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Thought for the Day: Joining with the Congregation When You Aren't Davening with the Congregation

We don't have this as much any more, but in halacha there is a difference between a בית כנסת/shul and a בית מדרש/beis medrash.  That is, there are rooms/buildings designated for praying and other rooms designated for learning.  Nowadays, of course, we mostly have multipurpose rooms; we pray and learn (and have kiddush's) in the selfsame room.  A good friend of mine has noted to me that when people say "many say", they mean that they say; when they say "everyone says", they mean that their wife agrees with them.  I am therefore saying, of course, is that based on my vast experience of having visited a half a dozen or shuls (/beis medrash!) in Chicago over the last 20 years or so.  My conclusion that most places in the world are like the half dozen or so I have visited.  I am quite confident that my conclusion is no less accurate that many internet news feeds.

I bring this up because I want to discuss an interesting halacha regarding walking into a shul (not beis medrash) when a congregation is already there davening.  The Shulchan Aruch (O.Ch. 65:2) discusses a case where someone who has already recited krias shma (that is, he has fulfilled his obligation, for now anyway) enters a shul where the congregation is just now beginning their recitation of krias shma.  The Shulchan Aruch says that he must recite the first verse (which include ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד, by the way, MB sk 10) with the congregation.  Why?  So it doesn't look like he doesn't want to accept the sovereignty of HaShem along with his colleagues.  The Mishna Brura (sk 9) notes that this same conduct (to recite along with the congregation) applies to anything else that they congregation is saying together.  He cites ashrei and aleinu as prime examples.  The reason for all this?  Just דרך ארץ/good manners/common courtesy.

In point of fact, though, there are three levels of obligation -- from highest to lowest: obligated to join and participate, obligated to participate (but not join), not obligated to participate at all (but nothing wrong if you so choose.  These are elucidated Igros Moshe, O.Ch. 3, 99.  (Please all say together: I love my Dirshu Mishna Brura!)  There is also one case where he does not even need to say קריאת שמע along with them, as explained by Ohr L'Tzion, Vol 2, 45:8 (or maybe 135:8).  (Now I am just showing off.)

Obligated to join and participate (על פי דין):
When the congregation is saying קדושה (Igros Moshe O.Ch. 3:99).  A Jew is really obligated to sanctify HaShem's Name every moment of the day.  Moreover, we as the Jewish people are similarly obligated sanctify HaShem's Name every moment of the day; that is, after all, the meaning of our title: ישראל.  By joining this group, then we are fulfilling our personal mission and also enhancing our national mission -- ברוב עם הדרת מלך/the more members of the nation participate, the greater glory for the king.

Obligated to participate (דרך ארץ):
When the congregation is engaged in קריאת שמע, אשרי, עלינו.  For each of those, Chazal have set a fixed obligation each day; two or three times.  Doing more is laudable, but not an obligation.  To not join the congregation would therefore be a breach of דרך ארץ, since it appears as if you are shunning your obligation.  You aren't, of course, as we are discussing a case where you already fulfilled your obligation; but... still...

Not obligated to participate (but it's a free country, so you may if you like):
When the congregation is engaged in slichos; again, we are discussing a case where you already said slichos).  Every Jew has an obligation to reach out to HaShem in a time of distress.  It's certainly a nice thing to feel so empathetic that you want to join, but Chazal are not going to require it.

For those of you who are still wondering what could be the case where you are not obligated to join a congregation saying קריאת שמע... that would be when they are davening after the appointed time for קריאת שמע but while they still have time to daven shacharis.  In that case, they are only saying קריאת שמע in order that their t'fila should be in the midst of divrei Torah.  That never happens if you daven k'vasikin, by the way.  Just saying.

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