Shiur #3: Alternatives to the Shemoneh Esrei
by Rav David Brofsky
Yeshivat Har Etzion
... one might ask: is there another way to fulfill the obligation of prayer? At times, the entire Shemoneh Esrei may seem long and burdensome. May one who is sick or traveling recite an abridged version?
Alternatives to Shemoneh Esrei: Havineinu and Tefilla Ketzara
Are there times in which one may fulfill tefillat Shemoneh Esrei in a different format?
The mishna (Berakhot 4:3) distinguishes between two alternatives. Firstly, the mishna relates to what is known as an “ABRIDGED Shemoneh Esrei”.
Rabban Gamli'el says, “Every day, a man should say Shemoneh Esrei.”
Rabbi Yehoshua says, “An abridged (me’ein) Shemoneh Esrei.
Rabbi Akiva says, “If he knows it fluently, he should say [the full] Shemoneh Esrei; if not, an abridged Shemoneh Esrei.”
רבן גמליאל אומר בכל יום מתפלל אדם שמונה עשרה. רבי יהושע אומר מעין שמונה עשרה. רבי עקיבא אומר אם שגורה תפלתו בפיו יתפלל שמונה עשרה. ואם לאו מעין שמונה עשרה.
This mishna presents three opinions regarding the condensed prayer. While according to Rabban Gamli'el, one should ALWAYS recite the full Shemoneh Esrei, and according to Rabbi Yehoshua, one may always recite the short form, Rabbi Akiva asserts that only one who is not fluent in the full eighteen berakhot may recite an abbreviated version. Halakha rules in accordance with the position of Rabbi Akiva.
What is the “abridged Shemoneh Esrei”? The Gemara (Berakhot 29a) cites Shemu'el, who gives the text as follows:
Give us discernment (Havineinu), Lord, to know Your ways; circumcise our heart to fear You; forgive us so that we may be redeemed; keep us far from our sufferings; fatten us in the pastures of Your land, and gather our dispersed from the four corners of the earth; let they who err from Your prescriptions be judged; lift up Your hand against the wicked; let the righteous rejoice in the building of Your city, the establishment of Your sanctuary, the exalting of the horn of David Your servant, and the arrangement of a light for the son of Yishai Your anointed; before we call, may You answer. Blessed are You, Lord, who hears prayer.
Shemu'el's text, known as Havineinu, incorporates the themes of all thirteen middle berakhot into one blessing, its conclusion matching that of the last of these, “Shomei'a tefilla.”
On the other hand, the following mishna (4:4) refers to another prayer, known as the “tefilla ketzara,” the short prayer: “Rabbi Yehoshua says, 'If one is traveling in a dangerous place, he says the tefilla ketzara.'”
Furthermore, the Gemara (29b) records a debate regarding the precise text of this short prayer, and concludes that Halakha is in accordance with those who say:
Our rabbis taught: “One who passes through a place infested with beasts or bands of robbers says the short prayer. What is the short prayer?… 'The needs of Your people Israel are many and their wit is small. May it be Your will, Lord our God, to give to each one his sustenance and to each body what it lacks. Blessed are You, Lord, who hears prayer.'”
What is the difference between the ABRIDGED prayer and the SHORT prayer? The Gemara (30a) explains:
What is the difference between Havineinu and tefilla ketzara? Havineinu is accompanied by the first and the last three blessings, and when he returns home he need not pray again. Tefilla ketzara requires neither the first nor the last three blessings, and when one returns home he must pray again. [Furthermore,] the law is that while Havineinu must be said standing, tefilla ketzara may be said either standing or walking…
Apparently, the Gemara offers two types of alternatives to the Shemoneh Esrei. One who finds it difficult to recite the Shemoneh Esrei, as we shall explain, may recite an abridged version. This version, known as Havineinu, is similar to the Shemoneh Esrei in both content and structure, and one who recites Havineinu has fulfilled his obligation of Shemoneh Esrei. Tefilla ketzara, however, is intended for those who are truly unable to recite Shemoneh Esrei and may indeed be exempt from tefilla, due to extenuating circumstances. Therefore, it differs in content and form, and one who recites tefilla ketzara must still say the Shemoneh Esrei if possible.
This distinction supports our premise, developed above, that tefillat Shemoneh Esrei, by definition, must follow the order set out by the members of the Kenesset Ha-gedola, i.e. three berakhot of praise, berakhot of bakashot in the middle, and three berakhot of gratitude at the end. Apparently, however, the berakha of Havineinu suffices for the middle berakhot.
Practically speaking, the rabbis severely limit the possibility of reciting Havineinu. For example, Rav Nachman (ibid.) teaches that “a person may say Havineinu at any time of the year, except as Shabbat and festivals end,” since he must formally indicate the end of the holy day with an insertion in the first of the middle blessings, “Ata chonen.” Furthermore, Rav Bibi bar Abbayei rules that “a person may say Havineinu at any time of the year, except in the rainy season, because he is required to make a request [for rain] in the blessing of 'Bareikh aleinu.'” Even more striking is the Gemara's anecdote (29a) that “Abbayei would curse anyone who prayed Havineinu.” The Semag explains that this refers to one who would habitually say Havineinu in place of the proper Shemoneh Esrei.
