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Peninei Halakha > Prayer > 05 - Preparations for Prayer

05 – Preparations for Prayer

01 – Emotional Preparation

Prayer is intended to elevate and strengthen people. Therefore, knowing that one is about to be uplifted and brought closer to Hashem, a person must approach prayer out of joy and not while in a state of sadness or apathy.

The Chachamim teach (Berachot 31a; Shulchan Aruch 93:2), “One should not pray out of laughter,” because laughter nullifies one’s awe for God, and a person must pray out of fear and submission. “Nor amidst talk,” because chatter distracts a person from his inner world and prayer is supposed to emerge from the depths of one’s soul. “Nor from lightheadedness and idle words,” because prayer is based on the recognition of one’s ability to do wonders with his speech, and if a person comes to prayer with idle words, he demonstrates that he does not value his speech (see Olat Ra’ayah, part 1, p. 29).

It is good to give tzedakah before praying (Shulchan Aruch 92:10), for by doing so one approaches prayer pleased and uplifted from the mitzvah he just performed. Furthermore, when we come to pray and request kindness and compassion from Hashem, it is proper that first we ourselves show mercy on the poor. The Ari HaKadosh says that before prayer it is good to reflect upon the mitzvah, “V’ahavta l’re’acha kamocha” (“Love your fellow Jew like yourself,”) for this is a great Torah principle. The prayers are written in the plural because we are praying for the nation as a whole.

One should not begin to pray when his mind is preoccupied. Even someone who has the privilege to learn Torah before praying should try not to come to prayer immediately after learning a very complex subject of study. His mind is liable to be absorbed in thoughts of the topic that he has been studying, and he will not be able to concentrate properly on his prayer. Instead, before praying, he should learn straightforward matters of halachah, or uplifting essays on emunah (faith). B’dieved, one should not avoid praying in a minyan, even if he is preoccupied with matters of Torah or has other concerns (Shulchan Aruch 93:3; Mishnah Berurah 6).

The Chachamim instituted the recital of uplifting verses prior to praying the Amidah, so that before the Amidah people would be engrossed in inspiring and elating matters. Before Shacharit and Ma’ariv, we recite the berachah, Ga’al Yisrael,” and before Minchah we say Ashrei (Shulchan Aruch 93:2).

The Talmud records that devout people paused to meditate a full hour before praying so that they could properly direct their hearts to their Father in Heaven (Berachot 30b; Shulchan Aruch 93:1; Mishnah Berurah 1).

02 – Washing One’s Hands

A person who prays must be in a state of purity. It is therefore a mitzvah to wash one’s hands before engaging in prayer. However, a distinction is made between a situation in which a person knows that his hands are unclean, and one in which he does not know if his hands have been dirtied.

For example, if one knows that his hands are dirty because he relieved himself, or touched normally covered parts of his body which have become soiled from perspiration, he must wash his hands before praying. According to many poskim, he must recite a berachah on this washing even before Minchah and Ma’ariv (Rambam, Rosh, Gra). However, the accepted custom is to recite a berachah solely on the washing before Shacharit, because when a person awakens in the morning, it is as if he is created anew. Regarding washing one’s hands before Minchah and Ma’ariv, even one whose hands are dirty does not recite a berachah (according to the Rashba, see further in this book 8:1).

In any case, according to all opinions, a person who dirtied his hands is obligated to wash them before he prays. L’chatchilah, he should pour water over his entire hand with a vessel. However, if he does not have a vessel, it is sufficient that he rinse his hands with water from a faucet.[1]

In order to wash his hands before praying, if there is no water close to him, he must trouble himself and walk up to the distance of a mil, which is approximately a kilometer (960 meters or approx. .597 miles). However, if, as he is walking, the designated time for prayer will pass, or he will miss the opportunity to pray with a minyan, he can rub his hands with sand or on his clothing, in order to remove any trace of dirt from them – and then he may pray (Shulchan Aruch 92:4; Mishnah Berurah 92:20).[2]

Regarding someone who does not know if his hands are dirty, since he doesn’t remember if he touched the parts of his body which are normally covered, the poskim are divided as to whether or not he must wash his hands before prayer. Hence, if there is water available, he should wash his hands. However, if there is no water near him, he does not need to wash his hands and he may rely on the poskim who maintain that it is only necessary to wash one’s hands before prayer if they are unclean. To be certain, one should rub his hands on his clothing (Shulchan Aruch 92:5, 233:2; Mishnah Berurah 92:26; Bei’ur Halachah s.v. “V’im”).

Concerning one who relieves himself, washes his hands in his house, and afterwards is careful not to touch the parts of his body which are normally covered, and then goes to synagogue, he need not wash his hands again before praying. Similarly, if someone who arrives at synagogue to learn and pray washes his hands before learning, and is careful not to touch the parts of his body that are normally covered, it is not necessary to wash his hands again before praying.

