By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
Most Bais Yaakov high schools generally have davening take place in school. In the pre-COVID days many of them had it in the large auditorium, but in COVID times – they generally daven in the classrooms. But what do they do about breakfast? Unlike the Yeshiva high schools – which provide breakfast for their talmidim after davening – the Bais Yaakovs do not. The halacha is that one should not take care of one’s own needs before davening to Hashem.
What is the rationale for allowing it?
NOT EATING BEFORE DAVENING
The source of the halacha that forbids eating before davening is based upon a Gemorah in Brachos (10b). The halacha is further codified in Shulchan Aruch (Orech Chaim 89:3). It is considered haughty to take care of one’s own needs before tending to our obligations toward Hashem.
A drink, of course, is permitted. Nowadays, it is even permitted to add sugar and milk to one’s coffee, but breakfast before davening, is forbidden unless one is weak or sick.
This halacha, according to Poskim, applies to women as well (See Minchas Yitzchok Vol. IV #28).
DVEIKUS IS THE GOAL
The goal of life is to develop a relationship – a strong relationship with Hashem and to emulate Him in all that we do. Dveikus is the highest level of this relationship where we cleave to Him. One method or path to this relationship is through Tefilah.
DEBATE AMONG RISHONIM
There is a fascinating debate among the Rishonim, however, as to the exact nature of this path. There is also, according to this author’s understanding, a difference in understanding between Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l and Rav Avrohom Pam zt”l as to how to understand the Mishna Brurah’s view on the final ruling of the matter.
THE RAMBAM’S VIEW – BIBLICAL
The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 1:1) writes that the obligation to pray is from the Torah. The Pasuk in Shma (Dvarim 11:13) states: ul’avdo bechol levavchem – and to serve Him with all your heart.” The Gemorah in Taanis (2a) asks: “What kind of avodah involves the heart? It must be that this is Tefilah.”
The Rambam learns, therefore, that the obligation for prayer is biblical – it is just the wording and the exact times for it that are of Rabbinic origin. At a minimum, the obligation is to include shevach, bakasha, and hoda’ah – praise of Hashem, requests of Hashem, and thanks to Hashem (See Rambam Hilchos Tefilah 1:2).
The Mogain Avrohom (OC 106:2) writes that it is possible that the Chachomim did not obligate women further than the Torah obligation. These three minimum requirements can be accomplished with the morning brachos – a minimum of Tefillah.
THE RAMBAN AND RASHI
According to the Ramban, however, in Sefer HaMitzvos #5 and Rashi (“v’chayavin b’tefilah” Brachos 20b), the obligation is only Rabbinic in nature, and the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah who established this obligation and the wording of the Shmoneh Esreh obligated women as well. Even though it is a time bound Mitzvah, since it is a request for mercy, Chazal obligated women as well in Shacharis and Mincha.
We thus have two different views in the Rishonim. The Rambam holds that Tefillah is Biblical, but one can fulfill it with very few psukim. The Mogain Avrohom holds that women were not commanded in the Rabbinic Mitzvah – but may do so if they wish.
On the other hand, the Ramban and Rashi both hold that tefillah is Rabbinic [unless it is a time of tzarah] and that women are fully obligated in it.
SO WHO DO WE RULE WITH?
The Mishna Brurah (106:4) as well as other Poskim rule in accordance with the Ramban. In fact, there are other indications that women are fully obligated in the two Shmoneh Esrehs.
- The Yalkut Shimoni (Shmuel, Remez 80) writes explicitly that women are obligated in Shmoneh Esreh and that is why Chana was praying 18 brachos. The problem with this is that Chana actually preceded the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah. Thus, the Mogain Avrohom and the Rambam would understand this Yalkut Shimoni as being a type of asmachta – an allusion.
THE CHOFETZ CHAIM’S WIFE
Notwithstanding the ruling of the Mishna Brurah, the Chofetz Chaim’s son, Reb Aryeh Leib Kagan Poupko (1861-1938) writes in his “Sichos HaChofetz Chaim” (Vol. I #27) that his mother, while she was raising the children, almost never davened Shmoneh Esreh and told her son that their father had said that she was exempt.
DEBATE BETWEEN RAV YAAKOV AND RAV PAM
It seems to this author that there are two different ways to understand the apparent contradiction between what the Chofetz Chaim writes in his Mishna Brurah and how his wife conducted things according to his son.
RAV YAAKOV’S EXPLANATION
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l explained that since the mother is engaged in another Mitzvah of raising the children she falls under the concept of “Osaik b’Mitzvah patur min haMitzvah (as cited in Ko somar l’Bais Yaakov page 30). One who is involved in a Mitzvah is exempt from another Mitzvah.” This concept is stated by Rabbi Yossi HaGalili in Sukkah (26a) in regard to travelers of a Mitzvah being exempt from the Mitzvah of Sukkah.
RAV PAM’S EXPLANATION
Rav Avrohom Pam zt”l, on the other hand, had another understanding. He understood that there are times in a woman’s life when she can rely on the ruling of the Rambam rather than rule like the Ramban. During the period of a woman’s life when she is raising children, she can rely on the view and reading of the Rambam that allows her to just recite a very minimum davening – in other words, no Shmoneh Esreh.
This is how this author heard Rav Pam explain the words of the Chofetz Chaim’s son. It can be analogous perhaps to keeping two different Sefirah periods from year to year.
BACK TO THE QUESTION
So, how is it that high school girls eat at home first and then wait to daven in school? True, before they eat at home they often say brachos – fulfilling the minimum requirements of the Rambam, but the Mishna Brurah does rule like the Ramban – not the Rambam.
We could, of course, make an exception for someone who is not feeling well or is weak, to rule like the Rambam – but how can we be doing this across the board to all high school girls?
According to Rav Pam zt”l, perhaps this is one of those times that we can rely on the Rambam instead of the Ramban, because this way, at least they will be learning how to daven properly in front of their mechanchos and teachers. According to Rav Yaakov, it would be more problematic because there is no “osaik bamitzvah patur min haMitzvah” here. But even according to Rav Pam zt”l – aren’t high school girls really independent enough here that the don’t really need to daven in front of teachers?
I would like to suggest an alternative explanation. There is much to be gained in spirituality for girls to be performing Mitzvos – including davening, together. This is reason enough, perhaps, to be relying on the Rambam.
All this brings up another very pertinent issue. There is another critical difference between Rav Pam and Rav Yaakov in regard to Shabbos morning, and in regard to the Rambam versus the Ramban.
If one is following the view of the Rambam during the week, then merely saying brachos in the morning creates a prohibition of eating before Kiddush. The prohibition begins immediately after one has davened. The prohibition means that one cannot even taste water until one has made or heard Kiddush. According to the Ramban – then it is not a problem. A woman or girl may drink until one has davened Shmoneh Esreh.
So which view should a woman or young lady follow? Should she follow Rav Yaakov’s explanation or Rav Pam’s? The answer, of course, is to ask her own Rav or Posaik.