‘Mincha’ and the Workplace

A letter from a high-tech employee: If workers eat and talk on the phone while at work, there is no reason for them to cut-short their prayers * Differences in rank in companies exist – junior level employees have time on their hands, but managers and senior executives are very anxious * In practice, those who are extremely busy should be permitted to daven an abbreviated ‘Mincha’, but it is desirable to split into two minyans when possible * In continuation of the issue of equality and gender differences: Today, Jewish law courts seldom take action against women who refuse to divorce * A way should be found to preserve – even in today’s reality – the halakhic objective of favoring the family

An Abbreviated ‘Mincha‘ Prayer at Work – Is it Possible?

In the past, I wrote an answer to workers in a high-tech company who were at odds as the ideal way to pray ‘Mincha‘ (the Afternoon prayer) – as usual, with ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ (the repetition of the prayer leader [‘shaliach tzibur’], or ‘chazan‘, cantor), or an abbreviated version without the repetition. I wrote that they should pray a shortened ‘Mincha’, without the repetition of the ‘chazan’.

In response, I received a question from an admirable man:

“Thank God, I have worked for eight years in various high-tech companies. Whenever I signed a contract, I asked the employer whether I could pray ‘Mincha‘ during work, and not at the expense of the lunch-time break given to each employee. They always responded positively, and did not set a time limit. I am therefore very puzzled by the claim of some workers: ‘since we are in the middle of work, we should ‘daven’ (pray) an abbreviated ‘Mincha‘ prayer.’ It’s hard for me to believe that an employer would be upset about a few more minutes of prayer. (True, in regards to an employee who normally doesn’t recite all the preliminary ‘korbanot’ (non-obligatory prayers recited by some before ‘Mincha’), there is room for scrutiny).

Moreover, all high-tech workers know that breaks are not fixed and under pressure. Employees do not work every minute of the day! Sometimes we chat, sometimes we go out to talk on the phone or, God forbid – to have a smoke … If so, why should prayer time alone be strictly scrutinized? Shouldn’t prayer at least enjoy the same status of work?

Furthermore, in workplaces where there is no ‘minyan’, and one must walk a few minutes to another place where there is a ‘minyan‘ – employers permit it, just as they allow thousands of high-tech employees a few minutes in the afternoon to go eat at a restaurant, and no one would dream of shortening their lunch break because of the time spent walking, ordering food, and the like. The most important point is that this treasured ‘pearl’ – the ‘Mincha‘ prayer – should illuminate all of our work, and raise the entire day to a higher level.

I write all this as a student discussing an issue before his rabbis, and from my work experience. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you Rabbi Melamed, for the wonderful things you write every week. I get a lot out of them!”

Different Levels in the Workplace

In order to explain my position, I must first say that the question I receive from various high-tech companies is usually this: senior executives and managers are anxious and busy, and interested in praying an abbreviated ‘Mincha‘. Concerning mid-level employees – some prefer a short prayer, and others prefer regular prayers. Workers at the junior level tend to prefer praying the regular ‘Mincha‘ prayer. Those who work as cleaners prefer to pray ‘Mincha‘ with ‘korbanot‘.

I asked myself: What would happen if the cleaning workers became executives? Then, would they prefer to pray ‘Mincha‘ with ‘korbanot‘, or would the pressures overcome them, and want to shorten ‘Mincha’, or perhaps even avoid praying at all? And what would happen if the executives were the cleaning workers – would they prefer a long prayer, and maybe even ‘korbanot’ – because, what difference would it make if they cleaned another half an hour, or less…? In short, it is difficult to assume that the more senior a person is, the less he cares about prayer; rather, it appears that the more senior a person is – the more responsibility and pressure is placed upon him, and the harder it is for him to leave everything for a long time. He may be able to eat lunch at length, because there, he takes his mind off things and relaxes, but in prayer, he finds it difficult to concentrate, because work difficulties constantly flood his mind.

The Validity of the Repetition of the ‘Chazan

There is a fundamental difference of opinion: When everyone knows how to read from the ‘Siddur‘ (prayer book), does the repetition of the ‘shatz‘ (an abbreviation of ‘shaliach tzibur’) need to be said, given that the ordinance of the repetition of the ‘shatz‘ was intended for someone who does not know how to pray himself? Indeed, Rambam in his responsa (Pe’er Ha-Dor 148), wrote that the ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ should be recited, because when our Sages fix an ordinance, they do not make a distinction between different places, and therefore, even in a place where everyone knows how to read, ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ is recited, and his words were brought down in halakha in the ‘Beit Yosef’ (124:3). However, Rambam himself ruled that in places where many people chattered during ‘chazarat ha’shatz’, the congregation should pray one prayer, without the repetition, and the ‘chazan‘ should say the prayer aloud; those who knew how to pray, would pray with him in a whisper, and those who did not know how to pray, would fulfill their obligation by listening, and thus ” the Chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s Name) which has spread among the non-Jews who say that the Jews spit and chat during their prayers, will be removed” (Blau 258).

In practice, the custom of many communities was not repeat ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ in the ‘Mincha‘ prayer, and some communities did not repeat ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ in all weekday and ‘Mussaf’ (additional) prayers. This was the practice of Sephardim in North Africa, as well as in Yemen. Although, it is written in ‘Beit Yosef’ (paragraph 234) that this custom of the Sephardim is incorrect, and the proper way to pray is similar to that of the Ashkenazim who recite ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ in the ‘Mincha’ prayer, and this was the instruction of the sages of Safed, who even decreed ‘nidui’ (excommunication) on those who violated their rulings.

