“If someone greets his friend before prayer, it is as if he built a forbidden altar outside the Temple and sacrificed on it. Even though we find that at times one is permitted to greet his friend, even in the middle of his prayers, Chazal forbid going up to someone specifically for this purpose, before first reciting Shacharis” (Berachos 14a). Why is greeting one’s friend so terrible that it is compared to erecting an altar outside the Beis Hamikdash?
Making the effort to approach someone with a greeting is a way of giving honor. After waking up in the morning, our first act of honor should be directed toward Hashem. Even walking over to a friend in shul just to say hello is problematic (Mishnah Berurah 89,9).
If a person must speak with his friend for a different reason, e.g., he needs to borrow something before prayer, he is permitted to say good morning. In this instance, his greeting is not considered a special act of honor. He is just following normal etiquette that one practices when meeting a person.
Even in such circumstances, however, one should say good morning or some other expression of greeting, but should not use the word shalom, since in addition to meaning hello, it is also the Name of Hashem. It is improper to use the Divine name for a human being before mentioning it in tefillah (Mishnah Berurah 89,12). Just as a person may say good morning, he may shake his friend’s hand or offer him another form of salutation (Responsa of Shevet HaLevi 10,15).
The Zohar writes, “A person should not bless his friend until he has prayed to the Almighty” (Balak 190b). Even if a person chooses to follow the directive of the Zohar, he should do so only if his friend will not feel slighted. In this light, if one sees a new face in shul, he may go up to welcome him to the minyan (Otzar Chaim).
Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org