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The Time for Shacharit

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Based on a shiur by Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Translated and adapted by Rav Eliezer Kwass

[This translation is based on a student's summary of a shiur delivered on Motzaei Shabbat Parshat Vayetzei 5747.]

This article was not reviewed by Rav Lichtenstein.

          The mishna in Berakhot (26a) deals with the time limit UNTIL when the Amida of Shacharit can be recited (Sages - until midday; R. Yehuda - the fourth hour), but does not discuss the earliest time FROM WHEN one can begin his prayer. A number of different options present themselves in this regard.



          We could simply assume that when the day begins, at sunrise (neitz ha-chama), one may commence the morning prayer. The mishna in Megilla (20a) rules with reference to a list of mitzvot that are obligatory during the day only:

"One does not read the megilla or perform circumcision ... until the sun has risen.  [Nonetheless,] if any of these was performed from the first morning light ("amud ha-shachar"), one has fulfilled his obligation."

It follows that the same criterion should apply to prayer - ideally (le-khatchila) one should begin at sunrise, but if he began (be-di'avad) at amud ha-shachar he has, nevertheless, fulfilled his obligation.  [The omission of Shacharit from the mishna in Megilla is not problematic, as the mishna lists only those mitzvot which can be performed ALL day.  The requirement to daven Shacharit, however, does not extend past the fourth hour (or midday).]

          This position is affirmed by the gemara in Berakhot (26a) which asserts that although one can recite the Shema le-khatchila from the first stirrings of dawn (Berakhot 9b) nonetheless, the ideal time to perform this mitzva of is "with the sunrise" - so that one is able to juxtapose the sections concerning redemption (the last parasha and the final blessing of keri'at Shema) with the Amida of Shacharit. The gemara also tells us that, "The 'vatikin' (ancient pious ones) would finish keri'at Shema with sunrise," for this reason.

          Rashi (Berakhot 9b) explains that the "vatikin" are "humble men who love mitzvot." It follows, therefore, that praying in the manner of the vatikin is a pious custom but not an obligation. This is the view of the Ramban [see Milchamot]. However, the Rambam (Hilkhot Keri'at Shema 1:11) writes that the mitzva of keri'at Shema is that it be completed together with its final berakha as the sun begins to rise. Nonetheless, one who TRANSGRESSED AND READ IT LATER fulfills his obligation if he did so by the end of the third hour of the day. It sounds from the Rambam as if reading like the vatikin is not just a pious custom, but is the preferred way of performing the mitzva of keri'at Shema - le-khatchila.

          These sources affirm that Shacharit begins at sunrise, and could theoretically be said all day (were it not for other considerations that create an upper time-limit). The only reason for praying precisely at sunrise is the need to juxtapose keri'at Shema and prayer. From the perspective of prayer itself, it could be said all day.


          Another source speaks highly of praying precisely at sunrise not just in order to juxtapose it to keri'at Shema, but because it is beneficial to prayer itself. The gemara (Berakhot 29b) states: "It is a mitzva to pray [Mincha] when the sun is reddish (be-dimdumei chama) ..." because at sunset God's hand in creation is revealed. Praying Mincha at sunset creates difficulties; if one waits for the last moment to be able to pray, he might end up accidentally not praying during Mincha time at all.  Therefore, states the gemara, the sages in Israel censured those who prayed Mincha right at sundown. However, in the morning this danger does not exist. Therefore, ideally Shacharit should be prayed right at sunrise when the wonders of God's creation are evident. According to Rashi, the verse (Tehillim 72:5): "They will appear before You with the sun," relates to Shacharit.

          Two possible approaches to the time-span for Shacharit have been presented thus far. Shacharit should be prayed either:

1. any time between sunrise and the first half or third of the day; or

2. PRECISELY at sunrise, like the vatikin and the ideal presented by the gemara (Berakhot 29b).



          The morning tamid sacrifice could be offered from the time the that the eastern sky had lit up (he'ir penei ha-mizrach), which is some time before sunrise (see Yoma 28a). According to the gemara (Berakhot 26b), "The prayers were instituted parallel to the sacrifices." Thus, the Rosh rules one may daven Shacharit, which parallels the morning tamid sacrifice, from the point that he'ir penei ha-mizrach.

