I daven at a small minyan at which some people daven slower than the rest and others come late. We do not always have ten to start Shemoneh Esrei with the chazan. Should we wait for ten, or is six enough? Answer:
[We will divide our discussion into two. This week we will analyze the main sources and logic of the competing positions.]
There are two classical sources that are cited as the source that six men reciting Shemoneh Esrei in the presence of another four men in the room is considered tefilla b’tzibbur (davening with a minyan). The Rambam (Tefilla 8:4) describes chazarat hashatz, with everyone listening to a chazan, as the main element of tefilla b’tzibbur and then says that it is sufficient for six of the participants to be people who have not yet davened. We apply the rule of following the majority to set the character of the whole, and thus this is considered a minyan. Many see this as evidence that the Rambam holds that six people davening in the presence of ten is tefilla b’tzibbur (see Yechaveh Da’at V:7).
The Magen Avraham (69:4) says that while chazarat hashatz can be done for even one person who has not davened, it is preceded by a silent Shemoneh Esrei only if six men are presently davening. Several Acharonim (including Minchat Yitzchak IX:6, based on Shulchan Aruch Harav 69:5, and Mishna Berura 69:8) understand that the reason the silent Shemoneh Esrei before chazarat hashatz is justified is because it is considered tefilla b’tzibbur. Again, we ostensibly see that six is enough in this regard.
Apparently supporting the other camp, the Chayei Adam (19:1) says that the main element of tefilla b’tzibbur is having ten men davening Shemoneh Esrei together, as opposed to the misconception that a minyan for Kaddish, Kedusha, and Barchu suffices. This seems to indicate that six daveners plus four others present is not a fulfillment of tefilla b’tzibbur. Perplexingly, the Mishna Berura cites without comment both the Magen Avraham/Shulchan Aruch Harav (69:8) and the Chayei Adam (90:28). Members of the "lenient camp" explain the Chayei Adam as stressing that Kaddish/Kedusha/Barchu is not enough; by ten, he meant a majority of the ten men davening in the presence of the others.
The stringent camp is perhaps best represented by a compelling (in my humble opinion) set of arguments by Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chayim I:28-30). We start with halachic logic. The idea of six counting as a minyan, based on a majority, makes sense when there is a full quorum involved in the matter at hand, but a minority is lacking in some regard (e.g., they already fulfilled their obligation). Then we say that since the majority of the group is valid, the missing element can be overlooked. We turn to the prototype of following majority, in a court, as an example. While when three dayanim arrive at different decisions, we follow the two, when there are only two dayanim or one of the three dayanim is unable to arrive at any decision, majority cannot be used. So too, when six people are davening Shemoneh Esrei and four are taking off their tefillin after the early minyan, there is no minyan involved in tefilla and thus no tefilla b’tzibbur.
Rav Moshe (ibid. 28) points out that the Rambam is not relevant to our discussion, as he refers to chazarat hashatz in which all ten are actively involved. After all, listening to the chazan constitutes full participating in chazarat hashatz. Following the majority just solves the issue of the weaker connection of those who already davened. (Shulchan Aruch, OC 124:4 supports this distinction.) The Magen Avraham (/Mishna Berura) can be understood as being based on the quality of chazarat hashatz. If six obligated plus four others are doing so, it is complete enough to justify it being preceded by a preparatory silent Shemoneh Esrei, even though its participants are not credited with tefilla b’tzibbur.
Next week we will put things into halachic and philosophical perspective and give basic recommendations.