To Daven Alone
Or With A Minyan
by Ariel Bar Tzadok
Copyright © 2002 by Ariel Bar Tzadok. All rights reserved.
Is it better to pray in a minyan
without proper devotion (kavanah) in prayer or to pray in private with
kavanah? This is especially important when referring to the kavanot of
We must never underestimate the value
of davening in a minyan, three times a day for each of our tefilot.
However, in our many sins, not all minyanim focus on a slow recitation
of tefilah to make sure that those davening can do so with kavanah.
This becomes an especially acute point when we refer to those who pray
according to the Kabbalistic minhag with the kavanot of uniting the
upper worlds. The prayers of the Mekubalim sustain multiple worlds.
Most Mekubalim, however cannot daven
outside of a minyan of their own because the prayers move too fast and
the Mekubalim are not given the necessary time to perform their sacred
tasks. Under such circumstances, we will see that it is actually better
for those Mekubalim to pray alone, without a minyan, than to pray with a
minyan and not be able to properly perform their holy obligations.
However, this application is not
limited only to Mekubalim. Even those who do not pray according to the
Kabbalah must pray with devotion. If the sincere layman cannot find an
appropriate minyan in which to express his spiritual aspiration, he
might better serve his Creator to daven alone. This view, as will be
shown, is firmly established in Halakha.
Rabbi Ya’akov Katzin, in his Katzini
Aretz (O.H. 6, page 42) is one of the Hakhamim who expresses the above
opinion. The following is a synopsis of his rationale.
In the Shulkhan Arukh (O.H. 111:3),
it states that if one comes late to Synagogue to daven and finds the
congregation already reciting the Amidah, he should not immediately join
in with them. First, he must recite the Kriyat Shema and its blessings
afterwards. Only then should he proceed to recite the Amidah. What we
learn from this is that the recitation of the blessing “Barukh Atah . .
. Ga’al Yisrael” (Geulah) immediately prior to beginning the Amidah is
considered so important that it is more important that one recite it
rather than to immediately join the congregation in prayer. Thus
reciting Geulah before the Amidah takes precedence over reciting the
Amidah with the minyan.
The Shulkhan Arukh (O.H. 89:8) also
states that one who needs to rise early in the morning in order to
travel, may recite the Shaharit Amidah early from Amud HaShahar (dawn).
Normally one must wait until sunrise to recite the Amidah. In this
circumstance, one should not recite the Shema (and its blessings as
referred to above) beforehand because it is too early to do so. One
should recite them later at the proper time. In this case, the
importance of reciting the Geulah immediately before the Amidah is put
aside because of something of greater importance.
The Mishneh Berurah (89:39) explains
that when one is traveling one will not have the ability to properly
concentrate on one’s prayers. While traveling, one is often seated and
not able to stand and pray. Therefore, in order for one to pray
standing and with proper devotion (kavanah) one should recite the Amidah
early in one’s home, (without a minyan and with the Geulah prayer). The
importance of kavanah out weighs the importance of reciting Geulah
immediately prior to the Amidah.
In the Shulkhan Arukh (O.H. 94:4) it
states that one who is riding on a donkey and cannot descend to stand
and pray should pray where he is at and face the direction he is
traveling. This is true even if someone would be there to hold the
animal in the interim. This is also true of one who is traveling by
boat or wagon. (The same holds true today when on is traveling by bus
or plane). If one is not able to stand and pray, one should sit in
one’s place and pray. Even if one is traveling by foot one can pray
facing the direction he is traveling, even if that direction is not
facing Jerusalem. This is true even at times when no danger is
The Halakha expresses concern that if
while traveling one is required to take one’s mind off of one’s
destination and business, one will be troubled over the time lost and
will therefore not pray with proper devotion (kavanah). The proper
course of action in any situation like this depends upon the time, the
place, one’s level of religious observance and one’s ability to pray
with a clear mind.
We see therefore that the requirement
to stand while praying is very strict. Nonetheless, in order to
safeguard one’s kavanah while traveling, one need not stand to pray.
