8.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
9.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).
^ 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.
^ 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.