House Minyanim

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house-minyanby Aryeh Lebowitz

Introduction

In recent years it has become increasingly popular for minyanim to gather in people’s private homes, rather than exclusively in shuls. The motivations for holding such minyanim include, but are not limited to, a closer walk to davening on Shabbos, the desire for a quicker tefilah, and the need to accommodate people who are physically unable to go to shul. In this essay, we will explore the potential halachic issues that arise with davening at a house minyan, and arrive at a conclusion as to the propriety of such minyanim.

Before commencing our analysis it is important to frame our discussion in three critical ways:

First, this essay will not discuss the permissibility of starting a new shul in a community that already has a functioning Orthodox shul. There is significant discussion among poskim with regard to the halachic advantages and pitfalls to starting a new shul. [1]See, for example Igros Moshe, O”Ch 2:46, Ch”M 2:40 and Shu”t HaRe’em 1:53. See also Hegyonei HaParsha, Parsha Truma p. 320 for a detailed analysis of this question. We will limit our discussion to minyanim that meet in homes without the intention of establishing a permanent, fully functioning shul.

Second, a “house minyan” comes in many different forms. Some house minyanim are more permanent than others. There are house minyanim that meet consistently, have an aron kodesh with a sefer torah, and take place in a room of the house that is never used for anything other than tefilah. Other house minyanim only meet occasionally in a regular family room and without a sefer torah. We will raise several halachic issues, some of which apply to all minyanim held in a house and some of which only apply to some minyanim held in non-dedicated a house.

Finally, the topic of this essay does not involve any formal prohibitions, but simply the ideal way to perform a mitzvah. There is no prohibition to daven in a home, just as there is no formal prohibition to daven without a minyan. Clearly, the halachah strongly prefers tefilah betzibbur and demands making certain sacrifices in order to daven with a tzibbur. The issues at hand are: the optimal way to perform a mitzvah, whether the halachah demands sacrificing convenience in order to daven in a shul, and whether hosting or supporting a house minyan is tantamount to establishing a subpar standard for tefilah.

The Halachic Issues

1. B’rov Am Hadras Melech

The Gemara, citing Mishlei (14:28) teaches that when performing mitzvos it is best to do so with a large group. [2]See, for example Berachos 53a, Pesachim 64b, Rosh Hashanah 32b, Zevachim 14a, Megillah 27b, Sukkah 52b, Yoma 26a, 70a, Menachos 62a and Zevachim 14a. It is interesting to note that the notion of … Continue reading The glory of God is said to be enhanced when we serve Him with a large crowd. This concept is applied broadly by Poskim to several different Mitzvos. For example, Biur Halachah (155 s.v. v’yikba) suggests that one should ideally learn Torah in a large group of people rather than learning privately. Due to this concern of b’rov am hadras melech, the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 90:9) writes that one should always try to daven in a shul with the community. The Magen Avraham (ibid. 15) adds that even if one has a minyan in his home he should still daven in shul because of the larger crowd present in shul. [3]See Tshuvos VeHanhagos 1:127 where Rav Moshe Shternbuch rejects the practice of making a separate minyan in shul for a person who has yahrtzeit, because having a person observing a yahrtzeit lead … Continue reading

When davening in a house minyan, one is very likely to be sacrificing the opportunity to daven with a larger crowd for the sake of the minor convenience of shaving a few minutes off of a walk to shul. Of course the proliferation of minyanim–even within a shul–and the proliferation of shuls in a given neighborhood also minimize the size of the crowd in any given minyan. This is one reason that competent rabbinic authorities should be consulted before starting any new minyan or shul, in order to determine that the need is great enough to warrant the sacrifice of b’rov am hadras melech.

