Prayer 8: Birchot Keri'at Shema

  • Deracheha Staff; Laurie Novick, Director
 
 
 
What are birchot Keri'at Shema? Should women Say them?
By Deracheha Staff; Laurie Novick, Director
 
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Birchot Keri'at Shema

 

The berachot before and after Keri’at Shema expand on its main themes.
 
Before Shema, the berachot express our understanding of God and covenant. Yotzer Or, the first beracha recited in the morning, prepares us for kabbalat ol malchut shamayim by revisiting a main theme of the prayers recited upon arising—God’s daily renewal of creation. God created and administers the world and all that is light and dark within it (a theme also in the parallel beracha at night, Ha-ma'ariv Aravim). In this beracha, we praise God as Ruler of the natural universe, whom the angels sanctify.[1]
 
The second beracha before Shema, Ahavat Olam (in ma’ariv) or Ahava Rabba (in shacharit), complements the first by emphasizing another aspect of divine kingship—God's particular covenant with the Jewish people. God makes the covenant manifest by lovingly granting us the gift of Torah. We reciprocate that love in Shema by accepting ol malchut shamayim and ol mitzvot.
 
The beracha after Shema, Emet Ve-yatziv in the morning or Emet Ve-emuna at night, further develops these ideas:
 
Berachot 12a
 
Rabba bar Chinena Saba said in the name of Rav: Anyone who does not say Emet Ve-yatziv at shacharit and Emet Ve-emuna at ma'ariv has not fulfilled his obligation [of Keri'at Shema as fully enacted], as it is said, "To tell in the morning of your kindness and your faithfulness in the nights." (Tehillim 92:3)
 
These berachot, which both begin with the word emet, true, describe how the redemption from Egypt demonstrates God's faithfulness and lovingkindness and how the faithfulness to God that we discuss in Shema culminates in redemption.
 
Birchot Ha-mitzva? Halachic authorities debate whether the berachot of Keri'at Shema are independent blessings of praise (birchot ha-shevach)[2] or berachot over the mitzva of reciting Shema (birchot ha-mitzva).[3]
 
The time window for reciting the berachot tells us about their nature.
 
Shulchan Aruch rules that one should ideally complete the berachot within zeman Keriat Shema.[4] These berachot, then, should be attached to Shema. But after the fact, he allows one to recite the berachot later, up to the end of the fourth halachic hour (zeman tefilla, the time frame within which shacharit should be recited).[5]
 
Why is this time significant for understanding the berachot? Mishna Berura explains:
 
Mishna Berura 58:25
 
The fourth hour: For the berachot do not belong to Keri'at Shema, for even though they were enacted [to be recited] before Shema, nevertheless they are not berachot [over the mitzva] of Keri'at Shema. For one does not bless, "Who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to recite Shema.” Indeed, they are like tefilla, and therefore their law is like shacharit, which is only through the first third of the day.
 
Mishna Berura defines Birchot Keri'at Shema as independent berachot of praise similar to tefilla, not birchot ha-mitzva of Keri’at Shema. Therefore, in the morning, one may recite them until the end of the time frame for shacharit. In Bei'ur Halacha, he goes further and permits reciting the berachot until halachic midday, the most liberal time possible for reciting morning prayers.
 
While the berachot ideally frame the mitzva of Keriat Shema, they do have independent significance.
 

Exemption

 

If Birchot Keri'at Shema are an independent element of tefilla, then in theory women should be obligated to recite them as part of the mitzva of tefilla. In practice, this argument has not become prominent in halachic discourse.[6]
 
Instead, Mishna Berura articulates two grounds for women's exemption from birchot Keri'at Shema:
 
I. Since the ideal timing for the berachot is right before and after Keri'at Shema, which is time-bound, then they are also time-bound, so women are exempt.
 
Mishna Berura 70:2
 
They [women] are exempt also from the berachot of Keri'at Shema, for they [the berachot] also have a set time.
 
II. If we view Birchot Keri'at Shema as blessings on the mitzva of Keri'at Shema, then it follows that women are exempt, just as women are exempt from Keri'at Shema itself.
 
