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Peninei Halakha > Prayer > 25 - The Ma’ariv Prayer

25 – The Ma’ariv Prayer

01 – Keriat Shema and Its Berachot

The recital of Keriat Shema commands center stage at the beginning of the Ma’ariv prayer. It is a biblical commandment to recite Keriat Shema at night and in the morning, as written in the paragraphs of Shema and V’Hayah Im Shamo’a, “When you lie down and when you get up.” It is also a mitzvah to remember the Exodus from Egypt during the day and at night, as it is written (Deuteronomy 16:3), “Therefore you will remember the day you left Egypt all the days of your life.” From the words “all the days” (kol yemei chayechah), Chazal learn that it is a mitzvah to remember the Exodus from Egypt both at day and at night (Mishnah Berachot 12:2). For that reason, the Vayomer paragraph is also recited at night, since the Exodus from Egypt is mentioned at its end. The Vayomer paragraph, which discusses the mitzvah of tzitzit, primarily applies to the day, and although one can fulfill the nighttime mitzvah of remembering the Exodus from Egypt with other verses, it is customary to remember the Exodus by reciting Vayomer, since these verses are familiar to all (Tosafot Yom Tov there). In addition, combined with the first two paragraphs of Shema, it contains 248 words (paralleling the 248 organs in the body as explained earlier in this book 15:12), and by reciting all three paragraphs, one completely accepts upon himself the yoke of Heaven (see 15:3-4 in this book. The detailed laws of Keriat Shema are clarified in chapter 15).

Anshei Knesset HaGedolah added the recital of two berachot before Keriat Shema and two berachot after it. The first, “Ma’ariv Aravim,” is a blessing of praise concerning the passage of time from day to night, and parallels Birkat Yotzer Or in Shacharit. The second, “Ahavat Olam,” is praise that refers to Hashem’s love for Israel and the giving of the Torah. The third, “Emet V’Emunah,” is praise about the redemption. In the fourth, “Hashkiveinu,” we ask Hashem to protect us at night and watch over us when we sleep (see also earlier in this book 16:1). Hence, Birkot Keriat Shema are comprised of seven blessings, three in Shacharit and four in Ma’ariv; and the Yerushalmi (Berachot, chapter 1, halachah 5) states that they were instituted based on the verse (Psalms, 119:164), “Sheva bayom hillalticha” (“I praise You seven times daily.”)

02 – The Ma’ariv Amidah

Yaakov Avinu established the Ma’ariv prayer, and based on this, Anshei Knesset HaGedolah instituted praying Shemoneh Esrei at night. They set the time of Ma’ariv to correspond to the offering of the organs and fats of the sacrifices, for whatever they did not succeed in burning during the day would be burned throughout the night (Berachot 26b). However, Ma’ariv is optional (reshut). It is a mitzvah to recite Ma’ariv, but not an obligation. Whoever wanted to engage himself in a different mitzvah, or had already gone to sleep, or found it difficult to pray Ma’ariv for another reason, was not required to do so. The reason that Shacharit and Minchah are different from Ma’ariv is that Shacharit and Minchah were instituted to correspond to the Tamid offering of the morning and afternoon, specifically, to correspond to the sprinkling of their blood. Just as a person who does not sprinkle the blood does not fulfill his obligation of bringing the offering, so too, one is obligated to pray Shacharit and Minchah. However, Ma’ariv was instituted to correspond to the offering of the organs and fats upon the altar. Although it is a mitzvah to bring them, if they were not brought, the offering still remained valid. Therefore, the Ma’ariv prayer is optional.

Nonetheless, throughout the generations, all of Israel became accustomed to praying Ma’ariv. Therefore, at the time of the Rishonim it was established as obligatory. Even so, Chazarat HaShatz is not recited in it, since, in essence, the prayer is optional. Thus, Chazal did not institute an Amidah repetition for it, to fulfill the obligation of the uneducated (Shulchan Aruch 237:1).[1]

Women are exempt from praying Ma’ariv, even according to those who maintain that women are obligated to pray all the prayers instituted by the Chachamim. A woman’s obligation pertains to Shacharit and Minchah, which were established as obligatory, however, she is exempt from Ma’ariv which is optional. The men’s minhag of accepting upon themselves the recitation of Ma’ariv as an obligation does not apply to women.

[1]. In Berachot 27b, according to Rabban Gamliel the Ma’ariv prayer is obligatory, whereas according to Rabbi Yehoshua it is optional. According to Abayei it is obligatory, whereas according to Rava it is optional, and the halachah follows Rava. The majority of Rishonim, among them Tosafot, Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, and the Rosh (chapter 4, 2:7), maintain that “optional” (reshut) here means that, indeed, there is a mitzvah to recite Ma’ariv, and it may not be cancelled without justification, though it may be cancelled for a minor reason, as I have written above. By contrast, according to Ba’al Halachot Gedolot, the word “optional” means that a person is permitted to abstain from praying Ma’ariv for no specific reason, although he maintains that if one customarily prays Ma’ariv, his minhag obligates him to pray daily.The Rif writes that today, there is an obligation to pray Ma’ariv. The Rosh and Tur section 235 write this as well. In Seder Rav Amram Gaon, he writes that Half-Kaddish is recited between Birkot Keriat Shema and the Amidah, so as to separate between the obligatory and the optional sections. Even though, today, the prayer is obligatory, the minhag to recite Kaddish remains, in keeping with the essence of the original enactment. The opinions are summarized in Beirur Halachah Berachot 4b.

