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12 – Before the Shacharit Prayer

01 – Greetings Before Prayer

From the time of amud hashachar it is forbidden for a person to walk to the doorstep of his friend, his father, or his rabbi and greet him with a hello or address him in any other way. If he does, he shows that he is ascribing more importance to that person than to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, for instead of standing in gratitude and in prayer before Hashem, he first goes to greet that person instead (Berachot 14a).[1]

If a person passes someone’s house, and a sense of common courtesy deems it appropriate that he enter to greet him, he is permitted to say “good morning” to him.  He may not say “Shalom” since HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s name is “Shalom” and it is not proper to honor a human being with God’s Name before praying (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 89:2).

If he encounters someone along his way, according to most poskim, he is permitted to say “Shalom” since he did not intend to honor him. There are those who maintain that even in this case, it is better to say “good morning” and not “Shalom” so as to remind himself that he has not yet prayed, and so that he will not be delayed by engaging in a secular conversation before prayer. That is the proper practice (see Mishnah Berurah 89:16). If a friend who already finished praying met him on his way to synagogue and greeted him by saying “Shalom,” he may respond “Shalom” even though he has not prayed (Mishnah Berurah 89:16).

This prohibition only applies when one walks to his friend, father, or rabbi in order to honor him. However, for the sake of a mitzvah it is permitted. Therefore, if, for example, one’s father needs to be accompanied to synagogue, one is permitted to wake up early, greet his father at his door and take him to synagogue. L’chatchilah he should say “good morning” to his father and not “Shalom.”

Similarly, if, in order to honor one’s elderly parents who are about to depart on a journey, one must accompany and help them, and if he prays first he will arrive too late to help, he must first recite Birkot HaShachar, and then escort them to the airport and subsequently pray. (His father will pray on the plane.) The same rule applies when one needs to greet his parents upon their return.[2]

[1]. Although the time of the Shacharit Amidah starts l’chatchilah at netz hachamah, nevertheless, since b’dieved it is permissible to begin praying from amud hashachar, the prohibition starts from amud hashachar, as writes the Mishnah Berurah 89:8 and Kaf HaChaim 12. Still, the Taz rules that the prohibition only begins at netz.

[2]. Kaf HaChaim 89:25 writes in the name of the Acharonim that it is permissible to engage oneself in matters of a mitzvah before praying, as writes the Mishnah Berurah 250:1. Accompanying one’s parents or one’s rabbi to synagogue falls under the category of a mitzvah. Shut B’Tzel HaChochmah 5:70 writes that one is also permitted to accompany them to the airport. He must be careful to recite Birkot HaShachar before that (based on what is brought by the Orchot Chaim and Terumat HaDeshen in the Beit Yosef). (Shevut Yaakov 2:22 is lenient in any case about initiating a greeting to his father or rabbi, since the Torah commands us to honor them. Still, the Pri Megadim forbids it and so does the Mishnah Berurah 89:10).The Mishnah Berurah 89:9 writes that even walking to his friend’s seat in the synagogue is considered greeting him before prayer. Eshel Avraham Butshatash 89:2 tends to be lenient. Bowing is also deemed a salutation (Mishnah Berurah 89:13).Regarding calling someone on the phone, it seems that in times of need, one who needs to make a call is considered like one who passes by a friend’s house, in which case he is permitted to enter while refraining from saying “Shalom,” but it is good that he recites Birkot HaShachar before that. However, if there is no need, calling is forbidden, for then he is considered like one who greets his friend before prayer.

02 – One May Not Deal with Personal Business Before Prayer

From the time of amud hashachar, it is prohibited to deal with one’s work before praying. This is because holy matters precede secular matters and the respect of Heaven precedes the needs of people. Therefore, it is necessary to first thank Hashem in prayer, and only afterwards deal with one’s own needs. The Chachamim teach (Berachot 14a), “Anyone who prays and afterwards goes on his way, HaKadosh Baruch Hu grants him what he desires.”