[1]. According to the Rishonim who maintain that it is necessary to wash one’s hands with a berachah before all prayers, one must use a washing vessel, for the Chachamim instituted the berachah of washing for prayer following the example of washing before a meal (see Rambam Berachot 6:2; Ra’ah, Rabbeinu Yerucham, and Rosh who are brought by the Beit Yosef; see Shulchan Aruch 4:7 as well). In practice we do not recite the “Al netilat yadayimberachah before Minchah and Ma’ariv, because the rule is that when there is doubt regarding the recital of berachot, we are lenient and do not recite them (safek berachot l’hakel). Nevertheless, it is the opinion of most poskim that it is correct to be stringent and perform all the other requirements connected to washing one’s hands before a meal. Therefore, it is proper for a person whose hands are dirty to wash them with a vessel. Even a person whose hands are not dirty can enhance the mitzvah by washing them with a vessel, for perhaps the Rishonim who maintain that even a person who does not know if his hands are clean or dirty need to wash them, require using a vessel designated for pouring water over the hands. However, those who follow the lenient opinion and wash their hands without a washing cup have on whom to rely, for even concerning the washing before Shacharit, the use of a vessel is only l’chatchilah. All the more so before the other prayers, when one does not recite a berachah on the washing, and even more so when one does not know if his hands are dirty.

[2].If he is walking on his way and within the four mil ahead of him there is water, he must walk to it and only afterwards pray. The Shulchan Aruch 92:7 writes, “A dirty area is [defined as] the [normally] covered parts of a person’s body, because they contain beads of sweat. For instance, scratching one’s head [is considered touching a dirty place].” This refers to rubbing the roots of one’s hair, but if someone only touches the top of his head, he does not need to wash his hands (Shulchan Aruch HaRav; Mishnah Berurah 162:58, 164:10). Kaf HaChaim 4, small paragraphs 75 and 98, is lenient even if one scratches the roots of his hairs which are not covered with a hat, because there is no sweat there. Tzitz Eliezer, part 7, 2:14 concludes that if he washed his head and his hair is clean, even a person who scratches the roots of his hairs does not need to wash his hands.

Concerning a person who touches other normally covered parts of the body: if his body is washed clean and does not have beads of sweat on it, the Acharonim disagree as to whether or not he must wash his hands. Eshel Avraham Butshatsh 4:21 is stringent, and Yabia Omer, part 5, 1:4-5, cites poskim who are lenient. According to the Minchat Yitzchak, part 3, 26:10, those who wear short sleeves and touch their skin above their elbows need not wash their hands because that part of the body is not one which is normally covered. However he also refers to the Chazon Ish who writes that this place is defined as a normally covered part, and that people who wear short sleeves should not be taken into consideration. Mor U’Ketziah, section 4 writes that for those who wear short sleeves, above one’s elbow is not considered a normally covered part. And that is the custom.

The Rama 92:7 maintains that earwax is considered a covered part and one who touches it is obligated to trouble himself to walk up to a mil to wash his hands. The Mishnah Berurah writes that the Gra is lenient concerning this. However, Otzrot HaGra, p. 219 interprets the Gra differently, saying that he is not lenient regarding this. Similarly, one who touches mucous from his nose is surely considered someone who touches a normally covered part and must wash his hands.

Concerning learning Torah and reciting berachot: one who touched normally covered parts can b’dieved rub his hands on his clothes and subsequently learn or recite berachot, as clarified by the Shulchan Aruch 4:23 and Mishnah Berurah 4:61.

03 – Kippah and Belt

A person must prepare himself for prayer, feel awe towards God’s majesty and glory, and be happy that he is about to stand before the King of Kings in prayer. This should also be apparent in his dress; one’s clothes should be respectable, fitting for one who stands before the King.

Men are obligated to cover their heads while praying, while reciting the name of Heaven, and before entering a synagogue (Shulchan Aruch 91:3). However, in practice, based on the custom accepted in Judaism, men are careful to wear a kippah (yarmulke) all day long (Shulchan Aruch 2:6). In any case, the obligation to wear a kippah while praying, when reciting God’s name, and while in a synagogue is greater, for it is rooted in law and not just in custom.[3]

Additionally, although there are those who say that single women must also cover their heads while praying and reciting berachot, it is customary for women not to be strict about this.[4]

One should wear a belt while praying, for the belt creates a division between one’s upper body, including the head and heart, and one’s ervah (nakedness). In that regard, prayer is superior to other matters of sanctity, for concerning other matters of sanctity it is unnecessary to wear a belt specifically, rather any separation between one’s heart and one’s nakedness is acceptable. Therefore anyone wearing underwear has a divider between his heart and his ervah. However, out of respect for the prayer service, it is a mitzvah to wear a belt, for that is the respectful way to pray, as it is written (Amos 4:12), “Israel, prepare to meet your God.” Nevertheless, someone who normally walks around the whole day without a belt need not put one on before praying.

