Halacha Club

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried

Chapter 12 : Preparing Oneself to Pray


It is written: 1 "Prepare to meet your G-d, O Israel" Meaning, a person should prepare himself to stand in the presence of G-d, blessed be He. He should wear suitable clothes when he goes to pray, like one who goes before an important minister. 2 Even if one prays alone in his house, he should dress himself in the proper manner. In places where it is customary to wear a belt, it is forbidden to pray until one puts on a belt.

  1. Amos 4:12
  2. The Shulchan Aruch HaRav 91:5 writes that it is improper to pray while barefoot or while wearing only sandals. The Mishna Berurah 91:12 adds that it is improper to pray in boots if it is not customary to stand in the presence of great people while wearing them. Similarly, that text rules against praying while wearing gloves and advises wearing a second hat in addition to the yarmulke during prayer.


It is good to give charity before prayer, as it is said: 1 "I will see your face with righteousness." One should also take on oneself before each prayer service, the mitzvah 2 "love your neighbor as yourself", intending to love every single Jew as oneself. Because, if, heaven forbid, there is a division of hearts (among) Jews on the physical plane, then also in the spiritual realms there is no unity. This (unity on the physical plane) causes also their prayers to be unified. As their prayers become more united they (become more) desirable before Him, blessed be His name.

  1. Psalms 17:15
  2. Lev. 19:18


It is written: 1 "Guard your feet when you walk to the house of G-d." Our sages explained 2 that the "your feet" (is a euphemism) for one's excretory organs, which are located near the legs. 3 Therefore, one needs to check oneself before prayer if one doesn't need to carry out one's needs. 4 If one feels even a slight need to relieve oneself, one is forbidden to pray. And even (to speak) words of Torah is forbidden as long as one's body is detestable, until one cleans oneself. 5 After the event, if one prayed while needing to relieve oneself, if one reckons that one could have to wait the time it takes to walk a parsah (one hour and a fifth (twelve minutes) ) one's prayer is valid. If not, despite the fact that one has already prayed, one's prayer is an abomination and one must pray again. 6 Others maintain that if one can wait the time for (walking) a parsah even from the beginning one can pray. One may rely on this opinion if by waiting to relieve oneself the time for the morning prayers would go past. 7

  1. Ecclesiastes 4:17
  2. Berachot 23a
  3. The hebrew word "regel" can mean both leg (in general) and foot (in particular).
  4. That is, to urinate or defecate.
  5. There is no opinion which prevents a person who feels a need to relieve himself, but can contain himself for an hour and twelve minutes, from studying Torah. Some opinions are lenient and also allow such a person to say the Shema and other portions of the prayer service (Mishna Berurah 92:7)
  6. Most authorities (Magen Avraham, Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Chayei Adam) maintain that this applies only if one feels he must defecate. If he needs only to urinate, he is not required to pray again. However, other opinions are more stringent.
  7. See also Ch. 18:16.


One who is sure that he cannot contain himself from releasing gas until after he concludes the Shema and the Shemoneh Esreh. 1 It is better to let the time pass for the Shema and the Shemoneh Esreh than to pray without a clean body. Should the time for prayer pass, (it is not his fault as) he was forced. 2 (and may compensate afterwards as explained in Ch. 21). If one is sure that one can contain oneself while reading the Shema, one should put on tefillin between "Who chooses His people Israel in love" and the reading of Shema, one blesses over them. 3

  1. should refrain from saying these prayers. The Shulchan Aruch HaRav 80:3 and the Mishna Berurah 80:3 require that one say the Shema and its blessings at the proper time. However, one should refrain from wearing tefillin. It must be emphasized that this applies only to someone who is sure that he will not be able to hold himself back from releasing gas. However, if a person merely suspects that he might do so, he should pray.
  2. That is he was prevented by factors beyond his control.
  3. The tefillin, then continues with the reading of the Shema.


One must wash his hands with water until the wrist before the prayers. Therefore, even though he has already washed his hands in the morning upon arising, if, after that washing, he touched with his hands any soiled place, that is, any places on the body of a person that are usually covered that can have beads of sweat there; or if he scratched his head; or if he did not wash his hands in the morning until the wrist, in all of these cases, he must wash them again before the prayer. If one does not have water available where he is he must go after it. This obligates him to go up to four mil if the water is one the route that lies before him, or up to a mil if the water is behind him, i.e., on the route that he has already traveled.

