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Peninei Halakha > Women's Prayer > Chapter 16: Keri’at Shema and Its Berakhot

Chapter 16: Keri’at Shema and Its Berakhot

01. Women with Regard to the Mitzva of Keri’at Shema and Its Berakhot

It is a positive biblical commandment to recite Shema at night and in the morning, as it is written: “And you shall speak them…when you lie down and when you rise” (Devarim 6:7). “When you lie down” means at night, and “when you rise” refers to morning. Since it is a positive time-bound commandment, men are obligated and women are exempt.

The Sages ordained that three berakhot are recited together with the morning recitation of Shema, two berakhot before Shema and one after. They also ordained that four berakhot are recited along with the evening Shema – two before and two after (m. Berakhot 1:4). These berakhot complement and supplement the themes of the Shema, and they praise and thank God for creating and governing the world. Women are also exempt from reciting these berakhot, since they too are time-dependent: Birkhot Keri’at Shema of Shaĥarit can only be recited until the end of the first four hours of the day, and of Ma’ariv can be recited all night.

Some poskim maintain that women must mention the Exodus daily and nightly because the mitzva is continuous and not time-bound. However, as explained below (section 3), most poskim maintain that since the daytime and nighttime commemoration of the Exodus are distinct, the mitzva is considered time-bound, and women are exempt from it (Sha’agat Aryeh §13; MB 70:2).

Although women are exempt from reciting Shema, they are still obligated in the mitzva of emuna (faith in God), and therefore it is proper that they accept the yoke of heaven daily by reciting the two verses “Shema Yisrael” and “Barukh Shem” (SA 70:1; MB 5; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 5). One who wishes to enhance the mitzva recites all three paragraphs of Shema as well as Emet Ve-yatziv, which mentions the Exodus and adjoins redemption to prayer (see above, ch. 8 n. 4, where it states that Emet Ve-yatziv takes priority over the three paragraphs of the Shema).

Another two time-bound mitzvot are mentioned in Shematzitzit and tefillin. We already learned (in chapter 3) that women absorb the light of time-bound mitzvot even without performing them; however a woman who wishes to fulfill a time-bound mitzva receives credit for doing so. For various reasons, women customarily do not fulfill the mitzvot of tzitzit and tefillin (Rema 17:2 and 38:3; below 21:5-6). However, every woman recites Shema and its berakhot sometimes, and some even do so daily. This is the practice in many schools as well (see above, 2:8 n. 10; 8:3 n. 4). Therefore, in the ensuing sections we will study the meaning and halakhot of this mitzva.

02. The Mitzva of Reciting the Shema

The recitation of Shema includes three paragraphs. The first is “Shema” (“Listen”; Devarim 6:4-9), in which we accept the yoke of heaven and which discusses God’s unity and our love for Him. The second is “Ve-haya im Shamo’a” (“And if you follow”; Devarim 11:13-21), which contains the acceptance of the yoke of the mitzvot. The third is “Va-yomer” (“And He said”; Bamidbar 15:37-41), within which there is a command to remember the mitzvot via the mitzva of tzitzit, and at the end of which the Exodus from Egypt is mentioned.

The Sages arranged the Shema paragraph to precede Ve-haya im Shamo’a so that one will first accept the yoke of heaven and only then accept the yoke of the mitzvot. They also placed Ve-haya im Shamo’a, which presents a general command to keep all the mitzvot, including those performed during the day and those at night, before Va-yomer, which discusses the mitzva of tzitzit, performed only during the day (Berakhot 13a).

According to most Rishonim, the biblical commandment can be fulfilled by reciting just the “Shema Yisrael” verse, for about that verse Torah says (Devarim 6:6-7), “These words I am commanding you today must be in your heart…when you lie down and when you get up.” However, the Sages ordained the recitation of all three paragraphs. It can therefore be explained that the essence of the mitzva of Shema is indeed the acceptance of the yoke of heaven, which is why most Rishonim maintain that even one who only recites the first verse fulfills the biblical commandment. Yet, the more one enhances his acceptance of the yoke of heaven, the more completely he fulfills the biblical mitzva. Therefore, the Sages ordained the recitation of all three paragraphs, for within them are the fundamentals of faith, the acceptance of the yoke of the mitzvot, and the remembrance of all the mitzvot through the mitzva of tzitzit. Hence, in truth, we fulfill the biblical mitzva by reciting all three paragraphs (Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 15 n. 1).