          Why did they not wait until sunrise to offer up the morning sacrifice - is it not also a mitzva whose obligation commences when the day begins? There are three possible answers to this question:

A. According to Rashi (Megilla 20a), halakhic day really begins at AMUD HA-SHACHAR, when the first light of the sun appears (slightly before he'ir penei ha-mizrach). The mishna's ruling to perform daytime mitzvot only from sunrise onwards is merely a protective measure because, "Not all are knowledgeable about [when amud ha-shachar is]." However, one fulfills his obligation (be-di'avad) from the time of the first morning light, since in reality, day HAS begun. In the Temple, there was no need in general for rabbinic protective laws ("Ein shvut ba-mikdash") and the likelihood of the kohanim erring was minimal. Therefore, they offered the sacrifice slightly after amud ha-shachar, he'ir penei ha-mizrach - a minimal protection. [In fact, according to the Gra, who identifies the eastern sky lighting up with amud ha-shachar, there was no protective rabbinic addition at all, they offered the sacrifice exactly at amud ha-shachar.]

B.  The Divrei Chamudot (Yoma 28a) says that they offered the sacrifice before sunrise so they would be able to finish the whole order of the day (on Yom Kippur). It was tantamount to extenuating circumstances that permit starting before the day itself begins - which is sunrise.

C. Rabbeinu Tam (in Sefer Ha-yashar) sees the day as composed of two levels: The first daylight is considered the beginning of day, yet sunrise - when the sun is actually visible - is a more complete level of day ("yom gamur").  Parallel to this, there are two levels of nightfall, sunset and tzeit ha-kokhavim (the appearance of stars).  In most time-related halakhot, the night initiates the daily twenty-four hour cycle and daytime follows.  In the halakhic area of sacrifices (kodshim), of which the Torah writes "be-yom zivchakhem," the daytime begins the twenty-four hour cycle, and nighttime follows.  When the day is significant as a DATE, as is the case with kodshim, the relevant moment is the one beginning the new date, this being he'ir penei ha-mizrach.  With tefillot, however, the day's significance lies in it being day as opposed to night.  Neitz, the actual appearance of the sun, marks the beginning of this period.

          Let us return to the Rosh, who equates the time of Shacharit with that of the morning sacrifice. He most likely understands the reason for the early starting point of sacrifices in accordance with the third approach - because the calendar day for sacrifices begins with amud ha-shachar. He cannot hold that the sacrificial service is unique because there is no need to add the rabbinic protection (like A. above), as prayer would have required a rabbinic protection. It was only the priests in the Temple who were absolved from rabbinic protective laws. He also would not agree with the Divrei Chamudot, that extenuating circumstances required pushing up the time of the morning sacrifice in order to complete the lengthy day's Temple service. That can certainly apply only to sacrifices. The Rosh must see the calendar day beginning with the day's first light in both the laws of sacrifices and the laws of prayer.


          Rashi and the Ra'avad take a radical position that, under extenuating circumstances, the morning prayer can be said even BEFORE amud ha-shachar. Their source is an anecdote related on Berakhot 30a:

"When Shemuel's father and Levi wanted to travel, they would pray early (Rashi - before day); when the time for keri'at Shema came they would read it."

          Tosafot understand Rashi to mean that they prayed before amud ha-shachar. The Ra'avad also rules explicitly (in his comments on the Rif, Berakhot 2b) that under extenuating circumstances, one may pray before amud ha-shachar. The Tosafot's approach, however, is that the proper time to pray starts at sunrise, and under extenuating circumstances one can start as early as amud ha-shachar - but NOT before.

          What is behind the Ra'avad's (and, apparently, Rashi's) opinion?

1. It is far-fetched to assume that they rule that, under extenuating circumstances, the morning sacrifice may be offered before dawn, and are simply basing the time for Shacharit on the time for the morning sacrifice.

2. More likely, the explanation is as follows: Since we see that PART OF the Temple service, the terumat ha-deshen (removing the consumed ashes of the previous day's sacrifices from the altar), began before amud ha-shachar, it is permissible to pray that early.


          The Rambam's and the Shulchan Arukh's formulations of this halakha leave room for doubt.  The Rambam writes (Hilkhot Tefilla 3:1):

          "The 'mitzva' is to pray the morning prayer at sunrise;           and its time is until the end of the fourth hour ..."

          It is noteworthy that the Rambam formulates the time for Shacharit differently than he does the time for keri'at Shema. With regard to keri'at shema he writes that "one who TRANSGRESSED and said it later" can say it during the first three hours of the day. Here he writes that "the mitzva is (mitzvata)" to pray at sunrise, but its time lasts for four hours.

