Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shacharis Tips of the Unemployed

We all know that unemployment numbers are way up and Jews are not immune to losing their jobs. I thought I would point out an important rule that might have slipped your mind.

I. Earliest Times for Shacharis

The general rule is that Shacharis can only be prayed (at or) after sunrise (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 89:1), which today was 7:01 AM in New York and 6:58 AM in Los Angeles (link). Bedi'eved, if you prayed after dawn, you fulfilled your obligation. But really you are supposed to wait until after sunrise.

Click here to read more(Dawn is calculated differently by different authorities. According to the OU Zemanim Calculator (link), dawn today was 5:51 AM in New York and 5:48 AM in Los Angeles.)

However, someone who has to leave on a trip before sunrise is allowed to pray in that period between dawn and sunrise (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 89:8). Contemporary authorities categorize a commute to work as a trip for these purposes, and when I was commuting to yeshiva from Brooklyn to Washington Heights I was told by my rosh yeshiva that this was also sufficient reason for praying before sunrise.

II. Changing Your Schedule

Because of this, many people are used to waking up early and praying before sunrise. They've done this for years, maybe decades. However, if you have lost your job and aren't commuting to work, you probably no longer have permission to pray before sunrise and you have to revert to the standard rule of praying at or after sunrise. While most people probably wake up later anyway, some maintain their previous schedules out of habit or for some other reason. This post is addressed to them.

Now, some unemployed people may have picked up other errands, such as driving carpool(s). If so, and you will not be able to attend a later minyan, this might be sufficient cause for praying before sunrise. But that is something that should be discussed with your rabbi.

III. The Dilemma

But let's say that you wake up early, according to your regular schedule, and it is after dawn but too early to leave for the post-sunrise minyan you plan on attending. There is a limit on what you are allowed to do before praying in the morning. While the guidelines are not precisely laid out, it seems that you can do small things and mitzvah-related chores but not extensive activities (see Tefillah Ke-Hilkhasah, ch. 6 and Law of Daily Living vol. 1, ch. 11). So, technically, you can't pray yet but you can't do anything else either before praying!

However, there are exceptions. You are allowed to learn Torah but only if you have a set minyan to attend (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 89:6). But what about reading the newspaper? You are allowed to have a cup of coffee before prayers (Mishnah Berurah 89:22) but are you allowed to read the news with that coffee during the few minutes you have before it is time to go to your minyan? Note that while there is a dispute about whether this rule applies before sunrise, the authorities seem to rule stringently (Mishnah Berurah 89:31).

IV. Reading the News

R. Mordechai Willig does not discuss newspapers directly, but in his Am Mordekhai (Berakhos, no. 10 p. 44) argues that the reason you aren't allowed to do things before praying is because you might get distracted and miss prayers. Therefore, just like you can learn if you have a set minyan to go to, you can also do other activities if you similarly have a set minyan. You'll know how much time you have and keep an eye on your watch. Therefore, it would seem that you would be allowed to read the news before leaving for shul.

The Piskei Teshuvos (89:14) is very strict in general about reading the news before your morning prayers because it distracts your thoughts. I'm not so sure if that is a universal concern, but regardless I'd recommend using the time to learn a little Torah and save the news for later.

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