so hungry that he cannot concentrate on his prayer is allowed to eat before praying because the law regarding him is similar to that of a sick person who must eat; his eating does not possess any aspect of pride (Shulchan Aruch 89:4; see Mishnah Berurah 26).
A weak person, who is able to pray individually first and eat breakfast afterwards, but cannot delay his breakfast until after the time of prayer in a minyan, should pray individually and eat after prayer. L'chatchilah, after the meal, it is good to go to the minyan in order to hear Kaddish and Kedushah (Bei’ur Halachah 89:3; see further in this chapter, halachah 7).
A minor who has not yet reached the age of bar mitzvah is allowed to eat before prayer, for educating minors not to eat forbidden food applies when the food itself is not kosher. However, when the Chachamim "created a fence" not to eat before prayer, or before Kiddush, they did not obligate minors to abide by that "fence," since the food itself is not forbidden (Mishnah Berurah 106:5; Yabia Omer, part 4, 12:15; however Kaf HaChaim 106:11 is stringent).

7.Coffee, Tea, and Cake Before Prayer
One who is used to drinking tea or coffee in the morning and whose mind remains unsettled without it, is permitted to drink it before prayer; his drinking does not possess pride, rather it is a necessity so that he can settle his mind and concentrate in prayer. There are some people who only feel a need to drink coffee two hours after they wake up, and therefore on weekdays when the prayer service is short, it is best that they do not drink coffee before praying. However, on Shabbatot and festivals, when the prayer service lasts a long time, it is better for them to drink coffee before prayer.
Someone who cannot drink coffee or tea without sugar is allowed to add a little sugar in order to drink and settle his mind. If he can suffice with artificial sweetener, that is preferable; however, he should not add milk. One who cannot drink coffee without milk and whose mind will not be settled without coffee is permitted to add milk to his coffee.
On Shabbat, many people are lenient and eat cake before the prayer service, but in actuality their custom is incorrect and they do not have on whom to base their practice. The only permissible consumption before prayer is coffee, for it is considered similar to water and because one who became accustomed to drink it has become addicted to caffeine and without drinking it, his mind is unsettled. However, eating cake is prohibited before prayer. Only someone who is so hungry that he cannot concentrate properly on his prayer, or one who thinks that later on he will be so hungry that his concentration will be disturbed, is permitted to be lenient and eat a small piece of cake before praying. 9

8.Eating and Drinking Before Amud HaShachar
The prohibition of eating and drinking before prayer begins at amud hashachar, for that is the earliest time one may recite Shacharit. Regarding eating a meal the prohibition begins a half-hour before amud hashachar, lest he become so involved in his meal that he will forget to recite Keriat Shema and the Amidah. However, eating a snack is permitted before amud hashachar. Therefore, it is permitted to eat an unrestricted amount of fruits, vegetables, and cooked food before amud hashachar. Even eating an unlimited number of cooked foods made from various types of grain, such as pasta, is permissible before amud hashachar. However, bread and cake are permissible to eat only in an amount less than k’beitzah (like an egg), for that quantity does not constitute the eating of a meal (Shulchan Aruch 232:3; Mishnah Berurah 35; Sha’ar HaTzion 89:33).
Prior to the half hour before amud hashachar, one is permitted to eat anything. Nevertheless, once amud hashachar arrives, all eating and drinking must cease (Shulchan Aruch 89:5; Mishnah Berurah 27 and 29).
According to Kabbalah, some are accustomed to act stringently, maintaining that anyone who awakens after a regular sleep at night, even before chatzot, must not eat and drink until after praying Shacharit. Even though according to halachah it is permitted to eat and drink before amud hashachar, l'chatchilah, it is proper to be cautious in doing so. However, if the lack of food will cause neglect of Torah learning, it is better to eat and drink before amud hashachar (Mishnah Berurah 89:28). Similarly, those accustomed to waking up on Shabbat night to recite special prayers ("bakashot") are allowed to eat and drink, especially if that will help awaken them more to serve Hashem. (Those who follow Kabbalah are more stringent concerning this. See Kaf HaChaim 89:28 and 43; see Yabia Omer, part 5, 22:5-6).
^ 5.Ishei Yisrael 13:21 writes that it is prohibited to wash oneself with soap. Yalkut Yosef 89:30 writes that it is not proper to shower, but if this helps him pray with kavanah and in cleanliness, it is permitted, though he should not use a lot of soap. Halichot Shlomo 2:8 rules that it is not proper to use soap. He explains that there is concern that soaping oneself will lead him to take a bath, which is forbidden. However, in paragraph 11 he writes that if the time of his regular minyan has not yet arrived, perhaps there is no prohibition to wash before prayer (as brought in the previous note).
The essence of the rationale for leniency in this case is that in earlier times, ordinary bathing, to which the Chachamim refer, was known to last a while, was intended for enjoyment, and required lengthy preparations, such as starting a fire, heating the water, or walking to a bathhouse. However, a quick shower is done essentially to rid oneself of dirt and perhaps to invigorate oneself as well, and therefore there is no prohibition concerning it. Further, the Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 4:3) writes that there is an obligation to wash one’s face, hands, and feet before praying Shacharit. See Beit Yosef 92 who clarifies his source and although he writes that in practice it is not customary to wash one’s feet, nevertheless we can learn from the Rambam that washing for cleanliness before prayer is considered an enhancement of the mitzvah. Additionally, according to the Kolbo, there is no prohibition against bathing oneself and getting haircuts before prayer, and only other activities are forbidden. His opinion is brought by Eliyah Rabbah and Kaf HaChaim 89:53. It seems that his reasoning is that bathing constitutes preparation in honor of the Shacharit prayer. Although we do not actually rule like him on the matter of bathing and haircuts, with regard to a short shower with soap, one may be lenient. In addition, when there is doubt concerning a rabbinic prohibition, the halachah follows the lenient opinion.

