Monday, December 19, 2011

Phrase of the Day: Hashkama Minyan

At maariv on Shabbat (Friday night), you'll often hear an announcement of the times for the "hashkamah minyan" and "shacharis." But what would come before shachrit, the morning service??

It's a trick question. They're both minyanim for shacharis. Hashkama is just the "early" minyan, usually around 6 or 7am.

There are several reasons why someone might choose to attend shul at such an unholy hour. 
  • First and foremost, someone who wakes up very early every other day of the week, such as 4 or 5am, will usually wake up at that hour on Shabbat too. 
  • People who "work" on Shabbat during the regular service can take advantage of the hashkama minyan to have a proper davening. This includes the people setting up or running a kiddush, since that preparation often happens during the regular shacharit service. It also includes the people who lead youth activities/davening during the regular minyan. Possibly the worst case scenario is when the congregants have to act as security guards for certain shifts on Jewish holidays or during times of war in Israel.
  • Some people may want to get an "early start" on Shabbat so that they can accomplish as much Torah learning as they can, especially if their work schedule prevents much formal learning during the week.
  • Parents can use the two services to enable each spouse to attend shul while the other watches young children. Most commonly, the husband will attend the hashkama minyan, and then the wife can attend the regular shacharit service.
  • Some people just like davening earlier. These people should be voted off the island.
Important note for women: Hashkama minyanim are usually held in a smaller space since there can be overlap with the regular service in the main sanctuary. There may be little or no room for women there. It depends on the set-up of your shul.

But what's more interesting is the history of the hashkamah minyan. It was created at the turn of the century for people who had to work on Shabbat. Yes, you read that right. People worked on Shabbat. Like normal jobs. The orthodox shuls created an early minyan for the low-income immigrants who worked in the factories on Shabbos (primarily in New York City). People still fight over whether it was meant to prevent assimilation or was a reflection of the economic reality that American jobs at that time required work Monday-Saturday, and families would starve to death if they lost those jobs. Similarly, Friday night services would be held at 8pm or later every week for the same reason.

Having read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair back in high school, I'm inclined to believe it was a matter of life or death at the turn of the century and especially during the Depression. But everyone has a story about some great grand-parent who protected the sanctity of Shabbos Koidesh by getting fired every single week rather than work on Shabbat, only to have to job hunt again every Monday morning. And because Hashem is so so good, he found a job first thing, every single Monday morning. B"H! (Please excuse my sarcasm.) As you might have guessed, I'm not inclined to believe that.

On the other hand, I've heard stories of how business owners caught on to this practice pretty quickly (duh), so the owners arranged for the pay for the entire week to be distributed on Saturday afternoons. So even if you didn't work on Shabbos, you would have to touch, accept, and then carry money on Shabbat if you wanted to be paid for your work the rest of the week. A truly horrible situation. But this second story is a lot closer to human nature than the master of bitachon above, so I'm more inclined to believe it. While an individual here and there may have stood up with bitachon, I do not believe it was widespread.

At the end of the day, I don't think I'm in any position to judge the people who were forced to make those decisions. It seems like a relatively clear choice to me, but I'm sure some people were not in such dire situations and took advantage of the leniency inappropriately. However, the rabbis on the ground had the facts that we either lack or dispute today. We just weren't there.

Because of all this, I'm not a fan of those who claim those immigrant Jews had no honor for Shabbat until after World War II when the chassidim came to America and taught the Americans proper reverence for Shabbat. I think that's a revisionist history told by people who benefit from the story. After all, it sure sounds like a nice story.


  1. Some people just like davening earlier. These people should be voted off the island.

    <3. I am dying of laughter here.

  2. I think it's almost impossible for most of us to imagine what life was like here in the US at the turn of the century or during the great depression, particularly for those recently arrived immigrants. It's easy to pass judgment on their level of observance or level of assimilation, but I think that unless we've lived through similar times, it does no good.

    Our sacrifices may be to get up early and go to Shul and to stand up to our bosses when they want us available on Shabbos, but theirs might well have been giving up those very things to make sure that there were future generations of Jews here that would survive and be able to observe in ways they themselves could not.