It is an extra pious act to always put on a belt for prayer because a belt signifies the separation between the lofty side of a person, comprised of the brain and the heart, and the lowly part of a person, containing his ervah and legs. Most people are deeply involved in their bodily desires, their brains and hearts occupied solely with matters of the moment and materialism. However, the Jewish people, who received the Torah from Heaven, are capable of overcoming their baser inclinations. They can direct their minds and hearts to superior matters, subsequently returning to the world of materialism and action in order to repair it. That is what the belt worn during prayer represents. The Chachamim even instituted a special berachah concerning this in the morning blessings – “Ozer Yisrael bigevurah” (“Who girds Israel with strength”). This explains why Chassidim enhance the mitzvah by wearing a special belt for prayer (a gartle).[5]

[3]. A person whose kippah fell off and was blown to a distance farther than four amot may cover his head with his hand while walking to pick it up. However, while praying and reciting berachot it is not enough merely to cover one’s head with one’s hand. Since he is obligated to cover his head, one part of his body cannot be used to cover another part; although his friend’s hand may be used (Shulchan Aruch 91:4; Mishnah Berurah 91:10; Mishnah Berurah 6:11-12). Concerning the size of one’s kippah: the Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim, part 1, 1, writes that one can fulfill his obligation by wearing a kippah that does not cover the majority of his head even when saying Hashem’s Name. By contrast, the Or L’Tzion, part 2, 7:13 and Yabia Omer, part 6, 15:5 write that when praying and mentioning Hashem’s Name, which by law requires a head covering, one must wear a kippah that covers the majority of one’s head. Nonetheless, in practice, one who is lenient has on whom to rely, since it is a rabbinic ruling and regarding rabbinic rulings, the halachah follows the lenient opinion. Furthermore, in Masechet Sofrim 14:15 there is a dispute concerning whether or not one is obligated to cover one’s head when reciting a berachah. Or Zarua, part 2, 43, writes that the custom of our ancestors in France was to recite berachot bareheaded. Although according to most poskim the halachah is that we are obligated to cover our heads while reciting a berachah, in any case, the lenient opinion is incorporated to strengthen the opinion expressed in Igrot Moshe. Even so, it is good to be stringent out of respect for the prayer service. Moreover, if one wears a larger kippah during the prayer service, this is likely to cause a person to wear it throughout the whole day, thereby sanctifying God’s Name and accepting the responsibility to observe the Torah and mitzvot.
[4]. Shut Ish Matzliach 1:24-25 obligates women just the same as men in terms of head covering when reciting God’s name. The Yabia Omer, part 6, 15 writes that single women should not be prevented from reciting a berachah bareheaded; however, it is proper for them to cover their heads while praying. As we already learned in the previous note, there are even those who say that there is no obligation for a man to cover his head while praying and mentioning God’s name. Since it is a rabbinic ruling, and it is customary for women to be lenient regarding this matter, they need not change their practice. Tzitz Eliezer 12:13 writes that according to the minhag, women do not need to cover their heads. He cites the explanation given by the Chatam Sofer that since gentile women were accustomed to cover their heads in their houses of worship, there is reason to refrain from practicing as they did. All this may be further studied in Peninei Halachah, Tefillat Nashim, 10:6, note 6.
[5]. The Rishonim are divided into three opinions. The Terumah, Ran, and Hagahot Maymoniyot maintain that no matter what the situation, one must wear a belt while praying. In contrast to them, Rashi holds that one need not wear a belt at all for prayer; rather the important thing is that there be a divider between one’s heart and his ervah. The intermediate opinion is that of Rabbeinu Yerucham who maintains that one who normally wears a belt the whole day must also wear one while praying. So it is written in Shibolei Haleket 17, in the name of Rav Sa’adyah Gaon, as well as in Magen Avraham 91:1, whom many Acharonim cite as the way to practice. From the Shulchan Aruch 91:2 it can be inferred that he rules according to the stringent opinion, which is how the Mishnah Berurah 91:4 is inclined to rule as well. In any case, the minhag is according to those who are lenient, and since it is a rabbinic ruling, the ones who are lenient have the advantage. The Or L’Tzion, part 2, 7:13 explains that in the past when people wore robes without belts, they looked unkempt, but today we wear pants, and therefore it is unnecessary to be stringent regarding this. Hence, it is an extra pious act to be careful to always wear a belt while praying. The Chassidim enhance the mitzvah even more by wearing a special belt for prayer.

04 – The Appropriate Dress for Prayer

A person who finds himself in a situation in which he has no clothes is obligated to wear at least shorts and an undershirt for prayer (Berachot 25a; Shulchan Aruch 91:1). Although while reciting Shema and berachot it is sufficient, b’dieved, to only cover one’s ervah (Shulchan Aruch 74:6), while praying the Amidah before the King, one must at least cover his ervah and his heart (meaning, his front and back).[6]

All this is b’dieved, but l’chatchilah one should enhance the mitzvah by wearing respectable clothing for prayer, so that one show at least as much honor to God as he does to human beings. Just as a person is careful to wear dignified clothing when meeting important people, so too, he must dress at least as respectably before praying. Indeed, a person who goes out once in his life to greet a king makes sure to wear his nicest clothing. However, a person who sees the king every day does not wear his fanciest garments; but he does make sure to wear clothes that suit his profession and status. Similarly, we come before the King three times a day, and we therefore dress nicely for prayer, but we save our finest apparel for Shabbatot, festivals, and joyous celebrations.

