Drinking During Davening

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I have seen myself and heard from others that over the past few years, there has been significant growth in the number of people who drink coffee or tea during the morning prayers. They recite a blessing on the drink before the prayers and continue sipping occasionally during the initial sections (including Pesukei De-Zimra) and after their silent Amidah. This strikes me as irreverent but is it forbidden?

The Gemara (Berakhos 10b) says that it is forbidden to eat or drink before praying. However, you are allowed to drink water (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 89:1). One sage learns it from the verse, “Do not eat from (literally: on) the blood” (Lev. 19:26) — do not eat until you pray for your blood. Another learns it from the verse, “And you have cast Me behind your back (or: your pride)” (1 Kings 14:9) — do not act arrogantly by satisfying your pleasures before praying.

Over time, coffee and tea became permitted, because they are necessary in order to able to pray. At first, they were permitted without sugar but eventually with sugar (Arukh Ha-Shulchan ad loc., 22). Someone who is sick or weak can eat or drink as necessary to be able to pray. Apparently, people today are very weak because many people take great liberties in this area, probably too many. Be that as it may, it is permissible to drink coffee or tea before prayers. What about during the prayers?

After saying the Barukh She-Amar blessing, you are not allowed to interrupt your prayers. From Barukh She-Amar through Yishtabakh is Pesukei De-Zimra, afterwards comes Shema and its blessing which you may not interrupt, and then immediately comes the silent Amidah. If you are not feeling weak or sick, are you allowed to drink during Pesukei De-Zimra or in between the blessings on Shema?

Rav Simcha Rabinowitz (cont., Israel; Piskei Teshuvos, 51:9) quotes Rav a Ephraim Greenblatt (Rivevos Ephraim 6:29) who permits someone who feels weak or sick to say a blessing and drink during Pesukei De-Zimra. But if you don’t absolutely need to drink, then you may not. He adds (n. 86) that even without the issue of the blessing, eating or drinking constitutes and interruption to Pesukei De-Zimra which is otherwise forbidden. However, he does not offer proof that drinking constitutes and interruption.

In a recent article, Rav Matzli’ach Chai Mazuz (cont., Israel; “Whether it is Permissible to Drink Tea During Pesukei De-Zimra” in Ha-Mashbir, no. 9) argues that drinking tea constitutes a forbidden interruption. Rav Mazuz cites as proof the rule regarding Havdalah on Pesach night. If the first night of Pesach falls on Saturday, we must recite Havdalah ending Shabbos during Kiddush at the Pesach Seder. If you started the Seder in the regular way and forgot to say Havdalah, and you already started the Maggid section of discussing the Exodus story, then you wait until you are finished with Maggid and then say Havdalah (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 473:1).

Ramban (Milchamos Hashem, Pesachim 24a) disagrees with Rav Zerachiah Ha-Levi, who understands the Gemara as permitting drinking extra cups of wine during Maggid. Ramban disagrees because that constitutes an interruption. Once you begin Maggid, you may not interrupt the mitzvah by drinking. Based on this, Rav Mazuz argues that drinking constitutes an interruption and therefore you may not drink during Pesukei De-Zimra, and even more so during the blessings of Shema.

Rav Mazuz quotes Rav Yosef Bar Shalom (21st cen., Israel; Responsa Va-Yitzbor Yosef 2:17) who forbids drinking during Pesukei De-Zimra because it is distracting and also because it displays arrogance, which is why eating and drinking are forbidden before prayer. However, everyone agrees that if you feel weak or sick, then you may drink during Pesukei De-Zimra.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, 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 currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four 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.

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