The laws of the afternoon prayer – Mincha.
1. One should be especially careful about the afternoon prayer. In general, according to Kabbalah, the first half of the day is associated with mercy while the second – with judgment. This is why the afternoon prayer requires such great concentration. Moreover, in the winter when the days are short it is easy to miss the correct time for this prayer, therefore one has to be extra careful.
2. The earliest time for Mincha is half an hour after midday. Note, that the “hours” in Jewish law are 1/12 of the day, therefore the hours are longer than 60 minutes during the summer and shorter in the winter. Good calendars mention the earliest Mincha time for each day of the year.
3. According to some opinions it is preferable not to pray the afternoon prayer until “Mincha Ketana” – 2.5 hours before sundown.
4. One should try to pray the afternoon prayer before sundown. If there is no choice, according to some opinions one is permitted to still pray Mincha until stars come out, i.e. one can see three average stars on the sky.
5. Once the time for Mincha is approaching one is forbidden to start a meal, get a haircut or go to a bathhouse until after he prayed. The Sephardic Jews are forbidden to start major meals, like wedding feasts after midday, but Ashkenazim are strict only staring three hours before sundown. However in the last two and a half hours before sundown one should not start even a small meal before praying. It is only permitted to eat a little bit of bread, less than the size of an egg, but one can eat fruits as much as he wants. If one started his meal before this time arrived, he can continue as long as there is enough time to pray.
6. If one really needs to eat before Mincha, this is permitted if he asks another Jew to remind him to pray.
7. Before praying, one should wash his hands three times with a cup. However, if one needs to walk more than 18 minutes to get the water, then it is sufficient to simply clean the hands with a cloth. During the prayer one has to be careful not to touch the parts of the body that are normally covered, otherwise he will have to wash hands again.
8. In general, the Mincha prayer was instituted the same way as the morning prayer – first everybody says the Shemone Esre quietly and then the leader repeats the prayer. However, in many places the custom is that the leader immediately starts praying loudly. In this case, the congregants have two options – they can either say everything with the leader word by word, or they can listen for the first three blessings, answer Kedusha, and then start their own silent Shemone Esre from the beginning.