Short One for a Minyan? Taxi!

There is a small settlement in the Galilee in which there are exactly ten men living there – all of whom are dependent on one another in order to form a minyan. If even one of them fails to show up for services, the minyan cannot take place and everyone is forced to recite the prayers by themselves. In such an unfortunate situation, everyone loses the ability to participate in the congregational readings and responses, not to mention the benefit of the Torah reading, on days when it is to be read.

It once happened that only nine men showed up for minyan. When those assembled were ready to disband and each person was going to pray on his own, the gabbai came up with an idea. He told everyone to wait just a few more minutes before disbanding and that he would quickly return with the tenth man needed for the minyan.

The gabbai stepped outside to phone for a taxi. When the taxi arrived and the driver asked the gabbai where he would like to go, the gabbai responded that he really isn't interested in going anywhere. Rather, he merely wanted the driver to come in and make the minyan! He told the driver to start the meter and join the congregation for services. The driver was intrigued and accepted the offer. Not only did he join the congregation for the prayers, but he even remained behind after services for some Torah study and an additional kaddish – all at the request of the gabbai. At the conclusion of this sequence of events, the meter was showing a “fare” of 135 shekels!

At this point the gabbai requested that everyone contribute to the cost of having been able to pray with a minyan by giving 15 shekels each. The members of the congregation objected to this request. They protested, arguing that it was not them who phoned for the taxi, and therefore the gabbai, who took this initiative upon himself, should be the one to cover the costs.

The community sent this question to Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein for arbitration and a halachic ruling.[1] In a surprise ruling, Rav Zilberstein declared that it is the individual who did not show up for the minyan that day who was responsible to cover the expenses incurred in order that everyone else in the community would be able to pray with a minyan.

His ruling was based on the Rema. The Rema writes that in a place where there is difficulty assembling a minyan, the members of the community can force one another to show up to the synagogue in order that there be a minyan for the prayers.[2] Forcing, in this context, includes financial sanctions, among other measures. Since the cause of the expense was due to this one individual not having attended the minyan – he is the one who is obligated to cover the costs caused by his absence.

It is important to note, however, that this ruling would not apply in the event that the individual's absence from the minyan was due to circumstances beyond his control.[3] In such a situation all the members of the minyan would indeed be obligated to contribute equally to cover the costs, as there is no single individual who is truly to blame for the lack of a minyan. So too, it must be determined whether calling a taxi in order to make use of the driver for the minyan was the least expensive method to complete the minyan. Otherwise, the one who ordered the taxi could be forced to contribute the difference between this and a less expensive method.

[1] This chapter is taken from Veharev Na, Vol. I, Pinchas.

[2] OC 55:22; CM 163:1.

[3] Mishna Berura 55:9.