Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD is One. You shall
love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your
soul, and with all your might. And these words that I am
commanding you today shall be in your heart. *Veshinantam* (Teach
them diligently) to your children *VeDibarta Bam* (and talk about
them) when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie
down and when you rise. (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 6:4-7);
To introduce the Mitzva of Keri'at Sh'ma, there are several
introductory issues which demand clarification:
[There are 613 Mitzvot in the Torah - and many additional details
and laws which are considered to have the authority of Torah.
There are also 7 Mitzvot and many more laws, enactments,
ordinances, decrees and customs which are Rabbinic in nature,
source and authority.
Keria't Sh'ma includes the recitation of three paragraphs from
the Torah: "Sh'ma" - (Devarim 6:4-9); "VeHaya Im Shamoa'"
(Devarim 11:13-21) and "Parashat Tzitzit" (Bamidbar [Numbers]
(a) Is Keria't Sh'ma a *Mitzva d'Orayta* (Mitzva from the Torah)?
(b) If Keria't Sh'ma is d'Orayta, how much of it is mandated by
(c) If Keria't Sh'ma is d'Rabanan (mandated by the Rabbis) - what
was their motivation in doing so?
(d) Is Keria't Sh'ma an independent Mitva - or is it also part of
one or several other Mitzvot?
"And these words which I command you today...speak of them...when
you lie down and when you rise." To which "words" are we
referring? Are they the words of Torah in general, or specific
(1) Tosafot (Menahot 43b s.v. V'Eizo) states that Keria't Sh'ma
This opinion seems to be based on Shmuel's statement (Berakhot
21a) that if one was unsure if he said Keria't Sh'ma, he doesn't
have to repeat it, since Keria't Sh'ma is D'Rabanan (and the rule
is "Safeq d'rabanan lequla" - doubt about a Rabbinic Law leans to
the lenient side). R. Yosef challenges this ruling - "...when
you lie down and when you rise" - to which Abaye responds: "That
verse is referring to words of Torah (in general)."
In other words (according to Abaye's understanding of Shmuel's
rule), the Torah commands us to read words of Torah when we lie
down and when we rise up - and the Rabbis mandated that those
words be the three paragraphs of Keria't Sh'ma. (Talmidei
Rabbenu Yona, 12b in RIF pages, s.v. Amar R. Yehuda).
RAAVAN (#155) provides a slightly different explanation: "In
order to fulfill 'This book of the Torah shall not depart out of
your mouth' (Yehoshua [Joshua] 1:8)".
There is some support for this opinion from two other sugyot in
(a) Menahot 99b: "R. Yohanan said in the name of R. Shim'on b.
Yohai: Even if a person only reads Keria't Sh'ma in the morning
and the evening, he has fulfilled 'This book of the Torah shall
not depart out of your mouth'.
(b) Nedarim 8a: "(If a person takes a vow to learn, even though
he is already foresworn to do so from Sinai, it is still valid,
because) if he wants to, he can exempt himself by reciting
Keria't Sh'ma in the morning and evening."
Both of these Gemarot indicate that Keria't Sh'ma fulfills the
most basic level of daily learning.
(2) RAAVIAH (#46), R'AH (Berakhot Ch. 2), Sefer haHinuch (#420)
and RITBA (Berakhot 13b s.v. Tanu Rabanan (#2)) rule that Keria't
Sh'ma is D'Orayta - but only the first verse ("Sh'ma
Yisrael...Echad"). This ruling is based, to a large extent, on
two Gemarot in the second chapter of Berakhot (13b):
"The Rabbis taught: 'Sh'ma Yisrael...Echad' - this is the Keria't
Sh'ma of R. Yehuda haNasi"
"...If he said 'Sh'ma Yisrael...Echad' and was overcome by sleep,
he has fulfilled his obligation."
Both of these selections seem to indicate that the only
"absolutely necessary" section of Keria't Sh'ma which must be
recited is the first verse.
Those who rule that more of Keria't Sh'ma is "absolutely
required" explain the second Gemara as follows: If he said the
first verse with a clear head and proper intent, even if he said
the rest "dozing off", that is sufficient. (see Talmidei Rabbenu
Yonah, 7b in RIF pages, s.v. Amar, MT Keria't Sh'ma 2:12).
As far as the first Gemara is concerned, some explain that since
R. Yehuda haNasi was involved in the Mitzva of public Talmud
Torah, he didn't want to interrupt for Keria't Sh'ma - so he only
said the first verse, which may involve a broader fulfillment
than just Keria't Sh'ma (see the next paragraph) - and may be
serious enough to warrant interruption of public study. This
response is a bit difficult, since we don't generally apply the
rule of "Involvement with one Mitzvah exempts one from another
Mitzva" to Talmud Torah; however, we might posit that public
study is different (Tosafot haRosh, 13b s.v. Besha'a). On the
other hand, it may be that he was only able to say that one verse
without interrupting his teaching (while he was saying the verse,
the Meturgeman (spokesman) was relaying his teaching to the
students). This would follow the Gemara in the third chapter of
Berakhot which rules that if an attendant at a funeral is able to
say any part of Keria't Sh'ma - even one verse - before his turn
to comfort the mourners comes - he should do so. (Berakhot 19a).
