The trying period that we are currently going through has led to the closing of Shuls around the world. The continued spread of coronavirus, and the regulations enacted in countless locations to protect the public, do not allow for communal gatherings, and this includes gatherings for the purpose of Torah and Tefillah. We have to get used to davening at home.
Although the situation is dire, and we await its speedy end and a wholesale return to Shul, davening at home also presents us with some opportunities. It is an opportunity to deepen our relationship with Hashem, to daven more slowly and with greater intent, and from a place of modesty and humility. At the same time, it calls us to sharpen our knowledge of halachos related to davening alone, at home—some of which do not apply when davening in a minyan, and some of which are just taken for granted without our being aware of them.
In the present article we will focus on the issue of davening alone, without a minyan. When should one daven?
The Virtue of Tefillah BeTzibur
Many believe that a minyan is required mainly to enable a person to say Kaddish, Kedusha, and other parts of davening that require a quorum of ten. While it is true that Kaddish and Kedusha cannot be said without a minyan, the main purpose of the minyan is not for these parts of davening, but so that a person can pray the main part of davening—the Shemoneh Esrei—with a minyan.
This is pointed out by the Mishnah Berurah (90:28, citing the Chayei Adam 19:1): The main purpose of davening with the congregation is Shemoneh Esrei, meaning that ten adult men should say it together.
A tefillo that somebody recites with a tzibbur, a congregation, is qualitatively different from one recited individually. We learn in the Gemara (Ta’anis 8a) that an individual’s prayers are only accepted when they are accompanied by proper intent (kavana), while Hashem accepts communal prayers even when the kavana is deficient. Based on the Gemara in Berachos (8a), the Tur (Orach Chaim 90) notes that a person’s prayers are only heard when recited with a minyan in a synagogue.
Due to the virtues of davening with a minyan, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 90:9) writes that a person should try to do so. The Magen Avraham (90:15) explains that even if a person knows how to daven on his own—he doesn’t need the Chazan to assist him in davening—nonetheless berov am hadras melech: davening is something that should be done together with an entire congregation, a communal service of Hashem.
The Mishnah Berurah (90:28) emphasizes that a person’s prayers are heard more when davening with the tzibbur (and adds that this is true even when there are wicked people who are part of the congregation, as the Rambam writes in Chap. 8 of his Laws of Prayer). And Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shut Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:68) writes that davening with a minyan is a full obligation, and not merely a virtue and proper practice.
Yet, we sometimes need to daven alone, as at present. What are the ways in which we can make the most of home davening, and what are the halachos we should be aware of?
Where to Daven
The Gemara (Berachos 6b) states that, “Whoever has a set place for davening merits that the G-d of Avraham will be with him.” This statement is mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 90:19) and by later Poskim, and this applies even when davening at home. Thus, it is important to have a set place to daven, even at home (Magen Avraham 90:33; Mishnah Berurah 59; Aruch Hashulchan 23).
One should not daven in front of mirrors, which is not permitted for the Shemoneh Esrei prayer (Mishnah Berurah 90:70). This is both because of distraction from concentration, and because it looks like one davens to himself.
Note that by contrast with a Shul setting, there is no problem of having men and women in the same room in a home setting: homes are not meant for davening, and therefore have no requirement of a mechitzah.
When to Daven
The ideal time for Shacharis is to daven the Shemoneh Esrei at hanetz hachamah (sunrise). The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 89:1) thus rules that this is the correct time for davening, and according to the Mishnah Berurah the virtue of davening at sunrise is equal (and even preferable, for somebody who regularly does so) to the virtue of davening with a minyan. Yet, waking up early for davening at hanetz hachamah is not an obligation, and if this will disturb one’s function during the day one can daven later, until the end of the fourth hour after dawn.
For somebody not davening at hanetz hachamah, the ideal time to daven is at the time when a regular minyan is taking place, so that a person’s prayers will join those of the communal davening, even he is not physically with them.
