Thursday, September 08, 2011

Eating and Drinking Before Davening in the Morning

Rabbi Ethan Tucker

Our contemporary lives always seem rushed, as we each try to cram in as many activities as possible to the limited amount of time we feel we have available.  Mornings can be particularly challenging, as observant Jews attempt to get themselves ready, out of the house, find time for both prayer and breakfast and off to work on time.  Add to this the factor of a commute to somewhere somewhat far from home, and many challenges arise.   Among them is how to manage balancing making prayer and the cultivation of one's relationship with God the first experience of the day, contributing to the communal by attending minyan and maintaining healthy eating habits around breakfast.  This post aims to engage some of the literature around this topic.  [Eating before davening on Shabbat has its own pedigree and raised other issues, such as the proper placement of kiddush.  The below material is focused on weekday davening.]
The ban on eating before davening finds its first mention on Berkahot 10b:
ואמר רבי יוסי ברבי חנינא משום רבי אליעזר בן יעקב: מאי דכתיב: +ויקרא י"ט+ לא תאכלו על הדם, - לא תאכלו קודם שתתפללו על דמכם. (איכא דאמרי,) אמר רבי יצחק אמר רבי יוחנן אמר רבי יוסי ברבי חנינא משום רבי אליעזר בן יעקב: כל האוכל ושותה ואחר כך מתפלל - עליו הכתוב אומר: +מלכים א' י"ד+ ואתי השלכת אחרי גוך, אל תקרי גויך אלא גאיך. אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: לאחר שנתגאה זה - קבל עליו מלכות שמים.

In a series of sayings by R. Yose bR. Hanina in the name of R. Eliezer b. Yaakov, we get these two statements: A) One should pray for one's "blood"--for one's basic needs and right to exist--before one eats, with a poetic linking of this requirement to the verse לא תאכלו על הדם.  B) Eating and drinking before davening is considered an act of unacceptable hubris, with God classifying those who take care of their own needs before accepting the yoke of heaven as abandoning God in a nonchalant way, "tossing God aside."

The key questions that emerge from this text are:

1) What counts as eating and drinking?  Are there minimal or insignificant types of eating and drinking that don't trigger this opprobrium?
2) How unforgiving is this expectation?  Are there ever times when one can eat and drink before davening?  What if a person will be so hungry that they will be unable to focus properly on davening?
3) What parts of the davening must be said in order to avoid this problem?
4) What role might tefillah betzibbur play in this equation?

1) The statements in Berakhot do not engage shades of gray on this topic.  Later poskim engage the language of לאחר שנתגאה זה to argue that certain forms of eating and drinking evince no hubris and are thus not a problem.  Raaviah I:30 (R. Eliezer b. Yoel Halevi, Germany, 12th-13th c.) therefore states that only intoxicating drinks are a problem (מידי דמשכר), as they give a feeling of pride and contentedness.  Water would certainly be permitted.  Orhot Hayyim Tefillah #15 (R. Aharon Hakohen, Provence/Majorca, 13th-14th c.) cites a view (Rabbeinu Peretz?) rejecting this and forbidding even the drinking of water.  R. Yitzhak Aboab (Spain, 15th c.) considers both views and follows Ra'aviah, and so Beit Yosef.  Ra'aviah's permission is potentially expansive, though Rosh and others only report the permission for water, perhaps indicating a compromise position between the two views.  A narrower reading of Ra'aviah leads to later debates regarding coffee and tea (which generally end up permitted), and coffee and tea with sugar, which are frowned upon by some poskim as displaying hubris.  [On this point, see Mishnah Berurah vs. Arukh Hashulhan, the latter being much more expansive in his reading of Ra'aviah.]  Though there is some disagreement over details, the basic idea is clear: the statement in the gemara is aiming to forbid eating and drinking that gives one a sense of being pampered and having one's needs and desires sated before approaching God.  How can one approach God and prayer without some sense of vulnerability?  And how can one feel vulnerable after sitting down to a full English breakfast (and maybe even less)?

