[Avodah] Latecomers to shul on Friday night

Chana Luntz Chana at kolsassoon.org.uk
Thu Jul 23 08:21:33 PDT 2020

RAM wrote:
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.>>

And RAF suggested:

<<In an article entitled Changes in the Divine Service of the Synagogue due to Persecution, he brings evidence for several periods of anti Jewish persecutions in which certain prayers or practices were prohibited, giving rise to creative solutions. Though he does not deal with Me'eyn Sheva' (as far as I remember), the setting seems to work well. Perhaps Me'eyn Sheva came from a time when Jews had to pray outside the settlements, because they were praying in hiding, and thus had to watch out for each other's safety.>>

However it seems to me that this does not answer RAM's question, as the point RAM makes is that Me'en Sheva is a very short additional prayer, and doesn't seem to make much difference one way or the other.

Can I make a different suggestion (but again only a suggestion).  I have been looking at something called Teshuvat HaGeonim HaChadashot, which, according to Bar Ilan (which is where I sourced it) was published by Simcha Emanuel in Jerusalem, 1995, from a manuscript in the Baron Gunzberg library includes previously unpublished geonic responsa, as well as the writings of early provençal scholars. In it, in a discussion on the nature of kaddish found at siman 35, the presumably Gaonic author explains the locations of all the kaddishim and after explaining where they are in relation to Shachrit and Mincha (and why) he says

ולאחר ברכות של קרית שמע של ערבית מפני שתפלת ערבית רשות +ע' ברכות כז, ב+ ושמא יצא אדם מן הכנסת [אחר] דגמרו את הברכות של אמת ואמונה ולא יתפלל שמ[נ]ה עשרה ונמצא יוצא בלא קדיש.

" And after the blessings of reciting the shema of arvit because the prayer of arvit is reshut [Brachot 27b] and perhaps a person will go out from the synagogue after they finish the blessings of emet v’emunah and will not pray there with ten, and it will be that he will go out without kaddish."

That is, there was a genuine concern that because arvit was reshut, people might come to say shema together, and then leave, hence the kaddish after shema and before shmonei esrei of arvit.

Now, if that was a genuine concern, then maybe that also explains me'in sheva (especially if you understand me'in sheva as requiring, or at least being ideally, said with the community as a whole).  Maybe the point is that a latecomer, given that arvit is reshut, was likely simply to say shema and its blessings and not bother to say shmone esrei at all but simply walk out.  However with the incentive of saying me'in sheva together with the rest of the congregation, and with other people prepared to wait for him so that the me'en sheva would be communal, he would actually daven shmonei esrei in the presence of the minyan, so that he could then say me'en sheva with it.

>Akiva Miller

Kind regards


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