It is preferable to pray individually before beginning to work, instead of praying in a minyan after he has begun to work. For example, if a person must start work at 6:30 a.m. and the only minyan in the area is at 7:30 a.m., it is better that he prays individually before work begins, so that he does not work prior to praying (Mishnah Berurah 89:20).

However, before amud hashachar, a person is permitted to deal with his work, for since the time of Shacharit has not yet arrived, he is not considered to be putting his needs before prayer. He must be strict in saying Birkot HaShachar before that, for the time to recite them is immediately upon waking up. Since he started his work before the time to pray began, he is permitted to continue even after amud hashachar on condition that he succeeds in praying before the time to pray lapses (Shulchan Aruch 89:7; Mishnah Berurah 89:37; 70:23).[3]

[3]. The Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 6:7) writes that it is permissible to get a haircut and enter a bathhouse close to the time of Shacharit, meaning before amud hashachar. This is because Chazal only prohibited these activities close to Minchah time for that is when people normally perform such activities. That is how the Shulchan Aruch 89:7 rules. However, the Ra’avad maintains that this prohibition also applies within the half hour before amud hashachar, as explained in Bei’ur Halachah 70:5. Some say that the Rambam is lenient only concerning bathing and haircuts, for those activities are not common before Shacharit, but regarding activities that are more commonly performed before amud hashachar, he is stringent (Pri Megadim and Derech HaChaim). Most poskim are lenient concerning all activities. The Mishnah Berurah 89:37 slightly tends toward the opinion of those who are stringent and therefore writes that one must recite Birkot HaShachar before performing such activities, because after reciting Birkot HaShachar there are poskim who are lenient, as cited by the Rama 89:3.
Regarding a person who begins an activity after amud hashachar has already arrived, since he started when he was forbidden to do so, he must stop to recite Keriat Shema, for it is a biblical obligation. However, for the Amidah he does not need to interrupt; he can finish what he started on condition that he will succeed in praying on time (Mishnah Berurah 70:23).

03 – Permitted Activities Before Praying

It is permitted to engage in acts of a mitzvah before praying, for those are not one’s personal wishes, but rather the desires of Heaven. For example, on Friday, if after the prayer service there may not be enough food left in the store for Shabbat, it is permissible to buy food before praying (Mishnah Berurah 250:1; Kaf HaChaim 89:25). However, it is forbidden to buy even one item if it is not for the purpose of a mitzvah. If there is no food in one’s house to give to his children who are leaving for school, he is permitted to buy the necessary foods before prayer, since that too, is considered an act performed for the sake of a mitzvah.

Minor activities are not considered to be work, nor a fulfillment of one’s own desires, and they are therefore permissible before prayer. For example, a person is permitted to make his bed before praying, and he is permitted to take the garbage from his house to the public garbage bin. Similarly, he is permitted to read the newspaper a bit and do a little exercise before prayer.

Before praying, it is permissible to put laundry that is already sorted into the machine and turn it on, since this is considered a minor act. However, it is prohibited to sort the laundry and then put it into the machine (Halichot Shlomo 2:5).

It is forbidden to cook and bake before the prayer service; however, a person is allowed to ignite the fire under a pot that was prepared the day before, or to put into the oven a pan that contains food that was previously prepared.

It is permissible in a time of need to dress children or to make them a sandwich before they leave for school, since this is a minor act and it also possesses an aspect of a mitzvah.

It is permissible to compose innovative Torah insights, either by hand or on the computer, before the prayer service. However, it is forbidden to write secular ideas.[4]

[4]. Eshel Avraham 89:3 presents a logical rationale that any ordinary or temporary work permitted on chol hamo’ed is also permitted before prayer. Halichot Shlomo 2, notes 8 and 16, writes that this prohibition is a law based on precedence; one is forbidden to put his needs before praying. However, if the time of his regular minyan has not yet begun, he may be permitted to perform these activities despite the fact that amud hashachar has already arrived. It seems that in practice, one may be lenient regarding this when another doubt is added to the equation. For instance, when there is doubt as to whether his activity is an ordinary activity or a mitzvah-related activity and the time of the minyan in which he regularly prays has not yet arrived, it may be possible to be lenient.

