Question: Now that we are all unfortunately davening at home, must we always daven in the same spot (makom kavua) in our homes?
Short Answer: A person should designate a set spot in his or her home to daven, even if he or she lives alone.
I. Makom Kavua in General
The Gemara (B’rachos 6a) states that anyone who is “kovea makom lit’filaso,” i.e., designates a set spot to daven, will be protected by the G-d of Avraham, and when the person dies, he will be called “the humble one, the chasid, the talmid of Avraham.” Clearly, there is a significant virtue to designating a spot to daven.
However, the Rishonim dispute the meaning of this Gemara and the explanation of the phrase “designating a spot to daven.” The Rosh (B’rachos 1:6) explains that the Gemara means that a person should designate a set spot within shul to daven. He further cites a Yerushalmi that expressly states that one should daven in the same spot within a shul.
The Rabbeinu Yonah (B’rachos, 3b of Rif), on the other hand, interprets this Gemara as referring to davening at home. One who must daven at home for whatever reason should make sure that he has a set place to daven. This will enable him to have the proper mindset when davening and will allow him to focus solely on his davening. A designated place is unnecessary when davening in a shul because the entire area is designated for davening. The Rabbeinu Yonah likewise cites a different Yerushalmi in support of his position: that one who designates a set place in his house to daven, it is as if he enclosed that area with iron walls. [See Halachah B’rurah (90:32) that we do not have this version of the Yerushalmi].
Notably, the Kol Bo and the Ra’avan interpret the Gemara in a third way. The Gemara is requiring a person to choose one shul in which to daven and not to shtiebel-hop from one shul to the next. According to this opinion, there is no need to designate a set place either in shul or at home; choosing a set shul is sufficient.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 90:19) follows the opinion of the Rosh and rules that one should designate a set place in shul to daven.
II. Extension to the Home
The Magen Avraham (90:33), as followed by the Mishnah B’rurah (59), notes that one should also designate a set place at home to daven in order that he not be disturbed by others in his family. It is unclear, however, whether the Magen Avraham is (i) explaining that even the Rosh/Shulchan Aruch agree that one must designate a set place in his home to daven or (ii) is simply being machmir for the opinion of Rabbeinu Yonah.
The sefer Gam Ani Od’cha (Rav Gamliel Rabinovich, citing Rav Aharon Weissman, p. 8) interprets the Magen Avraham like the second view, that this is the opinion of Rabbeinu Yonah.
On the other hand, the Divrei Binyahu (18:9) interprets the Magen Avraham like the first view, that this is the opinion of the Rosh as well – that you should designate a set place to daven both in shul and at home. The Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayim 90:23) appears to interpret the Magen Avraham this way, as well, as he notes the importance of designating a set place to daven both in shul and at home, and only then lists the Rabbeinu Yonah who disagrees about shul.
III. Davening Alone
The sefer Divrei Yaakov (B’rachos, p. 28) suggests an important ramification between these two interpretations: when you are alone in your house. According to the view that the Magen Avraham is interpreting the Rosh based on the reason that you don’t want to get interrupted or disturbed by your family, this reason does not apply when you are home alone. Thus, a person home alone would be allowed to pray anywhere he wants.
However, according to the view that the Magen Avraham is being machmir for Rabbeinu Yonah, this opinion is really based on the idea of the Rabbeinu Yonah, that davening in one set place will enhance your overall concentration, a law only necessary at home. Thus, even a person home alone would need to adhere to this law. [Unclear though, according to the Divrei Yaakov, why the Magen Avraham needs to provide this other reason about the people of your house not disturbing you]. Indeed, there are numerous Acharonim who rule that, based on this Rabbeinu Yonah, the ruling to designate a set place to daven in your home applies even when alone in the house. See Piskei T’shuvos (citing Toras Chaim Sofer and Ben Ish Chai).
Notably, the sefer Gam Ani Od’cha (Rav Gamliel Rabinovich, citing Rav Yekusiel Lieberman, p. 77) suggests that the reason why the Magen Avraham gave this reason, i.e. so as not to be disturbed by others in the house, is because the main reason does not apply. He suggests, based on the Kaf HaChayim, citing numerous Rishonim, that the main reason is because davening is compared to korbanos, and korbanos had very specific places where they were sacrificed.
IV. Other Applications
The sefer Vayifga Ba’makom (p. 2) notes that this halachah applies equally to men and women. Thus, a woman should designate a set spot in her house for her daily davening.
The Nesivos HaMishpat (Emes L’Yaakov, B’rachos 6b) writes that one who designates a set spot in his house to daven, turns his house into a mini-shul. Additionally, the S’fas Emes (ibid) explains that one who designates a set spot in his house to daven, shows that he values t’filah, and brings k’dushah into his house.
Next Week’s Topic: May one wear a protective (e.g., surgical or N95) mask outside on Shabbos in a place without an eruv?