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Peninei Halakha > Prayer > 24 - The Minchah Prayer

24 – The Minchah Prayer

01 – Its Objective

The Chachamim said, “A person should always be conscientious concerning the Minchah prayer, for indeed, Eliyahu was only answered through the Minchah prayer” (Berachot 6b). One must be especially careful to pray Minchah, since it is unlike Shacharit and Ma’ariv whose times are specified: Shacharit – immediately after waking up from one’s sleep; and Ma’ariv – upon returning home. At Minchah time, a person is often preoccupied with his affairs; therefore he must overcome his concerns and designate time to pray.

Indeed, the purpose of the Minchah prayer is to sanctify a person’s daily work in the face of all obstacles and difficulties, accusers and prosecutors. Therefore, specifically through his Minchah prayer, Eliyahu was answered in his battle against the Ba’al worshipers.

In the Minchah prayer a person infuses his daily life with holiness, lending an added sanctification of Hashem’s Name to the day. Perhaps for that reason this prayer is named “Minchah,” meaning donation and gift. By praying Shacharit, we fulfill our obligation to thank Hashem for all the good He has given us, and in Minchah we add more prayers. Shacharit refers to everything that Hashem has given us in His abundant graciousness, and Minchah arises from our daily actions.

02 – The Order of the Prayer

The majority of Geonim and Rishonim maintain that there is no need to recite the passages of the Korbanot before praying Minchah. Neither the Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 9:8), nor the Shulchan Aruch mention that Korbanot are recited at Minchah. Still, there are Rishonim who write that the passages of the Tamid and the Pitum HaKetoret are recited before Minchah, just as it is proper to say them before Shacharit (Rama 234:1; 132:2). Those who follow the Ari are more meticulous about reciting Korbanot before Minchah (Kaf HaChaim 232:6; Piskei Teshuvot 234:1).

All are accustomed to saying Tehillah L’David (Ashrei) before the Amidah of Minchah because it is proper to praise Hashem prior to praying the Amidah. It is, indeed, a kind of Pesukei d’Zimrah before the Minchah prayer (see earlier in this book 14:1-2). However, it is not an absolute obligation to recite it before Minchah, and therefore, in a situation in which the time to pray Minchah is about to lapse, one must skip Tehillah L’David and immediately start reciting the Amidah (Mishnah Berurah 234:6). Likewise, if the congregation is ready to begin the Amidah, he should skip Tehillah L’David so that he can start praying together with them in a minyan (Mishnah Berurah 108:14; Or L’Tzion, part 2, 15:3).

After Tehillah L’David the chazan recites Half-Kaddish, following which the congregations begins the silent Amidah. Subsequently, the chazan says Chazarat HaShatz. Birkat Kohanim is not recited in Chazarat HaShatz of Minchah, for fear that perhaps the Kohanim drank wine at the meal beforehand and will come to bless the nation when they are inebriated. However, on a public fast day, there is no such concern, and therefore they bless the nation then (on condition that the congregation prays after plag haminchah, as explained earlier in this book 20:5).

After the Amidah, prayers of supplication (Tachanunim) are recited. According to the Sephardic custom, Vidui, the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, and Nefillat Apayim are all said; whereas according to the Ashkenazic and Yemenite (Baladi) minhag, only Nefillat Apayim is recited. Subsequently, the chazan says Kaddish-Titkabal. On days on which Tachanun is not recited (as explained earlier in this book 21:7-8), the chazan recites Kaddish-Titkabal immediately following the Amidah repetition.

Sephardim say “Lamenatze’ach Bin’ginot” (Psalm 67) followed by Mourner’s Kaddish, and conclude the prayer with Aleinu L’Shabe’ach. Ashkenazim do not recite Lamenatze’ach. They say Aleinu L’Shabe’ach and then Mourner’s Kaddish.

