Beit Midrash

  • Prayer
To dedicate this lesson
Chapter eleven-part two

How Early May One Begin to Pray?


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

>span class='Head1'>5. Vatikin at Netz HaChamah

As we mentioned, the most praiseworthy time to recite Shema and to pray the Amidah is as the devoted ones prayed, at vatikin. They would recite Shema slightly before netz hachamah and begin to pray the Amidah at netz hachamah. The reason for this is that normally only after the sun already shines and life and nature begin to pulsate in full force does a person awaken and recognize that Hashem is God. Only then does he accept upon himself the yoke of Heaven and is inspired to pray. However, those who pray vatikin begin early and "lead" nature. Even before the sun shines and nature reveals itself in all its beauty and splendor, they accept upon themselves the yoke of Heaven with complete faith. As soon as the sun rises and the day begins, they are already standing in prayer, ushering in an abundance of blessing to this world. 5
The Chachamim say that anyone who connects redemption to prayer (somech geulah l’tefillah) by praying vatikin is not harmed the whole day (Berachot 9b and Tosafot there).
However, if getting up to pray vatikin will cause a person to be tired and unable to learn or work properly, it is better that he pray afterwards. Today, when people’s lifestyles have changed and important activities such as Torah classes and weddings take place at night, most people find it better not to wake up so early and to pray after the time of vatikin.

6.The Precise Times of Vatikin and Netz

Netz hachamah is the time when the sun rises, and even though this definition is presumably clear and simple, in actuality, it is rather complex.
First, the duration of the sun’s ascent, which begins from the second we can see the first edge of the sun until it can be seen entirely, lasts approximately two and a half minutes. The poskim disagree regarding the exact time of netz hachamah. According to most halachic authorities, the time of netz is precisely when the first part of the sun is visible, and at that moment it is necessary to begin the Amidah of vatikin. Yet, there are those who say that netz is at the conclusion of the sun’s ascent. Additionally, there are those who say that netz lasts the whole two and a half minutes that the sun is rising. Moreover, there are those who say it lasts a few more minutes, the entire time that the rays of the sun are still red. In practice, those who pray vatikin make an effort to begin the Amidah at the time the sun begins to rise, but are not overly strict about this because the other opinions are also taken into consideration. 6
Another uncertainty arises. Are the mountains in the east that block the sunrise taken into consideration, or do we follow the astronomical sunrise (on a straight horizon)? It is clear that one who is under a cliff, or behind a tall building which blocks the east from his view, cannot claim that the sunrise begins when he himself sees the sun, because, if that was the case, then the sunrise, as far as he is concerned, would likely be towards the afternoon. The question is: what is the law, for example, in Jerusalem’s Old City, where the Mount of Olives blocks the eastern horizon and consequently the sun becomes visible only a few minutes later? Even for those who stand on the Mount of Olives, the mountains of Moav rising over the Jordan Valley block the beginning of the sunrise. Some say that the time of netz hachamah is only when one can actually see the sun, meaning after it is visible above the Mount of Olives. Others say that we should not take into account a nearby mountain, like the example of the Mount of Olives, since it is possible to walk to it by foot, but rather that it is necessary to include the distant mountains of Moav. The difference between the two opinions amounts to a few minutes.
There are those who say that we should not consider the mountains in the east at all; rather we calculate the sunrise according to a straight horizon, based on the time that it would be possible to see the sunrise were there no mountains. Nowadays, there are computer programs that allow us to calculate the precise astronomical sunrise in each and every location while disregarding the mountains in the east. Many are accustomed to establishing the time of sunrise according to this calculation. 7

7.How Early May One Begin to Pray?

