Pray With The Leader

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by R. Gil Student

The standard way to pray with a minyan is to arrive more or less on time and to pray together with everyone else. That way, you start the silent Amidah together with everyone else, praying as a quiet community. This is tefillah be-tzibur, prayer with a community. What if you come too late to catch up? The answer to that question lies in disproven accusations of forgery.

In a letter to Rav Yehudah Aszod, Rav Moshe Sofer (the “Chasam Sofer”) writes that praying together with the leader (shali’ach tzibur) is the primary fulfillment of tefillah be-tzibur (Iggeros Soferim, part 2 no. 14; Likutei Teshuvos Chasam Sofer, no. 3). Ideally, everyone should recite their own prayers word for word with the leader. However, we have a silent prayer first so the leader can prepare and then recite the prayer for everyone. When someone prays together with the leader, for whatever reason, that is the true tefillah be-tzibur. Therefore, if you are running late you should start your silent prayer when the leader starts his loud repetition.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggeros Moshe, Orach Chaim 3:9) disagrees with this conclusion. He points out that the Rema (Orach Chaim 109:2) says that, if you are running late, preferably you should wait until the leader finishes Kedushah before starting your silent prayer; praying with the leader is only for emergencies. Clearly, Rav Feinstein argues, the Rema disagrees with Rav Sofer’s thesis. After asking more questions, Rav Feinstein concludes that this letter is so mistaken that it must have been a forgery. [1]“In the end, all of the words in this responsum are mistaken; therefore it is clear that these are not the words of the Chasam Sofer and this responsum should be ignored.” If only someone who prays with the leader achieves tefillah be-tzibur, prayer with the community, then most people most of the time are praying by themselves in synagogue! This is an absurd conclusion. Rather, everyone praying silently together is a fulfillment of tefillah be-tzibur.

Rav Feinstein was not the first to suggest that Iggeros Soferim is unreliable in the letters it contains. Rav Chaim Elazar Shapira (Nimukei Orach Chaim 243:1) objects strongly to this book for a number of reasons, among them the inclusion of pictures of rabbis from the Sofer family, which Rav Shapira finds improper. He also objects to a letter in which the Chasam Sofer rebukes the Kaliver Rebbe for refusing to allow the marriage of an agunah whom the Chasam Sofer permitted. Rav Shapira argues that this must be a forgery because the Kaliver Rebbe was a great tzadik.

Rav Binyamin Shlomo Hamburger (introduction to Zikhronos U-Masoros Al Ha-Chasam Sofer, p. 15ff.) lists these and other accusations of forgery. He points out that each claim has been refuted conclusively. In Rav Feinstein’s case, the Chasam Sofer‘s letter was also published in Likutei Teshuvos from a manuscript in which the author wrote that he copied from the original which was written in the Chasam Sofer‘s handwriting. Additionally, the same idea is repeated in the Chasam Sofer‘s commentary to the Talmud (Chasam Sofer Al Sugyos Ha-Shas, Jerusalem, 1991, no. 27 p. 46d). The letter to the Kaliver Rebbe has since been found in a Sofer family archive. Rav Hamburger concludes that no evidence has proven that there are forgeries in the Iggeros Soferim collection. [2]“There has never been proof of a forgery.”

Rav Shmuel Wosner (note in the back of R. Yitzchak Fuchs, Tefillah Ke-Hilkhasah, pp. 536-538, republished in Responsa Shevet Ha-Levi 4:11) quotes Rav Feinstein’s objection and states that, with all due respect, the claim of forgery cannot be accepted. He says that “anyone who recognizes the style of the responsum will recognize immediately that they are the words of the Chasam Sofer.”

Rav Wosner explains that the best way to fulfill tefillah be-tzibur is for the leader to pray and everyone listen to his prayer, fulfilling their obligation through the leader. Since it is unrealistic to expect everyone to listen carefully to such a long prayer, the Sages decreed that everyone who can should pray silently on their own. Ideally, they should pray with the leader but the Sages moved it earlier to the leader can prepare his prayer. When everyone prays together silently, this is a fulfillment of tefillah be-tzibur. But an even better fulfillment is praying together with the leader. [3]There is a separate view, based on the Rambam, that distinguishes between prayer with the community (tefillah be-tzibur) and prayer of the community (tefillas ha-tzibur). When everyone prays together … Continue reading

More recently, Rav Simcha Rabinowitz (Piskei Teshuvos, vol. 1 90:14 n. 175) points out that while a few authorities agree with Rav Feinstein, the vast majority agree with the Chasam Sofer. Among those who agree with Rav Feinstein are Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (Responsa Salmas Chaim 130) and the Responsa Chavatzeles Ha-Sharon (Orach Chaim 2). Among those who disagree are the Mishnah Berurah (109:14), Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Yabi’a Omer 2:7; Yechaveh Da’as 5:6), Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor (Responsa Be’er Yitzchak no. 20), Rav Avraham Karelitz (Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 19:7) and more. Additionally, biographies of the Chafetz Chaim, Satmar Rav and Steipler Gaon report that they sometimes followed this practice of praying together with the leader, rather than waiting until after Kedushah to begin.



1“In the end, all of the words in this responsum are mistaken; therefore it is clear that these are not the words of the Chasam Sofer and this responsum should be ignored.”
2“There has never been proof of a forgery.”
3There is a separate view, based on the Rambam, that distinguishes between prayer with the community (tefillah be-tzibur) and prayer of the community (tefillas ha-tzibur). When everyone prays together silently, that is prayer with a community. When the leaders prays out loud, that is prayer of the community. See R. Hershel Schachter, Nefesh Ha-Rav, pp. 124-127; R. Moshe Sternbuch, Mo’adim U-Zemanim 1:7.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

One comment

  1. This is my own personal experience. As a ba’al teshuvah, I often would be behind the shaliach tzibbur, and thus would not be on time for the amidah. I asked a Rav what I should do to fulfill the mitzvah of davening with the tzibbur. I was told that listening intently to the shaliach tzibbur’s repetition of the Amidah and then afterwards davening my own Amidah would be best. And, if I had trouble listening intently, at a minimum I should say kedushah and modim with the minyan.

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