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This question is asked at a very basic level, not deeply aware of Judaism or the process of Jewish law. I'm not Jewish so it isn't directly applicable to me, but it helps me to ask a broader question I have by anchoring it to something specific.

I read in the Talmud, Berachot 2a, about the time from which a person can say Shema in the evening. It's connected to the words in Deuteronomy to remember God's commandments when you're lying down and when you're getting up. I can see the connection, and the way in which saying this prayer helps both individuals and your community (together) to remember and fulfil the letter and spirit of this integral instruction. I also understand some of the reasons individuals should do what the community is doing (and was doing in the times of the Talmud's redaction), in things like this. What I'm confused about is the stretch from simply saying it whenever you go to bed to this whole concern of deciding what time is appropriate to do so every day. The Gemara asks why the question 'from what time' was brought, but the answer isn't given on the level that I'm wondering about.

Maybe there's an opportunity here for me to learn something about the process by which you pass on and work with the oral law. Do you think this interest with times is a 'fence' measure to make sure an original (oral) Torah law to say Shema is kept, similarly to the statement in the mishnah about why the sages said 'until midnight'? Or do you think this practice of saying Shema itself emerged not from a Torah law per se, but from a desire by the priests and leaders to create a tradition that would allow clear memory of and commitment to the things spoken of in Deuteronomy; and then times were also given? Or do you think that Shema was said at particular times from the days of Moses, and that the mishnah here was recording something original to the oral Torah? How much can we say about the background behind these things? If not much can be known about the history of it, then it doesn't matter, but I want to know if I'm missing something.

I'd value hearing more about how rabbinic tradition handles things like this, to come to the decisions you have before you today, with reference to this particular question. What is the connection between what is written in the verses and what is passed down through the generations, here? And on the deepest level of the community's understanding of this, can we know why it matters to specify times for saying it?

Edit: I'm not challenging the validity of the Talmud or the binding nature of practice about this point, within the context of Judaism... just wondering if there's anything else in rabbinic writings about how the Shema came to be said in this way. Or if it did happen to be a case of rabbinic tradition and fences, how it might typically/hypothetically have happened within the processes of Jewish law.

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Thank you for bringing this question here. I think you've brought several relevant factors -- received tradition about when we've always said it, protection against forgetting to do it, and enacting the words in D'varim (Deuteronomy). Another factor that affects several mitzvot is doing things with the community; for example, as you'll learn later in B'rachot, if one can't pray with the minyan he should at least try to pray at the same time as the minyan. I hope to expand and source all this later, unless someone else gets to it first, but meanwhile wanted to give you something. –  Monica Cellio Dec 25 '12 at 15:17
    
Thanks! That all makes sense to me... thanks also for being willing to respond to this question. I'd appreciate gaining a clearer idea of how it all comes together, as much as can be spoken of. –  Annelise Dec 25 '12 at 15:19
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Please don't be shy about bringing your questions here. We welcome questions from everyone, not just Jews. –  Monica Cellio Dec 25 '12 at 15:21
    
definitely appreciated! –  Annelise Dec 25 '12 at 15:31
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First see this meta post, and then if you still have questions please post a question there. It'll get more attention there than down in this comment thread, plus it'll leave a better record for the next person who asks. –  Monica Cellio Dec 25 '12 at 16:22
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2 Answers

What I'm confused about is the stretch from simply saying it whenever you go to bed to this whole concern of deciding what time is appropriate to do so every day. ... Do you think this interest with times is a 'fence' measure to make sure an original (oral) Torah law to say Shema is kept, similarly to the statement in the mishnah about why the sages said 'until midnight'?

As is explained in the mentioned mishnah, the time of midnight is a fence. However, the concept of having times at all is from the Torah, which specifies (Deuteronomy 6:7) "When you lie down and when you get up." We learn from this that there are specified times; according to Rabbi Eli'ezer the time of lying down is until the end of the first watch, and according to the rabbis is the whole night; after this time it can no longer be described as a time of lying down according to the respective opinions. So to answer this part of the question, no, the times were not a fence, other than the midnight time.

Despite this, I have previously written that according to Rabbi Eli'ezer, the time for saying Shema is entirely subjective: When each individual goes to sleep and wakes up.

The concept of fences is learned from the verse (Leviticus 18:30) which literally means "And you should guard my guardings" — make a fence around the commandments (Bartenura, Avos 1:1).

What is the connection between what is written in the verses and what is passed down through the generations, here?

