The Mishnah in Berachothch2? teaches that one may recite Shema' until the end of the third hour of the day, "for it is the way of the sons of kings to rise by three hours."

Why is that the deciding criterion? Is the Mishnah saying something profound about Bnei Yisrael being the sons of the King of kings, and that therefore the usual practices thereof ought to determine what time we recite Shema' (if so, why)?

Or is it saying that the sons of kings are the latest to rise, and so whatever time is normal for them to sleep in is the latest acceptable time for us to recite Shema' (if so, why)?

If either of the above is correct, why would the time be permanently fixed based on some practice of sons of kings eons ago?

Or is it something else?

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    רבי שמעון אומר: כל ישראל בני מלכים הם (Mishna, Shabbat 14:4) – Shimon bM Apr 14 '14 at 22:13
  • Fair point. Is that the answer? – Seth J Apr 14 '14 at 22:56
  • I don't think so, no. But I do think it's interesting (and see Tosafot Yom-Tov on Berakhot 1:2 as to how the Ri understands it). – Shimon bM Apr 15 '14 at 6:13

The point being raised is based on what were the normal activities of elements of society. If the mishnah were being written today, other examples would have been written based on what would be understood. Since the "Bnei Melachim" were the most privileged groups at that time, then they were used. Once the example is given we can then apply it to our own day. See the various discussions as to when must say Shma by and when we must finish alone rather than wait for tefilla betzibur. In any case, this means that there is an earliest time that the most active elements of society must wait for as well as a latest time that the most "lazy" or privileged elements of society must be up and about by.

Examples of the discussion can be found in The Latest Time for the Morning Shema; Reciting Shema with Concentration and Review Sheet for the Times for Krias Shema and its B’rachos (Siman 58 and 235) from aish.com

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    So I'm supposed to structure my day around the practices of the laziest members of the most privileged segment of society as was common 2000 years ago? There's nothing deeper than that? – Seth J Apr 14 '14 at 14:19
  • No. this was given as an example of the latest time that it is allowable to say krias shma in the morning at the extreme end. Think up your own equivalent for today if you want. Give the times for earliest and latest from the calendar and come up with your own mnemonic. – sabbahillel Apr 14 '14 at 16:53
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    So you're saying the time has nothing to do with the practices of these people? This is just a mnemonic device to remember three hours? – Seth J Apr 14 '14 at 18:04
  • @Seth J Not necessarily. The time may have been determined at three hours because that is the time that the most privileged members of society start their day. It is a matter of determining the definition of a quarter of a day. – sabbahillel Apr 14 '14 at 18:59
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    That's very circular. A quarter of the day is three hours, so we define a quarter of the day by judging that privileged members of society rise at three hours? Why are we at a quarter of the day? – Seth J Apr 14 '14 at 19:13

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