Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
The Laws of Prayer
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Keriat Shema (1)
Rav David Brofsky
Upon concluding our study of Pesukei De-zimra, we begin the central portion of our morning tefilla, Birkot Keriat Shema and Shemoneh Esrei. When recited be-tzibbur (with a minyan), this section is preceded by a Kaddish and Barekhu.
The Torah (Devarim 6:6-9) instructs us,
these WORDS, which I command you this day, will be upon your heart; and you
will teach them diligently to your children, and will TALK of them when you sit
in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when
you rise up. And you will bind them for
a sign upon your hand, and they will be for frontlets between your eyes. And you will write them upon the doorposts of
your house and upon your gates…"
The Gemara (see Berakhot 13a) understands that "these
WORDS" refer to the Shema, which
one is obligated to verbalize when lying down and upon rising.
Is this obligation of biblical (mi-de'oraita) or
rabbinic (mi-derabbanan) origin? Furthermore, what is the content of
these "WORDS," and when and how must they be said?
This week, I would like to focus on the mitzva of Keriat Shema, its source, content, and
how it should be recited.
AND OBLIGATION OF KERIAT SHEMA:
The Gemara (Berakhot 21a) questions whether one who is
unsure whether he said Keriat Shema
must repeat it.
Yehuda said: "If one is in doubt whether one said Keriat Shema, one need not return and say it… Why? Keriat Shema is mi-derabbanan…"
Yosef asked: "Does it not say 'and when you lie down, and when you rise
responded that this is referring to [studying) divrei Torah…
Elazar says: "If one is in doubt whether one said Keriat Shema, one should return and say it…"
Clearly, RABBI YEHUDA believes that Keriat Shema is mi-derabbanan,
and therefore he does NOT mandate that one repeat it in a case of doubt. However, the Gemara does not tell us why
Rabbi Elazar is stringent.
Seemingly, one can suggest two possibilities. On the one hand, he may believe that the
obligation of Keriat Shema is mi-de'oraita, and he therefore employs
the principle of "safek de'oraita le-chumra," which requires
strictness whenever one is in doubt concerning a biblical obligation. On the other hand, he may agree that Keriat Shema is of rabbinic origin and
rule stringently for a different reason.
Most Rishonim (see Rashi Berakhot 21a; Tosafot ibid. s.v. Ha-hu; Rif Berakhot 12b; Rambam Hilkhot
Keriat Shema 1:1, etc.), adopt the simple reading of this source,
and explain that while Rabbi Yehuda maintains that Keriat Shema is only of rabbinical origin, and the verse refers to
studying Torah, Rabbi Elazar disagrees, employing the principle of "safek
de-oraita le-chumra," as Keriat
Shema is mi-de'oraita. They apparently reject Abbayei's
interpretation of "these words" as referring to "divrei Torah".
Furthermore, there are other sources that strongly imply
that Keriat Shema is mi-de'oraita (see Sota 32b and Berakhot
2a), which lead Tosafot (Sota 32b, s.v. Ve-Rabbi) to claim "it is
extremely difficult to say that all of these sources which imply that Keriat Shema is mi-de'oraita have only asmakhta (non-literal) status."
(Elsewhere, however, in Menachot 33b s.v. Ve-eizo, Tosafot do indeed rule that Keriat Shema is mi-derabbanan.)
The Shulchan Arukh (67) rules that Keriat Shema is of biblical origin, and therefore if in doubt, one
should say it.
READINGS OF THE GEMARA:
However, there are two other fascinating readings of this
gemara worth mentioning.
The Tosafot Ha-Rosh (Berakhot 21a) claims that both Rabbi
Yehuda AND Rabbi Elazar maintain that the obligation of Keriat Shema is only mi-derabbanan. However, since Shema is a form of kabbalat
ol malkhut shamayim (accepting
upon oneself the yoke of heaven), it is more serious; therefore, even in a case
of doubt, one should repeat it.
Alternatively, Rabbeinu Yona (Berakhot 12b) suggests that
BOTH Rabbi Yehuda AND Rabbi Elazar maintain that there is a biblical obligation
to recite certain texts upon rising and going to bed. However, while Rabbi Elazar insists that
these texts MUST be Keriat Shema,
Rabbi Yehuda believes that "the Torah never mentions that 'THESE WORDS'
must be Keriat Shema; rather, one may
read ANY portion of Torah. The fact that
we read these specific paragraphs is only of rabbinic origin, and therefore, in
doubt, one need not return and read these sections…"
In other words, mi-de'oraita
one must recite SOME divrei Torah upon going to sleep, and upon rising. This position may be supported by the view of
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who is cited (Menachot 99b) as saying, "even if
one merely recites Keriat Shema in
the morning and evening, one has fulfilled the obligation of 'Do not let [this
book of the Torah] be absent [from your mouth]' (Yehoshua 1:8)." Without question, the simple reading of this
gemara is that through fulfilling one's obligation of Shema, one may ALSO fulfill one's obligation of studying
Torah. However, one may also interpret
the gemara as saying that fundamentally, Keriat
Shema is a fulfillment of the mitzva of talmud Torah, Torah study!