Most poskim say that someone who begins praying Ma’ariv and remembers in the middle of the Amidah that he already prayed must stop praying immediately, like the law regarding Shacharit and Minchah, for indeed, everything that he prayed was to fulfill his obligation, but when it is clear that he already fulfilled it, he must stop (Bei’ur Halachah 107:1, s.v. “Posek,” and according to many, that is also what is implied from the Shulchan Aruch there). However, according to the Rambam (10:6), he should continue his Amidah as a voluntary prayer (tefillat nedavah). The reason for this is that even nowadays Ma’ariv is, in essence, optional, therefore the basic element of nedavah within it remains (that is also how Yalkut Yosef, part 3, 236:11 rules). One who is uncertain as to whether or not he prayed Shacharit or Minchah must repeat his prayer, but regarding Ma’ariv, the Acharonim disagree. The Mishnah Berurah 107:2 writes that one should pray and add something new in the Amidah (see earlier in this book 18:3). According to all opinions, one who forgot to pray Ma’ariv must make it up after Shacharit (tashlumim), and similarly, one who mistakenly forgot to recite Ya’aleh V’Yavo in Ma’ariv of Chol HaMo’ed must repeat the Amidah (see Beirur Halachah 27b).

03 – The Order of the Ma’ariv Prayer

The Rishonim write that before Barchu it is customary to recite three verses, which open with the words, “V’Hu Rachum yechaper avon,” (“He, the merciful One, atones iniquity”), to request atonement for the sins that we committed throughout the day. Furthermore, at night, the Divine attribute of judgment is in force and mechablim (destructive spiritual agents) are given permission to harm. Therefore, we ask, “V’Hu Rachum yechaper avon…” (see Tur and Beit Yosef 237 and Kaf HaChaim 235:5). On Shabbat and Festivals, V’Hu Rachum is not recited.

According to the Sephardic minhag, three verses beginning with the words, “Hashem Tzevakot…” are recited before the beginning of Ma’ariv, and according to the minhag of the Chassidim, “Shir HaMa’alot…” is recited. Followers of both minhagim recite Half-Kaddish afterwards and then V’Hu Rachum. If Torah learning was conducted before the prayer service, at the end of which Kaddish Al Yisrael was recited, it is unnecessary to recite Half-Kaddish as well, so as to avoid saying too many Kaddishim (Yalkut Yosef, part 3, 236:1).

By reciting Barchu we introduce Birkot Keriat Shema, and therefore it is forbidden to talk after Barchu, similar to the law concerning someone who is in the middle of a passage of the Shema (Mishnah Berurah 236:1; 54:14; see earlier in this book 16:4). Therefore, whoever did not succeed in saying V’Hu Rachum before Barchu does not recite it after Barchu, so as not to interrupt in the middle of Birkot Keriat Shema (see Yabia Omer 2:5).

The majority of Sephardim have the custom not to answer Amen after the berachot of the chazan to prevent interruption in the middle of Birkot Keriat Shema. It is best to finish the berachah with the chazan or slightly after him, so that according to all opinions there will be no need to respond Amen. After Birkat Hashkiveinu, some answer Amen (Yalkut Yosef, part 3, 236:6) and some do not (Ben Ish Chai, Pekudei 5). According to the Ashkenazic minhag, Amen is answered after the chazan’s blessings, and is not considered an interruption. However, even the Ashkenazim try not to answer Amen after Birkat Ahavat Olam so as not interrupt between the berachah and Keriat Shema, and they do this by finishing the berachah together with the chazan or after him (see earlier in this book 16:4; all matters concerning Birkot Keriat Shema are clarified in chapter 16).

At the end of Birkat Hashkiveinu, Sephardim are accustomed to responding Amen to their own blessing, since it is a conclusion of a series of berachot. However, Ashkenazim do not answer Amen to their own berachot, with one exception, following Birkat Boneh Yerushalayim in Birkat Hamazon (Shulchan Aruch 215:1; 236:4).

Between Birkot Keriat Shema and the Amidah, the chazan recites Half-Kaddish, and after the Amidah he says Kaddish-Titkabal. After that, according to the Sephardic minhag, Shir HaMa’alot Esa Einai is recited, following which those in mourning recite Mourner’s Kaddish, one of whom says Barchu. Subsequently, Aleinu L’Shabe’ach is recited and there is no Kaddish said after it. According to the Ashkenazic minhag, immediately after Kaddish-Titkabal, Aleinu L’Shabe’ach is recited, followed by the recital of the Mourner’s Kaddish by the mourners, one of whom says Barchu.

04 – Adjoining Redemption to Prayer

The main part of the Exodus occurred during the day, when the Jewish people left Egypt. Therefore, the primary obligation of adjoining redemption to prayer is in Shacharit. Nevertheless, because the redemption began at night, there is also a mitzvah to adjoin redemption to prayer at night. Yet, we are not as meticulous in adjoining redemption to prayer in Ma’ariv as we are in Shacharit. Therefore, the Chachamim instituted Birkat Hashkiveinu after Birkat Ga’al Yisrael and considered it a continuation of Birkat Ga’al Yisrael, for in Birkat Ga’al Yisrael the blessing concerns the redemption of all Jews as a collective whole, while in Hashkiveinu we request the redemption of the individual from the dangers of the night. Were we to be strict about adjoining redemption to prayer, it would be impossible to say Birkat Hashkiveinu after the blessing regarding the redemption.