03 – Minchah Time Corresponds to the Time of the Tamid Offering

The Chachamim established the time of the Minchah prayer to correspond to the afternoon Tamid. In principle, the time of the Tamid offering starts after six hours into the day, for that marks chatzot (midday), and the sun then begins to descend towards the west. However, the Chachamim were concerned that perhaps an incorrect estimation would be made regarding the position of the sun; therefore they established that the Tamid can only be offered half an hour later, which means that the time of Minchah starts at six-and-a-half hours into the day.[1]

In actuality, the Tamid offering was the final offering of the day, after which it was not permissible to offer burnt offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, or guilt offerings. Therefore, it was customary to delay bringing the afternoon Tamid offering until after nine-and-a-half hours of the day already passed.

Only when Erev Pesach fell on Erev Shabbat was the Tamid brought immediately after six-and-a-half hours into the day. The reason for this is because the time to bring the Pesach offering is after the time of the Tamid, and in order for all of Israel to succeed in bringing their Pesach offerings before Shabbat arrived, it was necessary to make the time of the Tamid offering as early as possible.

That is the basis for the division of Minchah time into two parts: “Minchah Gedolah” (large Minchah) and “Minchah Ketanah” (small Minchah). Minchah Gedolah starts from six-and-a-half hours and lasts until nine-and-a-half hours, and in principle, it is the proper time to bring the Tamid offering. However, in actuality, only in rare cases is the Tamid brought at Minchah Gedolah. Minchah Ketanah lasts from nine-and-a-half hours until the end of twelve hours, meaning, until the end of the day, within which time the Tamid of the afternoon was offered. The first Minchah period is named “Gedolah” (large) since its duration is longer – three hours; the second, whose time is two-and-a-half hours, is called “Ketanah” (small). As we already learned, these hours are proportional hours. The day is divided into twelve parts and each part is called a proportional hour. In the summer, when the day is long, the hours are long as well, and in wintertime, when the day is short, the hours are concurrently short (see earlier in this book 11:10).

Since the Tamid offering was actually brought at Minchah Ketanah, it is the opinion of the Rambam that l’chatchilah, it is necessary to recite Minchah at that time, and it is only permissible b’dieved to fulfill one’s obligation of Minchah at the time of Minchah Gedolah. That is also how the Shulchan Aruch rules (233:1). However, others maintain that since, in principle, the time of the Tamid starts six-and-a-half hours into the day, it is permissible l’chatchilah to recite Minchah at the time of Minchah Gedolah (Rif and Rosh). Some say that it is even proper l’chatchilah to pray Minchah as early as possible, for those who are expeditious perform mitzvot as soon as they can (Rasag).

In practice, it is preferable to pray at the time of Minchah Ketanah. However, in times of need, it is permissible l’chatchilah to pray Minchah Gedolah. For example, if one has two options: to pray Minchah Gedolah in a minyan, or Minchah Ketanah individually, it is preferable that he prays Minchah Gedolah in a minyan. Similarly, one who is accustomed to eating lunch after the time of Minchah Gedolah, even though he is allowed to rely on those who are lenient and permit eating before Minchah (as explained in halachah 6), nevertheless, l’chatchilah, it is better that he prays in a minyan before that, as practiced in many yeshivot.[2]

[1]. If one mistakenly prayed in the first half-hour after chatzot, the Acharonim disagree as to whether or not he fulfilled his obligation b’dieved. According to the Magen Avraham he did not, whereas according to the Pri Chadash he did. The Sha’ar HaTzion 233:6 indicates that this matter requires further study, and the Kaf HaChaim 2 concludes that because prayer is a rabbinic obligation, when there is doubt, we are lenient, and he does not repeat his prayer. Further, there is uncertainty with regard to that first half-hour, as to whether it is proportional or permanent. The Sha’ar HaTzion 233:8 tends to say that it is proportional.

[2]. This is how the Mishnah Berurah 233:1 rules and the Yechaveh Da’at 4:19 expands on this opinion. Another reason to pray close to sunset, l’chatchilah, is based on the Gemara in Berachot 29b, where Rabbi Yochanan states that it is a mitzvah to pray with the last rays of the sun, and Rashi interprets this to mean close to sunset. That is also the opinion of Rabbeinu Chananel (brought by Hagahot Maymoniyot in chapter 2 of Hilchot Tefillah). Even though the Gemara states that in the West (meaning Israel) they would curse a person who prayed with the last rays of the sun, this refers to someone who prayed very late, but slightly before sunset is the most praiseworthy time. That is how the Arizal practiced. However, the Maharsha interprets that the Gemara is referring to Shacharit, meaning that the mitzvah to pray with the last rays of the sun is at netz. See Yechaveh Da’at 4:19; there he cites a few Rishonim who maintain like Rasag that it is preferable to hasten to pray Minchah immediately when its time begins.