The Yerushalmi (Berakhot 1:2) also cites Rabbi Shimon bar
Yochai, as saying, "We, who are engaged in learning Torah, do not even
interrupt our learning to say Keriat
Shema!" Is this due to the
principle of "ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva" (one who
is engaged in the performance of one mitzva need not interrupt it in order to
fulfill a different mitzva), or does Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai believe that the
formal obligation of Keriat Shema is
only mi-derabbanan, in order to
ensure minimal talmud Torah each day, and therefore one who learns the
entire day need not recite the Keriat
In any case, as mentioned above, we follow the opinion of
the majority of Rishonim, who rule that Keriat
Shema is a biblical obligation.
OF KERIAT SHEMA:
The Mishna in Berakhot explains the order of the three
paragraphs which comprise Keriat Shema.
Yehoshua ben Korcha said: "Why was the section of 'Shema' (Devarim 6:4-9) placed before that of 'Ve-haya im shamoa' (ibid. 11:13-21)? This is in order that one will first accept
upon oneself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, and then the yoke of the
commandments. Now, why does Ve-haya precede the section of 'Va-yomer' (Bamidbar 15:37-41)? This
is because the Ve-haya is applicable at day and night, whereas the
section of Va-yomer is applicable
only during the day (i.e. when one is obligated in tzitzit).
did they include the section of tzitzit? Rabbi Yehuda bar Chaviva said: "Because
it makes reference to five things: the mitzva of tzitzit, the Exodus from Egypt, the yoke of the commandments, [a
warning against] the opinions of the heretics, and the desire for sexual
immorality and the desire for idolatry…
However, although we concluded above that most Rishonim
view the obligation of Keriat Shema
as mi-de'oraita, the Gemara never
clearly defines the content of "Keriat
Shema;" it never answers the question of whether there is a difference
between the different sections of Shema. The Rishonim, therefore, debate which
paragraphs comprise the original, biblical Keriat
Shema, and which were added by the rabbis.
Many Rishonim (for example, see Rashba Berakhot 13b and
21a) maintain that only the first verse, "Shema Yisra'el" (Devarim 6:4), is required mi-de'oraita. They most likely view the Gemara's (Berakhot
13b) testimony that "'Shema Yisrael'…
this was the Keriat Shema of Rabbi
Yehuda Ha-nasi" as a proof. The
Magen Avraham (67) explains that this is also the intention of Rav Yosef Karo,
who requires that one "concentrate" during the first verse of Keriat Shema. Apparently, the first verse captures the
essence of Shema, namely kabbalat ol malkhut shamayim.
The Yerei'im claims that the entire first paragraph
(Devarim 6:4-9) is mi-de'oraita,
citing a gemara (Berakhot 16a) that implies that workers may recite only the
first section of Shema.
Rashi (Berakhot 2a) also implies
that only the first paragraph is mi-de'oraita,
as he explains that one who said Shema
before dark may fulfill his obligation to say the evening Shema by
reciting the FIRST PARAGRAPH of Shema
on his bed at night. This is certainly
Tosafot's and the Rashba's (Berakhot 2a) interpretation of Rashi. The remaining two paragraphs, according to
the Yerei'im and Rashi, are a rabbinic obligation.
The Tosafot Ha-Rosh (Berakhot 2a), however, understands
that Rashi really refers to the first verse, like the Rashba cited above, that
"the Keriat Shema of Rabbi
Yehuda Ha-nasi is merely the first verse… and therefore Rashi is correct that
while one who read the Birkot Keriat Shema [before dark] in the
synagogue has fulfilled his obligation to recite the berakhot, one
fulfills the obligation of Shema by
reading the first paragraph [which contains the first verse]."