Similarly, Half-Kaddish is recited between Birkot Keriat Shema and the Amidah, for that is the order of the prayer; at every transition point from one stage to another in the prayer service, Chazal established saying Kaddish. Although in Shacharit, Kaddish is not recited immediately before the Amidah because of the great importance of not interrupting between redemption and prayer, in Ma’ariv, in which there is no need to be as meticulous in adjoining redemption to prayer, Kaddish is recited between Birkot Keriat Shema and the Amidah.

The custom in many places on Rosh Chodesh night is that the gabbai announces the words “Ya’aleh V’Yavo” before the Amidah prayer, and on the night of the seventh of Cheshvan, when we begin to ask for rain, the gabbai declares, “Tal U’Matar.” In Shacharit, we cannot interrupt with speech; instead, the gabbai or chazan reminds the congregation that there is something different in this Amidah by pounding on the pulpit. Yet, in Ma’ariv, we are lenient and express this reminder verbally (Shulchan Aruch 236:2; Mishnah Berurah 7). Still, there are those who pound on the pulpit in Ma’ariv as well, so as not to interrupt with speech (see Kaf HaChaim 336:17; Piskei Teshuvot 236:6).

One who arrives late, when the congregation is about to start praying the Amidah, should recite the Amidah with the minyan, and then make up Birkot Keriat Shema afterwards. In Shacharit, the halachah is that he must recite the prayers in order because adjoining redemption to prayer is more important than praying in a minyan. However, in Ma’ariv, prayer in a minyan takes precedence, and therefore he prays with the congregation and afterwards makes up Birkot Keriat Shema (Shulchan Aruch 236:3).[2]

[2]. Although Kaf HaChaim 111:12 writes that according to the Kabbalah, even in Ma’ariv it is forbidden to switch the order of the prayers in the service, nevertheless, the Mishnah Berurah rules like the Shulchan Aruch, as do Yalkut Yosef, part 3, p. 661 and Rabbi Chaim Palaggi.

There is an old custom to recite Birkat Yir’u Eineinu after Hashkiveinu, for it contains eighteen verses; see Mishnah Berurah 236:5 where he writes that its recital was instituted to replace the Shemoneh Esrei. There are Rishonim who maintain that there was no authority to institute its recital after the time of the completion of the Talmud, and therefore it is not to be recited (Meiri). Even so, many do have the custom to recite it. Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah write that the recital of Yir’u Eineinu was instituted instead of the Ma’ariv prayer which is optional, and even after people accepted Ma’ariv as an obligation, the custom to recite Yir’u Eineinu was not cancelled. There are poskim who prove from the custom of reciting Yir’u Eineinu that there is no need to adjoin redemption to prayer in Ma’ariv. That is also the opinion of Rav Amram Gaon. Hence, Kaddish is also recited after Birkot Keriat Shema. Nevertheless, the Ramban and the Rashbam did not recite Yir’u Eineninu or Kaddish, so as not to interrupt between redemption and prayer.

Already from the end of the time of the Rishonim, it had become customary not to recite Birkat Yir’u Eineinu in Sephardic congregations, although there were Ashkenazim who still recited it. Nowadays, in Israel it is not customary to recite it (see Kaf HaChaim 236:12 and Piskei Teshuvot 7). However, Kaddish is recited by all. Although it is the opinion of many Rishonim not to recite this Kaddish, so as not to interrupt the adjoining of redemption to prayer; nonetheless, all are accustomed to reciting it. The explanation of this is as I wrote above. Aruch HaShulchan 236:8 writes that Kaddish is a sort of redemption, so that the respect of Heaven will be revealed in the world, and therefore it is not considered as much of an interruption. See Beirur Halachah, Berachot 4b.

05 – The Time to Recite Keriat Shema Begins at Tzeit HaKochavim

The time to recite the evening Keriat Shema is “when you lie down” – when people lie on their beds to sleep, which starts when it gets dark. The Chachamim established a sign for the beginning of this time, when three medium-sized stars can be seen in the sky. This is because large stars are also visible during the day or at bein hashemashot (twilight). However, when three medium-size stars (according to the naked eye) emerge after them, it is a sign that night has begun (HaZemanim BaHalachah chapters 49-50). This time is called tzeit hakochavim. To avoid error, and to prevent mistaking big stars for medium ones, the Rishonim write that one must wait until he sees three small stars appear in the sky (Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah; Shulchan Aruch 235:1).

However, here an uncertainty arises: how do we establish the time of tzeit hakochavim? Some say that the time of tzeit hakochavim is established according to those with good eyesight, and who know where the first stars are located. They can see the three medium stars approximately eighteen minutes after sunset, and sometimes even fifteen minutes after sunset. This is also implied from the Talmud (Shabbat 35b), which states that the time between sunset and tzeit hakochavim is the walking distance of three-quarters of a mil, which is approximately between thirteen-and-a-half minutes to eighteen minutes. Others say that it is established according to the majority of people, for most people discern three medium stars approximately 25 to 30 minutes after sunset. All this is said in reference to medium stars. However, as mentioned previously, the Rishonim write to wait until three small stars are visible; therefore, it is necessary to wait another few minutes.