Why would the first verse be the only Torahic obligation? There
are both textual and conceptual arguments here. The verse states
that "THESE words which I command you today..." and that could be
referring to the first verse, which is the basic declaration of
In Sa'adiah's formulation of the Mitzvot (where he considers
Keria't Sh'ma as 2 Mitzvot - one in the evening and one in the
morning - but we'll leave that for our discussion at Keria't
Sh'ma 1:1), he says: *Erev vaVoqer Yach'duhu* -"In the evening
and morning declare His unity"; Rambam, in Sefer HaMitzvot
(Mitzvat Aseh #2), understands the verse of "Sh'ma Yisra'el" to
be the source for the Mitza of believeing/declaring God's unity.
Therefore, in addition to whatever inherent obligation is
fulfilled through Keria't Sh'ma, by reciting the first verse, we
are also fulfilling the Mitzva of *Yichud Hashem* - declaring
The Yere'im (#252) introduces yet another component to Keria't
Sh'ma: "Fear God and worship and accept his rule and yoke morning
and evening..." Here,we are presented with what the Mishna
(Berakhot 2:2) refers to as *Qabbalat 'Ol Malkhut Shamayim* - the
acceptance of the yoke of God's rule. Saying the Sh'ma is not
only a cognitive declaration - a theological statement - it is
also a form of worship, of accepting God's rule over us.
(3) R. Yehuda haChasid and ROSH (Berakhot 13a s.v. Ad Kan) seem
to suggest that the first two verses are in a class by themselves
- and may be suggesting that these two verses, which include
God's unity and our obligation to love Him, are the only
(4) YERE'IM (#252) maintains that the entire first paragraph is
D'Orayta (although he adds that if someone only said the first
verse, we cannot claim that this person has transgressed against
the Torah. His reasoning may be connected with the following
RASHI (Berakhot 2a s.v. Ad) seems to support this opinion. In
commenting on the prevalent custom of reciting the evening prayer
- including Keria't Sh'ma - before dark, Rashi reminds us that we
must re-recite it after dark - but that the recitation of the
first paragraph, which we say at bedtime, is sufficient.
There are two possible reasons why the entire first paragraph
constitutes the obligation. Either the entire text is significant
within the realm of Keria't Sh'ma (because the verse states:
"...these words..." - which may refer not just to the
above-mentioned words, but the entire context of the paragraph) -
or, once we are obligated to read part of a section of Torah, we
may be obligated to read that entire section as it is formatted
in the Torah. This is born out in Berakhot (12b), where the
Gemara is discussing the reasons for inclusion of the third
paragraph of Keria't Sh'ma. The chief reason seems to be the
inclusion of a commemoration of the Exodus. The Gemara then asks
why we don't read the section of Bil'am's blessing (Bamidbar 23)
which also mentions the Exodus. The response is that it is too
long and is an unreasonable burden on the community. The Gemara
then asks - why not just read the verse which refers to the
Exodus? The response is telling: "Any paragraph which was not
broken up by Moshe - we do not break up". In other words,
remembering the Exodus in the context of Keria't Sh'ma must be
done by reading an entire *Parasha* (paragraph) from the Torah
which includes the Exodus. We might posit the same to explain
the approach of RASHI and the YERE'IM.
(5) Rabbenu Yona (Talmidei Rabbenu Yona on Berakhot 2a in RIF
pages, s.v. V'ifs'qa) seems to suggest that the first two
paragraphs are D'Orayta. In challenging Rashi's approach (above)
to the early Keri'at Sh'ma problem, he doesn't allow for the
bedtime Keri'at Sh'ma to be sufficient; among his concerns are
that we only say the first paragraph, and we must "read at least
the first two paragraphs, which include acceptance of the yoke of
God's rule and the yoke of Mitzvot...". The rationale here may
be along the same lines as the argument for the first paragraph -
since the Mitzva of reading the Sh'ma is mentioned in both
paragraphs, both of them make up the Torah's definition of the
Mitzva. An analogue to this is the Mitzva of Tefillin, which is
mentioned in four Parashiot in the Torah - and all four must be
written inside the Tefillin.
(6) Rambam seems to suggest that all three Parashiot make up the
Torahic level of the Mitzva (MT Keri'at Sh'ma 1:2). When we get
there, we will discuss his approach, which is a difficult one to
defend. Significantly, Rambam does not reckon the daily
obligation to remember the Exodus - which is the reason for
reading the third Parasha - in his count of Mitzvot.