03. Remembering the Exodus

It is a biblical commandment to remember the Exodus every day, as the Torah says: “So that you remember the day you left Egypt every day of your life” (Devarim 16:3). The Torah seems to add a superfluous word (“kol yemei ĥayekha” instead of just “yemei ĥayekha”), from which the Sages derive that the mitzva to remember the Exodus is performed both during the day and at night (Berakhot 12b). This mitzva can be fulfilled by reciting any verse that discusses leaving Egypt or by mentioning the Exodus in one’s own words.

There are two reasons why the Va-yomer paragraph was incorporated into the recitation of the Shema. First, it mentions the mitzva of tzitzit that reminds us of all the mitzvot. Second, it discusses the Exodus from Egypt. It is therefore customary to say Va-yomer even at night, for although there is no need to mention the mitzva of tzitzit then, there is still reason to say it for the sake of remembering the Exodus (see Berakhot 14b, and Kessef Mishneh, Laws of Keri’at Shema 1:2-3).

There is a difference between the mitzva of Keri’at Shema and the mitzva of remembering the Exodus from Egypt. The mitzva of Keri’at Shema can only be fulfilled in the first three hours of the day because that is the time we wake up, whereas the daytime mitzva of remembering the Exodus can be performed throughout the entire day. However, following the enactment of the Sages, we fulfill the mitzva of remembering the Exodus by saying Shema. The Exodus is also mentioned in the berakhot of Emet Ve-yatziv in Shaĥarit and Emet Ve-emuna in Ma’ariv, and one who recites them fulfills his obligation of remembering the Exodus even if he did not recite the Shema.

Regarding women, some poskim say that since the mitzva to remember the Exodus from Egypt lasts continuously throughout the day and night, it is not a time-bound mitzva, and women are therefore obligated to fulfill it. Hence, women are required to recite Emet Ve-yatziv in Shaĥarit and Emet Ve-emuna in Ma’ariv (MA). Still, according to the majority of poskim, because there is a specific mitzva to remember during the day and a specific mitzva to remember at night, it is considered a time-bound mitzva from which women are exempt (Sha’agat Aryeh §13; MB 70:2).

Nonetheless, a woman who wishes to perform this mitzva is praiseworthy. It is preferable for her to fulfill this mitzva by reciting Emet Ve-yatziv, because Va-yomer mentions the mitzva of tzitzit, from which women are exempt, whereas Emet Ve-yatziv, which discusses the redemption of Israel, pertains to both men and women. Moreover, if she recites this berakha followed immediately by the Amida, she will have fulfilled the enhancement of juxtaposing redemption and prayer (see below, section 13).

04. The Content of the Shema Paragraph

The Shema paragraph (Devarim 6:4-9) consists of three sections: 1) the principle of faith; 2) the meaning of this principle in our lives; 3) guidance on imbuing our lives with faith.

1) The first verse, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One,” teaches the core principle of Jewish monotheistic faith: that God is Master of all and there is no power in the world other than Him. Even though it may seem to us that there are other distinct powers, in truth God is the One and Only, Who sustains all. There is none but Him.

2) This belief bears great significance on our lives. It implies that there is no value in this world outside adherence to God, and we are thus enjoined to love Him “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” The Sages (Berakhot 54a) interpret these words: “‘With all your heart’ – with both of your inclinations: your good inclination and your evil inclination,” because one’s evil inclination must be controlled to serve God, whether by force or by transforming it into good; “‘And with all your soul’ – even if it takes your life,” for one must be ready to give his life for his belief in God; “‘And with all your might’ (‘me’odekha’) – with all your money (‘mamonekha’)” – even one’s money should serve as a basis and a means to serve God, so that if it were demanded of a Jew to violate his religion or lose all his wealth, he would forfeit his money rather than defy his belief. Alternatively, they interpret, “‘With all your might’ – no matter what He metes out to you (‘be-khol mida u-mida she-Hu moded lekha’), be very grateful to him.”

