Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Waiting for the Rabbi

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

In most congregations the custom is to wait for the rabbi to finish his prayers before the one leading the service proceeds to the next section of the prayers. Although in some places this is done for virtually every paragraph in the prayers, most congregations reserve this honor exclusively for the shema and the shemoneh esrei prayers. It is only once the rabbi has concluded his recitation of the shema and shemoneh esrei that the chazzan leads the congregation to the next section of the prayers. While this practice appears to be an especially courteous and respectful one, it is actually not so clear that doing so is always legitimate from a halachic perspective.

Click here to read moreThere is a fundamental concept in congregational decorum known as "tircha d'tzibura" which teaches that it is not permitted to unnecessarily delay or burden a congregation in any way. Therefore, the practice of waiting for the rabbi to conclude his prayers can often lead to some serious questions of "tircha d'tzibura". The only halachic requirement for beginning the repetition of the shemoneh esrei is that the leader and nine others have completed their prayers,[1] and in some instances, a mere majority of the minyan suffices.[2]

As such, a number of halachic authorities are of the opinion that the practice of waiting specifically for the rabbi to conclude his prayers should be abandoned.[3] In support of this view, it is noted that a congregation is always required to ensure that the Torah is rolled to the exact place from where it will be read, before services, in order that there should be no violation of "tircha d'tzibura" by forcing the congregation to wait while it is done. [4] Furthermore, even when cantorial and musical pieces are in order, the chazzan must limit his presentation and not lengthen services unnecessarily, due to considerations of "tircha d'tzibura".[5] A rabbi who wishes to pray slower than most of the congregation or otherwise intends to extend his prayers should be sure to instruct the chazzan not to wait for him.[6]

Nevertheless, common custom in most congregations today is to wait for the rabbi to finish before proceeding to the next section of certain prayers and it seems that it is even an ancient custom.[7] Supporters of this practice argue that doing so allows the congregation the peace of mind that the prayers will not be rushed and are thereby encouraged to recite their prayers slowly and with more concentration.[8] Some authorities contend that this custom is so important that any congregation which does not wait for its rabbi should not expect to have their prayers received favorably before God. It is also noted that deferring to the rabbi and waiting for him to conclude his prayers is a form of showing honor for the Torah, which he represents.[9] There are even some authorities who rule that a rabbi is not permitted to instruct the chazzan not to wait for him to finish his prayers. [10] Even so, a rabbi is not to keep the congregation waiting by reciting his prayers unnecessarily slowly. A rabbi who shows no consideration for the congregation and "tircha d'tzibura" will be punished for his conduct.[11]


1. O.C. 124:4
2. O.C. 69:1
3. Rema O.C. 124:3
4. Binyamin Zev 168
5. Berachot 31a, Rambam Tefilla 6:2
6. Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 124:8, Pele Yoetz;dibbur
7. Hillel Omer 48
8. Magen Avrhaham 124:7, Mishna Berura 124:13 Teshuvot V'hanhagot 1:116
9. Piskei Teshuvot 124:6
10. Machatzit Hashekel 124:7
11. Pri Megadim E.A. 124:3

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