2. Shachein Ra

The Gemara (Berachos 8a) relates that anybody who has a shul in his city [4]See Iyun Ya’akov (there) that this is only true if the closest shul is in the city. If the shul were outside of the city, even if within the four mil one is required to travel in order to daven … Continue reading and does not enter it to daven is considered a shachein ra, a bad neighbor. The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 90:11) codifies this statement. The Chayei Adam (Tzava’as Beis Avraham 7) and Mishnah Brurah (90:38) explain that good neighbors tend to visit each other. One who isolates himself in his home exhibits anti-social behavior, which is inexcusable in our relationship with God and man alike. The Mishnah Brurah (ibid.) points out that the Pri Megadim states that one may even be required to daven in a shul when the shul does not have a minyan in order to avoid the title of “shachein ra.” While this Gemara seems to indicate that one should not daven with a house minyan, the Mishnah Brurah (ibid. 38) and Sha’arei Teshuvah (ibid. 17) point out that if one has a minyan in his house, the Shechinah is assumed to be present, and one who davens at the house minyan, while it is certainly inappropriate to do so, has avoided the title of an “evil neighbor.”

It emerges from this discussion that davening at a house minyan would not earn somebody the title of a “bad neighbor,” but would still be discouraged because it is always better to daven in an actual shul.

3. Kove’ah Makom L’Tefilah

The serious attitude Chazal take toward prayer expresses itself not only in the halachos of the tefilah itself, but in several halachos governing the context of tefilah. One cannot begin to daven with the hope of mustering sufficient kavanah, but must prepare for davening with a serious mindset and by ensuring a proper environment. In fact, the Gemara (Berachos 33a) prohibits approaching tefilah in the midst of laughter or light-headedness. Similarly, the Gemara (ibid. 6b) notes that anybody who establishes a consistent place to daven is considered to be humble, pious and a student of Avraham Avinu. [5]Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah (ad loc.) note that Chazal offer a very similar praise for Shmuel HaKatan in Sanhedrin (11a). It is somewhat odd that anybody who establishes a consistent place to daven … Continue reading

The Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah limit the need for a set davening place to one who davens in his home. When davening in shul, the entire room is holy and it therefore makes no difference where in the shul one sits. The Rosh (ibid. 7), on the other hand, argues that the requirement to establish a consistent place for tefilah applies even within a shul. One should daven in the same shul as often as possible and be careful to sit in the same seat within that shul. Perhaps the dispute depends on the logic for requiring a consistent place. Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah may understand that by establishing a set place for tefilah one elevates that place to a location for prayer. When davening at home, it is important to do whatever possible to make the location suitable for, and worthy of, prayer. In a shul, the entire location is already sanctified for prayer and no further action is necessary. The Rosh, on the other hand, may understand that the need to establish a consistent place is a based on one of three considerations. First, on a personal level, a consistent location allows for increased focus when davening. When one davens in familiar surroundings, he is less likely to become distracted during the tefilah. Second, the Tzlach and Sfas Emes point out that there may also be a cumulative effect that derives from years of tefillos offered at a given location. Finally, the Shulchan Aruch (98:4) relates the need for a consistent place for tefilah to its role as a replacement for karbanos. Just as the Torah insists on specific locations for different korbanos the tefilah which replace korbanos should be done in a consistent location. These considerations apply equally at home and in shul. The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 90:19) rules like the Rosh that one should consistently daven at the same shul [6]It seems from the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch that the practice many people have in larger Jewish communities of “minyan hopping” i.e. davening in different shuls for different tefilos, is … Continue reading and sit in the same seat in that shul consistently. The Mishnah Brurah (ibid. 59) adds that when one has no choice but to daven at home, he should have a specific location in his house where he davens.

While the requirement to daven in a consistent place is important and one who is careful to observe it is praiseworthy, there may be circumstances that would allow for davening in a different place. The Aruch HaShulchan (O.C. 90:23) writes that one should only daven in a different place than his normal shul when there is a “tzorech gadol” – a great need. The Kaf HaChaim (90:118) identifies the concern for people who may distract you during davening as one example of a great need that would warrant moving from the consistent place. After all, if the entire purpose of having a consistent place is to enhance kavanah, it would be self-defeating to stay in a location that will ruin it. Another example of a great need is showing hospitality to guests who may have unwittingly sat in somebody’s makom kavuah (usual place). [7]An additional reason that the guest should be permitted to remain is that in most cases the guest only sat in the seat because it was empty when davening started. Rarely will a person who arrives to … Continue reading It should be noted, though, that Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo, Ch. 5) believes that davening in a makom kavuah is more important than reciting P’sukei D’Zimra. Therefore, if one has to choose between arriving late to his usual minyan or on time to a minyan in a different shul, it is preferable to attend his normal shul and skip P’sukei D’Zimra rather than daven in a different place. Rav Auerbach even expresses some uncertainty whether davening in a consistent location would override the requirement to daven with a minyan!