In practice, many are accustomed to start praying Ma’ariv approximately 20 minutes after sunset, for that is the halachah according to the majority of poskim. L’chatchilah, it is best to start Ma’ariv approximately 30 minutes after sunset. One who prays in a minyan in which Keriat Shema was recited before 30 minutes passed from sunset, should go back and repeat the first paragraph of Shema after Aleinu L’Shabe’ach in order to avoid uncertainty. Those who wish to be stringent say V’Hayah Im Shamo’a as well. There are those who also add Vayomer.[3]

[3]. See HaZemanim BaHalachah chapters 47-51. See also Peninei Halachah Shabbat I, p. 52 and in the footnotes. In Shabbat 35 the time of bein hashemashot (twilight) is explained according to Rabbi Yehudah to be the amount of time it takes to walk three-quarters of a mil, and according to Rabbi Yossi, to be a short amount of time (approximately half a minute). The majority of poskim maintain that Rabbi Yossi’s bein hashemashot is immediately after the time of Rabbi Yehudah’s bein hashemashot. The halachah sides with both of them, meaning that from sunset until a little more than the time it takes to walk three-quarters of a mil is the time of bein hashemashot. (Some maintain that the bein hashemashot of Rabbi Yossi is a few minutes after the bein hashemashot of Rabbi Yehudah, as brought by HaZemanim BaHalachah 40:8-11, and then the time of Ma’ariv is later by a few more minutes.) As we learned earlier in chapter 11, note 1, there are three opinions regarding the amount of time a mil represents: 1) 18 minutes, 2) 22.5 minutes, and 3) 24 minutes. Based on this, three-quarters of a mil is between 13.5 minutes and 18 minutes. In order to incorporate the time of Rabbi Yossi, a little more time must be supplemented, and the result according to this, is that the final time of bein hashemashot is between 14 and 19 minutes.

However, there are differences between the seasons of the year, for in Nisan (March 5th) and Tishrei (October 5th), the light fades faster after sunset and therefore it is possible to see three stars earlier. For instance, what can be seen in Nisan, 19 minutes after sunset, is visible at the peak of summer (June 22nd) almost 22 minutes after sunset, and at the height of winter, 21 minutes after sunset.

It is also important to understand that one who stands high above sea level sees the sunset later. For example, one who stands on a mountain, or in a tower at a height of approximately 800 meters above sea level, will see the sunset about five minutes after his friend who stands at sea level below. In other words, the sky will darken at the same time for both of them and they will see the stars simultaneously, but if each of them were to calculate the amount of time that passed from sunset to tzeit hakochavim, there would be a difference of approximately five minutes. Those who are higher see the sun for five more minutes. Based on this, if the Chachamim were talking about Jerusalem, whose height is approximately 800 meters above sea level (at places where the mountains do not block the horizon), in regard to this calculation, 14 or 19 minutes in Jerusalem is like 19 or 24 minutes at sea level. A few laws can be clarified after understanding this point.

In Israel, on a straight horizon at sea level during the days of Nisan (March 5th) and Tishrei (October 5th), 14 minutes after sunset, the sun descends only 3.75 degrees below the horizon. This approach poses difficulty, for at that time, few, save the most skilled, rarely succeed in seeing three stars. See HaZemanim BaHalachah 41:7 for explanations given by the Acharonim. Some say that perhaps the halachah is based on people with better vision, and others argue that maybe people living at that time had superior eyesight. As aforementioned, it is possible to conclude that the Chachamim were talking about Jerusalem, at a place where the hills do not block the horizon, and then the sunset is five minutes later, and it turns out that 14 minutes after sunset in Jerusalem is like 19 minutes after sunset in the Shefelah (the lowlands region of Israel).

Indeed, according to those who maintain that tzeit hakochavim is 19 minutes after sunset in the Shefelah, the sun descends at that time 4.8 degrees below the horizon, and then experts who know where the first stars should be seen in the sky can see three medium-sized stars in the days of Nisan. However, in the summer days, one must wait 22 minutes for that same situation to arise, and in the winter, 21 minutes.

Some say that three medium stars are actually only visible when the sun descends approximately 6.2 degrees below the horizon, which is 25.5 minutes after sunset during Nisan, 28 minutes at the height of winter (December 22nd), and 29.5 minutes at the height of summer (June 22nd). At that time, most people see three medium-sized stars. Perhaps it somewhat resembles the opinion which maintains that tzeit hakochavim is 19 minutes after sunset in Jerusalem, and at sea level it comes out to approximately 24 minutes after sunset (maybe another minute and a half were added since today eyesight has weakened, or because the abundance of electric lights make it more difficult to see the stars, although perhaps it is truly possible to see the stars slightly before that).

There are those who are more stringent and maintain that in actuality, most people do not see three stars before the sun descends 7.1 degrees below the horizon, which is around 30 minutes after sunset during Nisan and Tishrei at sea level, and in the summer, approximately 35 minutes. This is what has been said in the name of the Chazon Ish. However, it is difficult to explain the words of these stringent poskim according to the Gemara who allotted that the time it takes to walk three-quarters of a mil to bein hashemashot. Additionally, concerning calculations made in open areas in which there are no lights and electricity, people saw three stars before then. See HaZemanim BaHalachah 47:12; 50:6-7. The additional aspects of this issue require further examination. For example, in Tishrei, even though the duration of the darkening of the skies is similar to Nisan, we see the stars slightly later due to the position of the stars in the skies; and the question is, do we go by the stars or according to the darkness? See Hazemanim BaHalachah, chapter 48.