Bei'ur Halacha 70
 
It doesn't make sense to be more stringent with Birchot Keri'at Shema than with Keri'at Shema itself.
 
However we categorize these berachot, there are grounds for exemption.
 
Voluntary Recitation Though exempted, women are able to recite the berachot when fulfilling the mitzva voluntarily, just as women recite other berachot over voluntary mitzva performance. Many halachic authorities, including Mishna Berura[7] and Aruch Ha-shulchan, permit this:
 
Aruch Ha-shulchan OC 70:1
 
They [women] are exempt from Birchot Keri'at Shema, for they are also time-bound…In any case, if they wish, they can recite the berachot and Keri'at Shema like sukka and lulav, from which they [women] are exempt and they still recite berachot over them. Our women do this and may a beracha come to them.
 
Even those who follow Shulchan Aruch and do not usually permit women to recite berachot over voluntary mitzva performance may allow it here, because the potentially problematic language "ve-tzivanu" "and He commanded us", does not appear in the berachot.[8] For example, Kaf Ha-chayim allows women to recite Birchot Keri'at Shema without any modification.[9]
 
Kaf Ha-chayim OC I 70:1
 
Women who know how to learn are accustomed to pray the full order of prayers like men, no less.
 
A woman reciting no less than the full order of prayers is a woman who recites the complete Birchot Keri'at Shema.
 
Rav Ovadya Yosef, however, does not allow it, following his position that the main concern over women's reciting a beracha over voluntary performance is beracha le-vatala, which remains an issue regardless of the precise language of the beracha.
 
Responsa Yabi'a Omer II OC 6:10
 
…We are very concerned about the law of mentioning God's name in vain. Therefore, one should certainly instruct women who recite Birchot Keri'at Shema not to continue to do thus…We must instruct them not to recite Birchot Keri'at Shema and bring them back to the opinion of our master [Shulchan Aruch], whose rulings we have accepted. The language of the Rambam is, "Women and bondsmen and minors are exempt from Keri'at Shema. We teach the minors to recite it in its time and to recite berachot before it and after it, in order to train them in mitzvot." It is clearly derived from this that women may not recite Birchot Keri'at Shema…In any case, if women wish to recite them, they should recite the berachot of Pesukei De-zimra and Birchot Keri'at Shema without mention of the name of God.
 
According to Rav Ovadya, we can infer from Rambam's silence regarding women and Birchot Keri'at Shema that it is prohibited for women to recite them in full. A woman who really wishes to recite them should omit mention of God's name from the lines that start “Baruch ata…”.
 

Zecher Yetzi'at Mitzrayim

 

Through the Talmud's discussion of Va-yomer, we learn about another aspect of reciting Shema—remembering the exodus from Egypt, zecher Yetzi'at Mitzrayim.
 
The mishna in Berachot discusses when zecher Yetziat Mitzrayim is obligatory:
 
Mishna Berachot 1:5
 
We mention yetzi'at Mitzrayim at night. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya said: Behold I am like a man of seventy years and I had not merited to [understand why we] mention yetzi'at Mitzrayim at night until Ben Zoma expounded from the verse, as it is written "So that you remember the day of your leaving the land of Egypt all the days of your life" (Devarim 16:3). "The days of your life" refers to the days. "All the days of your life" refers to the nights.
 
Many of us are familiar with this teaching from the Pesach haggada. However, this mishna is not found in the discussion of the Pesach seder in tractate Pesachim, but in tractate Berachot – in the section devoted to Keri’at Shema. Based on this context, the mishna is referring to remembering Yetzi’at Mitzrayim in the evening Shema. Although in theory any portion related to the exodus might do,[10] Va-Yomer would seem is the optimal method for remembering the exodus regularly, since there are a number of other reasons to integrate it into Keri'at Shema.
 
We include Va-yomer in the evening Shema, even though tzitzit aren't obligatory at night, to ensure that we remember Yetzi’at Mitzrayim not just in the days, but in "all the days," every nighttime as well as every daytime. Rambam expands on this point:
 
Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Keri'at Shema 1:3
 
Even though the mitzva of tzitzit does not apply at night, we read it at night because it mentions yetzi'at Mitzrayim. It is a mitzva to mention yetzi'at Mitzrayim during the day and at night, as it is said "So that you remember the day of your leaving the land of Egypt all the days of your life." Reading these three portions in order is what is called Keri'at Shema.
 