It would seem that davening with a house minyan violates the principle of makom kavuah in two ways. First, one should do his best to daven in the same shul as often as possible. Second, it is often more difficult to establish a consistent seat in a house minyan, particularly if it is not a minyan that meets consistently.

4. Kedushas Beis HaKnesses

In my opinion, the strongest argument against house minyanim is that they undermine the value of a beis haknesses. Considering the halachos governing the usage, structure and honor of a beis haknesses, it seems that Chazal were very interested in having Jews daven in a place that has kedushas beis haknesses, the sanctity of a synagogue. Indeed, the Gemara (Brachos 6b) teaches that a person’s tefillos are only heard in a shul. [8]Lechem Mishneh (Tefilah 8:1) notes that a person’s tefilos can also occasionally be heard outside of the confines of a shul, but the guarantee that a tefilah will be heard “at all times” only … Continue reading The Meiri (ibid.) explains that this is not only due to the kedushah of a shul, but also because it is easier to have proper kavanah when davening in a shul.

Rishonim and Acharonim debate the exact parameters of this rule. Rav Yechezkel Landau (Tzlach, ibid.) argues that the need to daven specifically in a shul only applies to somebody who will not be davening with a minyan. Given the choice of davening alone at home or davening alone in shul, one should choose to daven in a shul, where the benefit of the place’s sanctity will impact the acceptance of his tefilah. If one were davening with a minyan, argues the Tzlach, the tefilah would be equally accepted in shul or in a home. [9]The Tzlach argues that the language employed by the Gemara of “A person’s tefilah is only heard in a shul” supports this contention. Only the tefilah “of a person”, an … Continue reading At the other extreme, the Tur (O.C. 90) argues that this rule applies only to one davening with a minyan. The combined value of a minyan and kedushas beis haknesses serves to help tefilah gain acceptance. If, however, one were davening alone, there is no value to davening in shul rather than at home. The Rambam (Hilchos Tefilah 8:1) argues that this rule applies equally to one davening with a minyan and one davening alone. A tefilah is always enhanced when offered in a shul. The Shulchan Aruch (90:9) rules in accordance with the Rambam.

When one chooses to daven in a house minyan, he is sacrificing one of the greatest tools to affect the acceptance of his tefilah. [10]This assumes that the room in the house that hosts the minyan does not enjoy the sanctity of a synagogue. This is normally a safe assumption. If the room is used for other purposes, it clearly does … Continue reading The Shulchan Aruch warns us that “yishtadel adam l’hispallel b’beis haknesses im hatzibbur” – one should make an effort to daven in shul with a minyan. The extent of the effort required is not made clear in the Shulchan Aruch, but the benefit of kedushas beis haknesses should certainly be a factor when deciding where to daven.

5. Lack of Aron Kodesh

In many house minyanim there is no aron kodesh (ark) or sefer torah. While one can certainly fulfill the requirement of tefilah b’tzibbur without an aron kodesh (and a room without an aron kodesh may have the kedushah of a shul according to some opinions), [11]See Eretz HaTzvi (ch. 12) where Rav Herschel Schachter shows, based on the fact that the aron of the Beis HaMikdash was hidden underground by Chizkiyahu, that the basis for kedushas Beis HaMikdash, … Continue reading the full sense of standing lifnei Hashem (in front of God) can only be achieved in a room with both an aron kodesh and sefer torah. The Rama (O.C. 131:2) writes that one does not put his head down for tachanun in a place with no aron or sefer torah. The Mishnah Brurah (ibid. 11) explains that we learn from a verse in Yehoshua (7:6) that falling on one’s face in prayer is only done in front of the aron. Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein (Chashudei Chemed, Yoma 68b) points out that the implication is that where there is a sefer torah, the place is considered to be lifnei Hashem to a greater degree than a place in which a sefer torah is absent. [12]See Sefer Chasidim (495) that even those tefilos offered from seats that are closer to the aron kodesh in shul are more readily accepted than those offered from seats that are further away. See also … Continue reading Rav Zilberstein notes, though, that it is not clear to what extent one is obligated to trouble himself, or what distance one must travel, in order to ensure this extra sense of lifnei Hashem.

