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Priorities in Prayer: A Timely Kriat Shema vs. Prayer with a Minyan (1)

Rav Shlomo Levy



Translated and adapted by Rav Eliezer Kwass







            Sometimes circumstances make it difficult to read the shema in its proper time (during the first quarter of the day) in the context of public prayer ("tefilla be-tzibbur").  In such a situation, which of the following two options is preferable?

1.  to pray the whole service (including shemoneh esreh) alone; or

2.  to say keriyat shema without its berakhot earlier in the morning and later pray the whole service with a minyan?


            This dilemma often presents itself when a synagogue schedules Shabbat morning services late enough so that keriyat shema is reached after its proper time has passed.  It can come up for a group of soldiers who, because of maneuvers, are not able to arrange for a minyan during keriyat shema time.  [The same difficulty can arise with regards to the night-time keriyat shema and praying ma'ariv with a minyan.]




            The solution hinges on understanding how several aspects of the morning prayers interrelate.  The main body of our discussion explores the relationship between the three paragraphs of shema itself and the berakhot that surround it.  We must take into account the requirement of juxtaposing "ge'ula" (the ending of keriyat shema, "ga'al Yisrael") with "tefilla" (the silent prayer).  We must also determine how important communal prayer is: might it outweigh saying keriyat shema with its berakhot in their proper time?


            Praying with a minyan is unquestionably important in the eyes of the halakha, as expressed by a group of aggadic statements on Berakhot 8a.  Amongst them: the time that the community prays together is considered an "eit ratzon" - a desirable time for prayer; God never despises the prayers of the community; if there is a synagogue in one's city and he does not enter it he is considered a "bad neighbor."  The Tur (OC 90) rules, "... One should only pray in a synagogue, with a minyan."  Under normal circumstances one should make every effort to pray with a minyan.


            Nevertheless, we consider the possibility that praying the whole service (saying keriyat shema with its berakhot and following it with shemoneh esreh) as individuals during its proper time is preferable to the other option: saying just the three paragraphs of keriyat shema alone at home and then later praying the whole service with a minyan.  Two problems present themselves in our situation if one would pray with a minyan:

1.  Birkot keriyat shema are not said together with the same keriyat shema with which one fulfills his biblical obligation;

2.  The earlier keriyat shema is said without its required berakhot.




            We can reformulate problem (1) as a question: Do the berakhot before and after keriyat shema have a significance independent of keriyat shema itself?  The Rashba was asked whether one who already fulfilled his obligation of keriyat shema should still say the berakhot; it is the subject of teshuva 319 (quoted in Beit Yosef OC 60) in the first volume of his responsa:


"It makes sense that he [who already fulfilled the mitzva of keriyat shema] should say the blessings without keriyat shema.  Even though the blessings were instituted to be said before keriyat shema, they are not blessings ON (or OF) keriyat shema.  One cannot ask, 'How is it possible to make the blessings without keriyat shema?'  The Geonim z"l were also of this opinion, for we do not make the blessing "... who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us to read the shema."


            The Rashba, then, views birkot keriyat shema as distinct from shema itself (unlike normal blessings OVER mitzvot) and rules that they are meaningful outside of the context of keriyat shema.


            The Rashba writes that he thinks the Rambam would agree with him.  The Meiri also seems to agree with the Rashba, for he writes (in his commentary to the beginning of Berakhot):


"... For the formulation of these blessings is not '... He sanctified us through his commandments and commanded us to read the shema...'  Rather [in ma'ariv], we mention the ending of the day, praise of the Torah, and the redemption."


            This seems to also be the opinion of the Tosfot Ri (in Berakhot) and others.


            In contrast, it appears that the Re'a (quoted by the Beit Yosef OC 46) views birkot keriyat shema as blessings OVER keriyat shema, like blessings over the other mitzvot.  He writes that Rebbi (Rabbi Yehuda Ha-nassi) - who, when in the middle of a shiur, would only say the first sentence of the shema -  was only able later to say the berakhot of keriyat shema because he was still obligated rabbinically to say the full three paragraphs of keriyat shema.  It follows that if he had not been obligated in keriyat shema at all, he would not have been able to make the berakhot.  The Ramban and other Rishonim take a similar position, as does the Or Zarua (siman 25) [as the Peri Yitzchak (siman 1) has proven conclusively].




            The Mishkenot Ya'akov (siman 80) set out to prove from the gemara that once one has fulfilled the mitzva of keriyat shema he can no longer say birkot keriyat shema (in contrast to the Rashba's and the Geonim's approach).  Birkot keriyat shema are like other blessings over mitzvot and must be made before the mitzva; making the berakha after the mitzva was fulfilled is only permitted if there was a special reason that prevented making the berakha before.  His proof is built upon two passages in the gemara:


1. Berakhot 13b:


"The Sages taught: 'Hear Israel, Hashem our God, Hashem is one,' this is the keriyat shema of Rabbi Yehuda Ha-nassi...  Bar Kappara says, 'He did not complete (keriyat shema) later; Rabbi Shimon Be-rebbi says, 'He completed it later.'"