^ 6.The Or L’Tzion part 2, chapter 7:9 and Halichot Shlomo 2:7 forbid shaving. However, Avnei Yashfeh 7:4, based on Rav Vozner, permits all routine activities that a person does every morning.
^ 7.Avnei Yashfeh 14:20 writes that there are poskim who maintain that if along the way there are towns, this road is considered a road within a city. For that reason, it is permissible to travel on the road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. According to him, it seems that this is true also when traveling from Ashkelon to Nahariah, for communities are found all along the way. However, it is difficult to accept the opinion of these poskim because any trip that lasts 72 minutes is certainly considered tending to one’s personal needs before prayer. Perhaps only in extenuating circumstances is it permissible to rely on these opinions.
It seems that before praying, l'chatchilah a person should not even leave for a trip that lasts only half an hour. If there is a minyan in one’s area, it is preferable to pray with it instead of traveling to his workplace to pray there, for there is reason l'chatchilah to maintain that even a trip of half an hour is considered traveling before prayer, especially if that is the regular road he takes to work.

^ 8.According to the majority of Rishonim, the prohibition against eating before praying is rabbinic, and Chazal base this ruling on the verse cited above, as written by Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, Ritva, and Meiri. So, too, writes the Beit Yosef 89:3, and according to his words the Chachamim permit all eating and drinking that do not possess an aspect of pride. According to his reasoning, the Ra’avyah, Rosh, and many others rule similarly. According to the Ra’ah and the Ramban (Leviticus 19:26), the prohibition is biblical.
^ 9.Regarding coffee, see Mishnah Berurah 89:22, Yabia Omer, part 4, 11, and Ishei Yisrael 13:25. Concerning the consumption of cake before praying, although the Bei’ur Halachah 89:3 s.v. "V’Chen" writes that it is preferable to pray individually and not eat before prayer, it seems that a distinction should be made between a set meal and a snack. If he must have a set meal, it is preferable that he prays individually and eats after that. However, if it is enough to eat a snack, it is best that he eat a little and then pray afterwards in a minyan. That is the difference between what I wrote here and what I wrote in the previous halachah.
See Peninei Halachah Shabbat, part 1, 6:9, that according to many poskim, among them the Mishnah Berurah, Igrot Moshe, and Yalkut Yosef, one who eats before praying on Shabbat must recite Kiddush before he eats, although in practice, it is customary not to recite Kiddush before praying.

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