Brachos 26



The final time for kerias shema’ according to Magen Avraham and the Vilna Gaon

By: Meoros HaDaf HaYomi

Every self-respecting publisher of a calendar takes care to indicate every day the end of the time for kerias shema’ according to Magen Avraham and the Vilna Gaon. Why did these two times come about? This article will discuss the issue and reveal that this is already an ancient difference of opinions among the Rishonim.

Chazal determined many time-limits for beginning and ending the observance of mitzvos. We learnt, for example, in the mishnah: “From when do we say the shema’ in the morning?…Till the third hour.” Concerning chametz on the eve of Pesach, Chazal said, “We eat it during the first four hours and may derive benefit from it during the fifth hour and burn it at the start of the sixth hour.”

Everyone knows that Chazal measured the day and night according to relative hours (sha’os zemaniyos) and not according to 60-minute hours like ours. In other words, today the time indicates a fixed and measured period of time. A sha’ah zemanis is determined by dividing the daytime into 12 equal parts while each part is called an hour. The night was also divided into 12 parts and each part was called an hour of the night. It is self-understood that a sha’ah zemanis in the summer is longer than a sha’ah zemanis in the winter as both days are divided into 12 parts while a summer day is long and a winter day is short (see this whole topic in Rambam’s commentary on the Mishnah here).

We have yet to clarify one thing, which is actually the heart of the tremendous difference of opinions: What day did Chazal divide into 12 parts? There are two possibilities. It could be that Chazal took the duration between sunrise and sunset and called it day. It’s also possible that the day they measured and divided into 12 parts is much longer, lasting from ‘alos hashachar, dawn – much before sunrise – till the appearance of the stars, much after sunset.

Now let’s make a simple calculation. Let’s assume that ‘alos hashachar is at 4:30, sunrise at 6:00, sunset at 6:00 in the evening and the appearance of the stars at 7:30. If we take the day and divide the time between sunrise and sunset, then the three hours for kerias shema’ end at 9:00 in the morning. However, if we divide the daytime between ‘alos hashachar and the appearance of the stars, then a sha’ah zemanis of this day amounts to an hour and a quarter on our clock. Then the final time for kerias shema, 3¾ hours after dawn, is at 8:15! If we examine the Rishonim on our sugya, we notice that they disagreed about this issue.

The mishnah says that according to the Chachamim, the time for minchah is till the evening and according to Rabbi Yehudah, till plag haminchah. The Gemara explains that Rabbi Yehudah means till “11 hours less a quarter” – i.e., an hour and a quarter before evening. According to Rashi (26a, s.v. ‘Ad ha’erev), Ramban (Toras HaAdam, Sha’ar Aveilus Yeshanah) and the Rashba (2a), the evening starts at the appearance of the stars and plag haminchah virtually coincides (within about 3 minutes) with sunset. However, Rabbi Sa’adyah Gaon (Sidur Rasag, p. 26), Rav Hai Gaon (in the Mordechai, Ch. 4, §90), Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 3:4) and Rabeinu Yonah (at the beginning of Tefillas HaShachar) maintain that the time called “evening” starts at sunset and Rabbi Yehudah’s plag haminchah is an hour and a quarter before that. We thus have a difference of opinions among the Rishonim as to if the day divided by the Chachamim into hours ends at sunset or with the appearance of the stars. As for the halachah, Terumas HaDeshen, the Levush and others disagreed about this question (see Magen Avraham, 233, S.K. 3, and 443, S.K. 3).

It only remains for us to understand how Magen Avraham and the Vilna Gaon became involved in this difference of opinions such that it is named for them. Magen Avraham innovates (see 58, S.K. 1) that there’s no difference of opinions regarding the time for kerias shema’. In his opinion, even those who maintain that the day meant by the Chachamim starts at sunrise admit that concerning kerias shema’, Chazal meant to count the hours starting with ‘alos hashachar. He thus significantly shortens the final time for kerias shema’. The Vilna Gaon disgreed and claimed (Beiur HaGra, ibid, and see Chazon Ish, O.C. 13) that his chidush is incorrect but those who hold that Chazal’s day starts at sunrise maintain the same also regarding kerias shema’. Since then, the two opinions have been called “Magen Avraham’s time” and “the Vilna Gaon’s time”. Once the Vilna Gaon decided that the matter remains a disagreement among the Rishonim, he ruled the halachah according to those who hold that Chazal counted the hours from sunrise to sunset (and so holds the author of Tanya and see ‘Aroch HaShulchan, 58; Responsa Igros Moshe, O.C., I, 24, and III, 129; we should mention that the Magen Avraham’s time appearing in most calendars assumes that ‘alos hashachar is 90 minutes before sunrise and so is the duration between sunset and the appearance of the stars; however, according to the ruling of many poskim [see Shulchan ‘Aruch, O.C. 459:2; the Remo, 261:1; Mishnah Berurah, 235, S.K. 4; etc.], ‘alos hashachar is 72 minutes before sunrise; if so, Magen Avraham’s time is later: the difference is about ten minutes; we should mention that several geonim of our era point out, and HaGaon Rav A. Kotler zt”l already remarked, that Magen Avraham’s time is relevant if we assume that the appearance of the stars is according to Rabeinu Tam’s opinion that there are two sunsets, but according to the Geonim, this calculation is not relevant at all. This is not the place to expand any more).

