Halacha » Backing Out of A Minyan

Backing Out of A Minyan

Some shuls have hard time gathering ten men for their prayers, and many times they ask members to commit to come and help. If one agreed to attend such a minyan which is having a hard time getting ten men, may he back out if it becomes inconvenient for him to go?

Anyone who has tried to arrange a temporary minyan understands the difficulties that face the organizer. One quickly learns that it is necessary to secure a pledge of attendance from more than the minimum ten men necessary, or face almost certain delay – and ultimately, the dissolution of the minyan. With all of life’s unexpected twists and turns, what is the obligation of one who commits to joining such a minyan?

The Beit Yosef[1] quotes Hagaot Maimoni, who discusses the case of a town with only ten men living there. With Rosh Hashanah approaching, one of the men wished to travel to a different town for the upcoming Yom Tov season. The Hagaot Maimoni ruled that the town may force the man to stay unless he hires someone else to take his place in the minyan. Shulchan Aruch adds[2] that a town with eleven men living in it however, does not have this restriction – any single one may travel, and we are not concerned that one of the remaining ten will be unable to make it to the minyan. (This is also the ruling of Kaf Hachaim).

Shulchan Aruch’s ruling appears to be precarious. After all, how can he be so certain that nothing will happen to jeopardize the minyan at the last minute? If there are exactly ten men, what are the odds that all will make it to the prayers for every tefilah? Rather, it seems that if one knows the entire minyan rides on their shoulders – and without them, the other nine men would have to forgo their tefilah with a minyan – there is no chance that they would miss the tefilah.

When a minyan relies on one man, it is such a great responsibility that one would apply the utmost effort to avoid ruining the minyan. This is why the Kaf Hachaim allowed the eleventh man to leave without securing a replacement – because there is no chance that any of the ten remaining members would miss a tefilah. This would also explain Shulchan Aruch’s ruling. Breaking a minyan is such a serious matter that one is required to pay for a replacement if he would break the minyan by leaving town.

Indeed, Rama notes that Shulchan Aruch’s ruling applies not just for the days of Awe, but rather, all year round. He states, “Regarding any place which does not always have a quorum of ten in the shul, people may be compelled with fines to ensure that they will always come [to pray] so that the minyan will never [be forced to] close.”

The Mishna Berura writes[3] when there happens to be no minyan in a town one day, it is permitted to force those learning in yeshiva to stop learning and join the minyan. At that moment, keeping the minyan functional is considered more important than their learning.

Rav Moshe Feinstein[4] was asked regarding a shul that was missing a minyan only during the week. Although there were many who considered themselves members of this shul, they did not want to pray there during the week because the timing of the minyan was not to their liking. However, as a result, there was often no minyan in the shul, and many were forced to pray without a minyan at times.

Rav Moshe responded by quoting the above Rama, and concludes that it is the community’s responsibility that the shul have ten men for the minyan every day.

The Shevet Halevi adds that this is true even when the yeshiva has a minyan of its own – the students must still leave yeshiva to help complete the town’s minyan. True, the students will definitely go to a quicker, less intense tefilah than what they are accustomed to, but it is more important that they help complete the failing minyan.

With all this in mind, it is clear that one who has committed to being the tenth man at a local minyan when only ten men can join in the first place may not skip a day.

[1] או“ח ס“ס נה

[2] סי‘ נה ס“ק צז

[3] שם ס“ק עג

[4] אג”מ או”ח ח”ג סי’ טז