Far Rockaway, NY – The Vasikin Minyan People


    Painting by Borris DubrovFar Rockaway, NY – They are the proud. The few. The brave.

    They are those who awaken at the crack of dawn and Daven at the moment of sunrise. They are the Vasikin Minyan people and they are a unique breed.

    In the Five Towns/ Far Rockaway Area there are three such Minyanim, also called Naitz HaChama Minyanim. One group meets in the Young Israel of Woodmere. This one started about five years ago. Another group meets in the Agudah of Long Island. And a third group meets upstairs in the Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.

    These Minyanim are found all over the country. They exist in Lakewood, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Monsey and in numerous other cities.

    Lakewood, for example, also has three such Minyanim. One is found in Bais Midrash Gavoha itself. Another is in a shul called Kol Shimshon located on Squankum Road, and there is a third Chasidishe one as well.

    Generally speaking, the minyanim always start at T minus 30 before sunrise during the weekdays (i.e. 30 minutes before sunrise). Yishtabach is usually always at T minus ten minutes. The recitation of Shma is at 5 minutes and thirty seconds prior to sunrise. VeYatziv is 2.5 minutes. And Tehilas is 45 seconds before sunrise.

    But unique breeds of people do not always agree on everything. The two Far Rockaway based Vasikin Minyanim started off as one, but, about six years ago, they split into Nusach Sefard and Nusach Ashkenaz Minyanim when they got too big. In Lakewood and in Brooklyn there are debates as to whether to begin the repetition of the Shmoneh Esreh at 6.5 minutes or at 7 minutes after the Naitz.

    Indeed, there are even wars as to whether to call it “Naitz” or “HaNaitz” – many people claiming that the Hebrew letter “Hay” is not a Hay HaYediah – (a definite article), but rather part of the Hebrew verb HaNatzah – sprouting.

    Most of the Minyanim use specially prepared calendars listing exact times of sunrise for exact latitudal longitudal coordinates prepared by Rabbi Premock in Monsey. There is a Zmanim hotline as well where one merely has to press in one’s zip code, and voila – the hotline gives the exact time of sunrise (718-331-8463).

    The unique breed of Vasikin people always try to get more and more exacting. In Lakewood, for example, they adjust the time based upon temperature. Yes, you read that correctly. The way it works is as follows: The mean temperature for that coordinate is established for that particular time. In Lakewood, for example, the mean temperature for the month of Kislev (roughly December) is 40 degrees Fahrenheit. For every two degrees below the mean temperature the Vasikin people go one second earlier. For every two degrees above the mean temperature they delay the timing for one second. Where this calculation came from, exactly, is not so clear, but it is growing in popularity.

    In Baltimore, the technology utilized by the Vasikin Minyan people is even more sophisticated. There, the barometric pressure is determined and adjustments are made accordingly as well. Word is that Lakewood is looking into adopting this measure soon too.

    A common denominator of most of these Minyanim is the zero talking. “This, however, usually goes with the territory of being very careful in halachic observance,” remarked one observer.

    Meanwhile, back in the Five Towns/Far Rockaway Vasikin Minyanim these two technological issues came up, and one of the minyan regulars was able to pose the question to Rav Elyashiv Shlita. His response? “Forget it! It is Naarish.”

    Are things getting out of control here? True, the Shulchan Aruch does imply that the essential Mitzvah of prayer is at sunrise and that davening later seems to be a b’dieved. But somehow, things may be beyond what the sages meant.

    How so? It is reported that the Chazon Ish prayed Vasikin every morning and yet he did not even allow a clock in the room. The Vilna Gaon is of the opinion that one may be off by as much as two minutes in either direction and still receive credit for davening Vasikin.

    Nonetheless, the situation is not improving. It is reported that in one of these Vasikin Minyanim someone actually passed out and everyone just continued. This happened not once, but twice.

    Will some people read this article and decide that they too will join this unique breed of people? Perhaps. But for some others, it might be worthwhile to know that the latest Minyan in Lakewood is on Forest Avenue at 11:30 AM.

    Five Towns Jewish Times/VIN News By Rabbi Yair Hoffman,The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com

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    1. I am also part of that……vasikin group. There are many benedfits besides being l’chatchila versus bide’veed at least according to some. Rav Avigdur Miller used to quip that vasikin minyonim usually don’t have a Rav to give to’chucha.

    2. Since youalready started with the Vasikin thing, You would do the ‘early- wirds’ (which I am proudly part of) a great service by collecting and publishing a list of ALL Vasikin minyonim in North America (Week-day and Shabbos/ yom Tov) &/or the world at large.
      You would the “heard it here first” guys.

    3. Beautiful Breslov minyan in Lakewood on Seventh St.
      Davened there a couple times, they have a short rekud( derech Breslov) after the minyan, great way to start the day with a smile.