2) Rambam Tefillah 5:2 rules that one who is hungry or thirsty (clearly above and beyond what one would expect on average) such that it will be difficult to focus while davening is considered "ill" for this purpose and should eat and drink first.  This is codified in SA OH 89:4.  The value here is clear: waiting to eat and drink is intended to enhance the tefillah experience by generating more vulnerability and less haughtiness.  If this practice ends up detracting from one's ability to pray and connect to God, then it undermines its own purpose.  [It is also common Chabad practice to eat before davening in order to daven with as clear a mind as possible.]
In considering Ra'aviah's view described above, R. Yitzhak Aboab goes further than simply ruling like him.  He argues that once we accept the notion that the problem here is not eating and drinking per se, but rather גאוה/pride, then any eating and drinking which is not done in an inappropriately proud fashion is permissible.  He therefore rules that any eating for the sake of רפואה is permitted before davening.  This is codified in SA OH 89:3Magen Avraham 89:12 clarifies that this means to permit even types of food that might be subject to the concern of גאוה and even for someone who is not ravenous, as in the Rambam's case.  Arukh Hashulhan OH 89:24 spells this out further: this permission includes even eating that is not in response to serious hunger, but which is simply about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, as in the case of vitamins or eating to maintain basic nutrition and balance.  Someone for whom eating after davening would compromise this goal is permitted to eat beforehand.  This line of reasoning emphasizes Ra'aviah's emphasis on mindset and framing for early morning eating and drinking.

3) The plain sense of להתפלל in both of these statements is that one must pray the Amidah.  One might argue for a more flexible reading of this statement as featuring some basic form of prayer--the idea being that before one eats and drinks, one does *something* of significance to reconnect with God.  Indeed, the second statement in Berakhot uses the phrase לאחר שנתגאה זה - קבל עליו מלכות  שמים to describe the problem with the person who improperly eats and drinks before praying.  This seems to focus not on the Amidah per se, but rather on some basic acceptance of the God's sovereignty and authority, a phrase usually associated with Shema and not the Amidah.  Perhaps, therefore, the concern here is not rigidly anchored around the Amidah.  And in fact, in the context of another restriction--that pertaining to refraining from work before davening in the morning--there was a common practice in 15th century Austria for people to come to shul, say the early part of davening up until Barukh Sheamar, and then go off to deal with other matters until they would presumably finish the davening later.  Terumat Hadeshen #18 (R. Yisrael Isserlein) reports this practice, but says that the plain sense of the Talmud is to forbid doing any work until after one has said the Amidah.  Nonetheless, Rema on SA OH 89:3 casts Terumat Hadeshen's conclusion as a preference for stringency on this matter and thereby seems to grant some legitimacy to reciting the early parts of the davening as sufficient.  [Levush casts it differently and Arukh Hashulhan OH 89:21 cracks down on any lenient reading of the Rema.]  If one extrapolated form this discussion about work to the discussion about eating and drinking, one might grant some legitimacy to eating and drinking before davening as long as the first parts of davening (birkhot hashahar, the abbreviated Shema, etc.) were said first.  In any event, poskim generally say that even when one has a legitimate reason for eating or drinking before davening (health, weeakness, etc.), one should recite at least the Shema and some of the early berakhot first.  [See MB 89:22 in the middle for one example.]

4)  The rubber really meets the road when there is a direct confrontation between tefillah betzibbur and one's ability to wait until after davening to eat.  The relative values of praying with a minyan and praying before eating then come into stark relief.

On Berakhot 28b, we find the following story:
רב אויא חלש ולא אתא לפרקא דרב יוסף. למחר כי אתא, בעא אביי לאנוחי דעתיה דרב יוסף. אמר ליה: מאי טעמא לא אתא מר לפרקא? אמר ליה: דהוה חליש לבאי ולא מצינא. אמר ליה: אמאי לא טעמת מידי ואתית? אמר ליה: לא סבר לה מר להא דרב הונא? דאמר רב הונא: אסור לו לאדם שיטעום כלום קודם שיתפלל תפלת המוספין! - אמר ליה: איבעי ליה למר לצלויי צלותא דמוספין ביחיד, ולטעום מידי ולמיתי!

