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Tefillat Arvit (3)

  • Rav David Brofsky



Last week, we concluded our discussion of the earliest proper time for Tefillat Arvit, the evening prayer.  We learned that in addition to asking how early one may recite Keriat Shema, and whether one may recite Birkot Keriat Shema without fulfilling the mitzva of reciting Shema, we must also question how early the evening Shemoneh Esreh may be recited and how close it may be to the Mincha (afternoon) prayer. 


This week, we will discuss the LATEST time for Tefillat Arvit and the activities prohibited before reciting it.  We will also discuss the obligation of Tefillat Arvit, the ramifications of the Talmud's statement that it is "reshut" (optional), and whether Arvit requires semikhat geula li-tfilla (the juxtaposition of redemption and prayer).


The LATEST Time for Tefillat Arvit:


The Mishna (Berakhot 1:1) cites a debate regarding the latest time to recite the evening Keriat Shema


"…until the end of the first watch" — these are the words of Rabbi Eliezer. 

The Chakhamim say: "Until midnight."

Rabban Gamliel says: "Until the dawn comes up."  Once it happened that his sons came home [late] from a wedding feast and they said to him: "We have not yet recited the [evening] Shema."  He said to them: "If the dawn has not yet broken, you are still bound to recite it.  And not in respect to this alone did they so decide, but wherever the Sages say 'until midnight,' the precept may be performed until the dawn comes up…  Why then did the Sages say 'until midnight'?  In order to distance people from sin."


The Talmud (4b) explains that while Rabbi Eliezer maintains that one may only recite Keriat Shema until the end of the first "watch" (i.e., the first third of the night – Berakhot 3a), seemingly because by this time most people are already sleeping, Rabban Gamliel believes that the mitzva may be fulfilled all night. 


Furthermore, the Gemara explains that the Chakhamim fundamentally agree with Rabban Gamliel, but they understand that the Rabbis prohibit reading Shema after midnight, lest one forget to recite it at all.


For so it has been taught: "The Sages made a fence for their words so that a man, on returning home from the field in the evening, will not say: 'I will go home, eat a little, drink a little, sleep a little; and then I shall will recite Shema and the Tefilla' — meanwhile, sleep may overpower him, and as a result he will sleep the whole night!  Rather, a man should, when returning home from the field in the evening, go to the synagogue.  If he is used to read the Bible, let him read the Bible; and if he is used to review the Mishna, let him review the Mishna; and then let him recite Shema and say the Tefilla, [go home] and eat his meal and say Grace."


The Rishonim disagree as to whether the halakha is in accordance with the Chakhamim or Rabban Gamliel.  On the one hand, the Gemara (8b) teaches "Rav Yehuda says in the name of Shemu'el: 'The halakha is in accordance with Rabban Gamliel.'"  The Rambam, in his Commentary to the Mishna (1:1), the Rosh (1:9) and the Rashba (8b) rule in accordance with Rabban Gamliel.  On the other hand, the Rif (2a) rules in accordance with the Chakhamim — as does the Rambam in Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Keriat Shema 1:9)!  Rav Yosef Karo, in Beit Yosef (235), explains that the Gemara, in ruling like Rabban Gamliel, means to exclude the approach of Rabbi Eli'ezer, not to show preference for the specific position of Rabban Gamliel over the Chakhamim. 


The Rishonim also differ as to how to understand the dispute between Rabban Gamliel and the Chakhamim. 


The Rashba (8b), for example, explains that as long as one does not engage in an activity which may PREVENT him from reciting the evening Shema at all, as we shall discuss, Rabban Gamliel and the Chakhamim debate whether one may choose to delay, le-khattechilla (ab initio), reciting Arvit until midnight, or even until morning!


The Rif, on the other hand, insists that according to the Chakhamim, once the time to recite Keriat Shema has arrived, one may not delay, certainly not past midnight.


Interesting, the Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona (1a, s.v. Ve-Chakhamim) explains that while ALL agree that one should recite Keriat Shema as soon as possible, the Chakhamim maintain that due to the rabbinic "fence," one who recites Shema after midnight has not fulfilled his obligation!  This (minority) opinion relates to a broader question concerning the impact of rabbinic prohibitions: when the Sages tell us to perform a mitzva in a certain way, has one who performs it in its original form fulfilled a mitzva? 


Rav Yosef Karo, in Shulchan Arukh (235:3), rules in accordance with the Rambam, that while le-khattechilla, one should recite the evening Shema before midnight, be-diavad (ex post facto), one may recite it until morning.  The Mishna Berura, in Bei'ur Halakha, cites and disagrees with the Sha'agat Aryeh (4), who rules like the Rosh and Rashba.


How late may one recite the evening Shema, be-diavad?  The Mishna teaches that, according to Rabban Gamliel, one may recite Keriat Shema until alot ha-shachar (the break of dawn).


