Waiting for the Rabbi

It is common custom is to wait for the rabbi to finish his prayers before the one leading the service proceeds to the next section of the service. While in some congregations this is the procedure for every paragraph of the service, most congregations reserve this display of honor exclusively for the Shema and the Shemoneh Esrei. Therefore, the leader waits for the rabbi to complete his recitation of the Shema before continuing with the service and the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei only begins once the rabbi has completed his silent Shemoneh Esrei. Although this conduct is certainly commendable, as it displays great honor for the spiritual leader, it is actually not entirely clear that it is warranted from a halachic perspective.

There is a fundamental principle in congregational decorum known as "tircha d'tzibura" which teaches that it is not permitted to unnecessarily delay or burden a congregation in any way.[1] As such, the practice of waiting for the rabbi to conclude his prayers can often lead to some serious questions of tircha d'tzibura. The only true halachic requirement in order to begin the repetition of the shemoneh esrei is for the leader and nine others to have completed their silent shemoneh esrei,[2] and in some instances, it even suffices if only six individuals have completed it.[3]

For this reason a number of halachic authorities have suggested abandoning the practice of waiting for the rabbi to complete his prayers.[4] In support of this position it is noted that a congregation is always required to ensure that the Torah is rolled to the exact place from where it will be read prior to the start of services in order to ensure that there will be no violation of "tircha d'tzibura" by forcing the congregation to wait while it is rolled to the proper place.[5] Similarly, even when cantorial and musical pieces are in order, a chazzan must limit his performance and not unnecessarily lengthen the services due to considerations of "tircha d'tzibura".[6] A rabbi who wishes to pray slower than most of the congregation or otherwise intends to extend his prayers should be sure to instruct the one leading services not to wait for him.[7]

Nevertheless, most congregations continue the practice of waiting for the rabbi to conclude his prayers before moving on in the service and it seems that doing so is actually an ancient custom.[8] Those who support the practice argue that it allows the congregation the peace of mind to know that the prayers will not be rushed. This encourages people to recite their prayers slowly and with more concentration.[9] Some authorities maintain that this custom is so important that any congregation that does not wait for its rabbi should not expect to have their prayers received favorably before God. It is also explained that waiting for the rabbi to conclude his prayers is a form of showing honor for the Torah, which he represents.[10] There are even some authorities who rule that the rabbi is not permitted to instruct the one leading services not to wait for him to finish his prayers.[11]

Nevertheless, the rabbi should never intentionally keep the congregation waiting by reciting his prayers exceptionally slowly.[12] It is recorded that whenever Rabbi Akiva prayed in the synagogue he would shorten his prayers in order not to inconvenience the congregation by making them wait for him. Only when he was alone would he pray at length.[13] A rabbi who shows no consideration for his congregation and the principles of "tircha d'tzibura" will be forced to justify such conduct upon reaching the Heavenly Gates.[14]

[1] See for example: Yoma 70a; Megilla 24:1; OC 53:11; Rema, OC 124:3.

[2] OC 124:4.

[3] OC 69:1.

[4] Rema, OC 124:3.

[5] Binyamin Zev 168.

[6] Berachot 31a; Rambam, Hilchot Tefilla 6:2.

[7] Aruch Hashulchan, OC 124:8; Pele Yoetz s.v. dibbur.

[8] Hillel Omer 48; Rivevot Ephraim 4:44:90.

[9] Magen Avraham 124:7; Mishna Berura 124:13.

[10] Teshuvot V'hanhagot 1:116.

[11] Piskei Teshuvot 124:6.

[12] Machatzit Hashekel 124:7.

[13] Berachot 31a.

[14] Pri Megadim, EA 124:3.