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Yesterday morning, we didn't get a minyan. We were wondering if the ark should have been opened for "Avinu Malkeinu" despite the fact that there was no minyan in shul.

I'm unaware that there is any problem in doing this, but I'm not sure if opening the ark for certain prayers requires a minyan to do so. Is the ark opened only if there is a minyan? Is that halacha or minhag? - Must it be opened for these prayers? Would there be any prohibition in doing it with no minyan?

  • You should have sticked to the Yekke custom of not saying AM! :-) judaism.stackexchange.com/a/83963/15256 – Kazi bácsi Jul 2 '18 at 17:41
  • @mbloch "the gabbai will do it to prepare the sifrei Torah,.." Good point. But there may be something specific attached to tefilla even when there's no minyan. E.g. a yachid does nefillat apayim in a shul that has an Aron. My point is that the combo of the specific tefillah and its location has a role in certain parts of tefilla. Perhaps those aspects apply to the specific prayers where the ark should be opened even if a yachid (i.e. less than 10) is / are present in a shul. – DanF Jul 2 '18 at 20:49
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Since I and two rabbanim I asked didn't find classical sources addressing this case, I think we have to break down your question into three

  1. Are you forbidden from opening the ark?

  2. Do you have to open the ark?

  3. Should you open the ark?

You are clearly not forbidden from opening the ark. A yachid that wants to pray in a shul in front of an open ark can do so. The gabbai will open it to prepare the sifrei Torah and a bar mitsva will open it with his teacher when learning to chant the parasha.

On the other side, we do not find a halacha that you have to open the ark. It is a custom amongst Ashkenazim, see e.g., here (citing Mateh Efraim 619/46 and Otzar Minhagei Chabad 199 in name of Sefer Haminhagim) but Sefaradim don't do so.

The more difficult question is whether you should have done so? On one side, the whole point of opening the ark is to inspire the kahal which also works without a minyan. On the other, Hazal prescribed a certain form to the tfila b'tzibur which we are not deviating from. For instance, you don't read the Torah publicly if there is no minyan even if you theoretically could (possibly without blessings).

It is more a question of "halachic sensitivity". The two rabbanim I asked said that, since it was a custom when praying in minyan, one shouldn't do so when praying without. One suggested that, if the majority of the tzibur wanted it, there is nothing to prevent it, but it shouldn't be the default option.

Since other rabbanim might rule differently, as always, CYLOR.

  • Appreciate the research. I think you (I) presented a "stumper", here. I'm curious as to how the 2nd rav came to the conclusion "if the majority of the tzibur wanted it, it would be possible". In particular, when this occurred in my shul, it was more of a question - "Should we do it or not?" I.e., the decision doesn't matter either way, but the question arises, so there is some "interest". And, had there been a rav, they would have deferred to his opinion. Since he was out, they deferred to mine, as I'm, apparently, the most "knowledgable" among them. – DanF Jul 5 '18 at 17:43
  • If you can inquire what he would say in this situation, I think we can get some better sense of his analysis. Generally, we don't go by "if the majority of the cong. wants it" with regard to common minhagim such as this one. – DanF Jul 5 '18 at 17:45
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    His point was "one shouldn't do it lechathila - but there is nothing to prevent a congregation that wants to do it". He said clearly that, if asked, he would have said not to do it. – mbloch Jul 5 '18 at 17:51
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    @DanF If I'm understanding the the answer here, the idea is that while there might not be any concrete source that one can point to and say 'Look! It's forbidden!', there is a general hesitancy against doing 'rituals' in a manner different from how they were established. – Salmononius2 Jul 5 '18 at 19:06
  • @mbloch Thanks for clarifying. All interesting points. I would still offer a rebuttal on both rabbi's assumption that one should not do without a minyan. 1) There's no prohibition and 2) The custom of doing so when praying with a minyan does not automatically presume that when there is no minyan one does not do so. Even within your answer, there is a concept of "inspiring the kahal". I think a better analysis is stating that the definition of a kahal means at least 10 people. IIRC, I think Gem. Brachot uses that term or the word eidah, which seems synonymous. – DanF Jul 5 '18 at 21:14

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