THIS SITE IS NO LONGER SUPPORTED            בית מדרש הוירטואלי עבר דירה
PLEASE FIND US AT OUR NEW TORAT HAR ETZION WEBSITE                                  
     English shiurim @          לשיעורים בעברית @

The Proper Times for Prayer (1)

  • Rav David Brofsky




            In a previous shiur (#10), we discussed the proper time for reciting Keriyat Shema.  In this shiur, I would like to review the halakhically relevant "times" of the morning, i.e. amud ha-shachar until he-netz ha-chama, and discuss their relevance to the laws of Tefilla.


Amud Ha-shachar and He-netz Ha-chama:


            The earliest halakhically significant time is "amud ha-shachar," or "alot ha-shachar."  As we explained in shiur #12, this is the earliest time that one may, in extenuating circumstances, recite Keriyat Shema.  Furthermore, as we shall see in this shiur, one may also recite Shemoneh Esrei as early as amud ha-shachar in extremely extenuating circumstances. 


How early is amud ha-shachar?


            The Gemara (Pesachim 93b – 94a) cites a debate regarding the amount of time in between he-netz ha-chama, which as we shall see, is the earliest preferable time for Tefilla and other mitzvot which are performed during the day, and amud ha-shachar.


            The halakha is in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda, who posits that the distance between amud ha-shachar and he-netz ha-chama is the distance is takes to walk four mil. 


            The Rishonim debate how much time we should attribute to each mil.  The Rambam (Peirush Ha-Mishnayot Berakhot 1:1), and the Shulchan Arukh 459:2 explain that each mil is 18 minutes, and therefore amud ha-shachar precedes he-netz ha-chama by 72 minutes.  The Chatam Sofer (Haga'ot on OC 89) writes that a mil is 22.5 minutes, placing amud ha-shachar 90 minutes before sunrise.  (See Biur Halakha 459.)


            In addition, the Biur Halakha (271:2) cites a disagreement as to whether the above times are constant, or subject to the different distances from the equator, and the changes of the seasons.  The Gr"a insisted that these times refer to the equinox days of Nissan and Tishrei, in which the night and day are equally long.  Furthermore, the Gemara's calculation refers to Eretz Yisrael and Bavel, where the sun, on the equinox days, is approximately 16.1 degrees below the horizon.  According to this interpretation, amud ha-shachar varies from place to place, and season to season, and should be calculated according to when the sun is 16.1 degrees below the horizon.


            The various "halakhic calendars" calculate these times differently.  For example, the Luach Eretz Yisrael, based on the view of Rav M. Tuchichinski, assumes that amud ha-shachar is 90 minutes before sunrise.  Other charts rely upon the position of the Shulchan Arukh, and other Acharonim, who place amud ha-shachar at 72 minutes before sunrise.  Similarly, the various "calendars" differ as to whether this span is constant, or subject to place and time. 


            The next significant time is "mi-sheyakir," i.e. when one can recognize a friend from a distance of four amot by the morning light.  As we discussed in a previous shiur, this is the earliest time, preferably, that one may recite Keriyat Shema (although, as we shall learn, one should not recite Tefilla, le-chatchila, until sunrise).


            This is a difficult time to quantify, especially since the Gemara attributes it to one's own ability to discern a friend from four amot.  Rav Ovadya Yosef, in his Yechave Da'at (2:8), places mi-sheyakir approximately 66 minutes before sunrise.  The Sefer Ishei Yisrael (18:1 and note 4), a halakhic compendium on the laws of tefilla, rules that "mi sheyakir" is no earlier than 50 minutes before sunrise.  Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggrot Moshe OC 4:6) writes that "mi-sheyakir" is approximately 35 – 40 minutes before sunrise. 


            The next halakhically significant time, "he-netz ha-chama" (sunrise), is the earliest time that one may say the Shemoneh Esrei.  In fact, as we shall see, the Talmud praises those who recite Keriyat Shema slightly before sunrise, in order to say Shemoneh Esrei as the sun rises, fulfilling the verse, "They shall fear You with the sun."


            As we noted in shiur #12, the Acharonim debate whether the "sha'ot zemaniyot" used to determine the end of the third and fourth hour, times relevant to Keriyat Shema and Tefilla, are calculated from alot ha-shachar or he-netz ha-chama.


            The Magen Avraham (58:1) concludes that since Keriyat Shema is mi-deoraita, one should follow the more stringent opinion, held by the Terumat Ha-deshen, the Bach, and the Eliyah Rabba, and count from amud ha-shachar until tzeit ha-kochavim.


            The Gr"a (Biur Ha-Gr"a 459) enlists a host of Gaonim and Rishonim (Rav Saadya Gaon, Rav Hai Gaon, Rambam) and Acharonim (Levush (233), Tosafot Yom Tov etc.) and argues that the day is calculated from sunrise until sheki'at ha-chama (sunset).


            As Keriyat Shema is mi-deorayta, seemingly we should adopt the more stringent approach, of the Magen Avraham, since "safek de-oraita le-chumra." 


