Timing Tefillah

Davening is such an individual matter. Some people will daven their silent Shemoneh Esrai in 2 minutes and others will take 9 minutes or more. Most Shacharis Minyanin are end-time focused so the time for the silent Shemoneh Esrai is somewhat constrained, but at Minchah and Maariv there is a little more leeway.

There are basically three options for choosing Silent Shomoneh Esrai Times at Mincha and Maariv:
– have an official time range
– have an unofficial time range
– have no set times and hope people will wisely use their discretion

I haven’t found many Shuls with an official time range. This is probably because it puts too much pressure on the Baal Tefillah and puts too much power into the hands of the mispallim, to give a “Nu Nu” when the official time expires. The benefits of an official time range is that everybody knows the performance requirements and everybody is on the same page.

Many Shuls have an unofficial time range. The reason this usually works is that the total length of the minyan is generally known and the Baal Tefillah usually keeps within that range. There is some wiggle room if the Baalei Tefillah isn’t aware of the timing or doesn’t meet the performance requirements. The downsides are that there could be a 2-5 minute variation from one day to the next and the Baal Tefillah will sometimes daven fast and wait or daven too slow and have to speed up because they miscalculated.

Some places have no set rules. In fact one place I know of explicitly states that it is a slow davening minyan, although exactly what that means is not defined. These places are an oasis for slow davening Baalei Tefillah, but can be difficult for the mispallim. I remember a 26 minute Mincha, which is considerably longer than the slow and respectable 15-18 minute minyan that we usually find there.

An additional problem can arise when the Rabbi of the Shul is davening. In some places, it is a common etiquette to wait for the Rabbi to finish their Shemoneh Esrai and then to start the repetition (or the Kaddish at Maariv) when he steps back (if there are enough people finished). In those situations, the Baal Tefillah can daven their silent Shemoneh Esrai on the fast side, so as not to be caught flat-footed. However if one wants to make every Tefillah count, then that’s not always a great alternative. Perhaps a minimum time for the silent Shemoneh Esrai would make sense in these situation, but I haven’t seen it enacted yet.

Some people sigh when they read a post about Timing Tefillah, but our service to Hashem and our consideration for others often intersects at a place called Shul Politics.