However, if one fears that by going all this way the time for the prayer will pass, he should instead clean his hands with pebbles or with earth or with any other substance that cleans, and then pray. This is derived from the wording of the verse that refers to the obligation of washing before praying: As it is written "I wash in cleanliness my hands etc.". "I" wash connotes washing with water, whereas "in cleanliness" connotes any method of cleaning the hands. These contradictory implications are resolved as follows: "I wash" with water, when possible; but if that is not possible, "with cleanliness," i.e., with anything that cleans.


If one washed his hands in the morning properly, and he has no certain knowledge that his hands later became unclean from anything; nevertheless, since, in the interim, his attention was diverted from the cleanliness of his hands even if he spent the time in between studying Torah, it is also considered a diversion of attention from the state of his hands, so he must also wash them with water for the purpose of praying.

However, in this case, when one does not know whether he has touched an unclean place or not, he need not travel to a different place to specifically find water. Thus, if he does not have water available, and if he will go to get it he will miss praying with the congregation, he should not go after the water, but rather clean his hands with anything that cleanses, and pray with the congregation (see Ba'er Heitev 233-7).


One should endeavor and make a great effort to pray with the congregation, as it is written "As for me, may my prayer to You, Hashem, be at a favorable time." We ask: When is that favorable time? At the time when congregation prays. And it is also written "Thus says Hashem: In a time of favor, I answer you."

Moreover, the Holy One, Blessed is He, does not despise the prayers of the congregation, even if among congregation there are sinners, as it is written "Behold, God does not despise the numerous". And it is also written "He redeemed my soul in peace from battles confronting me, for the masses who were praying with me."


If one is traveling and reaches the place where he wishes to stay overnight, but it does not have a congregation with whom he can pray the next morning, the law is as follows: If there is before him, i.e., further along on the road that he intends to travel, up to the distance of four mil, a place where a congregation prays, then if he is able to arrive there while it is still day, so that he will not have to travel alone at night, he must travel up to four mil on the route that lies before him so as to pray with a congregation. And if there is a minyan behind him, i.e., on the route he has already traveled, he must go back, up to the distance of a mil, so as to pray with a congregation.

Certainly, one may not go away from a place where there is a congregation praying to a place where he will not have that opportunity, if he is able to pray first and arrive at his destination while it is still daytime.


It is a great mitzvah to pray in a Beis Haknesses, synagogue, or in a Beis Medrash study hall, since they are holy places. Even if, occasionally, the congregational prayer session is canceled due to lack of a minyan, nevertheless, it is still a mitzvah to pray there, even alone (i.e. without a minyan), since they are holy places. One who regularly is a Beis Medrash should also pray there wuth a congregation of at least ten, even though there is also a Beis Haknesses in his city where there are more people praying. But one who does not regularly learn in teh Beis Medrash should pray rather in a Beis Haknesses that has a multitude of people since, "With the multitude of people is the glory of the King"; i.e., the glory of Hashem is increased in proportion to the amount of people who are praying together.

If in one's city there are two synagogoues, he should go to the one that is further away so he should receive reward from Heaven for the extra steps that he takes to get there.

R'Yehoshua ben Levi said: "A person should always awake early to go to the synagogue, so that he should be counted among the first ten to arrive. For even of one hundred people come after him, he receives a Heavenly reward equal to all of them together."

Our Sages of blessed memory said futher: "Whoever does each morning and evening to the synagogue or to the study hall at the proper time, and stays there for a proper amount of time, and behaves there with the appropriate holiness, merits long life. As it is written: 'Happy is the man who listens to Me, who comes quickly to My doors every day [a reference to those who come early to the synagogue], to guard the doorposts of My entranceways [a reference to those who remain there, as if they are watchmen at the entrance to the synagogue]'. And it is written immediately afterwards: 'For he who finds Me [Hashem] finds life'".


A person should establish for himself a specific synagogue or study hall in which he will pray regularly. In addition, he should establish there for himself a specific place to pray. Any space within four amos is considered one place; i.e., the area within four amos of his designated place is considered his “set place" for prayer.