Interestingly, the Gemara (8b-9a) teaches that in extenuating circumstances one may even recite Shema AFTER alot ha-shachar and BEFORE sunrise. 


It was taught, "Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai says: 'Sometimes, one may recite Shema twice in the night, once before the dawn breaks and once after the dawn breaks, and thereby fulfill his duty, once for the day and once for the night.'" 


Now, this is self-contradictory!  You say: "A man may sometimes recite Shema twice in the night," which shows that it is still night after the dawn breaks; then you say: "He thereby fulfils his duty, once for the day and once for the night," which shows that it is daytime!


No, it is, in reality, night; but he calls it day, because some people rise at that time.  Rav Acha be-Rabbi Chanina said in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: "The halakha is as stated by Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai…"  For it happened that a couple of scholars became drunk at the wedding feast of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi's son, and they came before Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi [before sunrise], and he said: "Rabbi Shimon is a great enough authority to be relied on in a case of emergency."


The Gemara teaches that according to Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, one may still recite the evening Shema between dawn and sunrise.  However, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi understands this to be a minority opinion that one should rely upon only in extenuating circumstances.  Indeed, the Rambam says that only one who is "ne'enas" (compelled by reasons out of his control) may recite Shema after dawn; Rav Yosef Karo, in Beit Yosef, cites those who claim that one who, due to his own fault, misses the proper time and recites Shema after alot ha-shachar does not fulfill his obligation at all!  In Shulchan Arukh (235:4), he rules that one who recites Keriat Shema after dawn does NOT fulfill his obligation, unless he was "unable" to recite Shema during its proper time.  The Mishna Berura, in Sha'ar Ha-tziyyun (37), explains that while fundamentally night really extends until sunrise, the Rabbis "uproot" one's action and prevent one from fulfilling the mitzva of Shema between dawn and sunrise.  This also relates to the question raised by the Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona, cited above.


Finally, Rav Yosef Karo also rules (Shulchan Arukh (235:4), based upon the Gemara (Berakhot 8b), that one who recites the evening Shema between dawn and sunrise should NOT recite the second blessing recited after Shema, "Hashkivenu," "Lay us down," as people generally do not go to sleep during this time period.


Prohibited Activities Before Tefillat Arvit:


The Gemara (Shabbat 9b-10a) raises two reasons to be stringent regarding Tefillat Arvit.


There [regarding Tefillat Mincha], drinking is rare; here, it is usual [and therefore one may come to omit Arvit].  Alternatively, as for Mincha, since it has a fixed time, one is afraid and will not come to transgress; but as for the evening service, since there is time for it all night, he is not afraid, and he may come to transgress.


In addition, the Mishna (Shabbat 1:2) teaches that one who begins a prohibited activity before reciting Shema must interrupt in order to recite Shema.


The Mordekhai (Shabbat 224) and the Ran (Shabbat 4b) explain that since Keriat Shema is of biblical origin, one who begins a prohibited activity before TEFILLAT ARVIT must interrupt it in order to recite Shema


The Rishonim disagree as to the SCOPE of the prohibitions and when they begin.


Regarding the SCOPE, as we learned in a previous shiur, the Talmud (Shabbat 9b) lists a number of activities which one may not engage in before reciting Mincha.  The Rashba (Berakhot 9a) and the Levush (235) extend these prohibitions to the time of Tefillat Arvit as well.  The Eliyya Rabba (235:6) notes that the Rambam, Tur and Shulchan Arukh only mention eating, not other prohibitions.  While the Mishna Berura (235:17), who seems generally inclined to widen the scope of those activities prohibited before Arvit, rules leniently BEFORE the time for Arvit arrives, the Arukh Ha-shulchan (235:16) argues that the Sages do not prohibit any of these activities, even after the time for Arvit has arrived. 


The Mishna Berura (235:16) writes that although eating and sleeping are prohibited before saying Arvit, te'ima be-alma (a mere snack), such as eating fruit, or even up to a ke-beitza (egg's volume) of bread is permitted.  The Arukh Ha-shulchan (235:15) concludes that one should not participate in a se'uda kevua, a set or formal meal, but eating informally before Arvit is the widespread custom and should not be criticized. 


The Mishna Berura (235:18), citing the Magen Avraham (4), rules that if one asks a friend to remind him to eat, one may begin a meal.  Similarly, one may set an alarm, ask a friend to call to remind him, or even place a reminder on one's clothes or in a noticeable place (see Piskei Teshuvot 235:8).  Also, one who is accustomed to attend minyan every evening, or even one who is part of a group whose members intend to pray with a minyan, may also eat before Arvit.   