Everything depends on the custom of the place and the person. There are communities where everyone is accustomed to wearing a suit and hat to significant events, and thus they are required to dress that way for prayer as well. Likewise, in a place where it is not accepted to appear before important people in sandals without socks, certainly one must wear socks with his sandals while praying as well. Yet in places where people usually walk around in sandals without socks, and do not wear ties and hats even when approaching important people, they need not adopt different garb for prayer (based on Shulchan Aruch 91:5).

However, praying in a minyan is more important than wearing respectable clothes. Therefore, if someone who usually prays in a suit and hat finds himself in a situation in which going to his house to bring his suit and hat will cause him to miss praying in a minyan, it is better that he pray in simple attire in a minyan, for the mitzvah to pray in a minyan takes precedence over enhancing the mitzvah by wearing nice clothing (Avnei Yashfeh 1:7).

If one is wearing disgraceful clothes, normally not worn on the street, such as dirty work clothes or shorts which he put on to work in his yard, it is better that he change his clothes, even if he will miss praying with a minyan. If he wears such clothing to pray, he will offend the respect of Heaven. Additionally, there is concern that he will not be able to concentrate on his prayer, since he will be thinking that everyone is staring at his disgraceful dress.

[6]. B’dieved, if he mistakenly prayed without an undershirt, as long as he covered his ervah he fulfilled his obligation. However, the Acharonim disagree as to whether or not a person who does not have an undershirt should pray l’chatchilah. The Bei’ur Halachah 91:1, s.v. “Yatza” maintains that he may not. The Kaf HaChaim 3 is inclined to agree with the Levush who rules that he should pray since he is considered to be in circumstances beyond his control (annus).

05 – Detailed Laws of One’s Dress for Prayer

Those whose profession requires them to wear work clothes and it is difficult for them to change before praying are permitted to pray in their work clothes, because for them, these articles of clothing are not considered disgraceful. Nevertheless, in situations in which they have time to change their clothes, they should try to come to prayer in more respectable attire.

One should not pray in pajamas (Mishnah Berurah 91:11). However, a person who is ill is permitted to pray in pajamas, because it is accepted that one who is not feeling well wears pajamas, even when important people come to visit him.

One should not stand in prayer wearing a raincoat, boots and gloves, because that is not the way to stand in front of important people (Mishnah Berurah 91:12). Yet, when it is very cold, it is permissible to pray in a raincoat and gloves, because this does not offend the respect due to prayer. Additionally, in a place where everyone regularly wears boots, one may wear them while praying.

Young boys and members of kibbutzim, who regularly walk around in shorts, even when important people come to visit them, are permitted to pray in that manner. However, the chazan must cover his legs until below the knee, because a person who wears shorts is called a poche’ach and is not allowed to lead the prayer service (see chapter 4:4).

Sometimes, a person is in a place where people normally dress less formally, such as a vacation spot; there, even those who always wear suits may wear just shirts without a jacket. In such a situation, whoever is not embarrassed to walk around without a suit, even before distinguished people, may also pray that way.

06 – One May Not Bring to Synagogue Children Who Are Likely to Disrupt

It is forbidden for a person praying to seat a baby down in front of him because there is concern that the baby will disturb his concentration (Mishnah Berurah 96:4). All the more so, during times of prayer services, one may not bring babies and small children who do not know how to pray, since they are liable to distract the people praying. Although there is an extra pious custom to bring babies to synagogue so that they can absorb the holy atmosphere of the place, that custom refers specifically to times when prayer services are not being held.

In order to emphasize the importance of this matter, I will cite the words of the Shlah HaKadosh who writes in the name of the Orchot Chaim: “Children’s chatter in synagogue is a severe prohibition. Nowadays, their coming to synagogue brings punishment on those who bring them there, for they come to desecrate the holiness of our God’s house and to laugh in it as they do in city streets. They get up to play with one another; this one plays with that one and that one hits the other. One is happy, another crying. One is talking, another screaming. One runs here, the other, there. One relieves himself in the synagogue and everyone screams, ‘Water, water!’ There is one whose father gives him a book and he throws it down on the floor or tears it into twelve different pieces. Consequently, the noise their nonsense produces causes the people praying to lose concentration and results in the desecration of Heaven’s name. Anyone who brings children to synagogue in this way does not deserve to receive a reward for this; instead, he should fear punishment. Worst of all, the children will be raised on this bad custom and foreign habit. As they grow older, they will increase their contempt for the synagogue and its sanctity, and they will show no respect for the Torah. Additionally, when a person repeatedly sins, [in his eyes] the sin becomes permitted. Therefore, when he ages, he will not abandon his ways. In conclusion, it is proper for a person not to bring very small children to synagogue, because he will [only] lose from it and not gain. However, when the child reaches the age of understanding, on the contrary; the father must bring the child to synagogue, teach him to sit in awe and fear, not let him move from his seat, and instruct him to answer Amen and [respond to] Kaddish and Kedushah” (Shnei Luchot HaBrit, Masechet Tamid Ner Mitzvah, also brought briefly by Mishnah Berurah 98:3).

