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Laws of Reciting the Shema (Part I)

Laws of Reciting the Shema (Part I)

Parshat Va'etchanan

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Chapter six of Deuteronomy (verses 4-9) contains the first paragraph of the Shema. In verse 7 we read: "And you shall teach them to your sons and speak of them—when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up."

Our Sages explained that the words "when you lie down and when you rise up" is a charge to recite the Shema every morning and evening.1

The Shema includes three paragraphs (click here for the Hebrew and English texts). The theme of the first (Deuteronomy 6:4-10) is the acceptance of the “yoke of Heaven,” the second (ibid. 11:13-21) of the acceptance of the yoke of His commandments, and the third (Numbers 15:37-41) of remembering the Exodus from Egypt.2

Our Sages tell us that the creation of the entire world is considered a worthwhile endeavor just for the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven that we enact during the daily recital of Shema.3 It is said that one who prepares himself for prayer in the proper way,4 puts on tefillin, recites the Shema, and then prays, has fully accepted the yoke of Heaven.5

The Sefer HaChinuch writes6 that when a person reciting Shema remembers the unity and kingship of the Almighty, who supervises everything, he will take to heart that G‑d's eyes observe all of a person's ways. He will appreciate that G‑d counts our steps and that none of our thoughts are hidden from Him. Thinking this and saying this will guard a person throughout the day. Repeating it at night will guard him at night as well.

The reward for reciting the Shema at the right time is greater than the reward for studying Torah during the rest of the day,7 and Torah study is considered greater than all the other mitzvot.8

Who is Obligated to Read the Shema?

As the recitation of the Shema is a "time-bound" positive mitzvah, women are not obligated to read the Shema at a particular time. Nevertheless, it is proper that they recite at least the first verse in order to accept upon themselves the yoke of Heaven. In addition, they should recite the blessing after the Shema in order to remember the Exodus from Egypt.9

Children who have reached the "age of chinuch (education)," i.e., capable of reciting the Shema, should be trained to read the Shema on time.10

Blessings of the Shema

Our sages instituted blessings that should be recited before and after the morning and evening Shema.11 These are called the Birchot Kriat Shema ("blessings of the Shema").

  1. These blessings should be recited as part of the daily morning and evening prayer services so that they are followed immediately by the Amidah.12
  2. If one is praying these prayers within the proper time slot for reciting the Shema (see below), he will automatically fulfill the mitzvah of reciting the Shema when he recites it within the prayers.
  3. If one is praying either of these prayers before or after the proper time for reciting Shema,13 he should make sure to also recite the Shema within the proper time slot. Nevertheless, he should still say the Shema as part of the prayer.14

When to Recite the Morning Shema

  1. The best time to recite the morning Shema is after it begins to get light ("misheyakir")15 but before sunrise.16 For this reason, many people (people who do so are called "vatikin") begin praying shortly before sunrise, so that they conclude the Shema and start the Amidah as the sun rises (which is the earliest time to recite the Amidah).
  2. One should try to recite Shema as early as possible. It is best to recite the Shema while wearing tzitzit and tefillin and as part of the morning prayers. One should therefore try to pray with the earliest minyan that one is able to attend.17
  3. If one will not pray until later, it is good to say the three paragraphs of Shema as soon as one awakens, after saying the morning blessings.18 This is especially true for someone who wishes to drink a tea or a coffee.19
  4. One may perform the mitzvah of reciting the Shema until the end of the third halachic hour of the day. This means until one quarter of the sunlight hours – counting from sunrise till sunset – have passed. (Some opine that the day's halachic hours start at dawn and end with nightfall).20
  5. If one missed that time, he is no longer able to fulfill the mitzvah of reciting the Shema. He should still recite the Shema as part of his morning prayers, but he only receives reward as one who reads verses from the Torah.21

Click here for local Shema start and end times for any date.

The Time for Reciting the Evening Shema

The time for reciting the evening Shema begins when three stars become visible in the night sky22 (this is called tzait hakochavim. Click here for more information and for local times).

One must recite the Shema before midnight, and one who delays reading it past midnight is called an "over al divrei chachamim" (one who transgresses the words of the Sages). Our Sages instituted that one should recite the Shema before midnight in order to distance oneself from sinning (i.e., forgetting to recite the Shema entirely). Nevertheless, if one reads it afterwards, up until dawn, he has fulfilled his obligation.23

If, for reasons beyond one's control (such as illness), one did not say the nighttime Shema before dawn, he may still say it until sunrise.24

The Bed-Time Shema

One other time that we say the Shema each day is before going to bed. It is recited as a protection and so that we go to sleep with words of Torah on our lips. Though it's not part of the mitzvah of reciting the Shema, if one did not yet recite the evening Shema, one can fulfill the mitzvah when reading the bedtime Shema, if that is his intention.25

Click here for Part II of this article.

FOOTNOTES
1.

See Talmud, Berachot 11a; 21a.

2.

Ibid. 13a.

3.

Quoted in Mishnah Berurah, 58:10.

4.

I.e., uses the restroom in order to purify himself and washes his hands.

5.

Talmud, ibid. 14b.

6.