04 – Ritual Immersion (Tevilah), Bathing, and Shaving

Included in the prohibition to engage in one’s needs before the prayer service is the prohibition to get a haircut or to enter a bathhouse (Rambam Tefillah 6:7). However, to wash one’s hands is an obligation. It is also proper to wash one’s face and brush one’s teeth before praying (Shulchan Aruch 4:17; 46:1).

It is permissible to ritually immerse oneself in a mikveh before praying since there is no affront to the respect due to prayer. In fact, just the opposite is true – it is a preparation and purification towards it.

Similarly, it is permissible to take a shower before praying, since the washing of one’s whole body in nine kabin of water, which is approximately 12.5 liters (approximately 3.3 US liquid gallons), also constitutes a preparation and purification towards prayer (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 88:1; Mishnah Berurah 89:4; Minchat Yitzchak 4:21).

According to a number of poskim, it is prohibited for the person who is bathing to wash himself with soap before prayer because that kind of washing is included among the types of prohibited bathing. However, in practice, one who feels that he is dirty and his intention is to become clean, and not to pamper himself, may wash his body with soap on condition that he does not arrive late to the minyan because of this.[5]

Likewise, it is prohibited to get a haircut before prayer; however, regarding shaving there is uncertainty. There are those who say that shaving is included in the ruling against haircuts. However, it seems that the halachah is that a person who normally shaves every day is allowed to shave before prayer, since shaving for him is one of the regular morning waking activities and is not considered tending to one’s own needs before prayer. It is especially proper to permit such an act if it is done as preparation for prayer.[6]

[5]. Ishei Yisrael 13:21 writes that it is prohibited to wash oneself with soap. Yalkut Yosef 89:30 writes that it is not proper to shower, but if this helps him pray with kavanah and in cleanliness, it is permitted, though he should not use a lot of soap. Halichot Shlomo 2:8 rules that it is not proper to use soap. He explains that there is concern that soaping oneself will lead him to take a bath, which is forbidden. However, in paragraph 11 he writes that if the time of his regular minyan has not yet arrived, perhaps there is no prohibition to wash before prayer (as brought in the previous note).The essence of the rationale for leniency in this case is that in earlier times, ordinary bathing, to which the Chachamim refer, was known to last a while, was intended for enjoyment, and required lengthy preparations, such as starting a fire, heating the water, or walking to a bathhouse. However, a quick shower is done essentially to rid oneself of dirt and perhaps to invigorate oneself as well, and therefore there is no prohibition concerning it. Further, the Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 4:3) writes that there is an obligation to wash one’s face, hands, and feet before praying Shacharit. See Beit Yosef 92 who clarifies his source and although he writes that in practice it is not customary to wash one’s feet, nevertheless we can learn from the Rambam that washing for cleanliness before prayer is considered an enhancement of the mitzvah. Additionally, according to the Kolbo, there is no prohibition against bathing oneself and getting haircuts before prayer, and only other activities are forbidden. His opinion is brought by Eliyah Rabbah and Kaf HaChaim 89:53. It seems that his reasoning is that bathing constitutes preparation in honor of the Shacharit prayer. Although we do not actually rule like him on the matter of bathing and haircuts, with regard to a short shower with soap, one may be lenient. In addition, when there is doubt concerning a rabbinic prohibition, the halachah follows the lenient opinion.


[6]. The Or L’Tzion part 2, chapter 7:9 and Halichot Shlomo 2:7 forbid shaving. However, Avnei Yashfeh 7:4, based on Rav Vozner, permits all routine activities that a person does every morning.

05 – One Who Is Traveling

Before amud hashachar a person is allowed to travel, provided that he plans his departure in such a way that he will succeed in reciting Shacharit on time. However, after amud hashachar, a person is prohibited from going on his way; instead, he must pray first and only then may he leave. Even if he has to leave home so early that he will miss praying with the minyan in his area, whereas he will still be able to pray in a minyan at his destination, it is preferable for him to pray individually before departing (Mishnah Berurah 89:20).