On the other hand, the lenient view is strong – the fact being that many communities continued acting in this manner, and there were also Ashkenazi communities in which they did not recite ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ in the ‘Mincha‘ prayer. Moreover, our Sages said in the Mishna: “He who makes his prayer a fixed task, it is not a genuine supplication” (Berakhot 28b), i.e., his prayer is like a heavy burden on him (ibid. 29b). And this in fact is what some Rishonim wrote, that when one is preoccupied and finds it difficult to concentrate, he should not pray at all (Tosafot, Maharam of Rothenburg). Therefore, when there is a ‘minhag’ (custom) consistent with the letter of the law that ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ is not recited, it is preferable to follow that ‘minhag‘, so that the prayer does not seem like a burden.

Rav Messas: Waive ‘Chazarat Ha’shatz’

Rabbi Yosef Messas (Responsa ‘Maim Hayim’ I, O.C. 41) writes that even in synagogues, it is preferable not to say ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ in the ‘Mincha‘ prayer: “For in truth, we are witness that for the general public ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ is like a sorrow on their souls, and a heavy burden for them, and although it is only for a short amount of time, nevertheless, because it seems superfluous to them, given that they have already fulfilled their obligation, consequently, they are becoming very disgusted with it.” Nevertheless, praying with a ‘minyan’ should never be annulled due to lack of intention, because one of the great foundations of “the existence of the Jewish nation and its connection to Torah is the assembly in synagogues to express gladness and prayer, for by doing so, they indicate that there is a great and awesome God in the world.. and the prayers are the source of life, and the spring of salvation for the remnants of religion that remains in the hearts of every Jew, for whoever is without prayer, you will find he is wildly devoid of all belief… therefore, even if prayer is said without intention, it is not grave – to what is this similar – to a person who makes sure his ceiling does not fall – if he can do so with iron bars – good; if not – he supports it even with wood beams. We are in a similar situation – our religion and our nation are presently being supported, even by prayers without intention.”

In Practice a Shortened Prayer Should be Permitted

In conclusion, employees who come to pray in a ‘minyan‘ despite their anxiety should be respected, and if one of them asks to shorten the prayer – all the more so, if he’s a senior executive – his request should be granted, because his anxiety is understandable, and since this method of shortened prayer has an important place in halakha, one should not compel him to pray at length. If there are enough people, two ‘minyans‘ should be held – one of them with ‘chazarat ha’shatz’ and the other without, and each person can chose whichever way he prefers to pray.

‘Igun’ (“Chaining”) of Men

Two weeks ago I wrote that halakha sets certain differences between the status of men and women – concerning issues of ‘igun’ (“chaining”) the status of women is weaker, whereas in financial matters the status of men is inferior – this, because the objective of halakha is not equality, rather, the good of the entire family – both the men, women, and children. When the main goal is equality, marriage is destroyed, the number of children born decreases in a way that causes crisis, to the point where most of the children born today in Western society grow up without a father present in their lives.

However, I received a well-informed response according to which the objective of halakha is not happening: “Rabbi, the things that you wrote are true on a halakhic level, but in actuality, and in Israel’s legal practice today, the reality is the opposite; the possibility of obtaining a ‘heter nisu’im’ (a ‘marriage permit’ involving the consent of one hundred rabbis) causes men who are refused divorces to receive less response from the legal system to their plight.

In order to deal with men who refuse to give a ‘get‘ (bill of divorce), the courts adopt various coercive measures, starting from preventing them the ability to have a bank account or a driver’s license, to denying them the opportunity of engaging in an certified profession such as a doctor or a lawyer, till the foreclosure of assets and the imposition of long prison sentences. The courts issue hundreds of such orders annually.

Seemingly, similar measures should be applied against women who refuse to divorce, but the Supreme Rabbinical Court ruled that the best way to deal with a woman’s refusal to receive a ‘get’ is by means of the husband’s ‘heter nisu’im’, and not by enforcing a ‘get‘ on a woman.

The ‘heter nisu’im’ could indeed have been a solution for men refused a ‘get’, and could have been an appropriate substitute over a woman who refuses to give her husband a ‘get‘, however, in light of the Supreme Court ruling and the Attorney General’s instructions, the use of a ‘heter nisu’im‘ as a solution to divorce refusal can only be granted in rare and exceptional cases.

Thus, the advantage a man refused a ‘get‘ by his wife had possessed, is now to his detriment, to the point where today the possibility of a man receiving a ‘heter nisu’im’, or significant enforcement measures in the form of imprisonment of his wife – are zero (to put things in perspective, in the last five years, 69 arrest warrants were issued against men who refused to give their wives a ‘get‘, and not one against an unwilling woman).

This discrimination is yet another example of how a certain advantage that a man had in the past has become his detriment as a result of the routine conduct of the rabbinical and civil courts, and serves as another way for women to blackmail men, without paying a price. In my opinion, this is one of the main reasons why today the number of men refused a ‘get‘ by their wives, is larger than the number of women refused a ‘get‘ by their husbands (427 men refused a ‘get‘ by their wives in the last five years, compared with 382 women refused a ‘get‘ by their husbands, according to a report by the Rabbinical Court).”

Realizing the Intention of Halakha

My response: Indeed, the changes in the fine balance established by halakha between men and women undermine the institution of marriage, as they cause more people to despise marriage, break their covenant, and harm their children. The rabbinic judges must find the golden path to express the practical intention of halakha in our generation, in which the social and economic status of men and women has changed.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://en.yhb.org.il/

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