    4. I’m really impressed. It brings to my lips, Mi Ke’amcho Yisroel… So many Yiden who are Meleioh Mitzvos Kerimoin, so many Ehrlicha Yiden who are Medakdekim Bekalla Kebechamirah, whether in New York or in New Zealand against all odds. The Geulah must already be around the corner.

    5. Neitz minyan(im) at the Kotel. It’s always special davening at the Kotel, but especially so at neitz. If you’ve never done so, you must!

      It is probably the only place in the world where there are several neitz minyanim davening side by side. And being outside, you can actually see the sun coming out (and feel its warmth) at the moment of neitz

      In addition, each minyan davens at its own pace, all coming together in silence at practically the exact moment for the amida. A true moment of beautiful achdus!. Minutes later, one by one, each minyan begins chazaras hashatz.

    6. The proud, the few and the brave are words stolen to describe the United States Marine Corps who put their LIVES on the line every single day so EVERYONE in this country can be free. To say the same of people who pray when they wake up is a slight to our military.

        • I get up at 5:50am every morning, and work 11 hour days. I get up in the dark, I go home in the dark…..so that makes me part of the few, proud and brave?? So, to answer your question: no, I dont think praying in a safe country makes you BRAVE at all.

    7. In Williamsburg there’s a vasikin minyan every day for the past 50 years in the big Satmar shul on Rodney st., except for shabbos and yom tov, breslav in Willi has it also on shabbos and y”t.

    8. I want to ask all those v’sikin daviners, How often do they visit their father or mother and are m’kayim a mitzvas eseh from the torah. How often do you call your parents. Do your children call their grandparents? AHH, you do it when you get around to it..
      Many are interesting people who put all their life and energy into v’siken and hold it up as a flag of frumkeit.

      By the way in Europe before the war, even thou there are dinim on shiurim, no one ever took measurements. The holy Chofetz Chaim ZT”l gave very specific measurements to be yotzeh the 4 cups on Pesach. Ask any of the Chofetz Chaim grandchildren and they will tell you that His becher that he made the arba Kosos (4 Cups) was much smaller than his shiur. This measuring business is an american deal.

      • to # 15 – I have been reading this blog for a few years and it took your comment to finally have me post something. Why would it bother you so much that someone davens Vasikin, that you would then ask if he calls his parents etc. Your question has to rank up there as one of the most ridiculous post I have seen on this site.

    9. Another great article from Rabbi Hoffman!

      The few, the proud, the brave was meant tongue in cheek…speaking of which, Sender Hirth, founder of the Far Rockaway Neitz minyan, often provides food after davening. These days, davening begins around 6:40am, but in June, that’s when they separate the Neitz men from the boys.

    10. The business about temperature is very interesting, although I agree with those who say that it is Obsessive Compulsive Yiddishkeit and not what the RBSH intended, to worry about an extra second or two. The reasoning is as follows:

      From physics we know that the amount in which light bends depends on the relative index of refraction between the two media according to Snell’s Law n1 sin theta1=n2 sin theta2. Light bends more towards the normal (vertical) when going from a less optically dense medium to a more dense medium. The optical density of the atmosphere depends on the density of air which in turn depends on pressure and temp (higher temp or lower pressure means less dense, from ideal gas law PV=nRT). When the sun is below the horizon we still see its rays because of atmospheric scattering, and these rays will bend more towards the normal in cooler temp than in warmer. So we see sun earlier in cooler temps, later in warmer temps.

      This same principle explains why we see reflections off of roads in hot weather. The rays bend away from the hot air at surface of hot pavement towards the cooler air above (at eye level) so road appears to be a mirror or reflecting puddle.

    11. The gemorrah in brochos (9b) says that Rav Bruna (who loves mitzvos) davened vaiskin one morning and had a smile on his face the rest of the day. I have a few thoughts: (1) Did he adjust for barometric pressure and temperature? Did he have an atomic clock to get the time down to the second? My guess is this is the reason the Godol Hador is quoted as saying “narishkeit”. (2) Did Rav Bruna do it every day? Apparently not from a simple reading of the gemorah, and apparently neither did most anyone else. (3) Why are the vasikin guys I know the most ‘non-smiling’ people in the entire shul?

      • They’re the most unsmiling because they weren’t able to daven properly the day they met you of course. Or are you saying you were the only one smiling the one day you accidentally davened with them because you were up all night, and thought it was funny that you actually made minyan that day?

    12. (Continued) However, I was disgusted that people care more about making exact zman than about somebody who passed out and could be in a sakanas nefashos, chas vshalom. Halevai yeshiva bochurim should study physics where it is relevant (parnasa, creating new medical devices, or yishuv haolam, rather than where it is unnecessary.)

