The Sages ordained that men pray with a minyan (a quorum of ten adult men) in a synagogue. The Sages teach that the divine Presence dwells wherever ten Jews engage in sacred matters (devarim she-bikdusha), as Scripture states: “Elokim nitzav ba-adat Kel” (“God stands in a godly congregation”; Tehilim 82:1), and ten Jews constitute an “edah” (congregation). Although even when one Jew prays or studies Torah the Shekhina is present, there are nevertheless different gradations, the highest level of which is when ten Jews are engaged in a davar she-bikdusha, for then holiness is revealed in the world (see Berakhot 6a). Based on this, the Sages ordained that all devarim she-bikdusha, that is, enactments that express God’s sanctity publicly, shall be recited in a minyan of ten men. Devarim she-bikdusha encompasses Ĥazarat Ha-shatz, Birkat Kohanim, Barkhu, Kaddish, and Torah reading (Megilla 23b). 1
The Sages further taught that when one prays with a minyan, her prayers are accepted. Even if she lacks full kavana, her prayers are accepted because she prays with the congregation (be-tzibur) (see Berakhot 8a). Praying with a minyan is thus superior in two ways: the Shekhina is with the minyan, which makes prayer more acceptable, and in a minyan one recites all the devarim she-bikdusha that the Sages ordained for recitation specifically with a minyan of men (Peninei Halakha: Prayer 2:1-3). Since the Shekhina dwells in the midst of a minyan, it is proper for every person to try to be one of the first ten people to pray together, for it is because of them that the Shekhina appears.
When the minyan prays in a synagogue its advantages are twofold, for the prayer is conducted in a place specifically designated for devarim she-bikdusha (Berakhot 6a; 8a). A synagogue is called a “small sanctuary” (“mikdash me’at,” from Yeĥezkel 11:16, which R. Yitzĥak interpreted to refer to “synagogues and study halls” [Megilla 29a]), for its holiness is a reflection of the Temple’s sanctity.
It is thus apparent that prayer with a congregation (tefila be-tzibur) is on some level a substitute for the Temple service: The Shekhina dwells in a place of ten Jews, the sanctity of the synagogue resembles the holiness of the Temple, and the communal prayers were ordained to correspond to the public sacrificial offerings.
Reish Lakish says: One who has a synagogue in his city but does not enter it to pray is called a bad neighbor. Not only that, he brings exile upon himself and his descendants. Those who come early to the synagogue for Shaĥarit and leave late after Ma’ariv merit long life (Berakhot 8a; SA 90:11).
- Megilla 23b and Sofrim 10:7 mention the things that must be recited with a minyan. The Sages (Megilla op. cit. and Berakhot 21b) derive from the verse “I shall be sanctified among the Israelites” (Vayikra 22:32) that a davar she-bikidusha shall not be recited among less than ten. Ran (ad loc.) and other Rishonim and Aĥaronim explain that this is a rabbinic law, since the very recitation of these words is of rabbinic origin. Nevertheless, the basic idea of minyan comes from Torah law that governs the sanctification of God’s name (Kiddush Hashem). That is, one is obligated to surrender his life rather than desecrating God’s name by performing a transgression under coercion in the presence of ten Jews (Sanhedrin 74b). It seems that for this purpose, women count toward the ten (though Devar Shmuel (Aboab) §63 and Pitĥei Teshuva YD 157:7 raise doubts about this). ↩