This prohibition refers to setting out on a long trip, for that is the meaning of “yotzeh laderech” (going on one’s way). One interpretation maintains that the words refer to a journey that lasts at least 72 minutes (Shut Or L’Tzion, part 2, 7:6). In times of need one may rely on that opinion. Therefore, concerning a person who must start traveling earlier than the time of the minyan in his area, if his trip lasts less than 72 minutes, it is preferable for him to leave and then pray in a minyan at his destination. However, if his trip lasts longer than 72 minutes, it is best that he pray first in his area individually.

If the entire trip is for the sake of prayer, for example, traveling to recite Shacharit at the Kotel, one is permitted to depart before praying, even if the travel time will last more than 72 minutes, for he is traveling to pray and not for his own personal needs (Or L’Tzion there).[7]

[7]. Avnei Yashfeh 14:20 writes that there are poskim who maintain that if along the way there are towns, this road is considered a road within a city. For that reason, it is permissible to travel on the road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. According to him, it seems that this is true also when traveling from Ashkelon to Nahariah, for communities are found all along the way. However, it is difficult to accept the opinion of these poskim because any trip that lasts 72 minutes is certainly considered tending to one’s personal needs before prayer. Perhaps only in extenuating circumstances is it permissible to rely on these opinions.
It seems that before praying, l’chatchilah a person should not even leave for a trip that lasts only half an hour. If there is a minyan in one’s area, it is preferable to pray with it instead of traveling to his workplace to pray there, for there is reason l’chatchilah to maintain that even a trip of half an hour is considered traveling before prayer, especially if that is the regular road he takes to work.

06 – Eating and Drinking Before Prayer

From the time of amud hashachar, it is forbidden to eat or drink before praying. The Chachamim support their words (Berachot 10b) on the verse (Leviticus 19:26), “Do not eat on the blood,” which they interpreted as, “Do not eat before praying for your blood.”[8] Further, they teach, “Anyone who eats and drinks first and [only] afterwards prays, Scripture says of him (I Kings 14:9), ‘You have thrown Me behind your body’ (“gavecha,” the word used for “your body,” alludes to “ga’avatecha” – your pride). HaKadosh Baruch Hu said, ‘After this person acts arrogantly he accepts upon himself the yoke of Heaven?!’”

However, water is a permissible drink before prayer because there is no aspect of pride in drinking it. Similarly, one is permitted to eat food and drink beverages that are intended for medication. Because they are being used as medicine, there is no aspect of pride in consuming them (Shulchan Aruch 89:4). For example, someone who is suffering from constipation is permitted to eat prunes before prayer since he is eating them as medicine (see Mishnah Berurah 89:24).

Someone who is so hungry that he cannot concentrate on his prayer is allowed to eat before praying because the law regarding him is similar to that of a sick person who must eat; his eating does not possess any aspect of pride (Shulchan Aruch 89:4; see Mishnah Berurah 26).

A weak person, who is able to pray individually first and eat breakfast afterwards, but cannot delay his breakfast until after the time of prayer in a minyan, should pray individually and eat after prayer. L’chatchilah, after the meal, it is good to go to the minyan in order to hear Kaddish and Kedushah (Bei’ur Halachah 89:3; see further in this chapter, halachah 7).

A minor who has not yet reached the age of bar mitzvah is allowed to eat before prayer, for educating minors not to eat forbidden food applies when the food itself is not kosher. However, when the Chachamim “created a fence” not to eat before prayer, or before Kiddush, they did not obligate minors to abide by that “fence,” since the food itself is not forbidden (Mishnah Berurah 106:5; Yabia Omer, part 4, 12:15; however Kaf HaChaim 106:11 is stringent).

[8]. According to the majority of Rishonim, the prohibition against eating before praying is rabbinic, and Chazal base this ruling on the verse cited above, as written by Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, Ritva, and Meiri. So, too, writes the Beit Yosef 89:3, and according to his words the Chachamim permit all eating and drinking that do not possess an aspect of pride. According to his reasoning, the Ra’avyah, Rosh, and many others rule similarly. According to the Ra’ah and the Ramban (Leviticus 19:26), the prohibition is biblical.

