Z'man K'riat Sh'ma baLayla
Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Kriat Shema 1:9-10
9. What is the time for K'riat Sh'ma at night? The Mitzva is from
the time the stars come out until half the night. If he delayed
and read before *Amud haShahar* (dawn), "Yatza"; since they [the
Rabbis] only said "midnight" in order to keep people far from
10. If someone reads evening K'riat Sh'ma after Amud haShahar,
before sunrise, he is not *Yotze* (same as "Lo Yatza") unless he
was *Anoos* (under duress); e.g. drunk or sick etc. An Anoos who
reads at this time should not say "Hashkiveinu".
(The Time for Evening K'riat Sh'ma)
The first Mishna in Berakhot states: "From what time is the Sh'ma
read in the evening? From the time that Kohanim [who have
abstained from eating sancta due to impurity; on the last day of
their period of abstinence, they perform ablution in a Mikveh and
then, at nightfall, may again partake of these sanctified foods]
enter to eat *Terumah* [sanctified food, given only to Kohanim,
who must eat it in a state of purity] until the end of the first
watch [1/3 of the night]; these are the words of R. Eliezer,
however, the Hakhamim say - until *Hatzot* (mid-night). R.
Gamliel says: until Amud haShahar...".
The Mishna here establishes the two time-parameters for nighttime
K'riat Sh'ma - the beginning time (unanimously agreed upon -
nightfall) and the ending time (seemingly 3 opinions: R. Eliezer
- 1/3 of the night; Hakhamim - 1/2 of the night; R. Gamliel - all
night). We will see that neither of these "bookends" is as clear
as it seems from the Mishna.
THE BEGINNING TIME
The Tosefta (Berakhot 1:1) records a dissenting opinion - R.
Meir - regarding the beginning time: "From the time that people
begin to eat on Sabbath eves (Friday nights)". We already sense
a break from the apparent unanimity regarding the earliest time
of evening Sh'ma. The Gemara (Berakhot 2b) quotes a slew of
variant opinions, including "From the time that poor people
[Rashi: who have no candle by which to eat] begin to eat (their
evening meal)"; from the time that Shabbat begins and from the
time that Kohanim [who were impure and are about to become pure
that night] perform ablution. On the one hand, we see a wide
range of possible "starting times" for K'riat Sh'ma - yet, they
all have one thing in common - they are associated with the
evening meal (Friday night/weeknight, poor people/average
people/Kohanim). We do not find a similar range - nor similar
terminology used - in reference to other "nighttime" Mitzvot
(e.g. eating Matza). This points to the unique nature of the
beginning time of nighttime K'riat Sh'ma - which is a "nighttime"
Mitzva and yet, is bounded by different times and considerations.
RITBA (Berakhot 8b s.v. Alma) explains that since the Torah did
not command "day" and "night", rather "when you lie down and when
you rise" - the considerations for the time-parameters are not
necessarily defined by conventional day and night. This principle
will affect not only the beginning time, but also the ending time
of Sh'ma, as will be demonstrated further on.
There are two approaches in the Rishonim regarding the beginning
of nighttime K'riat Sh'ma, both offered in response to the
widespread custom, from the times of the Ge'onim (9th century)
through the Middle Ages - of public evening prayer before sunset.
Ma'ariv - the evening prayer - includes as one of its two
"pillars", the recitation of K'riat Sh'ma. The almost universal
practice of "early Ma'ariv", necessitated by the fear of going
out at night, stands in direct conflict with the ruling of our
Mishna, that the Sh'ma must be read after nightfall. In any such
conflict, resolution will lie either in finding a more lenient
ruling, or in reexamining the practice of early Ma'ariv.
GE'ONIM, RIF, RASHI and RASHBA
Rashi (beginning of Berakhot), citing the Yerushalmi, says that
the reason we say K'riat Sh'ma before Tefilla at an early Ma'ariv
is not to fulfill the Mitzva of K'riat Sh'ma (which must be done
later), but, rather, "to stand for Tefilla immediately from
engagement in words of Torah" - like the Ashrei before Tefilla in
the afternoon. Rashi goes on to "justify" the custom, ruling
that the first paragraph of Sh'ma, which we read before retiring,
fulfills the basic Mitzva - at the right time. Rif rules the same
way. Rashba (Responsa 1:47, Hiddushim - beginning of Berakhot )
supports this view and cites several Ge'onim (R. Yitzchak Ibn
Ge'at, R. Amram, R. Paltoi, R. Hai), along with Rashi, who
concur. (It should be noted that, according to R. Yonah, R. Hai's
opinion is that a person should say Sh'ma and Tefilla with the
community and later, at home, reread Sh'ma with its B'rakhot
after nightfall - this is also R'ah's opinion; however, for our
purposes, the approach vis-a-vis K'riat Sh'ma is the same.)