Regarding the time during which one must refrain from sleeping or eating, Rav Yosef Karo, in Shulchan Arukh (235:2), rules that one should not begin a meal a half-hour before the time for the evening Keriat Shema (tzet ha-kokhavim).  The Taz (3) disagrees, noting that many Rishonim prohibit eating when "the time for Keriat Shema arrives," or "close to the time."  He concludes that one need not refrain for the entire half-hour before Arvit.  The Arukh Ha-shulchan (235:13) supports this contention, citing numerous Rishonim who concur.  He concludes that one who acts leniently certainly has many upon whom to rely. 


These halakhot may be especially relevant for those who make "early Shabbat", i.e. accept the holiness of Shabbat after pelag ha-mincha and before sunset, during the summer months.  While Arvit is recited well before dark, one should be careful to BEGIN eating before sunset, or at least to ensure that one remembers to recite Keriat Shema before going to sleep. 


"Tefillat Arvit Reshut:"


The Gemara (Berakhot 27b) relates a debate among the Tanna'im whether Tefillat Arvit is a "reshut" (literally, entitlement; i.e., optional or discretionary) or a "chova" (obligation). 


What is the meaning of "[the evening prayer] IS NOT SET?" 


Shall I say it means that if a man wants, he can say the Tefilla any time in the night?  Then let it state: the time for the evening Tefilla is the whole night!


But what in fact is the meaning of IS NOT SET?  It is equivalent to saying: the evening Tefilla is optional.  For Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shemu'el: "With regard to the evening Tefilla, Rabban Gamliel says it is compulsory, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua says it is optional." 


Abbayyei says: "The halakha follows the one who says it is compulsory;" Rabba says, "The halakha follows the one who says it is optional."


The Rishonim debate the precise meaning of reshut.  The Rif (19a), for example, writes that Arvit remains a reshut as long as one has not yet ever recited it in his life.  However, once one has recited Arvit, it "becomes like an obligation". 


Similarly, the Rambam (Hilkhot Tefilla 1:6) writes:


Tefillat Arvit is not obligatory in the same manner as Tefillat Shacharit and Mincha; however since the entire Jewish people, wherever they live, are accustomed to recite Arvit, they have accepted it upon themselves as if it is obligatory.


Both the Rif and Rambam imply that Tefillat Arvit, fundamentally, is an OPTIONAL prayer.  In fact, the Rambam (Hilkhot Tefilla 9:9) also explains that the cantor does not repeat the Shemoneh Esreh at night, since "Tefillat Arvit is not obligatory; therefore he should not recite the blessings in vain, as there is nobody who is obligated, for whom he must fulfill his obligation."  The obligation to recite a "tefillat tashlumin" (make-up prayer) for a missed Arvit, according to this approach, is certainly somewhat curious.


Other Rishonim disagree.  Tosafot (Yoma 87b, s.v. Ve-ha'amar), for example, insist that Tefillat Arvit is a "reshut" only in relation to the other prayers, but not that it is actually optional.  Therefore, he writes, "one should not omit it for no reason; but [he may do so] for a mitzva which cannot be fulfilled afterwards; or if one has already removed his belt (Shabbat 9b), we do not inconvenience him [to put his belt on again and pray]."  Furthermore, they argue that Yaakov Avinu would not have established a truly optional prayer; nor are the burning of the limbs considered "optional," but rather a "mitzva".


Interestingly, Rav Yaakov Yehoshua (1680-1756), in his Penei Yehoshua (Berakhot 26b), suggests that the debate whether Tefillat Arvit is a reshut or chova should depend upon the origin of the evening prayer.  If the daily prayers are derived from the sacrifices, then just as the burning of the limbs is not obligatory, so too Tefillat Arvit is not obligatory.  However, if Yaakov Avinu established Arvit, then is should carry no less weight then the other Tefillot, established by Avraham and Yitzchak. 


Practically, Tefillat Arvit is treated as an obligatory prayer.  We discussed last year a woman's obligation to pray (  We noted that while  some (see Arukh Ha-shulchan 106:7 and Peri Megadim 89:1, as well as Rabbeinu Yona's Iggeret Ha-teshuva 3:79) assume that just as men must pray three times daily, so must women, others (see Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav 106 and Mishna Berura 106:4) assume otherwise: since Arvit is fundamentally a tefillat reshut, albeit one which men eventually accepted upon themselves as an obligation, women, who did NOT accept upon themselves this obligation, are only obligated to recite Shacharit and Mincha.