One whose child begins to disrupt the congregation’s prayer must take him by the hand, bring him outside, and continue to pray there, even if he is in the middle of reciting the Amidah (see further in this book 17:15).

07 – Preventing Possible Disruptions in Prayer

While reciting the Amidah, one may not hold an object that he fears will fall, such as tefillin, a book, a full bowl, a knife, coins, or food, because he will worry that it may  drop, and thus his kavanah will be disrupted (Shulchan Aruch 96:1). Even in other parts of the prayer service, like Shema and Pesukei d’Zimrah, one must be careful about this. L’chatchilah, one should not hold anything in his hand while reciting the Amidah, for it is not respectful to stand in front of Hashem while holding something extraneous (see Mishnah Berurah 96:1 and 5, based on Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, Taz).

Nonetheless, holding a lulav on Sukkot is permitted because it is a mitzvah to do so and it does not disrupt the kavanah in one’s prayer. Similarly, one is permitted to hold a siddur because it is necessary for prayer (Shulchan Aruch 96:1-2).

L’chatchilah, one should not recite the Amidah while standing with a knapsack on his back, for that is not a respectful way to appear before important people, and all the more so, it is not respectful to pray in that manner. However, if he is already traveling with a knapsack on his shoulders and it is more comfortable to leave it on, he may pray with it on him if it weighs less than four kabin (approximately 5.5 kilograms or 12 lbs, 1.5 oz). If the knapsack is heavier than four kabin, he is prohibited from praying while wearing it because such a load is liable to impair his kavanah (Shulchan Aruch 97:4).

Additionally, if someone holding tefillin or money fears that if he puts these items down they will be stolen, and he does not have a friend there to watch them, nor pockets in which to put them, it is preferable, b’dieved, to keep them in his hands while praying, so that he will be less troubled (Mishnah Berurah 96:6; Kaf HaChaim 7). Likewise, if someone carrying a heavy knapsack on his back is worried that it will be stolen, and he has no other choice than to carry it, he is permitted to pray while wearing it.

A soldier carrying a gun, l’chatchilah should not pray with his weapon on him, nor enter the synagogue with it, for it is inappropriate for him to pray about life and peace while wearing an instrument intended for killing. However, he may pray with it on him if he is carrying it for security reasons or guarding it from theft. If possible, he should take the magazine out of the gun, so that it will be considered less of a weapon. When, for security reasons, it is best that the gun be loaded, he is permitted to pray with the magazine inside (see Tzitz Eliezer 10:8).

A person who has a cold must wipe his nose before praying so that he needn’t do so during the prayer service. If phlegm in his throat bothers him, he should expel it before praying so that it will not distract him during the prayer service (Shulchan Aruch 92:3). If he must wipe his nose while praying, he should do so in the politest way possible. Similarly, if he needs to yawn, he should cover his mouth with his hand. This is because a person who stands in prayer must be very careful to show respect for Heaven, and all actions that are considered impolite before people are also prohibited during prayer (see Shulchan Aruch 97:1-2).

08 – One Who Must Relieve Himself While Praying

The Chachamim teach that one who needs to relieve himself, be it to urinate or to defecate, is prohibited from praying (Berachot 23a), since the need to relieve himself is likely to disrupt his kavanah. In addition, it is not proper to come to pray before HaKadosh Baruch Hu when one’s body is made repulsive by the excrement inside him. Even if he is uncertain as to whether or not he needs to relieve himself, it is proper that he try before beginning to pray (Berachot 15a). The Chachamim support their statement with the verse (Amos 4:12), “Israel, prepare to meet your God.” It is also written (Ecclesiastes 4:17), “Guard your foot when you go to the House of God,” meaning, make sure you do not need to relieve yourself at the time that you are standing to pray.

There are two levels of need: 1) a need so pressing that it is impossible to wait even the amount of time it takes to walk a parsah, which is approximately 72 minutes; 2) a need to relieve oneself, but which can be controlled for longer than 72 minutes.

If a person begins to recite the Amidah when he cannot control his need to defecate for 72 minutes, his prayer is considered an abomination and he does not fulfill his obligation. Instead, he must go back and repeat his prayer after he relieves himself. However, if he recites the Amidah when he cannot control his need to urinate for 72 minutes, although it is clear that he did not act in accordance with the law, the Acharonim are divided as to whether or not his prayer is considered an abomination. Due to the fact that it is not in our power to settle this dispute, there is no obligation to repeat the prayer, but it is good to go back and pray a voluntary prayer (tefillat nedavah) (see Bei’ur Halachah 92:1, s.v. “V’tzarich lachzor”).[7]

If a person is able to control himself for 72 minutes, and he recites the Amidah, his prayer is considered valid because his need to relieve himself is not so urgent. In any case, l’chatchilah, even a person who can wait 72 minutes is prohibited from praying. Even if he will miss praying in a minyan because of this, he must relieve himself and pray individually. If, however, before he relieves himself, the time to pray will pass, he should pray immediately so that he will not miss praying altogether (Shulchan Aruch 92:1; Mishnah Berurah 92:5).

