Beit Midrash

  • Bet Midrash
  • Yom Kippur
To dedicate this lesson

Prayer on Yom Kippur

I would like to pray in the synagogue on Yom Kippur. What should I do about the children? Should I ask my husband to watch them, take them with me to the synagogue, or perhaps sorrowfully forgo praying in the synagogue this year on Yom Kippur?


Rabbi Elyakim Levanon

Sunday, 4 Tishrei 5768
Question: We have three children, the oldest of which is five. I have a great desire to pray on Yom Kippur in the synagogue, at least for some of the prayers. What is preferable: to ask my husband to watch the children, to take them with me to the synagogue, or perhaps to sorrowfully forgo praying in the synagogue this year?

Answer: The desire to fill oneself with the prayers and the atmosphere of the synagogue is laudable and natural, and you should be happy that this is your desire. Practically speaking, however, it is not always possible to satisfy such desires.

Three points should be taken into consideration to begin with. Firstly, on Yom Kippur, we are obligated to "afflict" ourselves through fasting (and a number of other abstinences). There is no specific commandment in the Torah to pray on this holy day. The sages instituted the Ne'ilah prayer, and this appears to indicate that there is indeed special importance to our prayers on this day. Nonetheless, our duty on Yom Kippur is to fast.

The second point relates to your obligation as mother and wife. I generally tell young couples that during the child-rearing years, the woman's main focus should be inward, within the house. Therefore, my suggestion is that all young wives set their expectations based upon such an approach, and understand that during these years, any opportunity to pray with the congregation should be viewed as a privilege, not a right.

Thirdly, the idea of bringing your children with you to the synagogue is discouraged by early Torah authorities. The Mishnah Berurah (98:3) cites the Holy Shelah (Rabbi Yeshayahu Horowitz) who warns against bringing small children to the synagogue because they disturb the congregants and develop negative synagogue habits.

Try, then, to work things out with your family based upon these principles.

Of course, the proper thing to do is to discuss these matters with your husband. However, you should not approach him with demands. You should ask him if he can work things out in a manner that will allow you to attend services in the synagogue. For example, he might pray earlier and then return to replace you at home. Take into account his difficulty as well.

If your husband was to ask me, I would suggest that he make an effort to allow you to fulfill your wishes, but you must go on the assumption that he might not agree.

On the other hand, fasting on Yom Kippur is incumbent upon us all. In this regard, if you have difficulty, your husband must help you. Even if you find yourself unable to care for the children because of the fast and your husband is forced to spend a great deal of time with you at home, he is obligated to do so! Better that he allow you to fast than that he pray with the congregation. May the Almighty take note of such efforts to pray and fast, and may He sign and seal us for a good new year together with the entire House of Israel.

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