04 – The Final Time to Recite Minchah

The time to pray Minchah lasts until evening; however, the poskim disagree about the exact final time. The disagreement lies in the question: when did the time to sacrifice the afternoon Tamid offering end? Some say that the time to throw the blood of the Tamid upon the altar was only until sunset, and therefore it is permissible to recite Minchah until sunset (Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, the Gra, Mishnah Berurah 233:14). Others say that the time of Minchah lasts until nightfall, since the time of the afternoon Tamid service lasted until night, whether it was for the throwing of its blood, or the offering of its fats and the raising of its libation – and that is the opinion of most poskim (Shulchan Aruch Rama 233:1).[3]

In practice, one must try to finish reciting Minchah before sunset. However, b’dieved, one may rely on the opinion of the majority of poskim and pray within another thirteen-and-a-half minutes after sunset, for all opinions agree that night does not begin until then.

It is even permissible to recite the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy and Nefillat Apayim in those thirteen-and-a-half minutes after sunset (Mishnah Berurah 131:17; Yechaveh Da’at 6:7).[4]

Concerning the option of either praying individually before sunset or with a congregation after sunset, there are differing opinions. Some say it is preferable to pray individually before sunset, although most poskim maintain that it is preferable to pray in a congregation even after sunset.

There are those who say that a minyan that began to pray late may not forgo Chazarat HaShatz, even if it is recited after sunset. Others say that it is best to skip Chazarat HaShatz so as not to recite it after sunset. In this case, the chazan starts to pray the first three berachot of the Amidah out loud, in order to grant the people praying the merit of reciting Kedushah. According to halachah, there is room for both opinions, and when there is a rabbi present, he must be the one to resolve this matter.[5]

[3]. According to Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, the blood of the Tamid was thrown on the altar until sunset, however according to Rashi it was also permissible to throw the blood of the Tamid at bein hashemashot (twilight). Additionally, even according to those who maintain that the throwing of the blood can only be performed until sunset, some say that the Minchah prayer corresponds to the offering of the organs of the Tamid, its meal offering, and the incense of the afternoon, whose time lasts b’dieved even through bein hashemashot. So it is written in Hagahot Maymoniyot and Minchat Kohen. Even if it is necessary to be stringent concerning the throwing of the blood, for it is a matter of doubt concerning a biblical commandment, still, regarding prayer, which is a rabbinic obligation, the halachah follows those who are lenient. Furthermore, Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion maintains that bein hashemashot only begins at the second sunset, which is 58 and a half minutes after the visible sunset. Therefore, according to him, this time is still considered completely day. Although, in practice, we do not follow Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion, nevertheless, many maintain like him and his approach can be added into the equation.

[4]. According to the Gra, Mishnah Berurah 233:14, and Aruch HaShulchan 9, the time to recite Minchah only lasts until sunset. However, according to the majority of poskim, including the Shulchan Aruch, Rama 233:1, and Sha’agat Aryeh 17, it is also permissible to pray at bein hashemashot (twilight). So explains Yechaveh Da’at 5:22; 6:7, Yabia Omer, part 7, 34; and Piskei Teshuvot 233:6.

Although from sunset until the emergence of three stars, usually more time passes (some say approximately 18 minutes and some say approximately 25-30 minutes as explained in 25:5), nevertheless, since there are those who maintain that it is forbidden to pray Minchah at bein hashemashot, it is only permissible to be lenient regarding the time that is agreed upon by all the poskim to be bein hashemashot.

The poskim disagree as to whether it is permissible to begin praying within 13.5 minutes after sunset, when he is certain that his prayer will end after 13.5 minutes have already passed from sunset. Aruch HaShulchan 110:5 and Eretz Tzvi 121 permit doing so, whereas Magen Avraham 89:4 and Kaf HaChaim 233:5 forbid it. The Yabia Omer, part 7, 34 combines the opinions maintaining that bein hashemashot lasts 18 minutes with the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam, and on that basis permits starting to pray within 13.5 minutes. However, he does not permit beginning the Amidah repetition (Chazarat HaShatz) then.