L'chatchilah, a person should not recite the Amidah before vatikin because, according to a number of poskim, the time to pray l'chatchilah begins at netz hachamah and lasts four hours. The ideal time to pray the Amidah is immediately at the start of "vatikin", just as the devoted ones prayed. Therefore, it seems that for a person whose prayer lasts approximately 25 minutes from the beginning until the Amidah, the earliest time he may begin to pray is 25 minutes before netz.
One who must be on his way, or must start work earlier, is permitted to begin praying from the time of misheyakir, since by then a little light has spread over the earth, and that moment is the valid time for the recital of Shema and for the mitzvot of tzitzit and tefillin. We have already learned that the time of misheyakir is approximately 50 minutes before netz (see note 2).
One who needs to pray even earlier should begin his prayer without tallit and tefillin and proceed until the conclusion of Pesukei d’Zimrah. When he finishes Yishtabach he must wait for the time of misheyakir, and only then put on his tallit and tefillin and continue praying. 8

8.How Early Is One Permitted to Pray in Extenuating Circumstances?

In a case of extenuating circumstances, one may recite Birkot Keriat Shema from the time of amud hashachar, which is 72 minutes before sunrise (in the months of Nisan and Tishrei).1 However, as long as it is possible to recite Birkot Keriat Shema after the time of misheyakir, one may not recite them from amud hashachar. For instance, if someone who is traveling can pray while walking or sitting (as his friend drives), he must wait for the time of misheyakir and only then recite Birkot Keriat Shema and recite the Amidah while walking or sitting.
If he is able to recite Birkot Keriat Shema while he is traveling after the time of misheyakir, but cannot recite the Amidah while traveling, he should pray the Amidah earlier after amud hashachar and recite Birkot Keriat Shema and Shema while traveling, even though he will not merit connecting redemption to prayer. 9
When it is not possible to recite Birkot Keriat Shema while traveling, as, for example, if he does not know Birkot Keriat Shema by heart, and it is not possible for him to use a siddur, he may pray earlier since such situations are considered extenuating circumstances. He recites Birkot HaShachar, Korbanot, and Pesukei d’Zimrah before amud hashachar, and when the time of amud hashachar arrives, he puts on his tallit and tefillin without a berachah, recites Keriat Shema and its berachot, and prays the Amidah. When he finishes the Amidah, the time of misheyakir will have already arrived, and at that point he takes hold of his tzitzit and tefillin and recites the blessings upon them. According to the Ashkenazic minhag, Birkat Yotzer HaMeorot may not be recited before the time of misheyakir either; rather, one must delay its recital until after praying the Amidah. 10

^ 5.From the Gemara in Berachot 9b it can be inferred that the main objective of vatikin is that one will pray the Amidah at netz, as understood from many Rishonim and Acharonim. However, it is implied from the Mishnah in Berachot 22b that there is reason to recite Shema before netz too. Hence, the virtue of vatikin possesses two aspects, Keriat Shema and the Amidah. Therefore, there are those who are strict to ensure that even when they cannot pray at the time of vatikin, they at least recite the Shema before netz, as written in Shulchan Aruch HaRav 58:4, even if they did not yet put on their tefillin. Kaf HaChaim 58:8 writes, though, that if a person has not yet put on his tefillin, he should not recite Keriat Shema before netz. This law is also contingent upon the dispute in section 46:9 where, according to the Beit Yosef and the Rama, one may fulfill his obligation of Keriat Shema without its berachot lechatchilah, whereas according to the Ra’ah and the Gra, it is only b’dieved.

^ 6.According to the majority of poskim, netz is the beginning of the sun’s ascent, as writes the Bei’ur Halachah, 58:1, s.v. "Kemo," and Halachah Berurah (Yosef) 58:7. Ish Matzliach writes that it is the end of the sun’s ascent (see Yalkut Yosef 89:3). According to the Razah, it is the whole duration of the sun’s ascent. Others say that even slightly after that, as long as the sun is close to the earth and the rays of the sun are still red, it is still considered "Yera’ucha im shamesh" ("Let them fear You from when the sun [shines]"), as can be inferred from the Rambam, responsa 255. (See HaZemanim BaHalachah 24:3-4).