The estimation of a person’s ability to control himself can only be determined by the person himself. If he thought before the prayer service that he could wait 72 minutes, but after beginning to pray he was proven mistaken, his prayer is still considered valid, since at the time he started to pray he believed he could contain his need (Bei’ur Halachah 92:1, s.v. “Shiur Parsah”).

If he has doubt as to whether or not he needs to relieve himself, or if his need is very slight, as we learned, l’chatchilah he should relieve himself before the prayer service, but he should not miss out on praying with a minyan for that purpose.[8]

[7].According to the Magen Avraham, it is not necessary to go back and repeat the prayer. However, according to the Eliyah Rabbah, one must. Many Acharonim are lenient like the Magen Avraham, such as the Shulchan Aruch HaRav 92:1 and the Aruch HaShulchan 92:1. The Kaf HaChaim 92:4 is inclined to rule this way as well. Nevertheless, the Bei’ur Halachah writes that we do not have the power to resolve this disagreement. The subsequent conclusion is that it is good to recite a voluntary prayer (tefillat nedavah).As for the reason behind this controversy, there are those who maintain that it is contingent upon the root of the prohibition. According to the Rambam, Hilchot Tefillah 4:1, it is because the need to relieve oneself disturbs one’s kavanah. If so, no distinction is made between urine and excrement and his prayer is considered an abomination. According to Rabbeinu Simchah, who is cited by the Hagahot Maymoniyot, it is because his body is in a state of repugnancy. Therefore, the prayer of a person who only needs to urinate is not considered an abomination, since urine does not have as much contamination. Likewise, the prohibition to distance oneself from urine is rabbinic, and from excrement, biblical, as written in Or L’Tzion, part 2, chapter 7, 15. Or L’Tzion links this dispute to the argument regarding whether or not one who needs to relieve himself is prohibited from learning Torah and reciting Shema. If it is because the need is a disturbance, he is only prohibited from praying the Amidah. However, if it is because his body is considered an abomination, the prohibition applies to all matters of sanctity. (Nevertheless, an argument can be made that one fulfills his obligation b’dieved if he recites matters of sanctity when he cannot control himself for 72 minutes, even according to the opinion that his body is an abomination, because he is not considered one who is standing before the King, as is explained later on.) In practice, we are careful to follow both interpretations.

[8]. The Rishonim are divided concerning a person who needs to relieve himself but can wait 72 minutes. According to Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, the Rambam, and Rosh, he is prohibited from reciting the Amidah, and that is what the Shulchan Aruch 92:1 rules. But the Rif, Rashi, Or Zarua, and Agudah maintain that he may pray l’chatchilah. The Chida writes in Kesher Gudal 7:32, that if in order to relieve himself he will miss praying in a minyan, he may rely on those who permit him to recite the Amidah l’chatchilah when he can wait 72 minutes. However, the Acharonim do not accept his ruling, as clarified by the Mishnah Berurah 92:5 and Kaf HaChaim 6. There are those who write that a printing error was made in the writings of the Chida. See Yechaveh Da’at 4:19, in the footnote. Nevertheless, when one’s need to relieve himself is slight, it seems that he can rely on the Chida’s reasoning, especially because there are people who always feel a slight need to relieve themselves. If, in order to relieve himself, he needs to exert himself to help push out the waste, then there is an opinion that he is not at all transgressing the prohibition, “Do not abominate oneself,” and he is permitted to pray (the notes of Rav Eliyahu to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 12:3, in the name of an opinion brought by the Ben Ish Chai, Vayetzei 3). L’chatchilah, a person must try to relieve himself, as explained in Berachot 15a and Shulchan Aruch 2:6.

09 – One Who Needs to Relieve Himself Before Reciting Other Matters of Sanctity

Just as one who needs to relieve himself and cannot wait 72 minutes is prohibited from reciting the Amidah, so too, he is prohibited from reciting berachot, saying Shema, and learning Torah, for it is not proper to engage in matters of sanctity when one’s body is offensive. However, there is a significant difference between the Amidah and other matters of sanctity. In the Amidah we resemble people standing in front of the King. If one does not pray in the proper manner, he disgraces the respect of Heaven and his prayer is an abomination. Therefore, when the person reciting the Amidah cannot control his need for 72 minutes, his prayer is invalid. This is not so regarding other matters of sanctity. While saying them, one is not considered to be standing before the King. Hence, b’dieved, if he recites berachot or Shema even when he is not able to control his need for 72 minutes, he fulfills his obligation (Mishnah Berurah 92:6; Bei’ur Halachah s.v. “Afilu B’Divrei Torah”; Kaf HaChaim 3).[9]

One who can wait 72 minutes, according to most Acharonim, is permitted l’chatchilah to recite berachot and learn Torah, though there are those who say that it is preferable for him to relieve himself first (Mishnah Berurah 92:7). However, if he must exert himself in doing so, he does not need to relieve himself.