All the aforementioned refers to the time of three medium stars. However, so that people will not come to err, the Shulchan Aruch rules that they must wait until three small stars emerge, meaning, another few minutes. Some say that nowadays, since we use clocks, there is no need to wait. See HaZemanim BaHalachah 51, note 3. Nevertheless, even according to those who are stringent l’chatchilah, if one recited Shema after three medium-sized stars emerged, b’dieved he fulfilled his obligation.

In practice, the prevalent minhag is to start Ma’ariv 20 minutes after sunset, and this is good according to the majority of poskim, as written in many halachic works. At that time, in all places, experts can see three stars, which is when the sun is at 4.8 degrees below the horizon. (Even in the Shefelah in the summer, when the congregation reaches Shema, 22 minutes will have passed.)

Although it is possible to rely on the opinion of the majority of poskim and recite Shema 20 minutes after sunset, it is better to recite Keriat Shema 30 minutes after sunset. If one recites it before then, it is best that he repeats it after praying, although it is not unnecessary to say the Vayomer paragraph. Despite the fact that according to the Sha’agat Aryeh, remembering the Exodus must also be at the proper time for Keriat Shema, nonetheless, according to the Magen Avraham, it is permissible to mention it before then, at the proper time for Ma’ariv (Mishnah Berurah 235:11). Therefore, when a person recited Shema after 18 minutes following sunset, he need not repeat Vayomer. It is not even so crucial to repeat V’Hayah Im Shamo’a since, according to the majority of poskim, the obligation to recite it is rabbinic.

L’chatchilah, so as to take into consideration those poskim who are stringent, it is good to set the time of Ma’ariv 30 minutes after sunset. That way, people living in the hills also fulfill their obligation throughout the whole year even according to the stringent opinions (the sun is 7.1 degrees below the horizon), and those in the Shefelah fulfill their obligation the whole year round, according to most opinions (6.2 degrees below the horizon), and most of the year they fulfill their obligation even according to those who are stringent. In order to always fulfill one’s obligation in the Shefelah also according to the stringent opinions, it is necessary to delay the recital of Barchu during the summer by another three minutes so that when the congregation arrives at Keriat Shema, 35 minutes will already have passed.

The law concerning the emergence of three medium-sized stars is also significant with regard to establishing the time of a circumcision for a baby born at the beginning of Shabbat. If the baby is born after tzeit hakochavim, he must be circumcised on the following Shabbat; and if he is born at bein hashemashot, it is forbidden to circumcise him on Shabbat, and his circumcision is postponed until Sunday. The matter depends on the precise time of tzeit hakochavim is. The Yabia Omer, part 7, Orach Chaim 41:8 rules that 20 minutes after sunset is certainly nighttime, and therefore the baby is circumcised on Shabbat. Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchatah, part 2, 46:45 writes in the name of Rav Auerbach that night begins definitively 25 minutes after sunset. However, the fact that neither opinion makes a distinction between Jerusalem and the Shefelah, and between the different seasons of the year is problematic. The book Otzar HaBrit 9, 5, 7, mentions that there are those who maintain that nighttime officially starts at 24 minutes after sunset, and some say 28 minutes, but that the author himself was taught that it is no less than 32 minutes after sunset. Still, he too, neglects to distinguish between Jerusalem and the Shefelah and the different seasons of the year. It seems best to follow the approach that says that night begins when the sun is 6.2 degrees below the horizon. In Jerusalem that is approximately 20.5-24.5 minutes after sunset, and in the Shefelah, 25.5-29.5 minutes after sunset. It is possible to calculate the exact time with the help of the computer program Chazon Shamayim, based on the secular date, the place of birth of the child according to the lines of longitude and latitude, and the altitude of the location.

06 – The Time of the Amidah According to the Chachamim and Rabbi Yehudah

The time of the Ma’ariv prayer was established to correspond to the offering of the organs and fats of the Tamid offering upon the altar. As we already learned (earlier in this book 24:7), the Chachamim and Rabbi Yehudah disagree regarding this matter. According to the Chachamim, the time of Minchah is until night, and the time to pray Ma’ariv starts from tzeit hakochavim. According to Rabbi Yehudah, the time of Minchah ends at plag haminchah, an hour and a quarter before the end of the day, and immediately after that begins the time of Ma’ariv. A person is permitted to choose whether to practice according to the Chachamim or Rabbi Yehudah, on condition that he adheres to one minhag. If he follows Rabbi Yehudah, he must make sure not to pray Minchah after plag haminchah. If he follows the Chachamim, he must make sure to pray Ma’ariv after tzeit hakochavim. However, if a person  prays Minchah after plag haminchah in the opinion of the Chachamim, it is forbidden to pray Ma’ariv before tzeit hakochavim according to Rabbi Yehudah.

