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Chapter 69:1-3
The Afternoon Service

1. Rav Chelbo quoted Rav Huna: "A person should always take extra care concerning the afternoon service, because it was only in the afternoon service that Elijah was answered, as [I Kings 18:36] states: "And it came to pass at the time for the afternoon offering , Elijah approached..." (Berochos 6b).

The reason for the unique importance of the afternoon service can be explained as follows: There is a predetermined time for the morning service; one should pray immediately upon rising, before one becomes involved with one's business affairs. Similarly, the evening service has a fixed time at night, after one has returned home and is free from one's affairs. In contrast, the afternoon service is recited in the midst of the day, while one is involved in his affairs. [In the midst of such activity,] he must concentrate his attention, turn away from whichever matters occupy him, and pray. Therefore, the reward for these prayers is great.

2. The most desirable time in which to recite the afternoon service begins at nine and one half hours past daybreak. This time is referred to as mincha k'tanoh. Under difficult circumstances,* one may recite the afternoon service after six and one half hours have passed since daybreak. This time is referred to as minchal g'doloh.

* { The Mishnoh B'rurah 233:1 mentions that many Rishonim maintain that the optimum time for the recitation of the afternoon service begins at six and one half hours past daybreak.}

The optimum time for the afternoon service continues until one and a quarter hours before nightfall, but no longer. The latter time is referred to as plag hamincha. [This represents half the time remaining until nightfall after mincha k'tana - i.e.,] mincha k'tana is two and one half hours before nightfall. Half that sum is one and a quarter hours.

After the fact or under difficult circumstances, one may recite these prayers until the appearance of the stars.* Indeed, the custom in most communities is to recite the afternoon service shortly before evening.

* {Preferably, the afternoon service should be recited before sunset. However, if one fails to do so, it may be recited after sunset.}

The times mentioned above are determined according to sho'os z'manios - seasonal hours. That is, the day is divided into twelve equal portions from the appearance of the sun until the time it sets.* Thus, [in the summer,] when the day may be eighteen hours long, an hours and a half is considered to be one of these "hours."

* {The Mogen Avraham suggests that concerning seasonal hours, the day be considered to be the period between alos hashachar (the first appearance of the sun's rays) and the appearance of the stars. The Kitzur Shulchon Oruch accepts this opinion concerning the recitation of the Shema (see Chapter 17, Law 1), but not with regard to the recitation of the afternoon service. The difference between the two is that the recitation of the Shema is required by Torah law, while the afternoon service is a Rabbinic institution. see Misgeres Hashulchon 1, Mishnoh B'rurah 233:4.}

3. It is forbidden to begin* eating even a small meal before - i.e., within a half hour of - mincha k'tana. There are some authorities who recommend leniency if one does not sit down to a fixed meal, but rather drinks or takes a snack of fruit or a cooked dish from the five species of grain. Nevertheless, one should be stringent in this regard.**

* {Nevertheless, it is permitted to continue eating a meal which was begun before mincha k'tanoh.}

** {The Shulchon Oruch, Orach Chayim 232:3 allows one to partake of a portion of bread less than the size of an egg at this time. Similarly, the Misgeres Hashulchon 2 mentions other leniencies.}

Similarly, one should not enter a bathhouse or begin having a haircut shortly before mincha k'tana.

[Stricter laws apply to] a large meal - e.g., a wedding or a bris. One is forbidden to begin such a feast before mincha g'doloh - i.e., from midday onward [before praying]. One should wait until mincha g'doloh and recite the afternoon service at that time, before beginning the feast.

In a place where the sexton calls the congregation to the synagogue services, a person who regularly attends those services in order to pray together with a minyan may begin a small meal before mincha k'tana and even afterwards, provided he stops what he is doing immediately upon hearing the call to prayer, and attends the services. [However, this leniency applies only to a small meal.] It is forbidden to start a large meal close to mincha g'doloh, even in a place where the sexton call the congregation to the synagogue services. This stringency should be followed concerning a feast to be started before mincha g'doloh.

   The Afternoon Service
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