The Practical Halakha:
The Shulchan Arukh (110:1, 3) concludes:
In extenuating circumstances, such as one who is traveling, or one who is standing in a place where he is distracted and fears that he may be interrupted, or one who is unable to concentrate for the entire Shemoneh Esrei, he should say Havineinu after the first threeberakhot…
One who passes through a place infested with beasts or bands of robbers prays, “The needs of Your people Israel are many,” etc., and he does not need the first three berakhot…
The Arukh Ha-shulchan (110:6), after concluding that one who recites the Havineinu under normal conditions has NOT fulfilled his obligation, notes:
However in our times we have never heard of someone who would recite Havineinu, and the reason is clear. In previous generations, when they would pray with much concentration, they established Havineinu for those who were unable to properly concentrate. However in our day, when, regardless of the situation, we do not concentrate well [when praying], as we have mentioned, what would be the purpose of Havineinu?
The Biur Halakha (110:1) expresses a similar sentiment.
Interestingly, the Chayei Adam (24) (possibly based on the Or Zarua, 1:90), sanctions reciting a shortened Shemoneh Esrei, in which one abridges each of the thirteen middle berakhot, on Saturday night and during the winter; he even presents a text of this abridgedShemoneh Esrei!
What is the Prayer "Havineinu"?
Rabbi Re'eim Hacohen
Question: Is the short prayer "Havineinu" relevant for our times?
Answer: There is a dispute among the Tana'im in the Mishna. "Rabban Gamliel says, a person should pray the 'Shemonah Essrei' every day. Rabbi Yehoshua says, the prayer should be similar to the Shemonah Essrei (that is, a shorter version). Rabbi Akiva says, if the prayer is familiar to him, he should pray the full Shemonah Essrei but if not then he should pray a shorter version." [Berachot 4:3].
In the Talmud, there is a disagreement as to the exact text of the prayer "similar to Shemonah Essrei." "Rav says that the prayer should hint at each of the full blessings. Shmuel says: Havineinu - Teach us, our G-d, to know Your way; mold our hearts to fear You; forgive us so that we will be redeemed; keep us far from any afflictions; let us enjoy life in our land; gather in our Diaspora from the four corners of the globe; let those who are in error be judged; lift up Your hand against the evil ones, let the righteous ones be happy with the rebuilding of Your Temple and with the repair of Your Palace, as with the rise of the power of Your servant David and with the lighting of the lamps for the Glory of Your anointed one, the offspring of Yishai, 'You respond before You are called' (see: Yeshayahu 65:24). You are blessed, He who hears our prayer." [Berachot 29a].
Rashi explains that Rav feels every blessing should be shortened but that they should still be recited as separate blessings, while Shmuel feels that the first three and the last three blessings should be recited in full and the summary version quoted above should be inserted in the middle of the prayer, since it contains short phrases that summarize the essence of every blessing in the full Shemonah Essrei.
The Talmud continues by noting that Abayei would put a curse on anybody who recited the Havineinu prayer. At first glance, this indeed seems to be the conclusion of the passage in the Talmud, which rejects the short prayer. However, the Tosafot give two alternate ways to understand Abayei's words:
The approach of the RIF and the SMAG is in line with the ruling by the Rambam, "In every prayer on every day, a person should recite these nineteen blessings in their proper sequence. What are the proper circumstances for this? He should be calm and collected, and he should be familiar with the blessings and able to read them correctly and quickly. But if he is pressed for time and busy, or if he is not familiar with the text of the prayer – the person should recite the first three blessings and one in the middle that summarizes the others, and end with the last three blessings. With this, he has fulfilled his obligations." [Hilchot Tefilla 2:2]. The TUR agrees with this: "This is appropriate at a time of stress, such as while on a trip" . The same ruling appears in the Shulchan Aruch (110), and since the RAMA does not object it can be assumed that he agrees.
Other recent commentators who agreed with this include Shulchan Aruch of the Rav (of Chabad) and the Chayei Adam (24:31). This all implies that in cases where a person is not able to recite the full prayer as the early rabbis demanded, he should recite the Havineinu, and that this is valid even for today.
However, in Biur Halacha it is written: "Nowadays the custom is not to recite the Havineinu prayer when a person is busy." The author suggests that Havineinu was originally meant for a person who was not able to have the proper intentions for more than seven blessings and not the full nineteen in the Shemonah Essrei, but that "nowadays it is not the custom to recited Havineinu because we fear that the person may not concentrate in a proper way even for seven blessings. This is similar to what the RAMA wrote... that if we want to shorten the prayers today because of being busy we would never recite the full prayer, since as a result of our many sins we are constantly occupied." That is, his basic assumption is that there is an inherent difficulty today in concentrating properly on prayers, and therefore there is no justification for reciting a short version. The author of Aruch Hashulchan gives a similar explanation for the fact that today we do not recite the Havineinu prayer: "Today in any case we cannot concentrate properly, as we have already written on various occasions, so why should we recite the Havineinu at all?"
On the other hand, it is clear from the Mishna Berura that in no place in his commentary does the author (the Chafetz Chaim) reject the Havineinu prayer. It thus seems that the purpose of his comments in Biur Halacha (which is linked to the Mishna Berura) was to attempt to justify the way we normally act, but that he had no intention at all of cancelling this prayer in modern times. In another instance in the Mishna Berura, the author rules that if time is so short that the proper time for prayer might be missed, one should indeed recite the Havineinu.
I would add my humble opinion, that a complete cancellation of Havineinu for the reason that today we do not know how to concentrate properly might cause some people to despair completely of any possibility for maintaining the proper intentions during prayer.
In summary, I feel that the teachers of today are obligated to educate the students about the proper approach to prayer, and to include Havineinu as part of these studies. We should explain that this prayer was specifically written for unusual circumstances, when a person will not be able to maintain the proper intentions during the full prayer. It is therefore important for the publishers to continue to include this prayer in the siddur, so that it will be available to anybody who is pressed for time and who is therefore not able to pray with the proper intentions.