07 – Coffee, Tea, and Cake Before Prayer

One who is used to drinking tea or coffee in the morning and whose mind remains unsettled without it, is permitted to drink it before prayer; his drinking does not possess pride, rather it is a necessity so that he can settle his mind and concentrate in prayer. There are some people who only feel a need to drink coffee two hours after they wake up, and therefore on weekdays when the prayer service is short, it is best that they do not drink coffee before praying. However, on Shabbatot and festivals, when the prayer service lasts a long time, it is better for them to drink coffee before prayer.

Someone who cannot drink coffee or tea without sugar is allowed to add a little sugar in order to drink and settle his mind. If he can suffice with artificial sweetener, that is preferable; however, he should not add milk. One who cannot drink coffee without milk and whose mind will not be settled without coffee is permitted to add milk to his coffee.

On Shabbat, many people are lenient and eat cake before the prayer service, but in actuality their custom is incorrect and they do not have on whom to base their practice. The only permissible consumption before prayer is coffee, for it is considered similar to water and because one who became accustomed to drink it has become addicted to caffeine and without drinking it, his mind is unsettled. However, eating cake is prohibited before prayer. Only someone who is so hungry that he cannot concentrate properly on his prayer, or one who thinks that later on he will be so hungry that his concentration will be disturbed, is permitted to be lenient and eat a small piece of cake before praying.[9]

[9]. Regarding coffee, see Mishnah Berurah 89:22, Yabia Omer, part 4, 11, and Ishei Yisrael 13:25. Concerning the consumption of cake before praying, although the Bei’urHalachah 89:3 s.v. “V’Chen” writes that it is preferable to pray individually and not eat before prayer, it seems that a distinction should be made between a set meal and a snack. If he must have a set meal, it is preferable that he prays individually and eats after that. However, if it is enough to eat a snack, it is best that he eat a little and then pray afterwards in a minyan. That is the difference between what I wrote here and what I wrote in the previous halachah.See Peninei Halachah Shabbat, part 1, 6:9, that according to many poskim, among them the Mishnah Berurah, Igrot Moshe, and Yalkut Yosef, one who eats before praying on Shabbat must recite Kiddush before he eats, although in practice, it is customary not to recite Kiddush before praying.

08 – Eating and Drinking Before Amud HaShachar

The prohibition of eating and drinking before prayer begins at amud hashachar, for that is the earliest time one may recite Shacharit. Regarding eating a meal the prohibition begins a half-hour before amud hashachar, lest he become so involved in his meal that he will forget to recite Keriat Shema and the Amidah. However, eating a snack is permitted before amud hashachar. Therefore, it is permitted to eat an unrestricted amount of fruits, vegetables, and cooked food before amud hashachar. Even eating an unlimited number of cooked foods made from various types of grain, such as pasta, is permissible before amud hashachar. However, bread and cake are permissible to eat only in an amount less than k’beitzah (like an egg), for that quantity does not constitute the eating of a meal (Shulchan Aruch 232:3; Mishnah Berurah 35; Sha’ar HaTzion 89:33).

Prior to the half hour before amud hashachar, one is permitted to eat anything. Nevertheless, once amud hashachar arrives, all eating and drinking must cease (Shulchan Aruch 89:5; Mishnah Berurah 27 and 29).

According to Kabbalah, some are accustomed to act stringently, maintaining that anyone who awakens after a regular sleep at night, even before chatzot, must not eat and drink until after praying Shacharit. Even though according to halachah it is permitted to eat and drink before amud hashachar, l’chatchilah, it is proper to be cautious in doing so. However, if the lack of food will cause neglect of Torah learning, it is better to eat and drink before amud hashachar (Mishnah Berurah 89:28). Similarly, those accustomed to waking up on Shabbat night to recite special prayers (“bakashot”) are allowed to eat and drink, especially if that will help awaken them more to serve Hashem. (Those who follow Kabbalah are more stringent concerning this. See Kaf HaChaim 89:28 and 43; see Yabia Omer, part 5, 22:5-6).