When one chooses to daven at a house minyan instead of in a proper beis haknesses, one is not only sacrificing the element of kedushas beis haknesses, but also the additional sense of lifnei Hashem that exists only in a room with an aron kodesh.

6. Environment Problems

The Gemara (Brachos 25a) delineates the detailed requirements to distance oneself from fecal matter and foul odors when davening. The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 90:26) writes that one may not daven in a place where there is a foul odor. Similarly, the Shulchan Aruch (83:1) prohibits saying Shema (and davening) directly across from a bathroom.

Additionally, the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 53: 13-20) discusses the necessary arrangement of a room in order for people to form a minyan. For example, when ten people are divided among two rooms, even though they can see and hear each other, they do not always combine to make a minyan.

The Shulchan Aruch (90:23) also prohibits davening across from cloth that is woven with images and may distract a person’s attention from his tefilah. The Mishnah Brurah (71) adds that any decorations or pictures in a shul should be placed above eye level, so as not to distract people who are davening. The Mishnah Brurah adds that it is forbidden to daven across from a mirror even if one closes his eyes because it appears that he is bowing to his reflection. One can argue that the same would apply if davening across from a photograph of a human image. This is why the overwhelming minhag Yisrael is not to allow the hanging of any photographs of people in the sanctuary of a shul.

Finally, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:31) prohibited a shul from renting out a dance hall to hold services for the High Holidays because the normal usage of a room affects the efficacy of the tefilos offered from that room. He demonstrates this from the notion (which we will discuss later in this essay) that it is preferable to daven in a place where one learns Torah. Both the mitzvos and the inappropriate behavior that the room has witnessed can affect the quality of the tefilah in the eyes of God.

Shuls are deigned for tefilah: bathrooms are kept at a distance from the sanctuary, the sanctuary is built large enough to accommodate a large crowd at once, there are no pictures or other distractions in front of the congregants while they daven, and the room is typically used only for Torah and tefilah. As we have outlined, there are halachic reasons for setting up a shul in this way. When minyanim are held in private homes, these environmental issues are often not resolved. There are sometimes bathroom doors left open, people standing in different rooms, distracting photographs or other household items that can take away from the proper environment for tefilah, and the tefilah is often held in a “TV room” which is frequently a place used for levity or worse. [13]One should be cognizant of these issues when forming a minyan in a house of mourning. In fact, when I asked Rav Herschel Schachter if there is anything in particular to be careful about in running a … Continue reading

Non-Halachic Issues

In addition to the six halachic issues discussed above, davening in a house minyan raises several non-halachic, but also critical, issues:

1. Long Life

The Gemara (Brachos 8a) tells us that R’ Yochanan was surprised to learn that there were elderly people in Bavel. After all, the Torah (Devarim 11) tells us that we will have long days on our land, implying that a Jew cannot live a long life outside of Eretz Yisrael. When R’ Yochanan heard that these elderly people go to shul early and stay late, he realized that it was in this merit that they live long lives. Rav Acha bar Chanina adds that one who frequents a shul has “found life.” [14]See Megilah 29a where the Gemara says that the shuls in the Diaspora will be transported to Eretz Yisrael when Mashiach comes. This highlights the role of the shul as a place that is not limited to … Continue reading Remarkably, the Yalkut Shimoni (Eikev 871) tells a story of a very old woman whose quality of life had degenerated to the point that she wished to die. When she told R’ Yosi ben Chalafta that she was always careful to daven in a shul, he advised that she keep away from the shul for several days. After following his advice for three days, she fell ill and died. The message of the Yalkut Shimoni is that a connection to a shul is a connection to life itself.

