[Avodah] Latecomers to shul on Friday night

Akiva Miller akivagmiller at gmail.com
Thu Jul 2 05:12:53 PDT 2020

In their "Halacha Yomis" yesterday, the OU gave the following explanation
of why Mei'ein Sheva (also known by its middle section, Magen Avos) was
added to the Friday night service. (They gave a second reason too, but this
is the one I want to ask about.)

> The Babalonian Talmud (Shabbos 24b) relates that the recitation
> of Mei'ein Sheva was instituted to prevent a potential sakana
> (danger). Rashi (Shabbos 24b) explains that in the days of the
> Mishnah, shuls were located outside of the cities where it was
> not safe to be alone at night. The Rabbis were concerned that
> people who came late to shul might be left alone while finishing
> to daven. To give latecomers a chance to catch up and finish
> davening with everyone else, Chazal extended the davening by
> adding Mei'ein Sheva.

I've heard this same explanation many times from many sources, but I've
never understood it. Mei'ein Sheva is shorter than a single page in most
siddurim - does its presence really lengthen the service significantly?

If the shuls were outside the cities, it must have taken a certain amount
of time to get home, and even to get to the outskirts of the city. Were the
latecomers unable to catch up to their neighbors? Were the on-time people
unwilling to stay in shul for the one or two minutes needed for the
latecomers to finish?

If this problem was sufficiently significant for Chazal to enact this
measure, there were probably several latecomers every week, not just a
single latecomer now and then. If so, couldn't the latecomers simply wait
for each other, even if the on-time people rushed to get home?

There's something that I'm missing about the realities of how those
minyanim were organized, the speed they davened at, and/or the dangers
lurking about. Can anyone explain the story better? Thank you in advance.

Akiva Miller
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