As the evening Shemoneh Esreh's obligation may be fundamentally different from that of other Tefillot, we have to wonder about its relationship to the evening Birkot Keriat Shema, which are never called a reshut.  At Tefillat Shacharit, we view semikhat geula li-tfilla (the juxtaposition of redemption, which is the theme of the post-Shema blessing of "Ga'al Yisra'el," and the prayer of Shemoneh Esreh) as crucial; is it imperative to do so at Tefillat Arvit


Semikhat Geula Li-tfilla at Night and a Latecomer at Arvit


One gemara (Berakhot 9b) teaches:


Rabbi Yochanan said: "The vatikin [pious people of old] would finish Shema at sunrise in order to juxtapose redemption and prayer and then pray when it is day…"


Rabbi Yitzchak ben Elyakim testified in the name of the holy community of Jerusalem: "Whoever juxtaposes redemption and prayer will not be harmed for the entire day…"


Once, [Rav Beruna] juxtaposed redemption and prayer, and a smile did not leave his face for the entire day.


Another gemara (Berakhot 4b) reports:


The Master said: "One should read Keri'at Shema and then pray [Shemoneh Esreh]." 


This supports Rabbi Yochanan, as Rabbi Yochanan said: "Who will merit the World to Come?  One who juxtaposes redemption with the evening prayer."


Last year, we questioned why the Rabbis insist that the blessing of geula be juxtaposed with Shemoneh Esreh (  However, in this context, we should question why Rabbi Yochanan specifically mentions the juxtaposition of redemption and prayer regarding Tefillat Arvit?


On the one hand, we might explain, as do the Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona (2b), that Rabbi Yochanan simply means to say that if one who juxtaposes redemption to the evening prayer, which is fundamentally an "optional" prayer, merits the World to Come, then, so much more so, one who juxtaposes the blessing of redemption with the obligatory morning prayer merits great reward!  Rabbi Yochanan's statement, according to Rabbeinu Yona, comes to emphasize the worth of "semikhat geula li-tfilla" in general, not to teach something particular to the evening prayer.


On the other hand, one might suggest that Rabbi Yochanan intends to teach that one should juxtapose geula and tefilla during the evening prayer as well!  If so, we might then question whether the halakha is actually in accordance with his view, and even if it is, whether the importance of semikhat geula li-tfilla of Tefillat Arvit parallels that of Shacharit.


Tosafot (Berakhot 4b, s.v. De-amar) cite Rav Amram Gaon, who proves that one need not juxtapose geula and tefilla during Arvit from the practice of reciting Kaddish between Birkot Keriat Shema and Shemoneh Esreh.  Tosafot, assuming that in order to discard Rabbi Yochanan's statement we must assume that he believes that Tefillat Arvit is obligatory, reject Rav Amram's opinion and rule that one should juxtapose geula and tefilla during the Arvit, as do most Rishonim.   


If so, we might ask, how is it possible to rule that Tefillat Arvit is "optional" and that one must juxtapose geula and tefilla as well!  Tosafot simply answer that despite this apparent problem, one must still juxtapose geula and tefilla.  Apparently, although there may be no obligation to recite the evening prayer, whenever one recites the evening Shemoneh Esreh, one is obligated to recite it immediately following Birkot Keriat Shema.


Despite the apparent obligation to juxtapose geula and tefilla during Arvit (see Shulchan Arukh 236:2), there are signs that indicate that the nature of the juxtaposition is different at night.   


For example, the Gemara (Berakhot 4b) justifies reciting the second berakha after Keriat Shema, "Hashkivenu," before Tefilla, as it constitutes a "geula arikhta" (expanded [theme of] redemption).  Furthermore, we recite Kaddish after Birkot Keriat Shema, interrupting the direct union between the Berakhot and Tefilla.  Nevertheless, this may not reflect the extent of the obligation to juxtapose geula and tefilla, as the Gemara uses this rationale to justify saying Tehillim 51:17 before the morning Shemoneh Esreh


The Rashba (Teshuvot 1:293), however, cited in Shulchan Arukh (236:2), justifies reminding the congregation between Kaddish and the Shemoneh Esreh of Arvit to insert "Ya'aleh Ve-yavo" (see Beit Yosef 236 for dissenting opinions).  The Magen Avraham explains that this leniency is based upon Tefillat Arvit being a reshut.  The Mishna Berura, in Sha'ar Ha-tziyyun (4), points out that clearly this leniency would not apply in the morning, as we are stricter regarding the semikhat geula li-tfilla of Shacharit


Apparently, since Tefillat Arvit is only a reshut, the need to juxtapose geula and tefilla is less urgent. 


Regarding one who arrives late to Tefillat Arvit, Rav Yosef Karo, in Beit Yosef (236), rules that one who finds a minyan about to begin Shemoneh Esreh should pray WITH them and afterwards recite Birkot Keriat Shema.  He explains that tefilla be-tzibbur (communal prayer), at least at night, trumps semikhat geula li-tfilla.  In fact, he cites the Geonim, who relate the custom of the Land of Israel, to recite Shemoneh Esreh with a minyan before dark and Birkot Keriat Shema with Shema afterwards.  He cites the former ruling in Shulchan Arukh (236:3) as well.



Next week, we will study Keriat Shema al Ha-mitta and the blessing of Ha-mappil.