Thursday, December 24, 2009

Finding Minyans, Part 1

When you're trying to find a minyan of 10 men with which to say kaddish at morning, afternoon, and evening services, it is a challenge to be away from a home or from home base. And sometimes it is even a challenge when you are home and live about 100 yards from your shul.

Many tools are needed, or at least sometimes helpful, to find these services. Even when you do, they are not always what you expect.

Among the tools I have found somewhat helpful:

Regional minyan schedules, see, e.g., a minyan map (so far so good) or godaven ("trust but verify")

You will need to know not only where there is a place to pray, but also something about when to pray.

Permissible prayer times are all connected to the various times of day when the sun is at this or that position in the sky. Which also means that where you are physically (your latitude and longitude) matters.

  • There's dawn, and then there's the earliest time you can put on a tallit and tfillin.
  • There's the latest time you can say the morning sh'ma and fulfill that obligation.
  • There's the earliest time you can say afternoon prayers (mincha) and then the latest time you can say mincha and still be able to say the evening prayer before evening (no kidding!).
  • There's sunset, and then there's the latest time you can say the evening sh'ma (you are supposed to say it before "halachic" (i.e., legal) midnight.
See, e.g. my shul's calendar (note that you can change the date and location) and this other calendar I found after a 10 second google search.

Forget clocks. You need to divide the duration of the night by 12 to get the duration of a halachic hour, then take half of that amount of time and add it to the time of actual sunset. See this explanation. So in the winter, an hour at night may be more than 60 minutes long at night and less than 60 minutes long in daytime. And of course, in some places, day (or night) just doesn't end.

So unless you are very handy with these calculations, rely on the internet tools.

If the Iranians ever use an EMP weapon on us, we are so screwed.

And then there are different traditions that don't all calculate these things the same way.

And then there's an infinite number of unpredictables and intangibles. I'll have plenty of these to report about, as I have started a diary in order to remember some of the stuff that has happened.

And you also need prescience and a sense of humor. I found myself very angry this morning. I showed up at my shul for shacharit at 6:45 for the usual 6:50 a.m. morning services scheduled for Mondays and Thursdays when we read the torah and need a little extra time to get finished before going to work.

I found myself alone, the only one there. Nobody came. When 6:55 rolled around, I walked home very angry. I went to my e-mails and there was the daily shul e-mail indicating that today (December 24) and tomorrow, morning services would be at 8 a.m. When I returned at 8 a.m., there was a bar mitzvah. We did not finish until 9.

I guess nobody else had to go to work today.

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