Even though according to Rabbi Yehudah the time to recite Ma’ariv and Birkot Keriat Shema starts at plag haminchah, the time of Keriat Shema itself does not begin until tzeit hakochavim. Therefore, a person praying before tzeit hakochavim must repeat the three paragraphs of Shema after tzeit hakochavim (Shulchan Aruch 235:1).[4]

L’chatchilah, one may not switch from one ruling to another; instead, everyone must always practice according to one opinion. The prevalent minhag today is to follow the Chachamim. However, in times of need, a person is permitted to change from the Chachamim’s opinion and practice like Rabbi Yehudah. For instance, in the summer, when Shabbat starts late, there are those who wish to accept Shabbat early so that their small children can participate in the prayer service and the meal, and for that reason they pray Ma’ariv like Rabbi Yehudah, before sunset. Similarly, a person who finds himself in a place in which they practice like Rabbi Yehudah, even though he is used to praying Ma’ariv after tzeit hakochavim, it is better that he pray in a minyan like Rabbi Yehudah, instead of observing his minhag and praying individually like the Chachamim.[5]

[4]. However, the Tosafot write in Berachot 2a that according to Rabbeinu Tam, the time to recite the evening Keriat Shema is the same as the time of Ma’ariv, and according to Rabbi Yehudah, one is permitted to fulfill his obligation from the time of plag haminchah. According to Rabbeinu Yitzchak, it is permissible in extenuating circumstances to be lenient regarding the time of Keriat Shema and to follow the opinions which say that it is a few minutes before tzeit hakochavim. Nonetheless, the remaining Rishonim maintain that the time to recite the evening Keriat Shema is after tzeit hakochavim, and therefore it is necessary to repeat Keriat Shema after tzeit hakochavim, as the Shulchan Aruch 235:1 rules. There is disagreement as to whether it is necessary to repeat the Vayomer paragraph after tzeit hakochavim as well. According to the Magen Avraham, the time to remember the Exodus from Egypt is the same as the time of Ma’ariv and one need not make it up, whereas according to the Sha’agat Aryeh its time is like the time of Keriat Shema and one must make it up (Mishnah Berurah 235:11). Regarding Birkot Keriat Shema, in principal their time is like the time of Keriat Shema. However, in practice, those who follow Rabbi Yehudah normally recite them before tzeit hakochavim and fulfill their obligation, as clarified in the Mishnah Berurah 235:7 and 11, and Sha’ar HaTzion 6.

[5]. According to the Ra’ah and Meiri, throughout the day a person must practice according to one approach, but each day he may choose a different minhag. According to Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, Rashba, and the Rosh, one must always choose to follow one opinion and he is not allowed to switch approaches even from time to time. The Shulchan Aruch 233:1, Mishnah Berurah 6:11 and Kaf HaChaim 9:12 rule that, l’chatchilah, alternating approaches is prohibited, but in times of need, one is permitted to do so (see Mishnah Berurah 267:3).

07 – The B’dieved Custom Linking Minchah to Ma’ariv Before Its Proper Time

In some congregations, it was customary to pray Minchah and Ma’ariv, one right after the other, between plag haminchah and tzeit hakochavim. During the time of the Rishonim, this custom was practiced primarily in Ashkenaz, and in the time of the Acharonim, mainly in Spain. Many prominent rabbis questioned this minhag and attempted to abolish it, for it is a custom which contradicts itself; since they prayed Minchah after plag haminchah like the opinion of the Chachamim, it is impossible to pray Ma’ariv at that time like Rabbi Yehudah. Hence, it is proper to arrange Torah learning between Minchah and Ma’ariv, and in that way, the people praying will merit to learn Torah and to fulfill the Ma’ariv prayer in its proper time.

Nonetheless, the Acharonim instruct that if waiting until after tzeit hakochavim will cause the people to disperse and the Ma’ariv prayer to be cancelled, it is possible to be lenient and recite Ma’ariv immediately after Minchah. Of course, all those praying must repeat Keriat Shema after tzeit hakochavim.[6]

Concerning an individual who normally prays according to the Chachamim’s approach, namely, Ma’ariv after tzeit hakochavim, and finds himself in a place in which they observe the minhag of extenuating circumstances – Minchah and Ma’ariv one right after the other before tzeit hakochavim – there is disagreement. Some say that it is preferable that the individual prays with them, so that he prays in a minyan. Others say that it is better that he preserves his minhag, prays Minchah with them in the minyan, but prays Ma’ariv individually after tzeit hakochavim.[7]

[6]. The Tosafot Berachot 2a, Rosh, and Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, as well as other Rishonim, question this minhag of praying Ma’ariv before sunset, for it involves two lenient opinions which contradict each other. In practice, to accommodate the needs of the multitude, they ruled leniently, as written in the Mishnah Berurah 233:11, Kaf Hachaim 12, and Yalkut Yosef, part 3, 235:1. However, all agree that Keriat Shema must be recited after tzeit hakochavim. There are two main opinions concerning the proper conduct  in a place where the congregation is praying Ma’ariv before tzeit hakochavim. There are two main opinions concerning how one must practice when in a place in which the congregation is praying Ma’ariv before tzeit hakochavim. According to the Rambam, he recites Birkot Keriat Shema with them and adjoins redemption to prayer, and after tzeit hakochavim he goes back and recites Keriat Shema in order to fulfill the mitzvah. That is how the Shulchan Aruch 235:1 rules. According to Rav Hai Gaon, he only recites Keriat Shema with the congregation so that from Shema he will begin the Amidah together with the minyan. However, Birkot Keriat Shema, as well as Keriat Shema itself (in which he will fulfill his obligation), are recited after tzeit hakochavim. From his opinion it appears that it is better to recite Birkot Keriat Shema with Keriat Shema, after tzeit hakochavim, even though in so doing one does not adjoin redemption to prayer. This is what the Mishnah Berurah 235:12 writes and that is how he himself practiced (see Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 2:60). According to the Gra, it is always preferable to pray Ma’ariv individually after tzeit hakochavim like the Chachamim rather than to pray with the congregation before tzeit hakochavim like Rabbi Yehudah.