Concerning the matter of Vidui and Nefillat Apayim, according to the Ben Ish Chai, Ki Tisa 8, it is permissible to recite Vidui within the whole time of bein hashemashot, and the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy until the middle of bein hashemashot (the time of the calling of the muezzin). However, regarding Nefillat Apayim, he writes in paragraph 14 that shev v’al ta’aseh (being passive and not actively doing something) is preferable and that one should not perform Nefillat Apayim during bein hashemashot. So writes the Kaf HaChaim 131:27 and 51; still, the opinion of most poskim is mentioned above.

[5]. According to the Mishnah Berurah 233:14, it is preferable to pray individually before sunset, which is how the prominent rabbis of Lithuania used to rule. In contrast to them, it is the opinion of the majority of poskim that it is preferable to pray in a minyan, as brought by Piskei Teshuvot 233:6 and Yechaveh Da’at 5:22. Concerning the matter of Chazarat HaShatz, the Mishnah Berurah clearly maintains that it is not recited, whereas the Kaf HaChaim 233:9, based on the Ari, writes that the Amidah repetition must be said even if it will last after sunset, and that is how the Yalkut Yosef, part 3, 233:3 and Aruch HaShulchan 232:6 rule as well.

05 – Forbidden Activities Before Minchah

To ensure the recital of the Minchah prayer, the Chachamim instituted that from the time of chatzot onward, a person must be careful not to begin activities that will likely cause him to be so distracted that he will forget to pray. Therefore, one may not start work that will be difficult to stop in the middle, and will likely continue past the end of the time to pray. Likewise, he may not begin work that might create a problem which, in order to fix it, would require continuing past the final time to pray. One may not shop if the shopping may last until after the final time to pray. Similarly, one may not swim in a pool when there is concern that he might remain there until the time to pray ends.

However, in a situation in which there is no concern that he will forget to recite Minchah, these activities are permitted. For instance, a person is permitted to start any type of work if he is in a place where he will be called to pray Minchah. Similarly, one is allowed to begin all kinds of work when he knows that the workplace will close before Minchah time passes. It is also permissible to shop in a place where they call people to pray Minchah in a minyan, or when one asks his friend to remind him to pray Minchah. Likewise, it is permissible to swim in a place when the pool is closed before the time to recite Minchah lapses; or when a person normally swims at a certain set time, and there is no concern that he will be tempted to stay past Minchah time.[6]

If a person began doing something that is likely to continue a long time, and he estimates that he will finish before the final time to recite Minchah, since he already began the activity, he is not required to stop in the middle. Instead, he prays upon the conclusion of his activity. However, if it seems to him that what he is doing will continue past the end of Minchah time, he must stop immediately and pray.[7]

Although the Chachamim forbade getting haircuts at the time of Minchah, nowadays the Acharonim permit cutting one’s hair even after the time to recite Minchah has begun (Mishnah Berurah 232:6; Kaf HaChaim 14). This is because haircuts today are completed in a very short amount of time and there is no concern that perhaps a problem will occur with the scissors or the shaver, since every barber has several haircutting kits.

[6]. See Shabbat 9b, where it is written that it is forbidden to get a haircut, enter a bathhouse or a tannery, eat, or judge a case of law close to Minchah time. The Rishonim are divided as to whether or not Chachamim intended to forbid a significant act like a long bathing or a large feast, or even a minor act, such as a short bath or a small meal, the reason being that small acts lead to bigger ones, like a short meal eventually becoming a long one. Further, they disagree whether the prohibition begins at chatzot (halachic noon) – half an hour before Minchah Gedolah, or starts after nine hours have passed – half an hour before Minchah Ketanah. The Rif, Rambam, and Shulchan Aruch rule stringently concerning performing even a minor act near the time of Minchah Gedolah (Shulchan Aruch 232:2). Rabbeinu Tam and the Rosh forbid a significant act near the time of Minchah Gedolah and a small act near the time of Minchah Ketanah (according to the Gra, this is the main and median opinion). The Maor and the Rashba maintain that both significant and minor acts are only forbidden near the time of Minchah Ketanah. Rabbeinu Yonah maintains that a minor act is always permissible and a major act is forbidden near Minchah Gedolah. The Hagahot Mordechai and the Mahariv are more lenient and maintain that only a significant act is forbidden from close to Minchah Ketanah, but a minor act is permissible at all times. (The Rama 232:2 writes that we practice this way. However, it is proper to be stringent concerning a large feast from chatzot, like the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam. Regarding this entire matter, see Rama 232:2, Mishnah Berurah 232:5 and similarly, paragraphs 21-26, as well as Aruch HaShulchan 8-16.) Bei’ur Halachah s.v. “Labursiki” writes that all activities which will likely last a long time are forbidden, like the ruling about going to a tannery.