A person who starts to learn when he does not need to relieve himself, but in the course of learning feels a need, to the point where he can no longer wait 72 minutes, should l’chatchilah go and relieve himself. If he is in the middle of a subject of study, some say that he may continue to learn until he finishes that subject (Bei’ur Halachah 92:2 s.v. “Koreh”; Yalkut Yosef, part 2, p. 338), whereas others say that he should go relieve himself immediately (Kaf HaChaim 3:48). If he is teaching Torah, he should finish his class and then relieve himself, for human dignity (kevod habriyot) is so great that it overrides the rabbinic prohibition of “Do not abominate oneself” (Mishnah Berurah 92:7).

[9]. It is implied from Aruch HaShulchan 92:1, that even if the time to recite the Shema will pass, l’chatchilah he should not recite it. However, this matter requires further study since presumably it is better that he recite the Shema so that he will not miss saying it (for in this case there is no fear of reciting a berachah in vain).

10 – One Who Needs to Relieve Himself in the Middle of Praying

The ruling regarding a person who does not need to relieve himself when he starts to pray, but in the middle of his prayer feels a rising need, is based on how much he needs to relieve himself, and what stage of the prayer he is in. There are three levels of need concerning this law:

  1. One who can wait 72 minutes is permitted to finish praying.
  2. One who estimates that he will not be able to wait 72 minutes, but does not yet have to contain the urge, and would have to exert himself slightly to relieve himself at the moment – since when he started to pray he was permitted, and his immediate need is not so great, he may finish the section that he is saying. If the need arises in the middle of Pesukei d’Zimrah, he should wait until reciting Yishtabach, thereby finishing Pesukei d’Zimrah, and then go relieve himself. If the need arises while he is reciting Birkot Keriat Shema, he may, in principle, finish the berachot. However, because he will need to relieve himself before Shemoneh Esrei, it is better not to pause between birkat Ga’al Yisrael and the Amidah. Therefore, he should relieve himself immediately upon finishing the specific berachah or paragraph that he is reciting (Mishnah Berurah 92:9; Bei’ur Halachah s.v. “Ya’amid”).[10]
  3. One who has to actively suppress the need to relieve himself while praying is in the most serious stage, because at this point he is transgressing the prohibition, “Do not abominate oneself” (Rama 92:2, according to Shulchan Aruch HaRav 3:11). If he is saying Pesukei d’Zimrah or Birkot Keriat Shema, he must immediately go relieve himself since interruption at that point is not so serious. However, if he is in the middle of the Amidah, where a pause at that point is serious, and if, when he began reciting the Amidah, he did not feel the need to relieve himself, he should finish praying. Only in a situation in which he is incapable of waiting at all, should he go relieve himself.[11]

[10]. However, Shulchan Aruch HaRav 92:2 clarifies that since he was permitted to pray when he started, he may finish until the end. That is what is implied in Aruch HaShulchan 92:6-7 as well. Still, the Mishnah Berurah 92:9 and Bei’ur Halachah s.v. “Ya’amid” explain that he may continue only until the end of the particular part he is reciting, whether it is Pesukei d’Zimrah, Birkot KeriatShema, the Amidah, or the like. If he goes on to pray when he cannot wait 72 minutes, his prayer is considered an abomination. In order to avoid uncertainty, one should conduct himself according to the Mishnah Berurah. All the more so when he is violating the prohibition, “Do not abominate oneself,” for then according to the Rama, even in the middle of Pesukei d’Zimrah or Birkot KeriatShema, he must stop immediately. If at the time he reaches Birkot KeriatShema he feels a need to relieve himself and he knows that he can wait 72 minutes, he may continue to pray the Amidah, as I have written above in level 1. The reasons for this are as follows: according to all opinions, if he prays in this manner, he fulfills his obligation. Similarly, the Rif and Rashi rule that one is even permitted to pray this way l’chatchilah. The Chida writes that one may rely on these sources so that he may pray in a minyan. Finally, the Shulchan Aruch HaRav writes that if he was permitted to pray when he started, he may finish saying all the prayers.
The Bei’ur Halachah 92:1, s.v. “Hayah” is uncertain regarding the law of a chazan who feels a need to relieve himself before Chazarat HaShatz and cannot wait 72 minutes. However, concerning a communal Torah reader, he is lenient and rules that he may read, for human dignity (kevod habriyot) is so great that it takes precedence over a rabbinic prohibition. Nonetheless, regarding prayer, which is considered an abomination, he is doubtful. Thus, even if the chazan will be slightly embarrassed, it is preferable that he goes to relieve himself and has someone replace him. Only if the matter will humiliate him greatly may he continue to pray.
[11]. The Mishnah Berurah 92:11 states that according to the Rama, when he reaches the point where he will violate the prohibition, “Do not abominate oneself,” he stops even in the middle of the Amidah. According to the Magen Avraham he is permitted to continue so as not to be humiliated in front of the congregation. The Chayei Adam and Kaf HaChaim 8, maintain that he is prohibited from stopping in the middle of the Amidah. That is also the opinion of most poskim. If a person is in a situation where he cannot control his need to defecate, everyone agrees that he must go relieve himself. However, regarding urination, according to the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, he should not stop in the middle, even if the urine trickles down his knees. Kaf HaChaim 8, writes that if this concerns a lot of urine and he is praying in a congregation, he may stop so that he will not embarrass himself. According to the Chayei Adam and Mishnah Berurah 92:11, when he cannot wait, he may relieve himself even just to urinate. That is what I have written, as well.
If he must stop to defecate in the middle of the Amidah, it is reasonable to assume that he was probably prohibited from praying when he originally started and it was clear that he would not be able to wait for more than 72 minutes. Therefore, he does not fulfill the obligation for the parts of the Amidah that he already recited and he must go back to the beginning. However, if he truly thought that he would be able to wait 72 minutes, and was surprisingly attacked by such a strong urge to the point where he needed to relieve himself immediately, then if the interruption lasted the time needed to pray all of the Amidah prayer, from beginning to end, he must start the Amidah again, as explained in Shulchan Aruch 104:5 and Rama 65:1. But if the break lasted less time, he continues from the berachah at which he stopped. It seems that a person who was unsure of whether he could, at the outset, estimate his ability to wait 72 minutes, and in the end could not control his need to defecate, must repeat the Amidah because it stands to reason that he was prohibited from praying when he began to recite the Amidah. Furthermore, it is possible that concerning prayer he is considered a repulsive person, based on the logic brought by the Bei’ur Halachah 92:2, s.v. “Yoter.