3) In the third part of this paragraph, the Torah offers guidance for incorporating these principles of faith. First, “These words that I command you today shall be upon your heart,” and then, “teach them to your children.” Even after one learns the basics of faith very well, if he does not repeat them to himself every day, the worries of his life and his dealings can cause him to forget them. Therefore we are commanded, “And you shall speak them when you sit at home, when you walk on your way, when you lie down, and when you rise.” From here we derive the obligation to recite Shema both in the morning and at night. Nevertheless, the Torah is not content with recitation alone; it adds the mitzva to place these paragraphs on faith into our tefillin and to bind them to our arms and heads: “You shall bind them as a sign on your arm and they should be a symbol between your eyes.” We are moreover commanded to fix them firmly in the mezuzot on our doorposts, as it is written, “write them on the doorposts (mezuzot) of your homes and your gates.” This is so that every time we enter and exit our homes, we notice the mezuza and recall the fundamentals of Jewish faith.

05. The Second and Third Paragraphs

In the second paragraph, “Ve-haya im Shamo’a” (Devarim 11:13-21), we learn the value of the mitzvot, the reward for those who fulfill them, and the punishment for those who transgress them. If we love God, serve Him with all our hearts, and fulfill His mitzvot, we will be worthy of His blessing. The land will bring forth its crops, and we and our children will live long lives on the soil that God promised to give to our ancestors and to us. However, if we, God forbid, stray from the path, God will be angry with us, the ground will not yield its produce, and we will perish from upon the good land. The Torah goes on to reiterate the commandment to contemplate the fundamentals, to place this paragraph in the tefillin on our arms and our heads, and to post mezuzot on the entrances to our homes. Thus, whereas the first paragraph emphasizes our turn toward God, the second paragraph emphasizes the manifestation of God’s actions in the world, as the fulfillment of the mitzvot is an expression of God’s word in this world while reward and punishment confirm His supervision of the world.

In the third paragraph, “Va-yomer” (Bamidbar 15:37-41), the mitzva of tzitzit is elucidated. This mitzva has the unique ability to remind us of all the mitzvot and inspire their fulfillment, as it is stated: “Remember all of God’s mitzvot – do them.” Indeed, the mitzva of tzitzit is only performed during the day and not at night because the day symbolizes the clear revelation of God’s word in the world. By revealing the light of the mitzvot and remembering them, we have the strength to overcome our inclination, as the Torah states: “You will not stray after your heart and after your eyes that you chase after.” The conclusion of the paragraph mentions the Exodus. Just as tzitzit reveal the light of all the mitzvot, so too, the Exodus demonstrates that this world has a Sovereign and that the Jewish people were chosen to reveal His word.

Thus, each of the three paragraphs is a continuation of and an expansion of the basis of faith contained in the verse “Shema Yisrael.” In the first paragraph, we learn the essential significance of faith as the one and only foundation of our lives. This is an extension of the words “Hashem Eĥad” (“God is One”). From that, we accept upon ourselves the yoke of all the mitzvot in the second paragraph, which is an extension of the words “Hashem Elokeinu” (“the Lord is our God”). In the third paragraph, the mitzva of tzitzit reminds us of all the mitzvot. At the end, it talks about the Exodus, which showed the world that God chose Israel and that He oversees and rules the world. This is an expansion of the words, “Shema Yisrael” (“Hear O Israel”). Later in this chapter (section 12) we will learn that the berakhot instituted by the Sages also continue and supplement the Shema.

06. The Significance of the Exodus

The Egyptian kingdom, which enslaved Israel, was essentially a material one. Historical research corroborates this. Among all the ancient nations, no culture was more materialistic than the Egyptian culture. The Egyptians denied the existence of a soul and did not believe in the afterlife. Only the human body and material objects were of importance to them. They therefore invested enormous effort into embalming and mummifying their dead. Even the great pyramids are nothing but tombs for their bodies. Their moral culture correspondingly was concerned primarily with satisfying bodily appetites. As the Sages tell us, no nation was as awash in lust as the Egyptians (Torat Kohanim, Aĥarei Mot 9). The Jewish people represent the exact opposite; their aspirations are primarily spiritual.