However, the Acharonim wonder why nowadays people are not careful concerning these matters. Aruch HaShulchan 15 writes that the cause for leniency lies in the Yerushalmi. The main point, it seems, is that living conditions and types of work have changed, and therefore it is hard for us to establish the halachah according to the limitations of the activity and the times. Instead, it is necessary to return to the basic rule, namely, not to start something that might distract one’s mind until Minchah time lapses, and the more bothersome the activity and the closer it is to the end of Minchah time, the more need there is to be careful. In a place where there is someone who can remind the people to pray, there is no concern, as the Rama 232:2 says. Even when there is no such person, the Aruch HaShulchan 232:16 writes that someone who is accustomed to praying in a set minyan, and normally stops in the middle of his work or business, may start any activity, for there is no concern that he will forget to pray. Today, we rely on his reasoning.

[7]. Shulchan Aruch 232:2; Mishnah Berurah 14-16. However, the Mishnah Berurah in 13 writes that if he began when he was forbidden to do so in the half-hour before Minchah Ketanah, even if he estimates that he will succeed in praying, he must stop immediately when the time of Minchah Ketanah arrives. Nevertheless, he adds that nowadays we normally are lenient based on the reasons mentioned above (provided by the Rama and Aruch HaShulchan). Since it is unclear which activities are prohibited by the Chachamim, and there are poskim who rule leniently, and in general we are lenient when there is doubt regarding a rabbinic commandment, therefore, I have returned to the fundamental principle that it all depends on whether or not there is concern that he will forget to recite Minchah. The Mishnah Berurah 13 and Kaf HaChaim 23 write, “when it is necessary to stop and pray,” meaning, when the time of Minchah Ketanah arrives and not before then, for that is the main time to pray Minchah. However, I did not mention this above since, according to the Rama and the Aruch HaShulchan, when one starts work or a meal at the time of Minchah Gedolah, there is no concern that he will forget to pray. On the other hand, if, despite that, there is concern that he will get so involved in what he is doing that he will lose track of time, then we should side with those who maintain that if he waits until the time of Minchah Ketanah he will end up forgetting, and it is better that he prays Minchah immediately. However, when there is no concern that he will forget, such as when he sets an alarm clock to ring, or asks his friend to remind him to pray at the time of Minchah Ketanah, he must wait until Minchah Ketanah and then pray.

06 – A Meal Before Minchah

Beginning at chatzot, a person must be careful not to forget to pray Minchah; therefore, he may not start a large feast before reciting Minchah. A large feast is one in which many people partake, such as meals which accompany a brit milah, sheva berachot, and a pidyon haben. However, a Shabbat meal is not considered a large feast. In extenuating circumstances, it is permitted to begin a large feast before praying Minchah, on condition that it is clear to those who are eating that they will surely end the feast before the time to pray Minchah lapses, and that they will remind one another to pray after the meal.

Starting from half an hour before Minchah Ketanah, approximately three hours before sunset, a person must not begin eating even a small meal before he recites Minchah. However, if there is someone there to remind him to pray Minchah, he is permitted to eat. In a place in which he does not have someone to remind him, it is also possible to set an alarm clock to ring at the time that he must pray Minchah. Yet, he must be sure that immediately upon hearing the ring, he will stop his meal and go pray (Rama 232:2; Bei’ur HalachahV’Yesh”; Halichot Shlomo 2:12).

