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Preference of Davening in a Shul


Rabbi Daniel Mann

Sivan 29 5775
Question: Is there a preference of davening in a beit knesset as opposed to a house-minyan? Does it matter if the place is not an actualshul but consistently hosts a minyan?

Answer: The short answer is that there is probably, a small preference.
The gemara (Berachot 6a) says: "A person’s prayer is heard only in a beit knesset, as it says: ‘… to hear the praise and the prayer’ (Melachim I, 8:28) – at the place of the praise, there should be the prayer." The Rambam (Tefilla 8:1) cites this idea with the addition that the prayers will not be "heard at all times" outside of a beit knesset. This would seem to be an important reason to daven specifically in a shul, and indeed the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 90:9) writes: "A person should try to daven in a beit knesset with the community." He continues that there is also a preference to daven in a beit knesset even if he will be davening there alone (this is the subject of a machloket Rishonim - see Beit Yosef, OC 90).
The question is whether all davening out of a beit knesset is inferior and to what extent. The Magen Avraham (90:15) cites, as the reason for the Shulchan Aruch’s recommendation, the idea of b’rov am hadrat melech (roughly, it is preferable to the King when there is a large group). The Pri Megadim (ad loc.) posits that even without the factor ofb’rov am, a shul is always a preference, as he assumes that the preferences of a minyan and a shul are both called for. This is not a clear conclusion. The Tzelach (Berachot 6a) says that the important thing is having one’s tefilla heard and that this can be accomplishedeither by davening in a shul, even as an individual, or by davening with a minyan, even out of shul.
There is another Talmudic source about davening in a beit knesset. The gemara (Berachot 8a) says that whoever does not daven in a community’s shul is called a bad neighbor and is slated for exile. The Chida (Machazik Beracha 90:4) says that this does not apply if the person davens elsewhere with a minyan because the Divine Presence dwells wherever a minyan is praying. However, he continues to say that in order to receive the full positive impact, it must be in a place that is "set for holiness." The definition of "set for holiness" is not always clear. Public vs. private ownership is not the issue (see Rama 153:7). Whether steps were taken to allow occasional use of the place for meals, especially when limited to mitzva-related eating (see complex issue in Shulchan Aruch, OC 151:11; Igrot Moshe OC I:45) is also probably not critical. However, using one’s living room for a minyan after a regular shiur or a daily Mincha minyan in a business’s board room does not turn these places into batei knesset.
While we accepted the preference of davening in a beit knesset(see Mishna Berura 90:38; Ishei Yisrael 8:2), this is not an absolute requirement. This qualification is important, not only to justify one opting out due to a significant inconvenience, but also because other preferences can potentially outweigh that of davening in shul. We will mention some such possible cases, while warning that the particulars of a given case can make all the difference. 1. Davening in a place where one learns on a regular basis (Shulchan Aruch, OC 90:18). 2. The speed of the davening and/or congregants’ behavior make one’s daveningnoticeably "better" out of the beit knesset (Ishei Yisrael 8:10; see Mishna Berura 90:28; Aruch Hashulchan, OC 90:15). 3. One will have todaven in the shul without a minyan, but can make one elsewhere (Mishna Berura ibid.).
We are generally strong believers in the importance of community on various grounds. We note that Rav Kook, commenting on Berachot 6a, says that it is important to show that one connects his prayer to the matter of publicizing Hashem’s greatness and that this is done most profoundly in the communal setting (Ein Ayah, Berachot 1: 48,49). That being said, sometimes even the most communally oriented people have recourse to davening outside a shul.

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