Interestingly, Rambam only mentions daily zecher yetzi'at Mitzrayim here in the Mishneh Torah, in the context of Va-yomer and Keri'at Shema. He also omits remembering the exodus daily from his list of positive mitzvot in Sefer ha-Mitzvot. These omissions indicate that daily remembrance of yetzi'at Mitzrayim is an element of the mitzva of Keri'at Shema, and not an independent Torah obligation.
 
Emet Ve-yatziv A line in the Talmud about the beracha of Emet Ve-yatziv following Shema adds another possibility for satisfying this requirement:
 
Berachot 21a
 
[Saying] Emet Ve-yatziv is a Torah-level obligation.
 
Asserting that Emet Ve-yatziv is obligatory on a Torah-level is surprising, because berachot are typically rabbinic. Emet Ve-yatziv here may refer both to the beracha and to Va-yomer.[11]
 
Alternatively, once the sages enacted Emet Ve-yatziv and Emet Ve-emuna at night, they may have considered them the preferred method of fulfilling the Torah-level mitzva of zecher yetzi'at Mitzrayim,[12] because they also lay the groundwork for our prayers for redemption in Shemoneh Esrei.
 
Semichat Ge'ula li-tfilla In shacharit, the beracha Emet Ve-yatziv – which concludes with the words Ga'al Yisrael, “Who redeemed Israel” – is followed immediately by Shemoneh Esrei. The Talmud praises connecting the beracha of redemption to Shemoneh Esrei:[13]
 
Berachot 10b
 
What does "I have done what is good in Your eyes" (Yishayahu 38:3) mean? Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: That he connected ge'ula to tefilla.
 
What makes semichat ge'ula li-t’filla – beginning Shemoneh Esrei immediately after the words Ga'al Yisrael – so important? The Talmud Yerushalmi offers a parable:
 
Yerushalmi Berachot 1
 
Rav Ami said: Whoever does not immediately follow ge'ula with tefilla, to what is he compared? To the king’s friend who came and knocked on the king's door. [The king] comes out to know what [the friend] seeks, and finds that he withdrew.
 
When we recite Shema, we acknowledge God’s kingship, accept His Torah, and thank him for redemption. Prayer – as an expression of our dependence on Him and as fulfillment of our obligation to serve our Redeemer – is the natural continuation of this process.[14] If we don't follow the expression of love in Shema by turning to God in prayer, we effectively jilt God at the door.
 

Obligation?

 

Since the predominant view is that women are exempt from reciting Keri'at Shema and birchot Keri'at Shema, it follows that semichat ge'ula li-tfilla is not obligatory for women, though a woman reciting Shema and its berachot should strive for it.
 
Are women obligated in daily remembering of yetzi'at Mitzrayim? This question depends on whether remembering the exodus every day is an independent mitzva or part of the mitzva of Keri’at Shema.
 
Let's lay out the possibilities:
 
I. Part of Keri'at Shema If zecher yetzi'at Mitzrayim is part and parcel of the mitzva of Keri'at Shema, then women should be exempt, just as women are exempt from Shema. Rav Yitzchak Yehuda Schmelkes[15] makes this point:[16]
 
Responsa Beit Yitzchak OC 12
 
Rambam included it [zecher yetzi'at Mitzrayim] in the mitzva of Keri'at Shema. From here [we know] that women, who are exempt from Keri'at Shema, are also exempt from this mitzva, for it is not a distinct mitzva, but rather is included in Keri'at Shema.
 
II. An Independent Time-Bound Mitzva Alternatively, if we view zecher yetzi'at Mitzrayim as an independent obligation that we simply prefer to satisfy when reciting Shema, then women's obligation depends on whether we define the obligation as time-bound.
 
Sha'agat Aryeh argues that zecher yetzi'at mitzrayim is an independent obligation, but also time-bound:
 
 Responsa Sha'agat Aryeh 12
 
Learn from this that women are not obligated in this mentioning. The reason is that it is a positive time-bound mitzva from which women are exempt….For mentioning during the day and at night are two mitzvot and they are two acts of mentioning. Since the day’s [mitzva] does not [apply] at night and the night’s [mitzva] does not [apply] during the day, each individual mention is a positive time-bound mitzva.
 