The Peri Chadash (67) insists that the first two paragraphs
are both mi-de'oraita. This may also be the opinion of Rabbeinu Yona
(Berakhot 1a), who writes:
obligatory Keriat Shema must contain
… the first two paragraphs of Shema,
as they contain the yoke of heaven and the yoke of mitzvot, as opposed to the Keriat Shema recited on one's bed, in
which one says merely the first paragraph, without the berakha…
Rambam (Hilkhot Keriat Shema 1:1-3)
should recite Keriat Shema twice each
day, as it says, "when you lie down and when you rise up:" during the
time when people "lie down," which is night, and during the time in
which people "rise," this is day.
should he read? One reads three
paragraphs, and they are "Shema,"
"Ve-haya im shamoa" and
though the mitzva of tzitzit is not
applicable at night, we read about it at night, as it contains a reference to the
Exodus from Egypt, and it is a mitzva to remember the Exodus from Egypt during
the day and at night… AND READING THESE THREE PARAGRAPHS IN THIS ORDER IS
WHAT IS REFERRED TO AS "KERIAT SHEMA."
A simple reading of the Rambam's ruling leads one to believe
that ALL three paragraphs of the Shema
comprise the biblical mitzva of Keriat
The Acharonim, however, actually debate the position of the
Rambam. The Kesef Mishna (Hilkhot Keriat
Shema 2:13) believes that according to the Rambam, only the first verse is mi-de'oraita; the Sha'agat Aryeh
(Chapter 2) insists that the Rambam understands that the first paragraph is mi-de'oraita; and the Peri Chadash (67)
holds that the Rambam includes the first two paragraphs into the biblical
Interestingly, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (Shiurim
Le-Zekher Abba Mori, v. 1) suggests a novel interpretation of the Rambam,
which also sheds light upon the relationship between the three paragraphs of Keriat Shema.
He begins by citing two interesting statements of the
On the one hand, the Rambam (Hilkhot Keriat Shema 1:1-3)
cited above strongly implies that ALL THREE paragraphs are on the same halakhic
level, and all make up the core of Keriat
On the other hand, the Rambam does not include the mitzva
to remember the Exodus from Egypt, which he views as the primary reason for
reading the third paragraph, in the comprehensive list of commandments in his Sefer
Ha-mitzvot, despite the fact that he clearly calls it a mitzva in the
Mishneh Torah (see Hilkhot Keriat Shema 1:3)!
This omission has spurred much halakhic discussion.
Rav Soloveitchik explains, in the name of his grandfather,
Rav Chayim Soloveitchik, that the mitzva to recall the Exodus from Egypt is not
an INDEPENDENT mitzva, but rather part of the much broader mitzva of kabbalat ol malkhut shamayim, accepting the yoke of the rule of heaven.
(This interpretation is consistent with those who view the
REASON for the mitzva of recalling the Exodus from Egypt as an acknowledgment
of active Divine providence; see Sefer Ha-kuzari 1, Chinukh mitzva 21, Ramban
Shemot 13:16 and 20:2.)
Therefore, while the essential obligation of Keriat Shema consists of the first two
paragraphs, as explained above by Rabbeinu Yona, the third paragraph, which
mentions the Exodus from Egypt (as well as tzitzit)
is added to enhance and deepen the kabbalat
ol malkhut shamayim of Keriat Shema.
One might cite the above mishna as a support for Rav
Soloveitchik's interpretation of the Rambam, that all three paragraphs are mi-de'oraita. Were the mishna to feel that only two of the
paragraphs were mi-de'oraita, there
would be no need to explain why "Va-yomer"
is read last. Apparently, the mishna
understands that all three paragraphs are a fulfillment of the biblical
obligation of Shema, and Va-yomer is relegated to the end because
it is not entirely relevant at night.
Before we conclude, we should note that our custom is to
say "Barukh shem kevod malkhuto le-olam
va-ed," "Blessed is the
name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever," after the first
verse of Shema.
The Gemara (Pesachim 56a) relates:
do we say it? …As Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish taught, "It says (Bereishit
49:1): 'Yaakov called to his sons, and said: "Gather yourselves together,
that I may tell you that which will befall you in the end of days."' Yaakov wished to reveal to his sons the [time
of the] end of days, but God's Presence left him. He said, 'Perhaps one of my children is
unworthy, just as Yishma'el came forth from Avraham, and Eisav from
Yitzchak?' His sons responded, 'Hear
Yisrael, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one'… At that very moment Yaakov
exclaimed, 'Barukh shem kevod
malkhuto le-olam va-ed!' The rabbis
asked: 'What should we do? Should we say
it? But Moshe did not say it. Should we not say it? But Yaakov said it!' Therefore, they instituted that it should be
As mentioned above, minimally, one must concentrate during
the first verse (Shulchan Arukh 63:4), and one who does not should return to
the first verse. The Mishna Berura
(63:11-12) applies this to "Barukh
shem kevod" as well.
Next week we will continue our study of Keriat Shema and its berakhot.