Question: Until what time may one recite the morning Keri’at Shema?
Answer: Rabbi Yehoshua tells us in Masechet Berachot (9b) that the correct time for reciting the morning Keri’at Shema is until the end of the third hour of the day. This means that from the beginning of the day, one must begin counting three hours and once these three hours have elapsed, the time for reciting Keri’at Shema has passed. This is because the Torah writes regarding the Mitzvah of Keri’at Shema, “And when you lay down and when you arise,” meaning that it must be read at the time people lay down to sleep at night and at the time that people arise from their beds in the morning. This time (in the morning) spans until the end of the third hour of the day. According to most Poskim, this time period is likewise a Torah law, similar to any other Torah amounts.
How These Three Hours Are Calculated
The three hours that we have mentioned are halachic, seasonal hours, meaning that the day, beginning from dawn and ending with nightfall and the emergence of the stars (some say to calculate from sunrise to sunset), must be split into twelve equal parts and every part will be considered a seasonal hour. Thus, during the summer months when the days are longer, the seasonal hours will be longer as well; in the winter months when the days are shorter, the seasonal hours will subsequently be shorter as well. These times are usually printed in calendars distributed in many Jewish communities around the world.
When Do These Three Hours Begin?
The Poskim disagree as to when to begin calculating these three hours. Some say that they begin at a very early time in the morning, i.e. from dawn, which is approximately one hour before sunrise. From that point, we begin to count the three hours, which constitute the timespan for Keri’at Shema. This opinion is known as the opinion of the “Magen Avraham” who rules accordingly, alongside many other Poskim.
Others say that these three hours should be calculated beginning from sunrise. This is the opinion of the Rambam as quoted in one of his responses. This opinion is commonly known as the opinion of the “Gra” (Hagaon Rabbeinu Eliyahu of Vilna), as he also rules accordingly.
Halachically speaking, it is preferable to be stringent and follow the opinion of the Magen Avraham and begin calculating these three hours from dawn. Nevertheless, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that in pressing circumstances, one may act leniently and calculate these three hours from sunrise, in accordance with the opinion of the Gra.
During this time of year in Israel, the latest time for reciting Keri’at Shema is at approximately 8:30 AM according to the Magen Avraham. According to the Gra, however, the latest time for reciting Keri’at Shema is at 9:00 AM. In New York during this time of year, the Magen Avraham’s time is at approximately 8:45 AM and the Gra’s time is at approximately 9:30 AM. A G-d-fearing individual should be very careful to read Keri’at Shema before the latest time, since this is a Torah obligation. Even if one is praying at a later time than the latest time for Keri’at Shema, one should recite Keri’at Shema properly before praying and then recite it once again during the order of prayers although the time for reciting it has already passed.
In the next Halacha we shall discuss the latest time for praying the Shacharit prayer.