2. Negative Effect on the Atmosphere in Shul

Due to the proliferation of house minyanim on Friday nights, many large shuls suffer from subpar crowds on Friday night. This has a debilitating effect on the entire atmosphere of the tefilah. A shul that should be alive with electricity at the onset of Shabbos is often left feeling dull and pathetic. While they may have a minyan and full kedushas beis haknesses, those who fail to come to shul, for whatever reason, are responsible for negatively affecting the environment for davening in shul. People often think that their presence doesn’t make a difference, but in reality davening in a packed shul has an entirely different feel to it than davening in a half full room. The Shu”t Simchas Kohen (Orach Chaim 45) even suggests that when a community is considering opening a new shul, if smaller crowds will lead to a diminished sense of energy in the tefilah then the second shul not be opened.

3. Issues that Come Up

Finally, invariably halachic questions and problems arise during davening. This is especially true in a place that doesn’t have set minhagim and protocols. When davening in a house minyan, questions often arise and nobody present is equipped to handle them.

Counter Considerations

To this point, we have demonstrated a clear preference for davening in a shul with a large minyan over davening in a private home. However, circumstances may arise that allow for, or even encourage, a small minyan outside of shul. Two such examples involve helping to make a minyan for somebody who cannot come to shul and holding a minyan in a place that may be more ideal for tefilah than a shul.

1. Helping a Person Make a Minyan

In the Sefer Tefilah K’hilchasah (2:29) the author cites Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who ruled that if one is needed to help make a minyan in a house for people who are physically unable (either due to illness or age) to walk to shul, he may bypass the requirement to daven in shul in favor of doing the chessed of helping those people who would otherwise not be able to daven b’tzibbur. It is common practice to help people who have suffered an immobilizing injury to make a minyan in their home until they recover. [15]When Rav Hershel Schachter suffered from back problems that prevented him from going to yeshiva, several boys from yeshiva would come to his house to help him make a minyan. He would tell them that … Continue reading Even so, if the need is ongoing, a competent rabbinic authority should be consulted before establishing a minyan with any permanence in a home.

2. Davening Where One Learns

The Gemara (Brachos 8a) records that R’ Ami and R’ Asi would only daven in the place where they learned Torah even though there were thirteen shuls in their neighborhood. The Gemara explains that God loves the gates where halacha is studied more than all of the shuls and houses of study. Since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, God’s presence is most strongly felt within “the four cubits of halacha.” What emerges from this Gemara is that davening in a place where one learns Torah is an even greater enhancement of the tefilah than davening in a shul.

The Rishonim debate the exact parameters of the benefit of davening in a place of Torah study. Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah cite the Rabbanei Tzarfat who held that even davening where one learns without a minyan is preferable to davening with a minyan in shul. However, they also cite the Rambam who disagrees and maintains that only davening with a minyan in a place of learning is preferable to davening with a minyan in shul. Even the Rambam concedes, though, that a smaller minyan in a place where one learns is preferable to a larger minyan in a shul.

The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 90:18) rules in accordance with the Rambam and encourages davening in a Beis Midrash. The Rama cites an opinion that a person totally dedicated to Torah study should daven even without a minyan in a Beis Midrash rather than daven in shul, but cautions that even so, a Talmid Chacham should not do this consistently, as the laymen may get the wrong impression about the importance of davening with a minyan.

Many contemporary shuls serve as centers of Torah study for the community as well, offering libraries of sefarim and many different shiurim. Such shuls may enjoy the status of a Beis Midrash with regard to the tefilos that are offered in them, and would therefore be the ideal places to daven.

Comments from Leading Poskim

In the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society (volume XLVI), Dr. Steven Oppenheimer records the responses of several leading contemporary poskim with regard to holding Friday night minyanim in private homes.