            However, it seems that most communities and calendars follow the Gr"a.  The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (5:14), as well as Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggrot Moshe OC 1:24), clearly rule that the halakha is in accordance with the Gr"a, and testify that such was the custom in Lithuania.  The Chazon Ish (OC 13:3) and the Minchat Yitzchak (3:71) also accept the Gr"a's approach.  Elsewhere, Rav Moshe Feinstein (YD 3:129) writes that one should be stringent.  Some calendars list both times.


Earliest Time for Tefilla:


            Unlike Keriyat Shema, the Gemara never explicitly delineates the earliest time one may recite Shemoneh Esrei of Shacharit.  There are, however, two sources which may indicate when one may begin the morning prayers.


            On the one hand, the Gemara (Berakhot 9ba) refers to the practice of the vatikin, described by Rashi as "humble men who love mitzvot," who recite Shema early enough to be able to recite Shemoneh Esrei as the sun rises.


"The vatikin used to finish it [the recital of Shema] with sunrise, in order to join ge'ula with Tefilla, and say the Tefilla in the daytime… (as it says) 'They shall fear You with the sun.' "


Seemingly, the optimal time to recite Shemoneh Esrei, according to this source, is with the sunrise. 


            On the other hand, the Mishna (Megilla 20a) enumerates certain mitzvot which are fulfilled during the day.  While these mitzvot should preferable be fulfilled after sunrise (he-netz ha-chama), be-diavad, they may be fulfilled be-di'avad as early as amud ha-shachar. 


            In light of the above sources, it seems that while be-di'avad one may pray earlier, le-chatchila only should pray with, or after, the sun rises, fulfilling to verse, "They shall fear You with the sun …."


            Indeed, the Ramban (Milchamot Hashem 2a) writes that one should pray AFTER sunrise, and this custom of the vatikin may be optimal (mitzva min ha-muvchar), but not obligatory. 


            Interestingly, the Rambam (Hilkhot Keriyat Shema 1:11), writes:


"When is its (i.e. Keriyat Shema's) time during the day? The mitzva is to recite it before sunrise in order that he may finish reading it, and recite the final berakha (of Birkhot Keriyat Shema) with sunrise… and if one delayed, and read Keriyat Shema after amud ha-shachar he has fulfilled his obligation, as its (Keriyat Shema's) time is until the end of the third hour for one who transgressed and delayed…"


The Rambam, almost explicitly, describes Tefilla AFTER "he-netz ha-chama" as be-di'avad! Preferably, according to the Rambam, Tefilla should not just be recited early, but specifically as the sun rises. 


            Indeed, we find a similar idea in a different Gemara (Berakhot 29b), which teaches:


"R. Chiyya bar Abba said in the name of R. Yochanan: It is a mitzva to pray with the first and last appearance of the sun.  R. Zeira further said: What text confirms this? 'They shall fear You with the sun' In the West they curse anyone who prays [mincha] with the last appearance of the sun.  Why so? — Perhaps he will miss the time…."


The Gemara expresses an ideal of praying with sunrise, and theoretically, as it sets as well, when the wonders of creation are evident. 


            Elsewhere, the Rambam (Hilkhot Tefilla 3:7) writes that be-di'avad, one may recite Shemoneh Esrei from the time of amud ha-shachar.


            Apparently the Rambam felt that there are three significant times regarding tefilla. Optimally, one should pray WITH sunrise, be-di'avad one may pray until the fourth (or sixth) hour, and in extenuating circumstances, one may even pray from amud ha-shachar.


            Alternatively, the Rosh (Berakhot 4:1) disagrees with the above view, and rules that one may, le-chatchila, pray from the time that the eastern sky lights up (he'ir penei ha-mizrach), slightly later than amud ha-shachar, as that is when the korban tamid was offered in the Beit Ha-mikdash (Yoma 28a).  While the Rosh does acknowledge that the "ikar mitzva" of Tefilla may be with sunrise, as the vatikin did, since the Tefillot were established parallel to the korbanot (Berakhot 26b), the earliest time for Tefilla is 'he'ir penei mizrach.'


            Other Rishonim offer a more radical view, and posit that the morning Shemoneh Esrei, under extenuating circumstances, may be recited even before amud ha-shachar. 


The Gemara (Berakhot 30a) relates:


"When Shemuel's father and Levi wanted to travel, they would pray early; when the time for Keriyat Shema came they would read it…"


Most Rishonim understand that Shemuel's father and Levi would pray at amud ha-shachar, when traveling.  Tosafot (s.v. avu'ah), however, interprets Rashi as saying that when leaving early to travel, one may even pray BEFORE amud ha-shachar.  The Raavad (Rif on Berakhot 2b) concurs with this view. 


            Practically, what is the earliest one may pray, and what value do we ascribe to davening at he-netz ha-chama, like the vatikin?


The Shulchan Arukh (OC 89:1) rules:


"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."


The Shulchan Arukh does not explicitly rule whether praying after sunrise is be-di'avad, as we attributed to the Rambam, or just not a fulfillment of the mitzva min ha-muvchar, as we attributed to others.