During that difficult period, the materialistic Egyptian people ruled over the people of Israel, enslaved them, and subjected them to excruciating physical labor. It seemed that the great spirit that our patriarchs began to display would never rise again. The material had prevailed over the spiritual. Until the King of kings appeared in all His glory and brought us forth from Egypt.

By taking us out of Egypt, God showed the world, for the first time, the full power of the spirit. It was then made known that the world is not merely physical urges, but also spirit; spirit and soul exist, as do moral values. The Exodus expresses the victory of spirit over matter. It demonstrates that even if matter tries its best to enslave the spirit, the spirit ultimately breaks free from its chains. Just as God smote Egypt and brought Israel out with great wealth, so every battle between spirit and matter will end with spirit victorious.

Just as the Jewish people, who gave the world Torah and ethics, were liberated from the  bonds of Egyptian materialism, so too each individual Jew must free herself from the bonds of materialism, discover the spirit, and connect with the Almighty through mitzvot. By fulfilling the mitzva of remembering the Exodus, we recall the uniqueness and destiny of Israel, thereby freeing ourselves from the bonds of the material and disclosing the eternal divine truth (see Peninei Halakha: Pesaĥ, 1:2-4).

07. Kavana While Reciting the First Verse

One’s primary kavana must be for the first verse, because in saying it we accept the yoke of heaven, as the Torah says: “These words… must be in your heart” (Devarim 6:6). Therefore, one must concentrate in her heart on the words she recites in the first verse. If she did not focus on the words she recited, she did not perform the mitzva (Berakhot 13b; SA 60:5, 63:4). Even one who concentrates on the full meaning of every word must try not to think about other things while reciting the verse. However, be-di’avad, it seems that as long as she also pondered the meaning of the verse, she fulfilled the mitzva (Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 15 n. 2).

This is the meaning on which one should focus: “Shema Yisrael” – “Hear O Israel”; the mitzva to accept God’s yoke is intended for the Jewish people, the nation whose purpose is to express faith in God’s singularity in the world. “Hashem” – “the Lord”; this word is not pronounced as written. It is written as the Tetragrammaton, God’s four-letter proper name, but it is pronounced “Adonai.” While reciting it, one should focus on the meaning of the word as pronounced – that He is Master of all – as well as the word as written – that He is eternal. “Elokeinu” – “our God”; He is powerful, omnipotent, the master of all forces, Who rules over us. “Eĥad” – “one”; a person should prolong the recitation of this word long enough to have kavana that God is the sole ruler of the whole world, heaven and earth and the four directions of the world. This meaning is hinted at in the numerical values of the letters of the word: alef – one: God is One; “ĥet” – eight: God rules over the seven heavens and the earth; “dalet” – four: God rules over the four directions (SA 61:6; and see MB 18).

Be-di’avad, even if one does not focus on the exact meaning of each word and name but understands their meaning generally – that they are about the acceptance of the yoke of heaven – she fulfills this mitzva (Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 15 n. 3). However, if her mind wanders and she does not concentrate on even the general meaning of the words of the first verse, she does not fulfill the mitzva and must repeat the first verse with kavana in order to do so (MB 63:14; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 17-18; see Peninei Halakha: Prayer 15:6).

It is customary to recite the first verse aloud in order to inspire kavana, it is customary to read the first verse out loud. It is also customary to cover the eyes with the right hand so as to avoid looking at anything else that might disrupt concentration (SA 61:4-5; MB 17).

08. The Second Verse and its Meaning

Immediately following the first verse, we say quietly, “Barukh Shem kevod malkhuto le-olam va-ed” (“Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity”). Although this passage does not appear in the Shema paragraph and is not a verse from Tanakh, the Sages ordained its recitation as part of Shema based on an ancient tradition.

The Talmud (Pesaĥim 56a) recounts that before the patriarch Yaakov died, all of his sons gathered around him. He wished to disclose the end of days, but at that moment the Shekhina left him and he could not tell them. He asked his sons, “Perhaps one of you is not righteous, like Yishmael who came from Avraham and Esav who came from my father Yitzĥak, and that is preventing me from disclosing the end of days to you?” They all replied as one: “‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.’ Just like there is only One in your heart, there is only One in our hearts.” At that moment, Yaakov said, “Barukh Shem kevod malkhuto le-olam va-ed.” The Sages ask, “What should we do? Should we recite this sentence even though it is not written in the Torah? Should we omit it even though Yaakov said it?” Therefore they ordained that it is recited quietly.

