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Before Birkas Kohanim, the Levi'im wash the Kohanim's hands. In many communities, this occurs during the chazzan's repitition of Shemoneh Esrei, and in a room outside the main shul.

Normally, there need to be nine people paying attention to the chazzan's repetition. What if, during the hand-washing, less than ten people remain in the shul? Should the chazzan pause until they come back?

  • Why didn't they just wash before-hand? – Double AA Oct 24 '14 at 19:25
  • @DoubleAA Because they had the custom to do it during the repetition. – Ypnypn Oct 24 '14 at 19:38
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    I thought once you started any given part of the service with a minyan, you continue as if there is a minyan. E.g., Torah reading, Barchu, etc. – Charles Koppelman Oct 24 '14 at 19:39
  • @CharlesKoppelman Yes, but perhaps that is where you lost it for good. – Double AA Oct 24 '14 at 19:40
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    @DoubleAA I've never seen a community that duchans which doesn't have that custom :) After kedusha, there's often an announcement made like, "Kohanim and Leviim, please prepare for duchaning." – Charles Koppelman Oct 24 '14 at 19:41
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In a Shul that I Davened there was such an issue and the Kohanim would go out prior to the beginning of the Chazaras Hashatz and have their hands washed and Chazaras Hashatz began when they came back into the Shul.

I was once in a different community where they installed a sink in the back of the Bais Medrash as they had this problem too.

From Din.org - page 3 I see another idea what can be done in such a situation:

If the majority of the Minyan stays in the Shul and they leave the door of the Shul open in a way that the Kohanim and Leviyim can still see the ones remaining in the Shul that would still be considered a Minyan (Orach Chaim 55:14 Biur Halacha).

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You asked:

What if, during the hand-washing, less than ten people remain in the shul? Should the chazzan pause until they come back?

The answer is: The Chazzan continues as usual.

Source: The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch in 15:10 gives the rules what to do when the Minyan disappears:

אִם אֵין בְּבֵית הַכְּנֶסֶת רַק מִנְיָן מְצֻמְצָם, אָסוּר לְכָל אֶחָד מֵהֵם לָצֵאת, וְעַל הַיּוֹצֵא נֶאֱמָר וְעוֹזְבֵי ה' יִכְלוּ. אֲבָל אִם יִשָּׁאֲרוּ עֲשָׂרָה, יְכוֹלִים הַיְתֵרִים לָצֵאת, אִם כְּבָר שָׁמְעוּ בָּרְכוּ, וּקְדֻשָּׁה וְהַקַּדִּישִׁים עַד לְאַחַר עָלֵינוּ. ‏

Intro: You really shouldn't walk out. (Not an option in our case.)

וּבְדִיעֲבַד אִם לֹא נִשְׁאֲרוּ עֲשָׂרָה, יְכוֹלִין לִגְמֹר גַּם בְּלֹא עֲשָׂרָה (רַק שֶׁיִּהְיוּ רֹב מִנְיָן) אֵת הָעִנְיָן שֶׁהִתְחִילוּ בַּעֲשָׂרָה,

If they walked out, you continue what you're doing until the end of that section. Specifically:

וְאִם הִתְחִיל הַשְּׁלִיחַ צִבּוּר לַחְזֹר אֵת הַתְּפִלָּה, גּוֹמֵר הַחֲזָרַת כָּל הַתְּפִלָּה וְאוֹמְרִים קְדֻשָּׁה, וְגַם אוֹמֵר אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ בָּרְכֵנוּ בִּבְרָכָה וְכוּ', אֲבָל אֵין הַכֹּהֲנִים נוֹשְׂאִין אֵת כַּפֵּיהֶם, ‏

If you're in the repetition of the Amida, you finish, including Kedusha, but the Cohanim cannot do Birkat Cohanim. (In our case, they'd be back - so Birkat Cohanim would happen.)

וְגַם אֵין אוֹמְרִים קַדִּישׁ לְאַחַר הַשְּׁמוֹנֶה עֶשְׂרֵה, כִּי הֵמָּה עִנְיָנִים אֲחֵרִים (כָּךְ כָּתַב הַפְּרִי חָדָשׁ וְעוֹד מֵהָאַחֲרוֹנִים ז"ל)‏

You also cannot say Kaddish after the Amida. (Could happen in our case if they go out to wash after having touched their shoes when putting them back on.)

וְאִם הִתְחִילוּ לִקְרֹת בַּתּוֹרָה בַּעֲשָׂרָה, וְיָצְאוּ מִקְּצָתָן, גּוֹמְרִין אֶת הַקְּרִיאָה, אֲבָל אֵין מוֹסִיפִין, וְגַם אֵין קוֹרִין לְמַפְטִיר, אֶלָּא הָאַחֲרוֹן שֶׁבְּמִנְיַן הַקְּרוּאִים, קוֹרֵא אֵת הַהַפְטָרָה בְּלֹא בְּרָכוֹת. (נ"ה קמ"ג) ‏‏

If you lose you Minyan during Kriat HaTorah, you can call up the 7 minimum, but no more, and the last (7th) Aliya says the Haftara without Brachot. (Not related to our case.)

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    Why is it not an option? Perhaps they should not Duchan? Or perhaps they should rely on their washing from earlier? Or perhaps the Chazzan should pause until they return since he knows they will? – Double AA Oct 26 '14 at 16:05
  • @DoubleAA It's not an option because a gabbai already said, "go out and wash!" and little did he know that 30 of the 35 men in the room were Kohanim and Leviim! – Charles Koppelman Oct 27 '14 at 0:03
  • @DoubleAA The OP asked "What if, during the hand-washing, less than ten people remain in the shul? Should the chazzan pause until they come back?" I answered that. You're asking another [interesting] question. – Danny Schoemann Oct 27 '14 at 10:13
  • You answered it but as indicated above you haven't justified your answer. Perhaps he should pause because he knows they are coming back and the case in your sources is where th minyan is assumed to be lost for good. – Double AA Oct 27 '14 at 13:13
  • @charles they can cycle. You never need more than one kohein out at a time. – Double AA Jun 16 at 1:41
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Lechatechilah, it shouldn't happen. Instead, for Ashkenazim, they should either wash their hands before Yishtabach or before the Chazarah, or have the Shaliach Tzibbur pause for them to go out. Sepharadim rely on their morning Netilah and refrain from compromising on the Minyan to go wash again. See this article on YUTorah for all the details and opinions.

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