^ 7.Divrei Yosef writes that the law depends on actually seeing the sun, and therefore it is necessary to take into consideration the places that the Mount of Olives conceals. However, according to the Maharil Diskin, (brought in Sefer Nivreshet), what is concealed by the Mount of Olives does not enter into the equation since it is closer than the walking distance of one day, but we do take into consideration the parts concealed by the Mountains of Moav (although he does not resolve the matter of Shabbat with regard to sunset). Further, there is uncertainty about a city that is built on mountains: does each neighborhood follow according to its own height or does the whole city practice according to the highest neighborhood in the city, where the sun is visible first? The minhag is to go by the highest neighborhood. An additional doubt is raised – if a skyscraper was built in a city, on the top of which the first rays of the sun shine a minute before the sunrise can be seen on the ground, what is the ruling? Similarly, if the city is very large, do we still go by the highest point in the city, or, due to the city’s size is each area defined by itself? See HaZemanim BaHalachah chapter 7, which mentions these doubts and cites the different opinions.
Even according to the opinion that sunrise and sunset are calculated along a straight horizon, there is doubt as to which height we use to make the calculations, since the higher the place, the earlier the sun is visible when it rises, and the later the sun is seen when it sets. For example, at a height of 800 meters (2624.67 feet) above sea level, the sun is still visible at sunset approximately 4.6 minutes later than on sea level, and at sunrise approximately 4.6 minutes earlier. Indeed, this opinion is divided into three approaches. Some say that we go according to the sunrise on a straight horizon based on the height of the place, while there is still uncertainty with regard to the law of a city in which there are mountains and valleys, i.e., whether we go by each area in the city for itself or the highest point in the city. It is the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav that in all places we go according to the sunrise at a height of 800 meters above sea level, the altitude of Jerusalem. So it is written in Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 1:97. (This means that even when the people praying are at sea level, the time of netz will be 4.6 minutes before they can actually see the sun.) Others say that we go by the astronomical sunrise without taking the mountains into account at all; instead we calculate how it would look at sea level (which covers most of the earth’s surface) without mountains, as Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer writes. See HaZemanim BaHalachah chapter 7, where all this is discussed.
In the computer program "Chazon Shamayim," it is possible to determine the precise astronomical time of sunrise in any place, on any day, based on the lines of latitude and longitude and the height of the location. Since the result obtained from a program such as this one is more accurate than all the calculations done by visual observations, many have been accustomed to calculate the time of sunrise with this program. In practice, all the communities living in Gav Hahar (settlements in the heart of the Shomron) do not need to take into account the mountains and valleys to the east of them, for if they were to take them into consideration, they would need to calculate a different time for every house, each according to its height, and according to the mountains that block them from the east, in every season based on the place of the sun’s ascent. Therefore, we follow the astronomical horizon, according to the highest point in that location. In the past, when people lived in open areas, the sunrise was perceptible, and this ruling was mainly based on the visibility of the sun. However, today, when most people live among many buildings, and do not see sunrise, and our methods of calculation have become easier, the sunrise is calculated according to the astronomical horizon. At that time, the rays of the sun are also visible in the highest places in the area. However, when to the east, there is a range of distant mountains that evenly cover the horizon, like, for instance, in the coastal plains of Israel, and they delay the visibility of the sun from that whole area by a few minutes, it seems, that it is necessary to take them into consideration and postpone the time of netz. (The time of misheyakir is dependent upon light, based on the explanation in note 2, when the sun is eleven degrees below the astronomical horizon, and there is no connection to the visible sunrise).

^ 8.L'chatchilah, one may not recite the Amidah before vatikin because, according to most poskim, among them the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch, the time from amud hashachar until netz hachamah is valid for prayer only b’dieved, as explained in note 4 of this chapter. Also, in terms of Keriat Shema, according to a few poskim (Rambam and Rabbeinu Tam) the time of misheyakir until netz is b’dieved. Most poskim maintain that it is l'chatchilah regarding Keriat Shema. However, since Keriat Shema is adjoined to the Amidah, one may not pray the Amidah l'chatchilah before vatikin.
In times of need, one may recite the Amidah at misheyakir, for that is when the time of Keriat Shema begins according to most poskim, as the Shulchan Aruch 58:1 rules, and as is clarified earlier in note 3 of this chapter. That is also when the time to put on tzitzit and tefillin begins, as explained in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 18:3; 30:1. One may finish Pesukei d’Zimrah and Yishtabach before that, and when the time of misheyakir arrives, wrap himself in a tallit and put on tefillin, as brought by Bei’ur Halachah 58:1, s.v. "Zeman." However, one may not do so earlier than that, since only in extenuating circumstances may one recite Keriat Shema and its berachot before misheyakir. The time of misheyakir is clarified in note 2 of this chapter.