Rav Ephraim Greenblatt said that “when the shul is far away and the walk to shul is too difficult, a minyan may be made close by” but he cautions that “the issue of breakaway minyanim is one that is often motivated by personal agenda.” Rav Greenblatt’s response, while reasonable, is not very clearly defined. How great a distance is considered “far”? How would one define “too difficult”?

Rav Moshe Shternbuch gave a more clearly defined way of gauging whether it is appropriate to make a house minyan. “If the minyan did not exist, and people would otherwise go to shul, they are not permitted to have a minyan in someone’s house. Only if the choice is to pray at home without a minyan or have a minyan in someone’s house, may one have a minyan in someone’s house.”

Similarly, Rav Herschel Schachter said that “it is improper to have a minyan in someone’s house. The Talmud Yerushalmi explains that dirshu Hashem b’himatz’o refers to the beis haknesses. The Talmud Bavli informs us that Ein tefilah shel adam nishma’as ela b’veis haknesses. The sanctity of the locale augments the efficacy of the prayers, so that even an individual praying by himself should preferably pray in a shul. The Talmud tells us that whoever has a shul in his neighborhood and does not attend services there is considered a shachein ra, an evil neighbor.”

Concluding Remarks

The purpose of this article is not to question the intentions of those who arrange for and attend house minyanim, but to educate people about the issues. Many people who arrange and daven in such minyanim, and especially those who are willing to use their homes to host these minyanim, have the best intentions. Before preparing this article, I mentioned to a talmid chacham that I was contemplating writing about this issue, and he responded that “I’m not even sure what the issue is other than berov am.” If even talmidei chachamim are not fully familiar with the issues involved, it stands to reason that the average Orthodox Jew would be similarly unfamiliar with many of these issues. It is my hope that this article served to help clarify some of the halachic pitfalls of holding house minyanim, and will motivate people to seek proper rabbinic guidance before deciding whether to participate in such minyanim, just as they seek guidance in other areas of halacha.
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Endnotes