Once chatzot arrives, some try, l’chatchilah, not to eat even a small meal before reciting Minchah. Therefore, in many yeshivot, Minchah is held early in the afternoon so that after they pray, they can eat lunch according to all opinions.[8]

[8]. This is based on the Rif and the Rambam, as clarified in note 6. Although the Shulchan Aruch 232:2 rules like them, still, Sephardim are accustomed to acting leniently, see Kaf HaChaim 30, Yalkut Yosef, part 3, 232:8. However, l’chatchilah it is good to be stringent and pray before the meal, as explained in Or L’Tzion, part 2, 15:1-2 and Yechaveh Da’at 4:19.

In extenuating circumstances, it is possible to be lenient and eat a regular meal, even within the three (proportional) hours close to sunset, even when he does not have someone to remind him to pray or an alarm clock to set. This is on condition that he regularly prays in a set minyan, as maintained by Aruch HaShulchan 232:16. This is also the opinion of the Mahariv, as brought by the Mishnah Berurah 232:26.

07 – Rabbi Yehudah’s Opinion

The prevalent minhag is that of the Chachamim, that Minchah time lasts until the end of the day, and the time to pray Ma’ariv begins after tzeit hakochavim (the emerging of the stars) (Berachot 26a). However, according to Rabbi Yehudah, the time of Minchah lasts until plag haminchah. “Plag” means half; in other words, the time of Minchah Ketanah is divided into halves. We already learned (halachah 3) that the time of Minchah Ketanah is from nine-and-a-half proportional hours until the end of twelve hours, a total of two-and-a-half hours, and if so, one plag is an hour and a quarter. The first plag is the time to pray Minchah, and the second plag begins the time of Ma’ariv, according to Rabbi Yehudah.

The reason for his opinion is that, in actuality, the Kohanim would rush to slaughter the Tamid and throw its blood upon the altar in the first half of Minchah Ketanah, and therefore that is the time for Minchah. In the second half they would already start offering the organs of the Minchah upon the altar, and since the Ma’ariv prayer was instituted to correspond to the sacrifice of the organs, it is then that Ma’ariv time begins. According to the Chachamim, since it is possible, in principle, to throw the blood of the Tamid upon the altar until the end of the day, the time of Minchah also lasts until the end of the day. The time of Ma’ariv is coordinated with the time to recite Keriat Shema of Ma’ariv, which begins at tzeit hakochavim.

In practice, this disagreement is left unresolved, and the conclusion of the Talmud (Berachot 27a) is that a person is permitted to decide whether he wants to practice like the Chachamim or like Rabbi Yehudah. However, the Rishonim caution that he must make sure that he consistently adheres to one minhag. In other words, if he follows Rabbi Yehudah, he must take care not to pray Minchah after plag haminchah. If he practices like the Chachamim, he must make sure to always recite Ma’ariv after tzeit hakochavim. However, it is forbidden to pray Minchah after plag haminchah like the Chachamim, and Ma’ariv before tzeit hakochavim like Rabbi Yehudah (we shall expand on this law in the laws of Ma’ariv, 25:6-7).[9]

[9]. The poskim disagree as to how the day is defined. According to the Shiltei HaGiborim, Gra and majority of poskim, it is from netz to sunset, yet the Terumat HaDeshen maintains that the day is from amud hashachar (dawn) until tzeit hakochavim. Based on this, the time of plag haminchah varies. Is it a (proportional) hour and a quarter before sunset, or before tzeit hakochavim? The minhag is to calculate plag hanminchah from sunset and that is what is written in Kaf HaChaim 233:7 and in the Israeli calendar. However, it can be inferred from the Sha’ar HaTzion that l’chatchilah both opinions need to be taken into consideration (233:4; Sha’ar HaTzion 235:14). Still, it is necessary to note that according to the approach of the Terumat HaDeshen one must calculate tzeit hakochavim like Rabbeinu Tam, meaning 72 minutes after sunset, so that chatzot will be in the middle of the day, as explained earlier in this book, chapter 11, note 14. Based on this, plag haminchah is slightly before the time of the visible sunset (between two and eighteen minutes, fluctuating according to the seasons of the year).

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