Ritba and R'ah also follow this general approach. Rambam
clearly adopts this approach as well.
TOSAFOT, RAAVIAH and RAAVAN
The first Tosafot in Berakhot takes a different approach to the
problem of "early Ma'ariv". Rabbenu Tam rules that we rely on R.
Yehuda's opinion, that Mincha may only be said until 1.25 hours
before sunset - and that, from then on, is Ma'ariv time. Rabbenu
Tam evidently feels that the time for evening Sh'ma is linked to
the time for Ma'ariv - and therefore, evening Sh'ma may be said
much earlier than nightfall. R. Yitzchak offers a similar
approach, instead citing the alternate opinions in our Gemara
(e.g. "from the time that a poor person begins his meal") and
says that we rule like one of those earlier opinions.
(This is an ideal springboard for an investigation of Rabbinic
attitudes towards Jewish customs and communal practices and how
much inherent credence they are given. In other words, does the
fact that the Jewish people regularly hold "early Ma'ariv" endow
that with Halakhic significance; does it indicate that there must
be Halakhic support for it which we must identify; or does it
demonstrate "wrong" behavior which must, ideally, be rectified?)
The Piskei Tosafot (Menahot #118) supports this idea, going so
far as to vilify anyone who delays reading K'riat Sh'ma
(presumably until after dark).
Raaviah (#1) adopts Rabbenu Tam's approach and source - and takes
it one step further. He states that anyone who delays reading
K'riat Sh'ma and praying Ma'ariv at night is guilty of "Yohara" -
(haughtiness - putting on airs as if he is more pious than
others) - unless it is someone who is accustomed to other
pietistic behaviors, in which case it is acceptable.
Raavan (#122) presents an interesting twist on this approach. He
maintains that, mixed into the formulation of "when you lie down"
is a Rabbinic concern, which the Gemara cites to explain the
Hakhamim's opinion that we read until midnight "in order to keep
people away from "sinning." The Gemara (4b), quoting Avot
d'Rebbi Natan, says that the concern of the Rabbis was that a
person will come home in the evening, knowing full well that he
has all night to say K'riat Sh'ma and pray - and will say "I'll
eat a bit, drink a bit, nap a bit, and then I'll awake and read
K'riat Sh'ma and pray" - and he will sleep the night through.
Therefore, with the "fence" of midnight staring him down, he will
first say K'riat Sh'ma and pray and then eat.
Raavan infers (like many other Rishonim) that there is a
prohibition against eating (a meal), from the beginning of K'riat
Sh'ma time, until you have said K'riat Sh'ma. Therefore, he
takes the next logical step - and rules that the beginning time
for K'riat Sh'ma is, essentially, mealtime. He explains the
various opinions as diverse understandings of "whose mealtime"
should be considered - the Kohanim, the average person, the poor,
etc. This, however, only applies to someone who isn't about to
eat on his own - and the question is, whose mealtime should be
used as the external standard. However, Raavan says, if you are
about to eat your "nighttime meal" (no matter how early), that
becomes "K'riat Sh'ma time" for you - for it fits the Rabbinic
redefinition of "when you lie down" - i.e. when you begin the
"lying down" steps - eating, drinking, sleeping. This opinion is
an isolated one and, it should be remembered (from the
Introductory shiur), Raavan is of the opinion that K'riat Sh'ma
is a Rabbinically mandated Mitzva.
SUMMARY We find two approaches to the conflict between the rule
of our Mishna and the common custom. Rashi, the Ge'onim and the
Hakhmei S'farad held that the Mishna's ruling is authoritative
and that, to a greater or lesser degree, there are
justifications for the custom. Tosafot and other members of that
school ruled against the Mishna, preferring other opinions in the
Gemara, which establish the common custom as perfectly fitting
the time for K'riat Sh'ma.
Although, as pointed out, there may be a general divergency here
on how to approach customs vs. Halakha, there may also be a
"local" explanation for the disagreement.
