Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Holding Children During Davening

The Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayim 96:1) quotes the Gemara (Berakhos 23b) that, while reciting the Shemoneh Esreh prayer, one may not hold in one's hands tefillin, a Torah scroll, a knife, a plate, money or bread. The reason, Rashi explains, is that one is concerned that they might fall and this disturbs one's concentration on the prayer. The Beis Yosef records a debate whether this prohibition applies to holding anything in one's hands or only things that one is concerned if they fall. In other words, may one hold a tissue or handkerchief while praying. According to the lenient view, yes, and according to the strict view, no. The Taz (no. 2) rules strictly, as do later posekim (cf. Mishnah Berurah, no. 6; Arukh Ha-Shulhan, par. 1).

The Birkei Yosef (no. 1) states that one may not hold a child in one's arms while praying Shemoneh Esreh. Clearly, this should be true according to both opinions cited above: Since one would not want to drop the child, everyone would agree that one may not hold one during prayer.

However, the Taz (no. 1) states that the shali'ah tzibbur, who is leading services, may hold a Torah scroll in his hands while reciting the Yekum Purkan prayer because it adds to his concentration. Since that prayer is about those who learn and support Torah, the scroll adds to the prayer's intent rather than detracting from it. Perhaps one could say the same about someone who is praying for his children's welfare and future. Maybe for someone truly praying with that intention, holding one's child would add to the concentration and emotion of the prayer rather than detracting from it.

However, the Taz continues and states that while his reasoning should also allow someone to hold a Torah scroll while praying the Shemoneh Esreh, since no one before has permitted it, he cannot either. The same would apply to holding a child. Since no one has permitted it in the past, we cannot either.

Therefore, do not hold your babies while praying. Find another way to handle the situation. According to the Bah, one who prays while holding something must repeat the prayer. While most posekim disagree with this and do not require repeating, they would certainly advise one to forgo prayer at that time rather than pray while holding a baby. So either plan in advance so you do not have to hold a baby while praying, or hold off on praying until you can find someone else to hold the baby.

(Ask your rabbi before following any halakhic advice given here)

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