“Hunger and thirst are considered sickness. If a person can concentrate on tefillah before he eats, then he should do so. Otherwise he may eat before he prays” (Rambam, Tefillah 5,2). If a person is so hungry or thirsty that he cannot concentrate on his tefillah, his eating is for the sake of enabling him to pray. Therefore he is permitted to eat beforehand, and wouldn’t be considered “drawn after his body.” The Rambam implies that a person who is very hungry or thirsty is sick, and should eat before he prays. However, since the times of the Rambam, our level of concentration has dropped considerably. Therefore, it is not clear that the ruling of the Rambam would still apply today (Beis Yosef 89,4). Some authorities maintain that the Rambam’s directive still applies, and someone who will not be able to concentrate at all without first eating, should eat before he prays (Elyah Rabbah 89,10). Most reject this leniency unless a person feels extremely hungry or thirsty (Mishnah Berurah 89:25-26). Each person has to honestly evaluate his personal situation and consult with a rav and, if necessary, a doctor, in order to decide if it is imperative for him to eat before tefillah.
Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org