We know that the ending time of K'riat Sh'ma does not follow the
usual limitations inherent in nighttime Mitzvot - it may, under
exigent circumstances, be said past dawn. That may indicate that
K'riat Sh'ma is not at all defined by the usual day and night
parameters - in which case, nightfall is no more of an automatic
time-boundary than mealtime. We then read our Mishna, which
identifies the time for K'riat Sh'ma with the time that Kohanim
begin to eat their Teruma, as one example of a "mealtime" - and,
we are presented with another in the Tosefta and a few more in
the Baraita - and all of Tannaitic origin. Following that, the
Mishna's time is different only in degree, not general approach,
from the other times. That being the case, we may prefer to
adopt an earlier meal-time, one which coincides better with the
time for Ma'ariv and with the common custom. This may be the
approach of Tosafot.
On the other hand, we may prefer to view K'riat Sh'ma as a
"nighttime" Mitzva with a small quirk - at the end of the time,
we allow for a bit of flexibility on account of the unusual
wording in the torah - "when you lie down" - and, since people
are still in bed at that time, we can extend it beyond the usual
dawn. However, the beginning of the time, as presented in the
Mishna, is the usual nightfall, which signals the beginning time
for all nighttime Mitzvot. The identification with the Kohanim's
mealtime is not a deliberate connection with eating, rather a
secondary lesson - that Kohanim may eat that night (see Berakhot
2a-b). In that case, the other opinions cited differ in more
than degree with the Mishna; according to those opinions, K'riat
Sh'ma is not bounded by "nighttime"; according to the Mishna, it
is. Therefore, we follow the Mishna, as it is not offering one
choice among many of various mealtimes, but is identifying the
starting time with the usual time for night. This may be Rashi &
THE ENDING TIME
R. ELIEZER, HAKHAMIM AND R. GAMLIEL
Although, at first blush, it seems that there are three different
opinions in our Mishna regarding the ending time of K'riat Sh'ma,
the Gemara (Berakhot 9a) clarifies that there are only two: R.
Gamliel agree that the ending time is essentially dawn; the
Hakhamim are presenting the "ideal" Halakha - ideally a person
should say K'riat Sh'ma by midnight. R. Gamliel's statement
reflects the "fall-back" position; in case you were unable to say
it on time, be aware that midnight is just a protective time and
that it may be said all night.
It follows that R. Eliezer stands alone in his "earlier" opinion.
Some of the Rishonim (see, for instance, R'ah) suggest that the
disagreement may be rooted in textual interpretation. When the
Torah says *B'Shokh'b'kha* - "when you lie down" - does it mean
"during the time that people are in the process of going to
sleep" or "while people are lying down - i.e. as long as they are
sleeping"? R. Eliezer prefers the former approach, while Hakhamim
(and R. Gamliel) take the latter. In any case, the Gemara
decisively rules like Hakhamim and R. Gamliel.
The Tosefta (Berakhot 1:1) offers the following in the name of R.
Shimon (b. Yohai):
"It is possible for someone to read K'riat Sh'ma twice in one
night, once before Amud haShahar and once after Amud haShahar,
and thereby fulfill both the night and day obligations."
The Gemara (Berakhot 8b) records an alternate version of that
"R. Shim'on b. Yohai says in the name of R. Akiva: It is possible
for someone to read K'riat Sh'ma twice in one day, once before
sunrise and once after sunrise, and thereby fulfill both the
obligations of night and day."
(There is a major dispute between R. Zerahiah haLevi and Ramban
as to whether these two versions may be concurrently accepted or
if they are mutually contradictory. We will discuss this next
week, in the context of the shiur on daytime K'riat Sh'ma and its
The Gemara (9a) states that the Halakha follows the statement of
R. Shim'on b. Yohai in the name of R. Akiva (the second version).
This means that the latest possible time for K'riat Sh'ma
extends past Amud haShahar to sometime before sunrise.
The Gemara supports this ruling by retelling of the time that a
pair of students got drunk at a wedding and came to R. Yehoshua
b. Levi (apparently after dawn) and asked him about K'riat Sh'ma,
and he replied: "R. Shim'on is great enough that we can rely on
him (=his opinion) in time of need."