When Sunday comes before motzaei Shabbos

Aside from the three regular prayers every day – shacharis, minchah and ma’ariv – there’s another prayer, tefillas tashlumin, which makes up for a missed prayer. A person who missed minchah should pray Shemoneh ‘Esreh twice at ma’ariv, once for ma’ariv and once for minchah. Our Gemara emphasizes that it should be in this order, first ma’ariv and then minchah, as he must first pray the regular prayer, whose time is now, and then tefillas tashlumin. If he had the opposite intention, he didn’t fulfill his obligation!

Atah chonantanu in shacharis: Once a person forgot to pray ma’ariv on motzaei Shabbos. At shacharis he asked HaGaon Rabbi Chayim of Brisk zt”l when he should say Atah chonantanu – during the first Shemoneh ‘Esreh or the second. Rabbi Chayim was occupied in his prayer and a Rabbi standing nearby replied that he should mention Atah chonantanu in the tefillas tashlumin, which stands in for last night’s ma’ariv. Rabbi Chayim, who heard this, hinted to the person to wait a while and when he finished his prayer, ruled the opposite: “Say Atah chonantanu in the Shemoneh ‘Esreh of shacharis”! Those present wondered greatly and Rabbi Chayim explained. Atah chonantanu is not especially relevant to Shemoneh ‘Esreh of motzaei Shabbos but must be said in the first prayer after Shabbos. Usually, this prayer is ma’ariv on motzaei Shabbos but what should we do for this unfortunate person whose first prayer after Shabbos is shacharis? (Ishim Veshitos, 61).

At any rate, that Rav didn’t err. Another Rav held likewise, as earlier geonim already disagreed about the issue. HaGaon Rabbi Akiva Eiger zt”l (in Gilyon HaShulchan ‘Aruch, 294) ruled that Atah chonantanu must be said in the first prayer after Shabbos and Pri Megadim (ibid) and Tosefes Shabbos (ibid) maintained that Atah chonantanu should be said in the tefillas tashlumin for ma’ariv.

As for the halachah, the Chafetz Chayim zt”l ruled (Mishnah Berurah, 294, S.K. 2, and in Beiur Halachah, s.v. Omerim) that if he made (or heard) havdalah on wine, Atah chonantanu should not be said, neither in shacharis nor in tefillas tashlumin, but if someone didn’t make havdalah on wine and therefore must say Atah chonantanu, he should say it in the tefillas tashlumin for ma’ariv and not in the first Shemoneh ‘Esreh of shacharis. The reason is that as on motzaei Shabbos one must pronounce havdalah on wine and also say Atah chonantanu, Chazal matched the prayer of havdalah said in Shemoneh ‘Esreh to the havdalah said on the wine. That is, the havdalah in prayer was instituted to be said especially in ma’ariv of motzaei Shabbos and therefore, if someone forgot to pray, he should say Atah chonantanu in the tefillas tashlumin of ma’ariv, where Atah chonantanu was instituted (see ibid his proof for this ruling and why he rules so only if he didn’t make havdalah yet).

We conclude with an easy pilpul. Our Gemara says that if a person forgot to pray minchah on Shabbos, he should pray Shemoneh ‘esreh twice on motzaei Shabbos and say Atah chonantanu in the first Shemoneh ‘Esreh because it is ma’ariv. Apparently, why did the Gemara trouble to say this? If the first Shemoneh ‘Esreh were the tefillas tashlumin for minchah, would one not have to say Atah chonantanu therein? After all, Rabbi Chayim contends that Atah chonantanu should be said in the first weekday prayer! Is this not solid proof for the Rav who disagreed with Rabbi Chayim?

Rabbi Chayim’s grandson, HaGaon Rav M.D. Soloveitchik, thinks not. In his opinion, even Rabbi Chayim would admit that it’s impossible to say Atah chonantanu, which distinguishes between a holy and a mundane day, in a prayer whose obligation stems from Shabbos. Rabbi Chayim did not consider such a thing. He only meant that Atah chonantanu may be moved between two weekday prayers whose order has been reversed but not from a weekday prayer to a prayer stemming from Shabbos (Asufos Rabeinu Chayim HaLevi, here, in the name of Binyan Mordechai, beginning of Berachos).


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