      BTW, previous post is based on the book Optics, 4th ed. by Hecht chap 3-4. He explains that scattered rays of sun can bend up to 18 degrees making its light visible even before sunrise and after sunset. It is interesting that if we assume the Earth rotates 360 deg/24 hr, that is 15 degrees per hour. 18 degrees then works out to exactly 1.2 hours or 72 minutes. That is exactly the shiur of Rabbeinu Tam between shkiah and tzeis (i.e., between sunset and cesssation of all remaining rays)! I suppose other Rishonim would learn that one doesn’t need complete absence of sun’s rays for stars to be visible. They can still be seen earlier when some of the sun’s rays are still present.

    13. Let’s not fool ourselves: Most of the Vasikin members are people who have a problem with sleep. No Frumkeit involved att all.
      By the way: I said “most” not “all”…

    14. I davened neitz with my Yeshiva at the Kosel twenty years ago on Shavuos and it was a great experience that I remember happily to this moment. Unfortunately, I have to help my wife in the morning and have to daven quickly b’yachid. One day…

    15. I say if one can daven vosikin b’kavana and behislahavus, fine, if not better daven at a reasonable hour for you and don’t walk around like a zombie all day! Whatever happened to “v’tov lev mishte tomid” that’s also a halacha in Shulchan Aruch, the last one in O”C.

    16. By the way. For those people who are so machmir on the seconds with shmonei esray, which says no place. Maybe they should hold Rabeinu Tam zman Motzei Shabbos. The holy rabbeinu Tam says that before that zman its still shabbos. So either way. Its either still shabbos. or you would be m’kayim tosfos shabbos. It is definately a more worthy endeavor if you are such a minute and second pincher.

    17. Someone once said it well. “Its a shame they dont wash hands in private and eat Moror on pesach in public.” Explanation – When people do something in public when others see they act more frum than they are. Lets see if you would eat two kzayis moror in public.

    18. Thanks for a fine article!

      A few points –

      1) The correct term is is a minyan Kivosikin, not just minyan vosikin. The real vosikin lived in ancient times. We are just trying to follow in their footsteps in this regard.

      2) I don’t get what the author meant when he wrote “Nonetheless, the situation is not improving. It is reported that in one of these Vasikin Minyanim someone actually passed out and everyone just continued. This happened not once, but twice.” I think he was trying to be funny, but I think that doesn’t belong in a serious article. Maybe R. Hoffman can explain to us what he meant.

      3) I believe that a number of vosikin minyonim started due to R. Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg of Yeshiva Torah Ohr in Eretz Yisroel. The way I heard it, he is makpid to daven vosikin. Over the years he has travelled to various places for his Yeshiva, etc., and in such places, people made vosikin minyonim for him when he was visiting. In some cases, once the minyan was made, it continued on even after he left.

      4) Re calling vosikin mispallelim brave – I think it is fitting, since they venture out in the dark, while others are sleeping.

    19. What would you call people who Daven at a “Terach’s Minyon”?
      More brave?!
      I Daven at such a Minyon, and, there is absolutely no talking whatsoever.
      Also, no one has ever fainted. Once, however, there was a bit of a ruckus caused by a M’shuloch who was unhappy with a donation and used profanity in a foreign language to express his displeasure. He was promptly escorted out (by a speaker of the foreign language).
      We also watch the clock religiously (a bad pun!).
      Our Shul’s motto could be:
      “U’s’filosom M’heiro B’ahavo S’kabeil”
      (Taken from Nusach S’fard ).
      This can easily be mistranslated as: When the T’filois are quick, they are accepted with love.
      (We do, however, not rush our Davening, just go quickly.)

    20. The vasikin idea is great but not when it’s at the expense of the family. Inorder to wake up early, you gotta go to sleep early which means an excuse not to help with the children or go out even to such as a simcha with your wife because… you have to wake up early!

    21. It is close to narrishkeit. The Beur Halocho clearly rules (and this is also the opinion of almost all the gedolim of Eretz Yisroel) that netz is when you SEE the first point of the sun. Only an ant swimming on the sea would observe the sunrise at the time that is close to what these minyanim are calculating. For example, a person of average height standing on the seashore will see the sun rise approximately 20 seconds earlier. On the Eastern seaboard, the visikim minyanim are typically 100 meter above sea level. If they have a clear view of the ocean, then the sun can be observed to rise a full two minutes earlier!

    22. The exact timing to the second is obsessive-compulsive behavior without a doubt. These people need professional help.

      As far as their being “brave” for getting up in the dark, this is quite amusing. Soldiers are brave. But vasikin? Give me a break. They get up a little early and want a medal of courage? That’s just typical litvish yuhara. Come to Israel and talk to my boys, they will tell you what bravery is.

    23. I don’t really understand the big deal about waking up “early” for vasikin. Most of us doctors and a lot of other professionals routinely wake up at five everyday. I wish I can sleep late to 7:20 to daven. A lot of us don’t have that luxury and need to routinely daven with alos (especially this time of year).


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