Yet, as we learned above (in O.H. 89:8) standing to pray, takes
precedence over reciting Geulah immediately before the Amidah. We also
learned (O.H. 111:3) that reciting Geulah before the Amidah takes
precedence over praying with the congregation (the minyan).
To sum up, the importance of devotion
in prayer exempts one from standing, which exempts one from reciting
Geulah before the Amidah, which exempts one from davening with the
minyan. Therefore, in brief, the importance of devotion (kavanah) in
prayer certainly takes precedence over davening with congregation (minyan).
This concludes the rationale as expressed by Rabbi Katzin in his Katzini
Rabbi Katzin also quotes the Sha’arei
Teshuva (O.H. 52:1) that states that one who normally prays slowly and
with devotion and who cannot maintain his level of devotion if praying
with a minyan should not pray with them. (He should rather daven
alone). He also quotes the RiDBaZ (3, 472) who states that one should
only pray in a place where his devotion and thoughts will not be
disturbed. If this means that one will need daven alone and not in the
Synagogue, then so be it.
Rabbi Katzin, however, concludes that
one must make sure that if one does daven alone, that indeed one’s
devotion (kavanah) in pray must be significant. Rabbi Katzin quotes the
Zohar (1, 234a) to show that if one were to pray alone without proper
devotion, then it would be better for such a one to always pray in a
public minyan. G-d closely examines the prayer of the individual, to
investigate its worthiness. This is not so of the public prayers. This
G-d accepts with less scrutiny.
Rabbi Katzin is not the only one to
express the opinion that it is better to daven alone with devotion
rather than in a minyan without it. Rabbi Katzin’s response to this
question was based on the earlier words of Sefer Sha’arei Rahamim (2,
This view is also expressed as
Halakha in Sefer Divrei Shalom, which outlines Halakha in accordance to
the minhagim of the Ari’zal, the RaShaSh and the Hasidei Beit El of
Yerushalayim. In Vol. 2, O.H. 98:10, the Divrei Shalom is asked the
same question as above. Should one who wishes to pray alone with
kavanah and quiet according to the Kabbalistic order of the RaShaSh (the
true Nusah HaAri) do so, or pray in a minyan without them? The answer
is the same as that expressed above.
Here, however, the Divrei Shalom
questions whether davening in a minyan is actually required by halakha
or not. He mentions the various opinions of the Sages. Some hold that
it is definitely a requirement of our Rabbanim that one daven in a
minyan. Others hold that it is not such a requirement (s’nif mitzvah).
Yet, others hold that there is no such obligation at all. The Divrei
Shalom takes the opinion of the middle group and agrees that there is an
aspect of obligation (s’nif mitzvah) to davening in a minyan.
In conclusion, one who regularly
davens with deep devotion (kavanah), especially those who follow the
Kabbalistic kavanot, are permitted to daven all their prayers alone in
the privacy of their homes or elsewhere. This permission, however is
only when a minyan cannot provide for them a proper environment in which
to maintain their level of devotion.
In our many sins, I have heard from
numerous individuals that they wish to daven in private because their
local minyanim are totally void of any spiritual content. During
prayers today many people spend more time talking to one another than
praying to G-d. Prayer is supposed to be a special time, when we talk
with G-d “heart to heart.” When we lack this simple, most basic
devotion, then our prayers are not prayers.
If one sees a minyan where there is
such an overt sense of disrespect towards prayer, one should leave that
minyan and go find another. If it is the only minyan in town, then it
is better for one to daven alone, with devotion of heart than to
participate in such a public show that lacks all sense of respect
towards our blessed Creator.
However, if one finds a good minyan
where the members sincerely and truly devote their time and hearts to
G-d, one should cling to such a group and became a regular member of
them. A good minyan might be hard to find, but it is worth its weight
in gold when found.
I do not wish to encourage
individuals to daven alone. I rather wish to inspire minyanim to become
places that shine with kavanah and truly elevate above the prayers of
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