In a place in which Minchah and Ma’ariv are prayed one right after the other, it is better, if possible, to be careful to recite Minchah before sunset and Ma’ariv after sunset, for some poskim maintain that Ma’ariv time begins at sunset, and that is how the Or L’Tzion, part 2, 15:6, understands the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch. Even according to this opinion, the time of Keriat Shema is after tzeit hakochavim. Nonetheless, the majority of poskim rule that the time of the Ma’ariv prayer according to the Chachamim is, indeed, after tzeit hakochavim. That is what the Mishnah Berurah 233:9 writes.

[7]. The first opinion is inferred from Kaf HaChaim 233:12. One makes up the three paragraphs of Shema later. The second opinion can be inferred from Sha’ar HaTzion 235:16. However, if one prayed Minchah before plag haminchah he prays Ma’ariv with the minyan and follows one of the two opinions mentioned in the previous note.

08 – The Final Time to Recite Keriat Shema and the Amidah of Ma’ariv

Biblically, the time of the Keriat Shema of Ma’ariv lasts the whole night, for it is written, “beshochbecha,” “when you lie down,” and people normally lie on their beds throughout the entire night. However, the Chachamim “created a fence” to this law and established its time until chatzot (halachic midnight), so that a person won’t postpone the recital of Keriat Shema, then fall asleep and miss it. Nevertheless, b’dieved, if the time passed, and he did not recite it before chatzot, he says it with its berachot before amud hashachar (dawn), since biblically, the time to recite it lasts the whole night.[8]

A person who found himself in circumstances beyond his control and did not recite Shema before amud hashachar has until netz hachamah (sunrise) to do so (these times are clarified earlier in this book 11:2). When reciting Shema after amud hashachar, it is said with three berachot, though without Birkat Hashkiveinu, for since amud hashachar already arrived, it is no longer considered time “to lie down.” Ma’ariv may not be prayed after amud hashachar either, because it was instituted for the night, and after the break of dawn, daytime has already begun (Mishnah Berurah 235:34; Sha’ar HaTzion 41).[9]

L’chatchilah, it is preferable to recite Shema and pray Ma’ariv immediately after tzeit hakochavim, for those who are expeditious perform mitzvot early. However, someone who is engrossed in Torah study is permitted l’chatchilah to delay his prayer until after his learning, as is done in many yeshivot where it is customary to pray Ma’ariv at the end of the afternoon learning session and not immediately at tzeit hakochavim. Similarly, a person who prefers to pray in a late minyan because he believes he will be able to concentrate better is permitted l’chatchilah to delay his prayer. Obviously it is better to pray in a late minyan rather than to pray individually immediately after tzeit hakochavim.[10]

[8]. The Mishnah in Berachot 2a states that, according to the Chachamim, the time of Keriat Shema lasts until chatzot, and according to Rabban Gamliel, it is until amud hashachar. In the Gemara 8b, the conclusion is that the halachah follows Rabban Gamliel. That is also how the Rosh and Rashba rule, that it is permissible l’chatchilah to recite Shema until amud hashachar. However, the opinion of the Rif, Rambam, Smag, and the majority of Rishonim is that its time is until chatzot, and only if the time passed and one did not recite it until then, he may recite it until amud hashachar. In such a case the Gemara teaches that the halachah follows Rabban Gamliel (and perhaps that is the opinion of Rabban Gamliel himself). That is how the Shulchan Aruch 235:3 rules. The Bei’ur Halachah supports this opinion. (Regarding the Chachamim’s opinion, the Rishonim disagree: according to Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, the Chachamim maintain that one cannot recite Keriat Shema after chatzot, and according to the Smag, b’dieved, it can be recited after chatzot. The Gra explains that the Bavli and the Yerushalmi are divided concerning this. According to the Bavli, the Chachamim maintain that b’dieved one may recite Shema after chatzot, and according to the Yerushalmi, one may not. Additionally, see Beirur Halachah Berachot 2a.)

The time of the Amidah of Ma’ariv: according to the Derech HaChaim, l’chatchilah, lasts until chatzot, and according to the Pri Megadim, lechatchilah, it is all night. These opinions are cited by the Mishnah Berurah 108:15. (See earlier in this book, chapter 17, note 13, concerning the matter of someone who is traveling and finishes his trip after chatzot.) Or L’Tzion, part 2, 15:9, writes that it is preferable to pray individually before chatzot rather than in a minyan after chatzot.

[9]. If, because of circumstances beyond his control, one recites the Ma’ariv Shema after amud hashachar, he cannot fulfill his obligation of the daytime Shema before netz that same day, for after treating this time as a time to lie down, he cannot consider it also a time to get up (Shulchan Aruch 58:5; Mishnah Berurah 22). However, there are those who say that after the time of misheyakir he may recite the Shema of Shacharit (Kaf HaChaim 58:21).