This sentence is considered a continuation of the acceptance of the yoke of heaven found in the first verse, and therefore also requires that one concentrate on the meaning of the words (MB 63:12). As we learned, it is proper for women to recite the first two verses of Shema daily.

One should pause briefly between “le-olam va’ed” and “Ve-ahavta” (“You shall love”) in order to distinguish between the acceptance of the yoke of heaven and the rest of the paragraph. Also, it is proper to pause between the first verse and “Barukh shem” to differentiate between the acceptance of the yoke of heaven as commanded by the Torah and the enactment of the Sages (SA and Rema 61:14).

Although God’s unity is extremely profound concept, we will nonetheless briefly discuss its meaning. The first verse, Shema Yisrael, expresses the greatest, most absolute, most unified form of belief and is called “yiĥud elyon” (the higher unification). In this conception, nothing other than God has any real existence; rather He is alone, and we are all non-existent in relation to Him. Since God’s omnipotence is not revealed in this world, it is difficult to grasp the higher unification on a permanent basis. But twice daily, when we recite Shema Yisrael, we are commanded to rise to this level. The second verse is called “yiĥud taĥton” (the lower unification). By reciting it, we accept upon ourselves the yoke of heaven according to the level of belief that remains paramount in this world: the belief that the world really, tangibly exists and God gives it life and rules over it. By His will He adds life to it, or heaven forbid, takes life away from it. This is the meaning of the statement that His name and sovereignty are revealed in this world, as we say, “Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity” (Tanya, Sha’ar Ha-yiĥud Ve-ha-emuna; Nefesh Ha-ĥayim, part 3).

09. The Laws of Reciting Shema

One must recite Shema with great kavana, with fear, awe, trembling, and sweat; she should contemplate in her heart that she is now reciting God’s word and focus on its meaning, as if they were new to her (SA 61:1-2).

In addition to kavana, one must pronounce the words of Shema precisely, taking care not to slur any letter, harden soft sounds, or soften hard ones. Therefore, le-khatĥila, one should distinguish between an alef and an ayin, a khaf and a ĥet, a kamatz and a pataĥ, and a tzeirei and a segol (SA  61:14-23). The Sages say, “If one recites Shema and is careful to pronounce its letters exactly, Hell is cooled for him” (Berakhot 15b). Be-di’avad, if she did not recite Shema meticulously, she nevertheless fulfilled her obligation as long as she did not miss a word or a full syllable (SA 62:1; MB 1).

One must hear what she is saying. Be-di’avad, if she read the words only with her lips but did not hear herself, since she mouthed the words, she fulfilled her obligation. However, one who only recited Shema in her mind, without mouthing the words, did not fulfill her obligation (SA 62:3).

Technically, one fulfills the mitzva by reciting Shema or the Amida in any language she understands, though it is proper to recite them in Hebrew (see above, 1:10). However, several major Aĥaronim write that nowadays one cannot fulfill the obligation by reciting Shema in a different language, because there are words that cannot be translated accurately. For example, the Hebrew word “ve-shinantam” (“teach them”) connotes both repetition (shinun) and sharpening (ĥidud). No foreign word captures exactly these meanings. Since the Shema cannot be translated precisely, there is no option to recite it in a different language (MB 62:3; see also Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 15 n. 7).

10. The Way to Recite Shema

One may recite Shema while standing, sitting, or lying down on one’s side (Berakhot 10a; SA 63:1). We learn from this rule that faith is not something detached from this world, something that can only be achieved under specific circumstances. Rather, the faith expressed in the recitation of Shema is a part of every life situation in this world, and so one may recite Shema in any situation.

Technically, one may recite Shema even while walking, as the Torah says, “when you walk on your way.” However, the Sages maintain that it is not proper for one to accept the yoke of heaven casually. Therefore, one who is walking should stand still while reciting first verse of Shema (SA 63:3; MB 9).