Mitzvah 420.

7.

Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 58:10 from Brachot 10b with Tosafot d.h.Gadol Hakoreh.

8.

Mishnah Pe'ah 1:1.

9.

Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 70:1.

10.

Ibid. 2.

11.

Talmud, ibid. 11a.

12.

Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 111; 236.

13.

One may pray the morning prayers later than the time of reciting the daytime Shema and one may pray the evening prayers, in certain circumstances, earlier than the time of reciting the nighttime Shema. See Code of Jewish Law, 233.

14.

Talmud, ibid. 9b.

15.

The halachic description of this time is "when one can recognize a somewhat familiar acquaintance" from a distance of approximately six feet.

16.

Alter Rebbes' Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 58:4.

17.

Ibid. 5.

18.

Likutei Maharich chapter "Seder Hayom." See also Mishna Berurah s.6 s.k. 7.

19.

See Mishna Berurah 89:22.

20.

The first opinion is that of the Alter Rebbe (Siddur, "zman kri'at shema") and the Vilna Ga'on (Orach Chaim 459:2). It is considered to be standard halachah in most communities (Igrot Moshe 1:24). The second opinion is that of the Magen Avraham (s.58 s.k. 1). Sephardim follow this opinion (Ohr Letzion vol. 2 chapter 6, no. 1), as do many people who wish to be stringent (Igrot Moshe ibid.).

21.

Some say he may recite the blessings of Shema the entire day, while some say that he may only recite them until the end of zeman tefilah – Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 10.

22.

Talmud, ibid. 2a; Code of Jewish Law, ibid. 235:1.

23.

Ibid. 3; Mishna Berurah ibid. 27.

24.

Code of Jewish Law, ibid. 4. In this case, he must wait and not say the morning Shema until after dawn. Also, he may not recite the second blessing after Shema, Hashkiveinu, which is a prayer about going to sleep, since it is not the time for going to sleep.

25.

See Code of Jewish Law, ibid. 239, with Mishna Berurah 1.

Rabbi Aryeh Citron was educated in Chabad yeshivahs in Los Angeles, New York, Israel and Australia. He was the Rosh Kollel of The Shul of Bal Harbour, Florida, and is now an adult Torah teacher in Surfside, Florida. He teaches classes on Talmud, Chassidism, Jewish history and contemporary Jewish law.
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Discussion (8)
June 26, 2013
Mr. Levin evidently doesn't comprehend my comments. I stand by them. If all the birds go over the cliff, would you follow them? I sang with Cantor Richard Tucker and he sang it as I described also. Conservatives sing it as sing-song currently. Shema Yisroale means hear Israel.....that is not the message. The rest of the statement is an affirmation of your allegiance to the one God
Shel Haas
Fort Lee , USA
June 18, 2013
Shel Haas: there is no "sing song" version of the shema. I assume you are referring to the major version (Adoshem Malach) that is traditionally used on Shabbat and holidays. When praying with a quorum, the "tune" is determined by the correct nusach for that time. Unlike the rest of Shema and its blessings when reciting the shema itself, the quorum should strive to sing "kulam k'echad," all in the same mode, and starting and ending with the cantor. In public worship, it is an expression of unity, not disparity (the latter of which has erroneously become the default mode of worship in the post destruction of the Holy Temple Orthodoxy).
Randall Levin
New York, NY
May 25, 2013
Is it bad to say the shema more than once? I am a jew and I usually say it more than once every night before I fall asleep and every morning when I arise. I love Hashem for he is only one. Shema Israel Adoni Elohano Adoni Echad,
dani
November 30, 2012
The Shema
The sing-song version of the Shema shows a misunderstanding of the text. A cantor from Hungary many years ago sang it as it should be sung. Hear o'Israel stop. In a loud and powerful voice came the pledge that the Lord is our God and that the Lord is one. Let's put the emphasis where it belongs. The Shema is not a prayer but an oath. The statements thereafter concerns the affirmation of that oath!
shel haas
fort lee
June 29, 2012
Audio of Shema
You can find audios of the Shema here and here
Chabad.org Staff
mychabad.org
June 28, 2012
is there a audio of how to say Shema properly
Need an audio to practice saying Shema properly
Yaakov
Philadelphia, PA
August 9, 2011
the Shema
All my life I have found myself reciting the Shema. It just "happens" from my heart. I will be in a car and it comes to me. Or in my garden. Or anywhere. It makes me happy.

A long time ago I made the Star of David out of bulbs in my garden and I have done that since. I am not sure what impels this, and it has happened particularly for me at times of feeling very sad as I had been, some years ago.

This comes back to me when I read your words above. I think it's the MOST IMPORTANT prayer of all, and it seems the import gets greater with the passing of years, at least for me. It gets very deep. Very profound. In terms of personal meaning.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
May 9, 2011
Jewish Prayers
Thank you a "gadzillion" times. I have been searching for Jewish prayers that I can learn by heart, And understand what they mean, what I am saying, the Kavanah of the prayers, and "How" to say them.

From an Hebrew-Jewish "illiterate" desperately want-to be Jew, whose ancestors once lived as Jews.
Anonymous
Toronto, Canada
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