09 – Tefillin and Tzitzit During Keriat Shema and Shacharit

It is a rabbinic obligation to recite Keriat Shema of Shacharit with tefillin, as written in the paragraph of Shema, “And you shall bind them as a sign on your arm and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (Deuteronomy 6:8). Similarly, it is written in the paragraph of V’hayah Im Shamo’a, “Bind them as a sign on your arm and let them be as frontlets between your eyes” (Deuteronomy 11:18). Thus, it is not proper to read these verses without tefillin. The Chachamim teach, “Whoever recites Keriat Shema without tefillin, it is as if he testifies falsely about himself” (Berachot 14b).

In any case, even one who does not have tefillin must recite Keriat Shema, since tefillin and Shema are two separate mitzvot that do not prevent one another from being fulfilled. If he does not have the privilege to perform the mitzvah of tefillin, he must at least fulfill the mitzvah of Keriat Shema, and he is not considered one who gives false testimony, since he is in circumstances beyond his control (Mishnah Berurah 46:33).

It is appropriate to pray the Amidah of Shacharit with tefillin as well; that is part of the complete acceptance of the yoke of Heaven (Berachot 14b).

Regarding a person without tefillin, whose friend can give him his pair to put on after he finishes praying, the Acharonim are uncertain what is the best course to follow. Is it preferable for him to pray in a minyan without tefillin and then put on tefillin afterwards? Or should he pray with tefillin individually after the minyan? The opinion of most poskim is that in practice it is best to pray with tefillin individually. However, one who wants to pray in a minyan without tefillin and then put on his tefillin afterwards is permitted to do so.[10]

Likewise, it is proper to put on one’s tzitzit before prayer because the third paragraph of Keriat Shema discusses the mitzvah of tzitzit and it is appropriate to recite it while actually fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzit. It is also customary to hold the tzitziyot and kiss them a number of times while reciting Keriat Shema (see further in this book 15:11). Even though the mitzvah of tzitzit can be fulfilled by wearing a “tallit katan (tzitzit), it is also customary to put on a “tallit gadol” (tallit) in honor of the Shacharit prayer. However, before marriage, most Ashkenazim suffice with wearing a tallit katan. Only after they marry do they begin to wear a tallit gadol for Shacharit.

[10]. The Magen Avraham 66:12 is uncertain concerning this, and tends to resolve the issue by ruling that it is best to pray with tefillin individually. So write the majority of Acharonim, including the Mishnah Berurah 66:40 and Kaf HaChaim 25:28. Still, there are those who disagree, and the Minchat Yitzchak, part 2, 107 writes that one may rely on them. Yalkut Yosef, part 1, p. 144 rules that if a person is unable to concentrate well, it is preferable that he pray in a minyan without tefillin. However, if he can have kavanah, it is better that he wear his tefillin while praying individually.

10 – Laws Pertaining to Tzitzit and Tefillin for Shacharit

A person’s tallit is put on before his tefillin, for tefillin are holier than tzitzit, and it is proper to rise gradually in the levels of sanctity (Shulchan Aruch 25:1).

In addition to the regular kavanah that one must have at the time that he performs any mitzvah, which is the intention to fulfill a mitzvah of Hashem, we learn in the Torah that the mitzvah of tzitzit is to remind us of all Hashem’s commandments so that we may fulfill them. By performing the mitzvah of tefillin we are reminded to “enslave” our hearts and minds to the service of Hashem, and to remember His Oneness and the Exodus from Egypt (Shulchan Aruch 8:8; 25:5). These kavanot are printed in the siddurim, and although there is no obligation to say them, it is at least necessary to think them.

Those who want to enhance the mitzvah put on their tallit and tefillin at home and come to synagogue adorned in them (Shulchan Aruch 25:2). Even if this prevents them from being one of the first ten people to arrive, it is still preferable to put on one’s tefillin at home and come to synagogue wearing them (see Mishnah Berurah 90:47).

Because of the sanctity of tefillin, it is forbidden to let one’s mind wander from them the whole time that he is wearing them. Therefore, one must touch his tefillin frequently (Shulchan Aruch 28:1).

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