The Mincha prayer must be davened before sunset (shekiya), while the Maariv prayer should ideally be davened before chatzos (midnight), though one who missed this time may daven until dawn (alos hashachar). Since the Shulchan Aruch makes special mention of reciting Kerias Shema before chatzos, somebody who will not be able to daven Maariv before this time should recite Kerias Shema earlier, and then daven the full Maariv prayer after chatzos.
Note that since a person does not have a regular minyan to daven with, it will be forbidden to do significant activities before Mincha (in the afternoon) and Maariv (at night). If one needs to do a major activity (such as a haircut or a major meal) one should daven first, or appoint a shomer (a guard) to remind one to daven.
Parts That are Not Said
As noted above, when davening alone one does not recite Kaddish and Kedusha. Nor does one say Barchu or hold a reading of the Torah with its blessings. But what about the words, “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh” and “Baruch Kevod Hashem Mimkomo” in the blessings before the Shema and at the end of davening in the kedusha de’sidra? Can these be said as usual when davening alone?
There is a discussion among Poskim concerning reciting these words when davening alone. The Shulchan Aruch (59:3) notes two opinions concerning whether the Pesukim can be recited, and therefore recommends saying then with their notes, as when reading from the Torah. The Rema rules that the words can be said alone, as usual, but the Mishnah Berurah (59:11) writes that one should follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch. Somebody who knows the “trup” (the notes) should therefore say the words with the notes.
Concerning Tachanun, a person davening alone does not recite the Thirteen Attributes (see Shut Iggros Moshe 3:21). The rest of Tachanun should be said as usual, while omitting the words from “Va’avor Hashem al Panav” until the end of the Thirteen Middos. However, when davening in a location without a Sefer Torah, the Rema (Orach Chaim 131:2) rules that Tachanun is recited without bowing one’s head—though some rule that one may bow one’s head if there are seforim in the room (this is ruled by the Birkei Yosef 131:1; see also Shut Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim 5:20:5).
The general custom is not to bow one’s head in the absence of a Sefer Torah, with the exception of the Old City of Jerusalem, in which the custom is to always recite Tachanun with one’s head down, even if there is no sefer Torah (Ketzos Hashulchan 24:4, and many others). There is some uncertainty among the poskim as to whether this halachah applies to the whole of Jerusalem today, and customs vary in this matter (see Halichos Shlomo, Tefillah 11, footnote 37).
Concerning reading from the Torah, although the Torah is not read without a minyan, it is proper to read the appropriate reading from a Chumash, and the Mishnah Berurah writes that this can be done (143:9). Yekum Purkan is not recited without a minyan (Mishnah Berurah 101:19; we do not recite Aramaic prayers without a minyan), while Yizkor and the blessing for a new month may be recited alone.
According to the Mishnah Berurah (268:19), the reciting the Pesukim of Vayechulu is a form of testimony, bearing witness to the fact that Hashem created the world. Therefore, one should recite Vayechulu specifically when at least two people recite it together. For this purpose, two family members are sufficient, and one may also recite Vayechulu together with one’s wife.
However, the Chazon Ish writes that reciting Vayechulu does not constitute a testimony, and therefore there is no need to say it in pairs, or even to recite it standing (Orach Chaim 38:10).
The Mishnah Berurah writes that when alone, one should recite Vayechulu with intent of simply reading from the Torah, rather than the intent of testimony. Some mention that it is proper, in this case, to recite Vayechulu with the notes of Torah reading (see Taz 268:5; Aruch Hashulchan 268:15).
Concerning the Beracha Me’ein Sheva, the Shulchan Aruch (268:8) rules that when davening alone the beracha is not recited, though the Rema adds that one may say it alone without saying the beracha part (i.e. he can say the part that the congregants say in shul). One who wishes to say it alone should therefore begin from Magen Avos and continue until Zecher l’maaseh Bereishis.
However, the Taz (see Mishnah Berurah 24) writes that the beracha is only said in a place set aside for davening, so that it should not be said when davening alone at home.
Although there is much more to be written about davening alone, we hope that the guidelines above will allow clarity concerning the basic principles of doing so. May this difficult time allow us a closeness to Hashem, and may we soon return to our Shuls and to communal davening.