Because of the importance of the first paragraph, in which we accept the yoke of heaven, one must be careful not to occupy herself with anything else while saying it, nor gesture with her eyes, fingers, or lips (SA 63:6).

It is worth noting that mitzvot require kavana (SA 60:4). That is, in addition to the actual performance of the mitzva, one must also intend this action or speech-act to be a mitzva; just as one has a body and a soul and one cannot live without the other, so too, the mitzvot have both body and soul. The act is the body and the accompanying intent is the soul.

11. 248 Words

The Torah gives life and health to the world and to humanity. This is especially true of Shema, which contains the principles of faith and the fulfillment of the mitzvot. The Sages teach that Shema is comprised of 248 words, just as there are 248 limbs in the human body; when one recites Shema properly, each and every limb corresponds to one word and is healed by it. However, in the three paragraphs of Shema there are actually 245 words. In order to reach 248, the ĥazan repeats the last three words, “Hashem Elokeikhem emet” (“the Lord, your God, is true”), thereby completing the count to 248 (Zohar Ĥadash Ruth 95:1; see also Peninei Halakha: Prayer 15:12).

Women, who do not pray in the synagogue, do not hear the ĥazan, and therefore must practice one would when praying individually. That is, according to Ashkenazic custom, before beginning Shema she says, “Kel Melekh ne’eman” (“God, faithful King”). Even though women have 252 limbs, as the womb has two doors and two hinges (Bekhorot 45a), since all people have 248 limbs, perhaps it is most important to direct the blessings toward them, and the blessing will then continue to the limbs unique to women (Minĥat Elazar 2:28; Ha-elef Lekha Shlomo OĤ 120).

According to Sephardic custom, one praying individually should also complete the three missing words on her own and repeat “Hashem Elokeikhem emet” (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 61:15-16).  Some say that according to Sephardic custom a woman should say “Kel Melekh Ne’eman” before and also repeat “Hashem Elokeikhem emet” after Shema, thereby reaching 252 words, matching the number of her limbs (She’eirit Yosef vol. 2, p. 186).

12. The Berakhot Are an Extension of Keri’at Shema

Birkhot Keri’at Shema are unlike other birkhot ha-mitzvot instituted as preparation mitzvot, which contain the formula “asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu…” (Who has sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us…”). Rather, they are formulated as praise, thanksgiving, and some petition, and their purpose is to express more expansively the themes of Shema, whose essence is the first verse.

In the Shema we say “Hashem Eĥad” (“God is One”), denoting that He is the single entity that brings the world into being and sustains it and that there is none other than Him. In the first berakha of Keri’at Shema, we expand on this principle, and by praising Him for the light that is renewed daily, we continue to extol God, “Who constantly renews the work of Creation every day.” To emphasize His oneness, we praise Him as Creator of both light and darkness. At night, in the corresponding berakha, we praise him as “Ma’ariv aravim” (“the One Who brings on evening”) and add that He is “Borei yom va-laila” (“the Creator of day and night”). Hence, the principle of belief in God’s unity that appears in Shema is amplified in the first berakha.

The significance of the opening words, “Shema Yisrael,” is that the belief in God’s unity is revealed to the world through the Jewish people, who were put in the world for that purpose. This idea is amplified in the second berakha, in which we thank God for loving us and for giving us the Torah out of love. We pray for the opportunity to understand the Torah and fulfilling it with love, thereby revealing God’s name in the world.

Hashem Elokeinu” (“Lord our God”) means that God is omnipotent and rules the world according to His will. His control of the world, with all its forces and components, was revealed most clearly in the Exodus, which is mentioned at the end of the third paragraph of Shema. In the third berakha we expand on this further and praise God, “You are the first and You are the last, and aside from You we have no king, redeemer, or savior. You redeemed us from Egypt…” We also mention the slaying of the Egyptian firstborns and the splitting of the sea. We conclude, “Blessed are You, Lord, Who redeemed Israel” (“Ga’al Yisrael”).

We thus see that all three berakhot are a continuation and expansion of the principles of faith that are found in Shema.