Endnotes
1See, for example Igros Moshe, O”Ch 2:46, Ch”M 2:40 and Shu”t HaRe’em 1:53. See also Hegyonei HaParsha, Parsha Truma p. 320 for a detailed analysis of this question.
2See, for example Berachos 53a, Pesachim 64b, Rosh Hashanah 32b, Zevachim 14a, Megillah 27b, Sukkah 52b, Yoma 26a, 70a, Menachos 62a and Zevachim 14a. It is interesting to note that the notion of b’rov am hadras melech is used by Chazal in three distinct ways. In certain instances it is used to teach that several people, each of whom are performing the entire mitzvah on their own, should do the mitzvah together in a large group, such as the case of the Mishnah (Bikkurim 3:2) where the various people bringing their first fruits to Jerusalem should first gather outside of the city, so that they can all bring their fruits together in a large parade. In other instances it is used to teach that it shows great respect to God when instead of having a single person perform a mitzvah, a group of people divide the parts of the mitzvah amongst themselves, such as the case of kohanim handing the cups of blood from korban Pesach in a sort of assembly line rather than walking the blood to the altar themselves (Pesachim 64b). We even find that a large crowd observing somebody doing a mitzvah is preferable to the person doing the mitzvah alone, such as the case of a kohen gadol reading from the Torah on Yom Kippur, where the crowd assembled to watch him read is considered to be doing a mitzvah of glorifying God (Yoma 70a).
3See Tshuvos VeHanhagos 1:127 where Rav Moshe Shternbuch rejects the practice of making a separate minyan in shul for a person who has yahrtzeit, because having a person observing a yahrtzeit lead prayers is not sufficient grounds to sacrifice B’rov Am.
4See Iyun Ya’akov (there) that this is only true if the closest shul is in the city. If the shul were outside of the city, even if within the four mil one is required to travel in order to daven with a minyan, failure to frequent the shul would not make a person a bad neighbor.
5Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah (ad loc.) note that Chazal offer a very similar praise for Shmuel HaKatan in Sanhedrin (11a). It is somewhat odd that anybody who establishes a consistent place to daven merits that same praise that was used to describe a great tzadik like Shmuel HaKatan (see Berachos 29a, Shabbos 33a, Ta’anis 25b). Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah suggest that the insistence on davening in this way is not a sufficient mitzvah to earn these accolades, but are indicative of an exceedingly humble person who has already earned these accolades. Rav Yechezkel Landau (Tzlach, ad loc.) explains that only a humble person would assume that he needs the place to elevate his tefilah. An arrogant person would assume that he would have God’s ear wherever he chooses to daven.
6It seems from the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch that the practice many people have in larger Jewish communities of “minyan hopping” i.e. davening in different shuls for different tefilos, is inappropriate.
7An additional reason that the guest should be permitted to remain is that in most cases the guest only sat in the seat because it was empty when davening started. Rarely will a person who arrives to shul in a timely fashion find somebody else sitting in his seat. Someone who comes late can only blame himself if his usual seat is taken.
8Lechem Mishneh (Tefilah 8:1) notes that a person’s tefilos can also occasionally be heard outside of the confines of a shul, but the guarantee that a tefilah will be heard “at all times” only applies to shuls.
9The Tzlach argues that the language employed by the Gemara of “A person’s tefilah is only heard in a shul” supports this contention. Only the tefilah “of a person”, an individual, needs to be offered in shul in order to be heard.
10This assumes that the room in the house that hosts the minyan does not enjoy the sanctity of a synagogue. This is normally a safe assumption. If the room is used for other purposes, it clearly does not enjoy this sanctity.
11See Eretz HaTzvi (ch. 12) where Rav Herschel Schachter shows, based on the fact that the aron of the Beis HaMikdash was hidden underground by Chizkiyahu, that the basis for kedushas Beis HaMikdash, and in turn kedushas beis haknesses, is the aron kodesh. It was critical that throughout the period of the second Beis HaMikdash, which did not have the aron, that the aron at least be hidden on the premises of the Beis HaMikdash. Rav Schachter argues that a shul without an aron kodesh is lacking in the kedushas beis haknesses. Rav Scahchter writes that it is inappropriate to build an aron kodesh recessed into the wall of a shul because the aron is then considered to be in a separate room, and this takes away from the kedushah of the shul.
12See Sefer Chasidim (495) that even those tefilos offered from seats that are closer to the aron kodesh in shul are more readily accepted than those offered from seats that are further away. See also Shu”t Yosef Ometz (37).
13One should be cognizant of these issues when forming a minyan in a house of mourning. In fact, when I asked Rav Herschel Schachter if there is anything in particular to be careful about in running a shiva house, he indicated that people are often not sufficiently familiar with the environmental issues of tefilah in a home setting.
14See Megilah 29a where the Gemara says that the shuls in the Diaspora will be transported to Eretz Yisrael when Mashiach comes. This highlights the role of the shul as a place that is not limited to the temporary nature of our stay in exile.
15When Rav Hershel Schachter suffered from back problems that prevented him from going to yeshiva, several boys from yeshiva would come to his house to help him make a minyan. He would tell them that they really should not be there because davening in a beis midrash is much more valuable than davening in a private home.

About Aryeh Lebowitz

Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz serves as an 11th grade Rebbe in Davis Renov Stahler Yeshiva High School, Senior Magid Shiur in HALB's post high school Yeshivat Lev Shlomo, and is the Rabbi of the Beis Haknesses of North Woodmere. He has contributed articles to several torah journals and books, and has delivered thousands of popular shiurim on a variety of torah topics.

2 comments

  1. I try to be sympathetic to the repeated hand-wringing about house minyanim since I do recognize than many if not most are created for dubious reasons. Yet with the well known (and occasionally rationalized) issues of decorum which blight the Orthodox world it is very discouraging for me to think, and difficult for me to accept, that the halachah proscribes an alternative where quiet and reasonably paced tefillah may take place. Institutions are important but they have little incentive to enforce a minorities desire for a halchiclly compliant atmosphere without competition.

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