            The Mishkenot Ya'akov asks, "If so (that birkot keriyat shema can stand independent of keriyat shema), how can we understand the opinion that Rabbi Yehuda Ha-nassi did not later complete all of keriyat shema?"  In other words, if the berakhot can be said later by themselves, why, according to Bar Kappara, did Rabbi Yehuda Ha-nassi not complete it later in order to fulfill the mitzva of the berakhot?  The Mishkenot Ya'akov therefore explains that birkot keriyat shema were essentially instituted to precede the shema, but can be made up later (as "tashlumin").  The dispute between Bar Kappara and Rabbi Shimon concerns whether Rabbi Yehuda Ha-nassi was obligated to make up birkot keriyat shema.


            The Mishkenot Ya'akov's explanation of the gemara makes it easier to understand Bar Kappara's approach, but creates a blatant difficulty with understanding Rabbi Shimon's.  If birkot keriyat shema can only be made up later as tashlumin, they should have to follow the standard rules of tashlumin.  One makes up a prayer if he missed it by accident, and does not if he intentionally did not pray.  Rebbi, clearly, is in the former category, and therefore should be able to make up the berakhot later.


            The Rashba, in response, can maintain that Bar Kappara and Rabbi Shimon in fact debate the reason that Rebbi did not say a normal keriyat shema.  Rabbi Shimon, who believed that Rebbi later said keriyat shema with its berakhot, says that he found himself in a position in which he could not say keriyat shema normally; later, this changed and he could say.  Rabbi Shimon, though, sees Rebbi's exemption on a broader scale; Rebbi, like Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai before him, was one who was totally and constantly involved with the study of Torah and therefore exempt from prayer in general.  Thus, he sufficed by keeping only the biblical obligation of keriyat shema - the first verse - and was completely exempt from saying birkot keriyat shema later on.  [The Meiri and other Rishonim explicitly say that Rabbi Yehuda Ha-nassi was on the level of constant Torah learning that exempted him from prayer.]


2. Berakhot 11b


            The gemara on Berakhot 11b proves that from the keriyat shema of the kohanim in the Beit Ha-mikdash that each individual berakha can each stand alone as a separate mitzva ("berakhot ein me'akvot zo et zo").  His proof revolves around the kohanim only saying each morning one berakha of the birkot keriyat shema.  The gemara there asks:


"Which was the one berakha that was said [by the kohanim]?  Rabbi Shimon son of Lakish said, 'yotzeir or'...  If the one berakha was 'yotzeir or' we can prove that each of the berakhot is an independent entity [because 'ahava rabba' the next berakha, was skipped].  However, if they only said 'ahava rabba,' the proof breaks down.  They might simply have prayed too early to be able to say 'yotzeir or' [about the sunrise], but would eventually make it up later when they were able to."


            The Mishkenot Ya'akov asks: According to the Rashba and the Geonim who hold that the berakhot have value independent of the shema itself, the gemara's proof (that the berakhot are independent of each other) breaks down even if the berakha the kohanim said was "yotzeir or," since, according to their opinion, "ahava rabba" could be said later!  If that was what the kohanim did (perhaps because they were too rushed during the service), then the berakhot seemingly are still an all-or-nothing proposition.  From the fact that the gemara did accept this proof, the Mishkenot Ya'akov concludes that "ahava rabba" cannot be said after keriyat shema; only "yotzeir or," for which there is no other option (if one is forced to pray before sunrise), can be said afterwards by itself.  (This ability to make an exception has its precedent in birkot ha-mitzvot: although blessings over mitzvot usually precede the mitzva, the blessing over a convert's immersion can be said afterwards because it is impossible to do so before.)


            This proof, like the Mishkenot Yaakov's first one, is also not iron-clad.  Perhaps the reason "ahava rabba" was not said later by the kohanim was not, like the Mishkenot Ya'akov would have it, due to its dependence on keriyat shema.  It could be that because of the kohanim's unique position, they were ABSOLVED from "ahava rabba," and there was no obligation at all to make it up later.  Also, as the Peri Yitzchak notes, the Mishkenot Ya'akov's whole proof is based on a suggestion of the gemara that is later overturned.  It is unclear that according to the conclusion of the passage that would hold true.


            The Rashba's and the Geonim's opinion can, therefore, still be defended and maintained.




            The dispute amongst the Rishonim about the nature of birkot keriyat shema - independent mitzvot which are ideally but not necessarily linked to keriyat shema (the Rashba, the Meiri and the Geonim) or blessings solely related to the mitzva of keriyat shema like birkot ha-mitzvot (the Ramban, the Re'a, the Or Zarua and others) - was decided by the later Poskim in favor of the former opinion.  The Shulchan Arukh (OC 46) quotes the Rashba, and neither he nor the Rama nor the other Acharonim (including the Mishna Berura) mentions the opposing view.  Birkot keriyat shema can therefore be said, if need be, after one has already fulfilled the mitzva of keriyat shema on a biblical level.


            We will continue our discussion next week.



[Originally published in Alon Shvut #100, reprinted in Daf Kesher #229, vol. 3, pp. 40-42, 44-45.]


This article was not reviewed by the author.

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