Because these berakhot are unlike others which we recite before the performance of mitzvot, confusing their sequence does not prevent fulfillment of the mitzva. Although certainly le-khatĥila they must be recited in the order that the Sages ordained, be-di’avad, if one changed the order, she still fulfills the mitzva. Likewise, if she recited the berakhot without reciting Shema, or if she only recited one of the berakhot, she is credited for what she recited (Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 16 n. 1).

13. The Laws of Reciting the Berakhot

A woman who recites Pesukei De-zimra and Birkhot Keri’at Shema must be careful not to interrupt by speaking between them. Since Pesukei De-zimra serves as a preparation for prayer, she must take care not to interrupt from the beginning of Barukh She-amar until the end of the Amida (SA 54:3).

In Yotzer Or, we recite verses of Kedusha, and although it is forbidden to say Kedusha without a minyan, according to the majority of poskim, the Kedusha in Yotzer Or does not require a minyan for it is not our intention to sanctify God as individuals at that time; rather, the verses are a description of how angels sanctify God’s Name (Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona, Rosh). However, le-khatĥila, in order to fulfill her obligation according to all poskim, it is best that a woman who recites Yotzer Or without a minyan says them in the ritual chant for verses of Tanakh, for then she is considered to be speaking them in the manner of one studying, which all agree is permissible (Terumat Ha-deshen, SA 59:3). It is not necessary for her to know the precise cantillation melodies; rather, the main idea is that she tries to recite the words somewhat like a traditional chant so that it appears as if she is studying a book of the Prophets.

Although the recitation of Shema and its berakhot and the recitation of the Amida are two separate mitzvot, a woman who recites them both must adjoin them; immediately upon finishing Ga’al Yisrael she must begin the Amida. The Sages state that anyone who adjoins redemption to prayer indeed merits life in the next world (Berakhot 4b). If one adjoins them while praying ke-vatikin (at hanetz ha-ĥama), he is promised that he will not be harmed that whole day (Berakhot 9b and Tosafot ad loc.). One who interrupts between redemption and prayer is like a king’s confidant who comes and knocks on the king’s door, and when the king emerges to find out what he wants, the confidant leaves to take care of another matter, which then results in the king’s withdrawal from him.

The mention of Israel’s redemption from Egypt is like the knock on the king’s door, because the redemption demonstrates the great love God has for Israel. The Exodus is considered God’s betrothal of Israel, as it were. It therefore forbidden to waste the opportunity. At this moment of closeness, we must achieve devotion through prayer and ask that God bless and redeem us like He redeemed us from Egypt (see y. Berakhot 1:1).

14. Interruption between Keri’at Shema and Its Berakhot

In order to prevent hatred and insult, the Sages permitted offering greetings in the middle of reciting Shema and its berakhot to one to whom courtesy demands doing so. The poskim write that since it is accepted nowadays not to interrupt in the middle of prayer, honorable people are not insulted when they are not greeted and asked how they are. Therefore, no permission is granted to interrupt in the middle of Shema and its berakhot in order to address an honorable or revered person (MB 66:2, based on Sefer Ha-ĥinukh). However, if someone who does not understand the value of prayer approaches the woman praying, and if not answering will likely cause insult, it is permitted to initiate a greeting. Similarly, a newly religious person whose parents do not understand the value of prayer may greet them succinctly. In the middle of the verses “Shema Yisrael” and “Barukh Shem” one must not interrupt, unless a life is at stake.

One may interrupt by talking in the middle of Shema and its berakhot in order to save herself from bodily harm or monetary loss, although it is preferable, if possible, to finish the paragraph or berakha she is reciting before doing so (see BHL 66:1).

One who sees her friend committing a sin should hint to her in order to prevent her from sinning. However, if her friend does not take the hint, she must interrupt Keri’at Shema and its berakhot to tell her to separate from the prohibition, for if the Sages permitted the interruption of Keri’at Shema and its berakhot for the honor of a human being, one may certainly interrupt for God’s honor (Ritva, Kaf Ha-Ĥayim 66:7).

One may interrupt in the middle of Birkhot Keri’at Shema to respond to Kaddish, Kedusha, and other sacred words. These laws will be addressed outlined below (20:9-10).



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