This is explained at the end of the first chapter of Mevo HaTalmud of the Maharatz Chayus. The written part was given independently of the oral part. The written part contains hints to the oral part that can be used as memory devices. Before the time of the writing of the Mishnah, it was forbidden to write down the oral Torah. To start, there are about 3,000 two-sided pages in the Talmud; barring that, the author of the Chafetz Chayim (footnote in Shem Olam 1:12) quotes sources that say that the original mishnah contained 600 sdarim (compared to the current 6) tractate Avodah Zarah was 400 chapters long (the current one is 5 chapters) — assuming consistency in chapter abbreviation for all tractates and same seder length, that's 240,000 times as long, what would be if written (again assuming consistency) 720 million double-sided pages. So having a short, written source to find memorization devices would have been extremely important. But reading the written section alone obviously won't teach you all the laws (I have heard it compared to notes written in shorthand, comprehensible only to one who has previously heard the lecture on which the notes were based).

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Pashtus in the Rambam is that 3 hours in the morning is also a fence. Why can you read kriat shma shel arvit after olot? Because some people are still sleeping. Kemashma lan the zman is when people are sleeping not when they go to sleep. So too in the morning, so long as people are awake, ie all day. But Chachamim are oker the mitzva after the third hour. –  Double AA Dec 27 '12 at 4:27
    
@DoubleAA "שכיבה" is lying down, which can be used to describe the position the whole night. "קימה" is getting up, not standing up, an action that is done only once in the morning, not the whole day. (I think I read that in the Tif'eres Yisra'el, though I looked quickly through the first chapter and didn't find it. I will look a little more to see if I can find the author.) –  b a Dec 27 '12 at 4:51
    
I don't think I agree with that linguistic analysis, but either way the position I presented is R Yosef Karo's understanding of the Rambam. BTW this also explains why the Rambam thinks you can say Birkot Keriat Shema all day, not just till Chatzot/SZTefila. –  Double AA Dec 27 '12 at 4:52
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I see what I quoted is from Tosfos Chadashim to 1:2 in the name of Magen Avraham; see there. –  b a Dec 27 '12 at 4:56
    
Thank you for sourcing it, although I still don't buy the linguistic point. See R Karo here: hebrewbooks.org/rambam.aspx?mfid=81930&rid=470 and note the Rambam's use of the word בעונתה –  Double AA Dec 27 '12 at 5:03
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The answer to your questions lies in understanding what the Oral Torah is. It is not just fences and interpretations of the rabbis, but it was given together with the written Torah at Sinai as Rambam states in the Beginning of his Introduction to Mishne Torah:

All the commandments that were given to Moshe at Sinai were given together with their interpretation, as it is written "and I will give thee the Tables of Stone, and the Law, and the Commandment" (Exodus 24,12). "Law" is the Written Law; and "Commandment" is its interpretation: We were commanded to fulfill the Law, according to the Commandment. And this Commandment is what is called the Oral Law".http://www.mechon-mamre.org/e/e0000.htm)

So the fact that there does not seem to be a clear connection between the verse where the Mitzvah of Shema is derived and how the Mitvah is performed from does not matter. The Oral Torah contains all the details of how the mitzvah is performed and that comes directly from the Torah as is was given at Sinai.

As for the fences like saying Shema before before Chatzos (Rambam, Mishne Torah, Sefer Ahava, 1:10 http://www.mechon-mamre.org/i/2101.htm), that is an institution of the Rabbis after the giving of the Torah.

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Thanks, Binyomin Trager... I think I at least partially understand that... but I know that Judaism maintains that some parts of the oral law are completely original from Sinai while some parts are the living experience that include fences. What I'm trying to learn more about is how much you can know which is which when it comes to these instructions that are in the Talmud but not the written Torah. –  Annelise Dec 25 '12 at 15:30
    
@Annelise Trying to decided what the level of prohibition/obligation a certain rule has (Biblical, rabbinic, fence, custom etc.) is not something you'll find an easy rule for. –  Double AA Dec 25 '12 at 15:32
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...so Binyomin Trager: can you source that aside from the midnight/3 hour rules, that everything else is a direct tradition from Sinai? –  Double AA Dec 25 '12 at 15:33
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Binyomin, is it clear to you where the Oral Law leaves off and where Rabbinic fences pick up in this case? If so, can you edit in clarification and a source? –  Isaac Moses Dec 25 '12 at 15:34
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Oh, BTW, a belated welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for your contributions! –  Isaac Moses Dec 25 '12 at 15:35
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