Halacha for Sunday 5 Tevet 5781 December 20 2020

The Blessing of Keri’at Shema Regarding Men and Women

In the previous Halachot we have explained that one may recite Keri’at Shema until the end of the third seasonal hour of the day. This means that the latest time for Keri’at Shema should be calculated as no later than the end of the third hour of the day beginning from sunrise (although these hours should preferably be calculated beginning from dawn). The Mitzvah of reciting Keri’at Shema is a Torah obligation for men; women, however, are exempt from this Mitzvah since reciting Keri’at Shema is a positive time-bound Mitzvah, for there is an allotted time during which it must be recited (which is likewise a Torah obligation) and women are exempt from such positive, time-bound Mitzvot.

We have also explained that one must take care to pray the Shacharit prayer before the end of the fourth seasonal hour of the day. During this time of year in Israel, the end time for Shacharit is at approximately 9:55 AM and in New York it is at approximately 10:20 AM. If one did not pray Shacharit by this point, one must nevertheless still pray before halachic midday arrives. Halachic midday at this time of year is at approximately 11:35 AM in Israel and at approximately 11:55 AM in New York.

The Blessings of Keri’at Shema
Within the Shacharit prayer, there are two blessings recited before Keri’at Shema, i.e. the blessings of “Yotzer Ohr” and “Ahavat Olam” (“Ahava Rabba” according to the Ashkenazi tradition). Following Keri’at Shema, one blessing is recited, i.e. the “Ga’al Yisrael” blessing. According to the Ashkenazi custom, women may recite these blessings as well. Nevertheless, according to the Sephardic custom whereby women do not recite blessings upon Mitzvot they are exempt from performing, women do not recite these blessings at all. Righteous women who wish to recite these blessings must make sure not to mention Hashem’s name at the conclusion of the blessing, for instance, instead of “Baruch Ata Hashem Yotzer Ha’Me’orot” they should merely recite “Baruch Yotzer Ha’Me’orot”. The same procedure should be followed regarding the “Ohev Et Amo Yisrael” and “Ga’al Yisrael” blessings.

The Latest Time for These Blessings
Just as there is an allotted time for Keri’at Shema and the morning Amida prayer, there is likewise an allotted time for the blessings of Keri’at Shema.

The Mishnah (Berachot 9b) states that the latest time for the morning Keri’at Shema is “until three hours and one who recites it past this time has not lost out.” The Gemara (ibid. 10b) questions this statement that “one has not lost out.” What does this mean? One has certainly lost out since the proper time for Keri’at Shema has already passed! Rather, the Gemara explains that this means “one has not lost out the blessings of Keri’at Shema.”

It seems from here that even if the time for Keri’at Shema has passed, one may still recite the blessings of Keri’at Shema. The Rosh quoting Rav Hai Gaon writes that when the Gemara states that one may recite the blessings of Keri’at Shema even after the end time for Keri’at Shema has passed, this means that one may recite these blessings until the end of the fourth hour of the day which is the end time for the prayer. Thus does not mean, however, that one may recite Keri’at Shema and its blessings all day long. Many other great Rishonim, including Rabbeinu Yitzchak ibn Gi’at, the Sefer Ha’Eshkol, and others rule likewise as does Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 58, Section 6).

Thus, the latest time for reciting the blessings of Keri’at Shema is equivalent to the latest time to pray Shacharit which is no later than the end of four seasonal hours past sunrise as is printed in many calendars quoting halachic times.

Based on this we can see that the custom that some synagogues (and even some individuals) have to pray at very late hours is quite terrible, for not only do they miss the proper time for Keri’at Shema (if they have not read it at an earlier hour) and the Shacharit prayer, they transgress the sin of reciting a blessing in vain by reciting the blessings of Keri’at Shema past the allotted time for doing so. Indeed, Maran Ha’Chida writes in his Responsa Chaim Sha’al (Volume 2, Chapter 31), as follows: “It causes my soul to suffer greatly when many people in these cities recite Keri’at Shema and its blessings after the fourth hour of the day and they do not arise to pray along with the congregation; when they eventually wake up and recite Keri’at Shema alone, the fourth hour has already passed and they nevertheless read Keri’at Shema with its blessings contrary to the ruling of Maran (Ha’Shulchan Aruch) who has written that the blessings of Keri’at Shema may not be recited past the fourth hour of the day.”

Summary: One who, for whatever reason, prays Shacharit after the allotted time for doing so, i.e. four seasonal hours past sunrise, may not recite the blessings of Keri’at Shema with Hashem’s name; rather, one should read these blessings while omitting Hashem’s name, as we have explained.

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