11 – One Who Is Tipsy or Drunk

A person must be clearheaded when he prays. Unlike many idol worshipers who perform their rituals using drugs and alcohol to attain a state of ecstasy, our petitions to Hashem are achieved through seriousness and deep thought. That is why the Torah commands the Kohanim not to enter the Temple and perform the divine service while inebriated (Leviticus 10:8-11). The Chachamim derive from this that one who is drunk or tipsy is prohibited from praying.

“Tipsy” is the word used to describe someone who is slightly under the influence of alcohol, and finds it somewhat difficult to concentrate and focus his thoughts, but is still capable of talking before the King. The word “drunk” is used to describe a person who drank so much that he cannot properly speak before the King.

B’dieved, one who prays while tipsy, since he is able to speak before the King, fulfills his obligation. Likewise, if he begins praying and then remembers that he is tipsy, he may finish his prayer (Eliyah Rabbah; Kaf HaChaim 99:2). However, a drunken person who mistakenly starts to pray is required to stop immediately, for the prayer of one who is intoxicated is an abomination. Even if he concludes his prayer, he does not fulfill his obligation. If he becomes sober before the permissible time to pray ends, he must go back and pray in accordance with the law (Shulchan Aruch 99:1).

The Chachamim say that a person who drinks a revi’it (86 ml; recent calculations are 75 ml) of wine is considered tipsy, and if he walks a mil (960 meters, approx. 5.97 miles) it will diminish the effect of the wine (Eiruvin 64b). However, we do not know how to compare the wine of those days to our wines today. Therefore, the rule is that any time he feels disoriented from wine or alcohol, he is considered tipsy, and when he feels his clarity of mind returning, he is permitted to pray (Shulchan Aruch 99:3; Mishnah Berurah 2).

According to the Rama, because kavanah in prayer has deteriorated throughout the generations, we are not so strict about this law, and even a person who becomes slightly inebriated is allowed to pray. This is especially true when one prays with a siddur, for then there is no need to worry that he might mix up the words of the prayer. Customarily, we rely on the Rama’s opinion when the permissible time to pray begins to expire (Mishnah Berurah 99:3, and 17, and see Kaf HaChaim 22). There are those who add that even to prevent missing prayer in a minyan, a person who is slightly tipsy is permitted to pray. On Purim, when it is a mitzvah to drink, it is customary to be lenient in allowing one who is tipsy to pray so that he will not miss praying in a minyan (see Peninei Halachah Zemanim 16:14).

Concerning Shema and its berachot, the poskim are divided. Therefore, l’chatchilah, someone who is tipsy or drunk should not recite them. Instead, he should wait until the effect of the wine wears off. If, however, the time to recite Shema is about to pass, a tipsy person should say the Shema with the berachot, and a drunken person should recite it while omitting the berachot (Rama 99:1; Mishnah Berurah 8).

A tipsy person may recite other berachot, for example, Birkot HaNehenin (the berachot one recites before deriving pleasure from something) and Asher Yatzar, but a drunken person should not recite them. Nevertheless, even a drunken person should recite berachot that he can recite only at that time. For instance, if he became drunk at a meal, he should still recite Birkat HaMazon. Similarly, if he relieves himself, he recites Asher Yatzar (Rama 99:1; Mishnah Berurah 11).

A person who has reached a state of intoxication such as Lot, and is unaware of what is happening to him, is considered a shoteh (a deranged person), and is exempt from performing all the mitzvot. Even the berachot that he did recite are considered invalid (Mishnah Berurah 99:11).

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