Rabbi Meir Orlian
Shlomi had just entered the corporate world. He checked the Minchah directory and was happy to find out that there was a Minchah minyan in a small shul right next to his workplace.
When he went to daven there, Shlomi discovered that there was also a Shacharis minyan at 8:15 each morning, ending by 9 a.m. After consulting his Rav, he decided to avoid rush hour travel and daven at 8:15 near his workplace.
A few months later, Shlomi’s work hours were changed and he had to begin at 8 a.m. To accommodate the change, he began davening at a very early Shacharis minyan near his home.
One day Shlomi woke up late. He decided that he would daven at the 8:15 minyan and stay at work an extra hour to compensate. He was greeted by the gabbai. “Where have you been? We’ve missed you recently! Sometimes we were one short for a minyan.”
“My schedule switched,” Shlomi replied. “I have to clock in at 8.”
“Great! That means you’re here anyway,” said the gabbai. “Can’t you clock in and then join us? This way you even get paid for davening!”
“I never considered that,” said Shlomi. “The truth is that it wouldn’t really affect my work. That hour is very slow and my absence will barely make a difference.”
“Think about it!” said the gabbai, slapping him on the back. “Why is it any different than Minchah?”
Shlomi walked back to his office, absorbed in thought. “Is there any difference? Or maybe I shouldn’t be leaving work for Minchah, either?”
Shlomi picked up the phone and called Rabbi Dayan. “What is the rule about davening at work?” he asked. “Can I leave work to daven Minchah? Does it count as a lunch break? Can I clock in before davening Shacharis?”
“The answer to these questions varies from place to place and from circumstance to circumstance,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “It is not possible to give a single, definitive answer.”
“Why is that?” asked Shlomo.
“The guiding principle regarding work terms is: hakol k’minhag hamedinah — everything in accordance with common practice,” Rabbi Dayan replied. “A contract, as detailed as it is, cannot cover every single aspect of an agreement. Therefore, for anything not explicitly addressed in the contract, the default assumption is that the employer and employee agree to the customary practices of that time and place — hours, working conditions, vacations, benefits, etc.” (C.M. 331:1).
“An employee also has to realize that his work time is precious and that the employer is paying him for his work,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “Our Sages even allowed workers to recite an abbreviated Shemoneh Esrei and a shorter bentching in certain situations so as not to waste our boss’s time. Although this is no longer the practice, since employers nowadays are not particular about the additional minute and hire with this understanding, it underscores the need to work with integrity and not waste the employer’s time” (O.C. 110:2; 191:1-2).
“The Rambam (Hilchos Sechirus 13:6-7), cited by the Shulchan Aruch (C.M. 337:19-20), sets forth the required work ethic:
“‘Just as the employer is warned not to steal the wages of a poor laborer and should not withhold them, so too, the poor [employee] is warned not to steal the work of the employer and waste time a little here and a little there, spending the whole day unproductively, but must be meticulous with his time. He must work with all his energy…’
“Getting back to davening, the answer to your questions depends on what is customary in that time and place,” concluded Rabbi Dayan. “In many places it is customary nowadays to allow workers a short break during the course of the day to daven Minchah with a minyan. Whether this counts as the lunch break varies from locale to locale and from job to job. On the other hand, it is almost never accepted to daven Shacharis after clocking in, and you would need explicit permission from your boss to do so.”