^ 9.In Berachot 30a we learn to what extent reciting Keriat Shema and its berachot before misheyakir is only for extenuating circumstances, since any time it is possible to say them after misheyakir, even while walking, there is an obligation to do so. The only question left is when to pray the Amidah. According to Rabbeinu Chananel, the Tosafot, and others, one must recite the Amidah standing in his house before misheyakir, which is how the Shulchan Aruch 89:8 rules as well. According to Bahag, it is best that he prays while walking so as to connect redemption to prayer, and in practice, that is customarily what is done, as explained in the Mishnah Berurah 89:42 and Kaf HaChaim 54. However, when he can say Birkot Keriat Shema while traveling, but cannot pray the Amidah, then he follows Rabbeinu Chananel and the Shulchan Aruch; he prays the Amidah standing in his house after amud hashachar and waits to recite Birkot Keriat Shema while traveling in order to say them after the time of misheyakir. This includes a case in which a person only knows the berachot of Keriat Shema by heart and not the Amidah, or one in which a person is driving and he knows that he is capable of reciting Birkot Keriat Shema while driving, but praying the Amidah while driving is forbidden (see further in this book 17:16).

^ 10.During the days of Nisan and Tishrei, amud hashachar is 72 minutes before netz (when the sun is 16.1 degrees below the horizon). In the height of winter (December 22 nd) it is 78 minutes before netz, and at the height of summer (June 22 nd) it is 88 minutes before netz. See note 1 to understand why I have written according to this opinion. At most, it is permissible to be lenient and consider amud hashachar the first light in the east (when the sun is 17.5 degrees below the horizon), as explained there. Many calendars display amud hashachar as a time when there is no light at all in the eastern sky, and it is very problematic to rely on them.
In note 2, I wrote that the time of misheyakir is when the sun is 11 degrees below the horizon, which is the average time according to the different opinions and observations. However, here, in extenuating circumstances, if one can recite Birkot Keriat Shema approximately five minutes before this time, thereby succeeding to pray the Amidah standing in his house, it is preferable that he does so, instead of praying afterwards while walking.
In a case of extenuating circumstances, it is permissible to start praying Birkot Keriat Shema from amud hashachar, as explained in Shulchan Aruch 58:3. One may put on his tallit and tefillin before that time without a berachah, as clarified concerning the matter of tzitzit in Shulchan Aruch 18:3 and Mishnah Berurah 10 and regarding the matter of tefillin in Shulchan Aruch 30:3 and Mishnah Berurah 11. However, Kaf HaChaim 30:8, based on the Ari, writes that one may not put on tefillin before amud hashachar. Additionally, it is explained in Shulchan Aruch 1:6 and 47:13 that the passage regarding the Tamid may not be recited before amud hashachar and, according to Kaf HaChaim 89:7, Pesukei d’Zimrah may not be recited before amud hashachar either. However, we have already learned that some poskim maintain that amud hashachar is slightly before the time mentioned above and others say it is 90 minutes before netz, as written in Kaf HaChaim 89:1. In extenuating circumstances, with regard to these matters, in which there is no issue of reciting a berachah in vain, it is permissible to rely on this approach.
According to many Ashkenazic poskim, Birkat Yotzer HaMeorot may not be recited before misheyakir. So write the Magen Avraham, Graz 58:6, and Mishnah Berurah 58:17. Nevertheless, if a person did recite Yotzer HaMeorot before misheyakir, since he already fulfilled his obligation according to the Shulchan Aruch and Kaf HaChaim 58:19, he does not repeat it again after praying (Bei’ur Halachah 58:4, s.v. "B’lo").
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