Girls who normally pray Shaĥarit in school and who will go hungry and will jeopardize their health or adversely affect their concentration on studies and prayers unless they eat and drink at home may do so. If a small meal without bread is sufficient, that is preferable; at their first recess they can wash their hands and eat bread. The argument should not be made that it is better that they pray Shaĥarit at home and not eat before Shaĥarit because the consistency of prayer in school edifies the students and validates the status of prayer. Still, it is best to recite Birkhot Ha-shaĥar and Birkhot Ha-Torah before eating and drinking. 1
Minors who have not yet reached the age of mitzvot – twelve for girls and thirteen for boys – may eat before prayer. Although we generally train minors not to eat forbidden food, this applies when the food itself is forbidden because it is not kosher. However, when the Sages prohibited eating before prayer or before kiddush, they did so as a safeguard. Since the food itself is not forbidden, minors need not abide by that safeguard. Nevertheless, le-khatĥila it is proper that they do not eat before prayer, though when it is necessary they are permitted (MB 106:5; Yabi’a Omer 4:12:15; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 106:11).
- It is hard to be lenient for boys who have become bar mitzva, because their obligation in prayer is explicit. However, concerning women, the obligation of the Shaĥarit prayer is indistinct, as some poskim say that women are only obligated to pray one prayer daily and that they can fulfill their obligation by praying Minĥa. Some even say that they can fulfill their obligation by reciting only Birkhot Ha-shaĥar and Birkhot Ha-Torah, as explained above, 2:3-5. Hence, the prohibitions before Shaĥarit are indeterminate as well, and as a result, in times of need, one may be lenient and eat before prayer. Igrot Moshe 4:101:2, and Halikhot Shlomo 2:4 state similarly. Halikhot Bat Yisrael 2 n. 10, quotes a letter from R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach allowing seminary girls to eat in their house before going to school. He adds that they must say a brief prayer prior to eating (I recommend reciting Birkhot Ha-shaĥar and Birkhot Ha-Torah which they must say anyway). Further, he adds that it is good that they accept upon themselves the yoke of Heaven by saying “Shema Yisrael.” ↩