    In the end, only Hashem knows.

    Me? I'm one of "those" people. I don't think I'm capable of sleeping past 7am, even on Shabbos! :D

  3. First--Hashkama minyan rocks! My husband and son are home usually before the other kids even wake up. Which means more family time, and even more realistically--more time I don't have to be home during the winter months alone on Shabbos with three bored children. (we are up 15 floors and it is too cold right now for the little ones to go out anyhow.)

    Second-- THANK YOU for your thoughts on the "master of bitchaton" I got such a laugh out of that. It drives me nuts how these stories get spread and then make for unrealistic expectations for everyone else. I forget the story so I'm probably ruining it--but the one about Mattia ben Cheresh who literally gouged his own eyes out so he wouldn't be exposed to sexual immorality. That just screams mental instability to me, however it's supposed to be some sort of lesson to us about putting our spiritual needs first and not let the evil inclination win. Seems just a wee bit over the top to me.

  4. eerrr that was supposed to be "bitachon" lol

  5. I'm one of those crazy people who just likes davening earlier. We go to hashkama minyan every week-and we bring along our six month old son.
    Some of the reasons we like it that didn't appear in your post: it's smaller, especially since our shul is big, it's nice to only have about 40 or 50 people there instead of a couple of hundred. If you have guests, it gives me time to go home and set the table before they show up. If we're going out, it gives us some time to spend together before we head away. Also, it means that I can still usually get my nap in during the winter!

  6. I wouldn't argue with your sociology, but you are missing the major and fundamental reason for an 'early' meaning. It is pretty clear that the ideal time in halacha for the morning prayers is with sunrise. On the other end, there is also a latest time for Sh'ma (and also for the amidah). The Talmud and successive codes talk of this at length. The ideal scenario is to say Sh'ma shortly before sunrise, and begin the amida with sunrise. To accomplish this, the minyan has to begin between first light and sunrise.

    Couple this with the fact that many North American minyans actually daven on Shabbat after the latest time for Sh'ma. So there are many folks who don't necessarily want to daven at sunrise, even if it is ideal; but they don't want their minyan to be saying Sh'ma late. For these folks, the 'early minyan' is the good choice. In Israel this isn't an issue so much, since even on Shabbat an average neighborhood minyan davens earlier than the North Americans who like to sleep in. Many a normal Israeli minyan would be a 'hashkamah minyan' in North American communities.

    Your sociological observation is certainly correct. There is a minyan in NYC that started by accommodating the folks going to work on Shabbat. Today, almost certainly the participants are all people who do not work on Shabbat. But it is still known as a 'workers minyan'.

    In the Temple in Jerusalem, the tasks of the sacrifices began each morning with first light. The morning prayers parallel the Temple service and so the ideal time for prayer has always been first thing in the morning. This is true all week long, Shabbat and Yom Tov. To distinguish such a minyan, it is typically called a 'vatikin' or 'vasikin' minyan; and 'hashkamah' is actually later (though originally they referred to the same thing).

  7. One solution to the too-late-for-Sh'ma minyan is to recite all three paragraphs of the Sh'ma *before* going to synagogue for a non-haskama service, making sure that your recital is within the z'man/required time. (I'm guessing that I read that suggestion somewhere on the Orthodox Union's website,, back when I could still find things on the OU website.) I've been doing that for years--that way, I never have to worry about saying Sh'ma after the proper z'man, despite the fact that our Shabbat/Sabbath and Shalosh Regalim/Festival services always start at 9 AM.

  8. > One solution to the too-late-for-Sh'ma minyan is to recite all three paragraphs of the Sh'ma *before* going to synagogue for a non-haskama service, making sure that your recital is within the z'man/required time.

    Shira, This is not a halachically preferred solution, unless delaying morning prayer is unavoidable. (See Mishna Beruarah). Also, one still needs to make sure that he also concludes the main prayers in the proper time (Suf Zman Tfillah).

    For women, this is all voluntary.