The Mishnah Berurah 235:30 explains that, biblically, it is permissible to recite the Keriat Shema of Ma’ariv until netz; since at that time there are still people lying in their beds, it is called a time of “when you lie down.” However, at amud hashachar, the day already begins, and therefore the Chachamim established not to recite the Shema of Ma’ariv after amud hashachar. Only someone who did not recite the Shema before amud hashachar due to circumstances beyond his control is permitted to recite it until netz. Rav Kook in Tov Ro’i 55 clarifies that, biblically, the time for the nighttime Keriat Shema is until amud hashachar and the Chachamim instituted that one who finds himself in circumstances beyond his control can make it up until netz.

[10]. The basis for the enhancement to be expeditious can be found in the words of Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah and is brought by the Shulchan Aruch 235:3 and Mishnah Berurah 26. However, other Rishonim do not mention this enhancement, and according to the Aruch HaShulchan 235:18, there are even those who disagree with it. Therefore, many are not strict to pray Ma’ariv early. See Beit Baruch 34:17.

09 – Forbidden Activities Prior to Praying Ma’ariv

It is forbidden to start eating, even a light meal, half an hour before tzeit hakochavim, for perhaps one will continue his meal until he becomes tired and falls asleep. It is also forbidden to drink alcoholic beverages. However, fruits and vegetables may be eaten. Even the consumption of bread or grains in an amount less than a kabeitzah is permissible.[11] If a person began eating before half an hour prior to tzeit hakochavim, since he started to eat when he was permitted to do so, he may continue, provided that he will have enough time after his meal to recite Shema and pray (Mishnah Berurah 235:21).

If a person began to eat when it was forbidden to do so, he must stop his meal in order to recite Shema, which is a biblical commandment. However, with regard to Birkot Keriat Shema and the Amidah, since they are rabbinic mitzvot, he is permitted to delay their recital until after he finishes eating (Shulchan Aruch 235:2).

If he asks a friend who is not eating to remind him afterwards to recite Shema and recite the Amidah, he is permitted to begin eating even after tzeit hakochavim in times of need (Mishnah Berurah 235:18). If two people need to eat and did not yet pray Ma’ariv, in times of need they may make an agreement between themselves that they will remind each other to pray Ma’ariv, and in that way, there is no concern that they will forget (see Mishnah Berurah in the introduction of section 669). Likewise, a person who always prays in a certain minyan at a particular time, and knows that he will not forget to pray because the consistency of the minyan serves as his reminder, is permitted in extenuating circumstances to eat before Ma’ariv (see Aruch HaShulchan 232:16).

In many yeshivot in the summer, dinner is started within the half-hour before tzeit hakochavim, and they rely on the fact that the time of prayer is set and known to all, and that everyone reminds each other to pray Ma’ariv after the meal. Although l’chatchilah it is proper to pray before dinner, nevertheless, it is correct to practice the way many yeshivot do in order to preserve the order of the learning sessions. If the meal is delayed until after praying Ma’ariv, the afternoon learning session will be too long and the evening learning too short, and it will likely cause neglect of Torah study.

One who must eat before praying and has neither a permanent time to pray nor someone to remind him, may create a reminder to pray. For example, he can set an alarm clock to ring, or he can ask his friend to call him and remind him to pray, and the minute he hears the ring or his friend’s call, he must recite Shema and pray (Halichot Shlomo 2:12). B’dieved, he can tie something to his clothing, so that he cannot take off his clothes before going to sleep without noticing the reminder to recite Shema and pray.

Similarly, it is forbidden to sleep a regular sleep starting half an hour before tzeit hakochavim. In extenuating circumstances, in the beginning of the evening, when everyone is normally still awake, a person may go to sleep after appointing someone to wake him up before the time to pray (see Aruch HaShulchan 232:17).

A person who intends to pray Ma’ariv individually may not begin learning after tzeit hakochavim without praying first. However, before tzeit hakochavim, he may start learning even if he intends to continue learning through tzeit hakochavim. If he is accustomed to going to pray in a synagogue in a particular minyan that begins later, he is permitted to start learning in his house after tzeit hakochavim for there is no concern that he will forget his regular schedule (Shulchan Aruch 89:5; Mishnah Berurah 89:30-31; 235:17).

Some say that all activities prohibited by the Chachamim before Minchah are also forbidden before Ma’ariv, such as a task that will likely last a long time (Rashba; Mishnah Berurah 235:17). Others say that the Chachamim only prohibited starting those types of work before Minchah, because a person is used to working in the afternoon and can get so involved in what he is doing that he will forget to pray. However, in the evening, people do not usually get caught up in their work (Aruch HaShulchan 235:16, as implied from the Rambam and other Rishonim). L’chatchilah, in a situation in which there is concern that he will be tempted to continue working, it is proper to act stringently (see earlier in this book 24:5).

[11]. Shulchan Aruch 235:2; Mishnah Berurah 235:16; 232:35. The Mishnah Berurah 232:34 explains that it is even permissible to eat cooked food made from grain if one does not intend to become full from it. From this we can learn that if he intends to become full from fruits and vegetables or from food made from legumes, indeed, it is considered a meal that is forbidden before reciting Keriat Shema and praying the Amidah.

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