Question: Until what time may one recite the Shacharit prayer? What is meant by the latest time for praying Shacharit “according to the Magen Avraham” and “according to the Gra” printed in calendars of halachic times?
Answer: The Mishnah in Masechet Berachot as well as the Gemara there (27a) states that the proper time for praying Shacharit is until the end of the fourth hour of the day, i.e. one should count a third of the day from the beginning of the day (since every day is composed of twelve hours). One may pray Shacharit until the end of these four hours.
When To Begin Counting These Four Hours
In the previous Halacha we have explained that the latest time for reciting the morning Keri’at Shema is until the end of the third hour of the day, i.e. one seasonal hour before the latest time to pray Shacharit. We have also discussed the fact that the Poskim disagree regarding if these hours are calculated beginning from dawn (the Magen Avraham’s opinion) or beginning from sunrise which is later (the Gra’s opinion). The disagreement regarding the time for Keri’at Shema applies equally to the end time for prayer and while some maintain that these four hours are calculated beginning from dawn, others maintain that they are calculated beginning from sunrise.
Halachically speaking, regarding Keri’at Shema, we have already written that according to Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l, these hours should be calculated beginning from dawn corresponding to the time of Keri’at Shema according to the Magen Avraham printed in calendars. Nevertheless, Maran zt”l quotes many Poskim who side with the Rambam’s opinion and rule that these hours are calculated beginning from sunrise. This seems to likewise be the opinion of Rav Sa’adya Gaon (in his Siddur, page 12) who lived even before the period of the Rishonim. Thus, even with regards to Keri’at Shema which is a Torah obligation, Maran zt”l rules that in pressing circumstances, one may act leniently and rely on the Gra’s opinion of calculating these hours from sunrise making the end time later. This is certainly the law regarding the end time for the Shacharit prayer whose time is not dictated by Torah law and is merely a rabbinic enactment and as such, there is always room for leniency to calculate this time as four hours after sunrise printed in most calendars.
How These Four Hours Are Calculated
The four hours that we have been discussing are not four regular hours. Rather, they are seasonal hours. The way to calculate seasonal hours is by dividing the daylight hours of the day from sunrise to sunset into twelve equal parts with each part amounting to one seasonal hour. (Thus, in the summer months when the days are longer, the seasonal hour is longer than a standard hour and reaches approximately one hour and ten minutes. In the winter when the days are shorter, the seasonal hour is shorter as well.)
This is indeed the custom in many places where the set prayer times for various Minyanim are all within four seasonal hours of sunrise. Only in several places which are not meticulous with Mitzvah observance are Minyanim for Shabbat morning services set for times past four seasonal hours from sunrise. (The end of these four hours in Israel at the beginning of the winter is at approximately 9:20 AM and in New York at approximately 10:20 AM. This time refers to when one must have concluded the Shacharit Amida prayer after having recited Keri’at Shema at its proper time.)
In the following Halacha, we shall discuss if one is still permitted to pray Shacharit once these four seasonal hours have elapsed.