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 [email protected]

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