Based on this, the Ge'onim (Otzar HaGe'onim, Berakhot, Teshuvot,
p. 22) rule that we may only rely on R. Shim'on b. Yohai, to
permit reading after Amud haShahar, in case of need, such as
drunkenness or sickness. However, someone who intentionally waits
that long may no longer fulfill the Mitzva. This is a bit
strange, having one ending time for everyone and an extension for
a few "exceptions"; however, we might explain this as follows:
Someone who is physically unable to perform a Mitzva is exempt
from it. Since the Anoos in question was, we assume, Anoos all
night up until dawn, he was technically exempt. However, for two
reasons, we would like to encourage his reciting Sh'ma in spite
of this. First of all, the content of Sh'ma and its accompanying
"charge" of affirmation of God's unity, love for God etc. are
something we want to make sure that everyone experiences.
Second, everyone has a "nighttime" and "daytime" during the
normal course of a 24-hour period - even night workers have these
periods, even if they are at the inverse times of everyone else.
Since the Anoos didn't really experience a proper "when you lie
down" until now, since he was, for one reason or another, exempt
from Sh'ma, we have the opportunity to "attach" him to those who
are still asleep and, rightfully, call it "when you lie down" -
in his case only.
Now - to the answers:
Q1: Rambam's order is a bit strange; first he should define the
basic parameter (all night) and then add the Rabbinic "fence"
(midnight). Why the inverted presentation?
A: Since the Rabbis "fenced in" the Mitzva, that redefines it;
one who reads before midnight, fulfills the Mitzva in a more
proper way than one who reads later.
Q2: When is *Amud haShahar*?
A: Dawn - about 72-90 minutes before sunrise.
Q3: How does the Rabbinic "fence" of midnight keep people from
A: see answer at Q4.
Q4: Why did the Rabbis decide to erect a fence around this law,
more than others (e.g. morning Sh'ma etc.)
A: Since this is a nighttime Mitzva which is both personal (not a
communal obligation, but on every individual) and is common
(every night), the concern that a person would "put it off" until
after dinner and a short nap was great. That would also lead to
"sleeping through the night" and not fulfilling the Mitzva at
all. By putting "midnight" as a limit, people are more careful to
read K'riat Sh'ma before getting into the dinner-drink-bed mode.
Q5: What was the particular concern about sinning here?
A: see answer at Q4.
Q6: Is there any significance to "midnight" as a "protection"
for an all-night Mitzva?
A: Two possibilities: either its long enough to be maintainable,
yet short enough to work; or, since the Rabbis always like to
attach their enactments to Torahic law, the only time during the
course of the night that has any Halakhic significance is
mid-night - from the Pesach offering which, according to one
opinion, must be consumed by then.
Q1: How can there be one time for "regular" people and another
for "Anoosim"? If K'riat Sh'ma extends until sunrise, that
should be valid for everyone; if not, not for anyone.
A: We are relying on a minority group - those still sleeping;
just as we rely on a minority opinion in times of need, so we
rely on a minority group's behavior. In other words, the
agreed-upon time which is, for all concerned, a time of "when you
lie down", ends at Amud haShahar. However, since there are some
who are still sleeping until before sunrise, we rely on their
"keeping alive" the sleep-time; but this is only granted to those
who were unable to fulfill the Mitzva properly. Also, see the
explanation at the end of the shiur.
Q2: Are there other Mitzvot where Anoosim are given more leeway
A: Not the I know of...
Q3: Why is a drunk considered Anoos?
A: Even though he was alert when he decided to drink, at the time
of fulfilling the Mitzva, he was not in control of his own
faculties. However, see the Gemara in Eruvin (65) about Rabbinic
attitudes towards this type of behavior.
Q4: What is "Hashkiveinu"?
A: The second B'rakha after K'riat Sh'ma at night. The first
word means "Cause us to lie down" and is a petition to God to
protect us as we sleep, keep us from harm, and bring us, alive
and well, to a new morn. We will discuss this further at Tefilla
Q5: Why shouldn't "Hashkiveinu" be read at this time?
A: The long night is not ahead - it is already gone. Interesting
to note the opinion of R. Yitzchak Ibn Ge'at (quoted in RASHBA,
RITBA and other Rishonim) that at this hour the B'rakha actually
is said - but the first few words, which, obviously, begin with
"Hashkiveinu", are omitted. This is not the consensus and the
simple read of Rambam follows the approach that the entire
Berakha is skipped.
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