Praying in High Places: Part 2
“Workers that have ascended an olive tree or fig tree are allowed to pray the Shemoneh Esrei while on the tree, despite their being on a high place (see last week’s article in this column), since because they are there to do their work it is considered like being in an upper room of a house. They must, however, descend all other trees. The reason olive and fig trees are different is because they have many branches, making it difficult to climb and descend them, resulting is a significant amount of time being wasted while at work. Since the owner of the field does not work for anyone, he must descend all trees and then pray, including olive and fig trees.” (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 90:3)
Though today most people do not work in the above situations, this law delivers a very important contemporary lesson. The Torah treats very seriously the taking of time from one's work when he is being paid for that time. If the Rabbis were lenient regarding praying the Shemoneh Esrei for the sake of the work due to the employer, we must all be careful not to wrongfully take time from our jobs. One is advised to study this subject well since many questionable situations may arise, and we should always ask a qualified rabbi as needed (as is the case with any matter of halacha).
Today the above ruling applies to people who work on roofs, scaffolding and any other high place that is difficult to come down from. However, the halachic authorities (Kaf HaChaim 90:17) explain that nowadays our employers are generally not strict about this. One is therefore not allowed to pray in these places unless they are at least four by four amot in size, or are protected by a surrounding wall, so that a person will be able to pray there without being preoccupied or afraid. In places where employers are not strict, workers should recite the entire text of prayer and pray in synagogue with a minyan; and in places where they are strict, workers should to what they can to arrange their work time in order to be able to pray Shacharit, Mincha and Ma’ariv with a minyan. (Piskei Teshuvot)
Regarding the recital of Shema, even an employee is allowed to say it in all of the places mentioned above where praying the Shemoneh Esrei is forbidden. (Kaf Hachaim 90:18)