          The Rambam deals with praying before sunset in 3:8:

"One who prays a prayer before its time does not fulfill his obligation.  If (however) he prayed Shacharit, under extenuating circumstances, after amud ha-shachar, he fulfills his obligation."

          "After sunrise" seems to be considered the time for prayer, just not the ideal mitzva.  Before sunrise seems, on the one hand, to not be the time for prayer at all; otherwise why would the Rambam include the amud ha-shachar halakha in 3:8 with prayers prayed before their time and not in 3:1 with the proper times for Shacharit?  On the other hand, if one fulfills his obligation it might be a legitimate, though non-ideal (not a 'vatikin') prayer.

          Perhaps there are three levels of Shacharit time in the Rambam's system - sunrise (ideal), post-sunrise until the fourth hour (within the time span - just non-ideal), pre-sunrise and post fourth hour [see the continuation of 3:1] until mid-day (a legitimate Shacharit said not in its proper time).

          The Shulchan Arukh's formulation (OC 89:1) presents a similar lack of clarity.  He writes:

          "The mitzva is [to pray Shacharit] with sunrise, but if           one prayed from when it was amud ha-shachar and the           eastern sky lit up he fulfills his obligation."

          It is not clear why: Does the proper time for prayer only begin at sunrise, whereas before that is not the proper time for Shacharit; or is sunrise the IDEAL time - vatikin - while before that is still within the time span?

          In 89:8 the Shulchan Arukh writes:

"In extenuating circumstances - like if one must wake up early to travel - one can even ideally pray starting at amud ha-shachar." 

          The Shulchan Arukh only mentions the ideal time for Shacharit and what to do under extenuating circumstances, but not when the basic time begins.

          The Ramban divides KERI'AT SHEMA time into three time periods:

1. the ideal time - at sunrise like the vatikin;

2. extenuating circumstances - from amud ha-shachar;

3. the basic time - from when it is light enough out that one can distinguish between different colors (which occurs between amud ha-shachar and sunrise) until the end of the third hour of the day.

          Perhaps the Shulchan Arukh also works with three levels of Shacharit time:

1. the ideal time - at sunrise like the vatikin;

2. extenuating circumstances - from amud ha-shachar;

3. the basic time - might begin somewhere between amud ha-shachar and sunrise but it is unclear when it is, and the fourth hour of the day.

          The Peri Chadash writes that the basic time of Shacharit is between the time of the eastern sky lighting up (he'ir penei ha-mizrach) and sunrise.  The three levels, according to him, are between amud ha-shachar and the eastern sky lighting up; between then and sunrise; and at sunrise itself.

          According to the Gra who identifies amud ha-shachar with when the eastern sky lights up, perhaps the time for prayer is different than that of sacrifices. Amud ha-shachar is the starting point for the morning sacrifice; and when one can discern colors ("mi-sheyakir") - the time for tefillin (Berakhot 9b) - is the time for beginning Shacharit.  The Ra'avad says explicitly (on Berakhot 2b in the Rif) that the basic time for Shacharit is that of keri'at Shema.


          People who pray ke-vatikin should be praised!

          IT IS PREFERABLE not to pray before sunrise.  It is not clear whether prayer can be compared to sacrifices on this issue.

          IN EXTENUATING CIRCUMSTANCES one can pray starting at amud ha-shachar.  One should make sure, though, not to put on tefillin before the time when one can discern colors.

          IN NON-IDEAL, YET NOT EMERGENCY SITUATIONS (like going to work early, etc.), one can rely on the Peri Chadash's principle, that there are two levels of prayer times between amud ha-shachar and sunrise.  However, instead of, as he says, the cut-off time being when the eastern sky lights up (which the Gra argues and identifies as amud ha-shachar), one should wait until the time when one can distinguish colors.  Although the Tosafot hold that the basic time for Shacharit begins at sunrise, it seems that the Rambam and the Rosh argue.  It also seems that it is legitimate (le-khatchila) to pray before sunrise if there is some need.  Most consider the time for distinguishing colors to be 25-30 minutes before sunrise. 


          If one is confronted by two possibilities: either pray with a minyan before sunrise, or after sunrise by himself, what should he do?

          If by not joining the minyan, the minyan will fall apart (as often is the case in the army or small communities), R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt"l rules that it is preferable to pray with the minyan even though it is before sunrise.  When there is a set minyan before sunrise that will not fall apart without him, but praying after sunrise would mean always being without a minyan - he holds that there is no clear preference for one or the other. Harav Lichtenstein himself is inclined to say that it is preferable to pray alone later.


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