It is preferable, if one is able, to establish his set place next to the wall, so that there be no one between him and the wall when he prays. This is in accordance with the method of prayer that we find was used by King Chizkiyah, as it is written: "Chizkiyahu turned his face to the wall and prayed etc." One should not stand or sit in prayer next to a wicked person.

Even when a person prays in his home, he should also establish for himself a set place where the members of his household will not disturb him.


It is a mitzvah to run when one goes to the synagogue or to the study hall, or when going to perform any of the other mitzvos, as the versestates: "Let us pursue knowledge of Hashem.", And it is written elsewhere: "I will run in the way of Your commandments." Therefore, even on Shabbos, when it is otherwise forbidden to run, it is permitted to fulfil a mitzvah. However, inside the synagogue itself and inside the study hall it is forbidden run.

When one comes to the entrance of the synagogue he should pause for a moment so as not to enter abruptly. One should also feel as if he should draw back, and be afraid of the splendor of the greatness of Hashem, may His Name be blessed. And with this feeling he should recite the following verse: "As for me, through Your abundant kindness etc." The recitation of this verse serves as a form of requesting permission to enter the house of Hashem, and only afterward should he enter, with awe and fear in the manner of one who has an audience with a king.

In those communities where Jews have their own streets, it is a mitzvah to wrap oneself in a tallis and put on tefillin in his house, and to go dressed in this way to the synangogue. However, in those places where Jews live among the nations or if one would need to pass through dirty streets in order to reach the synagogue, he should rather wrap himself in his tallis and put on his tefillin in the anteroom of the synangogue. For it is worthy practice to enter the synagogue wrapped in tzitzis (i.e., in a tallis) and crowned with tefillin.


If due to some unavoidable circumstance, one cannot go to a synagogue or to a study hall to pray with the congregation, or even if there is some circumstance that prevents him from going to any other established congregational prayer, he should make an effort to gather ten men for a minyan so that he can at least pray in his house with a mlnyan. If this too is not possible for him, at the very least, he should pray at the same time that the congregation is praying, since that time is one of favor before Hashem.

Likewise, one who lives in a place that does not have a minyan for congregational prayer should pray at the time that the congregation prays in the cities. However, if, in this situatlon, he must study Torah or become involved in some pressing task — and it has been explained above, in Siman 8 (se'if 1), that one may not begin work or Torah study before the morning prayers - in that case, he may pray earlier than the time that the congregation prays in the cities, and pray immediately when the sun rises.


Likewise, one who is weak and finds it difficult to wait to eat until after the end of the congregational prayer is permitted to pray earlier in his home, so that he can eat immediately after his own prayers (as we have seen above, 8:2). However, it is only in his home that he is permitted to pray earlier in this situation; but if he already came to the synagogue where there is a congregation praying, it is forbidden for him to pray earlier than the congregation's prayer. Even if he wants to go out of the synagogue to pray before the congregation prays, he is forbidden from doing so, unless he sees that the congregation is praying too late and they will miss the time of the prayers. Likewise, if he is ill or he has some other unavoidable circumstance, he is permitted to pray early, even in the synagogue. However, it is preferable, even in these cases, that he go back to his home to pray.


Some say that if congregation prayed in the synagogue, and afterward another congregation came to pray there, the chazzan of the second group should not stand in the same place that the chazzan of the first group stood, as this constitutes a degradation of the first group, unless the first group has already left the synagogue.

Likewise, if the first group had take out a Sefer Torah and read from it, the second group should not take out a Sefer Torah a second time to read from it in the same synagogue.

However, in many communities they are not particular about these things, and everything should follow the particular custom of that community (see Magen Avraham, end of Siman 69, and Birkei Yosef there and Siman 144).


The residents of a city can compel one another to build a beis haknesses or a beis medrash, and to buy books of Torah knowledge from which to learn in a place where there is no steady minyan, i.e., there are ten men in the town, but they do not come to the synagogue regularly for the congregational prayers, they can force one another to do so by levying fines so that they come regularly to participate in the minyan for prayer, so that the steady congregational prayers not be abolished. Even those who spend their day studying Torah, who, should they come to the synagogue to pray with the congregation, will have to interrupt their learning, can still be forced to come to participate in the minyan, for the time for studying Torah is separate from the time for prayer, i.e., one is required to set aside time for prayer just as he must set aside time for Torah study.