by Eliezer Melamed
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. 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.]
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. 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.]
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. 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).]
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. 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.]
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. 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.]
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. 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.]
Excerpted with permission from Peninei Halachah: The Laws of Prayer, chapter 12 pars. 1-4