Furthermore, he adds (89:8):


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


Preferably, one who must pray early in order to travel to work, or because of another extenuating circumstance, should pray from that time that the eastern sky is lit up (he'ir penei mizrach).  If necessary, one may even daven when he can recognize a friend from a distance of four amot, which is the earliest time to recite Keriyat Shema.  If one MUST daven even earlier, one may recite Keriyat Shema with its berakhot, and Shemoneh Esrei, from amud ha-shachar (Shulchan Arukh 58:3).


            At times, optimal, or less than optimal times for Tefilla, may conflict with communal prayer (tefilla be-tzibbur).  For example, if one has the choice of praying vatikin alone, or later with a minyan, which is preferable? Furthermore, in some communities, especially in the winter, there are minyanim which reach Shemoneh Esrei BEFORE he-netz ha-chama.  Is it preferable, if one has the choice, to pray with a minyan BEFORE he-netz ha-chama, or afterwards, alone?


            As for vatikin, the Acharonim question which is the preferred practice: to pray as the vatikin, or to daven later with a minyan.  Rav Shlomo Kluger (Ha-elef Lecha Shelomo 47), for example, prefers tefilla be-tzibur.  Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yabia Omer OC 4:9) suggests that is one anticipates praying with greater kavana, alone, ke-vatikin, then that may be preferable. 


            The Biur Halakha (58:1) rules that one who is accustomed to praying ke-vatikin, may do so even without a tzibbur. 


            As for one who must daven before sunrise, the Ishei Yisrael (13:6 and note 20-21) cites differing opinion.  Rav Lichtenstein ( cites the view of Rav Soloveitchik zt"l, who felt that if a pre-sunrise minyan may be cancelled due to one's refusal to participate, one should daven early, with the minyan.  If there is no such fear, while Rav Soloveitchik felt that there is no clear preference, Rav Lichtenstein is inclined to rule that one should pray individually.


Prohibited Activities Before Amud Ha-Shachar:


            The Gemara (Berakhot 14a) teaches that one should refrain from certain activities before prayer.


"Rav said: If one gives greeting to his fellow before he has said his prayers it is as if has built a 'bammah' (temporary altar upon which it is forbidden to offer sacrifices), as it says, 'Cease ye from man in whose nostrils is a breath, for how little is he to be accounted! (Yishayahu 2)' - read not 'bammeh' [how little], but 'bammah.' … R. Abba explains the dictum to refer to one who rises early to visit another… R. Yonah said in the name of R. Zera: If a man does his own business before he says his prayers, it is as if he had built a 'bammah' … R. Idi bar Avin said in the name of R. Yitzchak bar Ashian: It is forbidden to a man to do his own business before he says his prayers, as it says, 'Righteousness shall go before him and then he shall set his steps on his own way' (Tehillim 85)."


The above Gemara mentions two prohibitions: greeting someone, and tending to one's business, before prayer. Since one's tefillot are equated with korbanot, tending to one's business, or even greeting another is compared to offering an alternate sacrifice, akin to those sacrifices offered outside of the Temple, on private alters (bamot). 


            Regarding greeting someone before tefilla, the Beit Yosef cites three interpretations of the gemara.


            Firstly, he presents the position of the Rabbis of Provence, cited by the Talmidei Rabbenu Yona (Berakhot 8a), who rule that the prohibition applies only to a case in which one deliberately approaches someone with the intent to greet them, and uses the greeting "shalom," which is also one of the names of God. In this case, the effort expended to go to one's house, or even to one's place in the beit kenesset, to greet someone, with the name of God, before greeting God Himself (through prayer!) is deemed inappropriate. However, one may certainly greet people, even upon one's own initiative, with other greetings, such as "good morning" ("tzafra tava").


            Secondly, he cites their teacher, who insists that even in that case, it is still inappropriate to greet someone before tefilla, even without the name of God (shalom), unless one 'happens' upon someone unintentionally.


            He then cites Rabbenu Yerucham, who interprets "shalom" as 'keriah' (bowing), and not as saying the word 'shalom.' He rules that one should not 'bow' to someone, when deliberately seeking to greet them, but rather just say 'shalom' or another greeting.


            Finally, he cites the Raavad who suggests 'changing' one's standard greeting, in order to remind one's self not to spend too much time conversing before shacharit.


            The Shulchan Arukh cites all of the above opinions. The Mishna Berura (16) writes that while the 'minhag' is to refrain from using 'shalom' even when unintentionally meeting people, if one has already recited berakhot, then it is certainly permitted. Furthermore, if one is greeted, ten one may respond with any greeting.


            Finally, as we discussed last week, one may not eat or drink before tefilla. Therefore, the Shulchan Arukh rules that this prohibition begins as early as amud ha-shachar, the earliest that one may pray, be-diavad. Furthermore, the Mishna Berura (89:27) notes that even a one half before sunrise, one should not begin a meal, i.e. seudat keva.   


Next week, we will discuss the latest time for tefillat shacharit, as well as 'tefilat tashlumin.'