Day and night for this mitzva are like day and night for Shema, two separate fixed times rather than one continuous obligation, so the mitzva is time-bound and women are exempt.
 
III. An Independent Non-Time-Bound Mitzva Magen Avraham writes that women are obligated to recite Emet Ve-yatziv:
 
Magen Avraham 70:1
 
It seems to me that in any case they [women] are obligated to say Emet Ve-yatziv for mention of yetzi'at Mitzrayim is a Torah-level obligation …and if so, they must connect ge'ula with tefilla.
 
Note an additional point here—once a woman recites Emet Ve-yatziv, it becomes possible for her to connect ge'ula li-t’filla as well.[17]
 
Ba'al HaTanya spells out the rationale for women's obligation. When we say zecher yetzi'at mitzrayim is obligatory day and night, we mean that the obligation can be fulfilled at any time, and it is not time-bound.
 
Shulchan Aruch Ha-Rav OC 70:1
 
In any case they [women] are obligated in mentioning the exodus from Egypt, for it is a positive mitzva that is not time-bound, for its commandment is in the day and in the night. Therefore, women should recite the beracha that was enacted on yetzi'at Mitzrayim, which is Emet Ve-yatziv.
 
Mishna Berura also rules like Magen Avraham and adds that a woman who recites ma'ariv should recite Emet Ve-emuna at night, too.[18]
 
Out of concern for Magen Avraham's viewpoint, women are encouraged to fulfill zecher yetzi'at Mitzrayim and semichat ge'ula litfilla by reciting Emet Ve-yatziv (and Emet Ve-emuna). But a woman who does not recite Emet Ve-yatziv and still wishes to remember yetzi'at Mitzrayim can rely on reciting Va-yomer alone instead.
 
Summary: If a woman wishes to fulfill the mitzva of Keri'at Shema voluntarily, then she should ideally perform it in its full glory, including the berachot that our sages enacted. They also provide her with the opportunity to remember the exodus from Egypt and connect ge'ula li-tfilla. More than that, each beracha explores core elements of Jewish belief, with an eye to redemption.
 
 
 

Why should a woman make the time and effort to recite birchot Keri'at Shema?

 

Let's let the transporting language of the berachot speak for itself:
 
Excerpts from Birchot Keri'at Shema
 
Who in His goodness renews each day always the act of creation….He will light a new light over Tziyon, and may we all soon merit its light….
 
An eternal love You loved Your people the house of Israel, Torah and mitzvot, laws and precepts, You taught us.
 
Therefore, Hashem our God, we shall speak in Your laws, and rejoice in the words of Your Torah and Your commandments forever. For they are our lives and the length of our days, and we shall think about them day and night….
 
You are first and You are last and other than You we have no king, redeemer, and savior. You redeemed us from Egypt….
 
Rock of Israel, arise in aid of Israel and redeem, as your promise, Yehuda and Israel.
 
The berachot, together with Keri'at Shema can lead all of us on a path to understanding our relationship with God and how it leads to ge'ula.
 
Additionally, as Israeli scholar Dr. Yael Levine notes, traditional sources attest to a connection between the ge'ula of the past and the ge'ula of the future, whose light we all should pray to merit.[19]
 
Dr. Yael Levine, "A Vision of the Future to Come"
 
…The seeing of the Divine Presence [at the sea] by [even] the maidservant and by Israel [as a whole] is considered a sort of model of the future occurrence. In this reality, the Divine Presence will dwell over all of Israel, including the boys and the girls, the bondsmen and the maidservants, and all flesh will see together that the mouth of God has spoken.
 
 
 

[1] There is halachic debate whether a person praying outside of a minyan recites the verses "Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh" and "Baruch Kevod Hashem" in this beracha, known as kedushat yotzer. The common ruling is to allow it. See Shulchan Aruch OC 59:3.
[2]  Responsa of Rashba I:47
For the berachot of Keri'at Shema are not actual berachot over Keri'at Shema like birchot ha-Torah or like birchot ha-mitzvot. For if it were so, we should also recite 'on reciting Shema’ as we say over Torah reading and megilla reading. Rather, their berachot were enacted independently. But they enacted to recite them before and after keri'at Shema.
 