R. Avya was too weak to make it to one of R. Yosef's public lectures.  Abaye suggests to him that he should have eaten something in order to have the strength to go.  R. Avya says this was impossible, because of R. Huna's ruling that one is not allowed to eat anything prior to Musaf [which seems to have followed R. Yosef's lecture].  Abaye suggests that he should have prayed in private, eaten and then come to the lecture.

R. Moshe Hagiz (18th c., Jerusalem) in Leket Hakemah, Hanhagat Haboker considers the case of an elderly or weak person who cannot wait to eat until the end of communal davening, especially on Shabbat and Yom Tov.  He rules that it is preferable for the person to pray Shaharit at home בנחת and then to make kiddush, eat something and then head to shul to answer kaddish, kedushah etc. and to pray Musaf with the community.  This is better, in his view, than having a cup of tea or coffee to tide one over before shul, even if it means missing Shaharit with the community.  In other words, the value of praying before eating and drinking is very strong, and even the possibility of merely private prayer recommends itself over and above any disregard for this proper order.

However, the gemara in Berakhot concludes that R. Huna's tradition regarding the ban on eating before Musaf is not normative, raising the possibility that all of R. Avya's behavior is called into question.  Perhaps Abaye only advised him to pray privately rather than eat because he thought there was a hard and fast ban on eating before Musaf.  But a more flexible approach to eating before Musaf might have led to a recommendation to eat rather than miss tefillah betzibbur.  And perhaps, given that the ban on eating before Shaharit is already riddled with exceptions for those who are too weak to wait until afterwards, tefillah betzibbur might rank higher than refraining from all eating before davening.

I haven't found a noted posek who says this explicitly, though it may be implicit in a number of poskim who highly value tefillah betzibbur, like R. Moshe Feinstein, who considers it a bona fide obligation to pray with a minyan three times a day.  You can also see this analysis, which trends in this general direction. 

The ideal is clearly to pack up something from home that fulfills one's breakfast needs, bring it to minyan and eat it after tefillah betzibbur.  If this is impossible and will lead to a situation of feeling weak or unhealthy, then one could argue that it is better to daven individually and then eat, thereby maintaining the value of attending to one's personal relationship with God through prayer before attending to one's own needs.  However, if that practice is threatening one's long-term commitment to tefillah--particularly when one does not have in their upbringing a stable reference point of a regular commitment to daily tefillah--and tefillah betzibbur will serve an important strengthening function in this regard, it seems reasonable to claim that little will be gained by praying individually at home in an unsustainable way that may lead to no davening at all.  Moreover, the framing of this issue by Ra'aviah and R. Yitzhak Aboab--accepted by the major poskim--makes it all the more reasonable to allow some eating at home in the name of nutrition and health when it is impossible to eat something healthy after minyan.  It is possible that even poskim who might have resisted this in their own day might have thought differently about this in the context of commutes and other realities of professional, urban life.

A reasonable middle ground would be to be pick a few days a week where one goes straight to minyan and a few where one eats at home first (perhaps Torah reading days); perhaps that is a sustainable balance.  In any event, any eating done before davening should avoid concerns of גאוה/hubris by being simple and non-elaborate, just giving enough sustenance to feel healthy as one goes through one's morning.  And one should say birkhot hashahar and the early appearance of Shema in the siddur such that a basic acceptance of God's role in one's life has already been established before eating.

May Elul be a time of consistent and deep experiences with tefillah that strengthen both us as individuals and the communities in which we daven.


שלום בערגער Zackary Berger said...

Any indication from the poskim on whether, if one eats, the beracha is a useful indication of the "luxury" of the food? For example, if I am eating something (because otherwise I would get lightheaded, or something, and not be able to concentrate) is it better if I eat shehakol than mezonos?

cyberdov said...

Just came across this post...particulary appreciated it because I had aleays assumed (apparently incorrectly) that the prohibition had to do with ensuring that one did not forget to daven. Thanks R Ethan for once again bringing to the fore the meaning that the halakhah is infused with.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you

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