6

The time for reciting Shema is discussed in the Mishnah and various tannaic opinions are given, both for the morning Shema and for the evening Shema:

Berachot 2a

מאימתי קורין את שמע בערבין משעה שהכהנים נכנסים לאכול בתרומתן עד סוף האשמורה הראשונה דברי ר' אליעזר וחכמים אומרים עד חצות רבן גמליאל אומר עד שיעלה עמוד השחר

FROM WHAT TIME MAY ONE RECITE THE SHEMA’ IN THE EVENING? FROM THE TIME THAT THE PRIESTS ENTER [THEIR HOUSES] IN ORDER TO EAT THEIR TERUMAH1 UNTIL THE END OF THE FIRST WATCH. THESE ARE THE WORDS OF R. ELIEZER. THE SAGES SAY: UNTIL MIDNIGHT. R. GAMALIEL SAYS: UNTIL THE DAWN COMES UP. (Soncino translation)

Berachot 9b

מאימתי קורין את שמע בשחרית משיכיר בין תכלת ללבן ר' אליעזר אומר בין תכלת לכרתי (וגומרה) עד הנץ החמה ר' יהושע אומר עד שלש שעות שכן דרך מלכים לעמוד בשלש שעות

FROM WHAT TIME MAY ONE RECITE THE SHEMA IN THE MORNING? FROM THE TIME THAT ONE CAN DISTINGUISH BETWEEN BLUE AND WHITE. R. ELIEZER SAYS: BETWEEN BLUE AND GREEN. AND HE HAS TIME TO FINISH UNTIL SUNRISE. R. JOSHUA SAYS: UNTIL THE THIRD HOUR OF THE DAY, FOR SUCH IS THE CUSTOM OF KINGS, TO RISE AT THE THIRD HOUR. (Soncino translation)

All these opinions agree that there is a set time that is designated for reciting Shema; they only disagree as to when that set time is.

The Talmud derives the obligation from the verse ובשכבך ובקומך:

Berachot 2a

תנא אקרא קאי דכתיב בשכבך ובקומך

The Tanna bases himself on the Scripture, where it is written [And thou shalt recite them] . . . when thou liest down and when thou risest up, (Soncino translation)

Later in the Mishnah, a tannaic dispute is presented about how exactly to interpret this verse:

Berachot 10b

בית שמאי אומרים בערב כל אדם יטה ויקרא ובבקר יעמוד שנאמר ובשכבך ובקומך ובית הלל אומרים כל אדם קורא כדרכו שנאמר ובלכתך בדרך אם כן למה נאמר ובשכבך ובקומך בשעה שבני אדם שוכבים ובשעה שבני אדם עומדים

BETH SHAMMAI SAY: IN THE EVENING EVERY MAN SHOULD RECLINE AND RECITE [THE SHEMA’], AND IN THE MORNING HE SHOULD STAND, AS IT SAYS, AND WHEN THOU LIEST DOWN AND WHEN THOU RISEST UP. BETH HILLEL, HOWEVER, SAY THAT EVERY MAN SHOULD RECITE IN HIS OWN WAY, AS IT SAYS, AND WHEN THOU WALKEST BY THE WAY. WHY THEN IS IT SAID, AND WHEN THOU LIEST DOWN AND WHEN THOU RISEST UP? [THIS MEANS], AT THE TIME WHEN PEOPLE LIE DOWN AND AT THE TIME WHEN PEOPLE RISE UP. (Soncino translation)

Here we see that Beit Shammai interprets "lying down" and "getting up" as the position one should assume while reciting Shema, while Beit Hillel interprets it to mean that the time for reciting Shema is the time when people lie down and get up.

The Talmud elaborates on Beit Shammai's view, and we see that Beit Shammai agrees that "lying down" and "getting up" refer to times of the day, just that they also tell us the correct position to assume:

Berachot 11a

אלא ב"ש מ"ט לא אמרי כב"ה אמרי לך ב"ש א"כ נימא קרא בבקר ובערב מאי בשכבך ובקומך בשעת שכיבה שכיבה ממש ובשעת קימה קימה ממש

But why do not Beth Shammai accept the view of Beth Hillel? — Beth Shammai can reply: If this is so, let the text say, ‘In the morning and in the evening’. Why does it say, ‘When thou liest down and when thou risest up’? To show that in the time of lying down there must be actual lying down, and in the time of rising up there must be actual rising up. (Soncino translation)

How do we know that "lie down" and "get up" refer to times? Wouldn't the simplest reading of the Torah be that one should recite Shema when he lies down and when he gets up? I.e. it should be an event-based obligation, and it shouldn't matter what time it is. Yet it seems that no opinion understands it this way (even though the Talmud does not record any response on behalf of Beit Hillel regarding why the Torah doesn't just say "morning" and "evening" if it's just trying to tell us a time).

Why? Was there simply a universal tradition that the verse refers to times? Was there some other textual evidence? Is it simply obvious that the commandment would be time-based?

(Note that according to R. Yehuda the recitation of Shema is only a rabbinic obligation, in which case the Sages could have set whatever parameters they wanted. This question is assuming that the obligation is actually based on the verse.)

  • 1
    If it was based on the events of lying and rising, how can it say ובלכתך בדרך? (Am I not paraphrasing Beit Hillel in the Talmud you cited?) – Double AA Jan 2 at 1:58
  • @DoubleAA Both Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel's interpretation of ובלכתך בדרך sets it as something fundamentally different from ובשכבך ובקומך. I.e. even in a system where ובשכבך ובקומך refers to a time, ובלכתך בדרך doesn't. So if ובשכבך ובקומך referred to events why couldn't ובלכתך בדרך not refer to an event? Or perhaps even better, maybe it should refer to an event and there should really be three recitations of Shema — when you lie down, when you go to sleep, and when you go on the road? Or four, if you include בשבתך בביתך. – Alex Jan 2 at 2:13
  • 2
    A) this could be Asmakhta B) Is this so much more compelling a question than every other place Chazal make a non obvious derivation from some verse? – Double AA Jan 2 at 3:13
  • 1
    @DoubleAA I admit it's not so compelling, and there are plenty of other derivations that are non-intuitive. But perhaps there is still a particular reason for this case. (In truth, I was planning on asking a different question about Shema, but it seemed like it might relate to this issue, so I figured I'd ask this first.) – Alex Jan 2 at 3:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Browse other questions tagged .