[3]  Ramban Berachot 11b
Birkat Yotzer Or and Ma'ariv Aravim are blessings of praise…and birkat Ahavat Olam is a beracha over a mitzva for the obligation of reciting Shema.
 
[4] As we have seen, the mitzva of Keri’at Shema has a set time. The morning Shema must be recited before the end of the third halachic hour (zeman Keri’at Shema). However, the Talmud permits us to recite Birchot Keri’at Shema after the time for Keri'at Shema has passed.
Berachot 10b
One who reads [Shema] from here [the beginning of the fourth hour] and onward has not missed out, but makes the two berachot before it and one after it.
[5] Shulchan Aruch OC 58:6
Even though its time continues until the end of the third halachic hour, if the third halachic hour passed and he did not recite it [Shema], he may recite it with its berachot for the entire fourth halachic hour, which is one third of the day, and he does not receive the reward of one who recites [Shema] in its time. If the fourth hour passed and he did not recite it, he may recite it without its berachot all day long.
 
[6] Rav David Auerbach considers this possibility, but rejects it. (See Halichot Beitah, chapter 5, fn. 8.)
[7]  Mishna Berura 70:2
It is clear that they [women] can extend an obligation to themselves and recite berachot, even berachot of Keri'at Shema.
 
[8] See our discussion here: https://deracheha.org/beracha-on-voluntary-performance
[10] Berachot 14b
He needs to mention Yetzi'at Mitzrayim! He [did, and] said thus "We are grateful to You, Lord our God, Who took us out of the land of Egypt and redeemed us form the house of slavery and performed miracles and mighty deeds for us at the sea, and we sang to You.
 
[11] Tosafot Berachot 21a
The whole matter of yetzi'at Mitzrayim is called Emet Ve-yatziv because the reason for Emet Ve-yatziv is because of Yetzi'at Mitzrayim and therefore the portion of tzitzit is considered part of Emet Ve-yatziv.
 
[12]  Mishna Berura 67:3
One is obligated in any event in the beracha of Emet Ve-yatziv until the fourth halachic hour and from here on they did not enact on this a beracha, but one should say out of doubt some verse about Yetzi'at Mitzrayim.
 
[13] Berachot 4b
For Rabbi Yochanan said: Who merits the world to come? One who connects ge'ula to tefilla in aravit.
Berachot 9b
Vatikin would finish it [Keri'at Shema] with sunrise, in order to connect ge'ula to tefilla and [also] end up reciting Shemoneh Esrei in the [beginning of] the daytime.
In ma'ariv the connection is longer, with extra prayers considered to be an elongated statement about redemption.
[14] For additional explanations, see Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona Berachot 2b.
 
[16] Aruch Ha-Shulchan adds that this is especially true if we take women's exemption from tzitzit into account:
Aruch Ha-shulchan 70
They did not impose this obligation upon women because the exodus from Egypt is included in the portion of tzitzit and women are exempt from tzitzit. Therefore, the mishna and the Talmud and the halachic authorities, when they said women are exempt from Keri'at Shema and Keri'at Shema also includes yetzi’at Mitzrayim. If you were to think that they are obligated in this, it should have been stated clearly, but from their silence we learn that they [women] are exempt.
 
[17] Ba'al Ha-Tanya also makes this point:
Shulchan Aruch Ha-Rav 70
Since they [women] are obligated in the Shemoneh Esrei prayer…they also should connect ge'ula to tefilla. (If they want to also recite the remaining berachot of Keri'at Shema and also Pesukei De-zimra and its berachot, they are permitted to.
[18] Mishna Berura 70:2
The beracha of Emet Ve-yatziv which was enacted over the matter of remembering yetzi'at Mitzrayim and also the berachot after it [Shema] of aravit they [women] are obligated to say, for the mention of yetzi'at Mitzrayim is done day and night, and if so, naturally they need to connect ge'ula to tefilla, because they are obligated in tefilla.