34. Eating Before Prayer

8:1 If one prayed when the day breaks, which is when the first light of the sun can be seen in the East, he has fulfilled his obligation. Therefore, this is considered the start of the time for prayer and a person may not begin any work, conduct his business or start on a journey before praying. This concept is reflected in Psalms (85:14), where it says, “Righteousness will go before him and he will make a path of its footsteps.” “Righteousness” refers to prayer, since in it we recognize God’s righteousness. Only after prayer do we follow in the path of our normal activities. (Before daybreak, when it is too early to pray, one may do work; see Mishnah Brurah 89:17.)

8:2 A person may not eat or drink before praying. If one does, the verse “You cast Me behind your back” applies to him (I Kings 14:9). The word gavecha (“your back”) can also be understood as “your pride.” It’s like a person thinks he’s so important that he can take care of his own needs before paying attention to his Creator. There is room to be lenient in the case of older or weaker people, or on days when the prayer service is very long, though one should preferably not even drink sweetened coffee or tea without first accepting God’s Kingship upon himself. (Water is permissible, as are unsweetened coffee and tea. See Mishnah Brurah 89:22 for more on coffee or tea before prayer.) A sick person can eat even more substantial food before praying, as can someone who legitimately cannot concentrate on his prayers without doing so.