By Popular Demand: When is it permissible to begin praying Shacharit? Many individuals must arrive at their places of work at a very early hour in the morning and would like to know when the earliest possible time to pray Shacharit is.
Answer: Preferably, the time to pray Shacharit is from sunrise and on. This time is printed in many calendars. There is, nevertheless, an extra special Mitzvah to pray Shacharit at the moment the sun rises, as the verse states, “They shall fear you with the sun.”
Preferably, one should not begin praying until sunrise. Nevertheless, if one prays Shacharit before sunrise, if this was done after dawn which is calculated as seventy-two seasonal minutes before sunrise, one has fulfilled his obligation. However, if one prays before dawn, one has not fulfilled his obligation since this time is still allocated for the Arvit prayer.
Any reference to “prayer” or “praying Shacharit” in the context of this Halacha refers to the Shacharit Amida prayer, for all other portions of the Shacharit prayer may be recited before sunrise as long as dawn has passed even preferably.
Thus, the Poskim write that workers who must arrive at their jobs early in the morning and only have a short time to pray may act leniently and pray before sunrise even preferably once dawn has arrived, for they are pressed for time and will not be able to pray later. This is especially true in the winter when sunrise is at a later hour and there will be individuals who will not have the opportunity to pray in the synagogue unless they are permitted to pray from dawn while relying on the Poskim who rule leniently on this matter.
For this reason, many synagogues hold a “Workers’ Minyan” before sunrise. Nevertheless, we must point out that an individual who has the ability to pray after sunrise may not join a workers’ Minyan, for only workers may pray in such a Minyan due to their pressing circumstances. An individual who does not possess pressing circumstances may not rely on this leniency and must wait to pray in a regular Minyan after sunrise.
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l rules that even if one knows that one will not be able to pray with any other Minyan besides for a workers’ Minyan, it is nevertheless preferable to wait and pray Shacharit alone after sunrise than to pray with a workers’ Minyan before sunrise. If this will cause one to forfeit praying with a Minyan on a constant basis, one should consult a halachic authority for further guidance.
When we have written above that dawn is approximately seventy-two minutes before sunrise, we must clarify that this refers to “seasonal” or “halachic” minutes. This means that the day is divided from sunrise to sunset into twelve equal parts; each of these parts is equivalent to one seasonal hour and each of these hours is divided into sixty seasonal minutes. Thus, in the winter when the days are shorter, each seasonal minute will be shorter than a regular, sixty-second minute while in the summer when the days are longer, each seasonal minute will likewise be longer than a regular minute. The seventy-two minutes before sunrise should be calculated in the above manner as well. Additionally, another fairly simple way to calculate dawn is by taking ten percent of the daytime minutes between sunrise and sunset and subtracting this amount from the time of sunrise to arrive at dawn. For example, if sunrise is at 6:30 AM and sunset is at 5:00 PM, there are 630 daytime minutes. Ten percent of this figure is 63. Thus, 63 minutes are subtracted from 6:30 AM and halachic dawn will therefore occur at 5:27 AM. This formula will yield the same results as the first formula of dividing the day into twelve equal parts, for the Poskim tell us that seventy-two seasonal minutes indeed equal one-tenth of the day’s daytime minutes. (In places outside of Israel, several Poskim, such as the Peri Chadash and Minchat Kohen, write that this time must be adjusted slightly in order to compensate for the latitudinal and longitudinal discrepancies between Israel and other locations.)
Note: The above formulas for calculating halachic dawn apply in Israel as well as in the United States according to the Sephardic tradition. Ashkenazim have varying customs for calculating dawn as well as other halachic times throughout the day and should consult their own Poskim and calendars.
Summary: One should not pray Shacharit before sunrise. Workers who must leave to their jobs very early and have no other choice but to pray at a very early hour may begin praying Shacharit from dawn which is seventy-two seasonal minutes before sunrise.
In the next Halacha we shall discuss the order of the Shacharit prayer for workers and others who must pray early because they are pressed for time.