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Best Time For Shema At Night

The first mishna in Berachos discusses the appropriate time for one to say Shema in the evening. The machlokes in the mishna discusses how late one may say it. Rabbeinu Yona says that everyone will agree that lekatchila one should say shema at tzeis hakochavim, as soon as it turns fully dark. The gemara in daf daled, amud bais discusses a typical scenario of a working person who comes home after a long and tiring day. He will most like say that he wishes to eat and drink a little bit and afterward will say shema. The reality is he will probably fall asleep before he recites shema and will then miss the zman. The gemara therefore suggests that the person who regularly learns chumash should first learn chumash. A person who is regularly learns mishnayos should first learn mishnayos. After he learns, he should recite shema and daven. Subsequently, he may go home to eat and drink. This seems to sound like even if one comes home before the zman of krias shema he should not eat or drink, but he should rather learn until the zman and then recite shema. This shows the concern Chazal felt was warranted for one not to lose out on reading shema on time. The bottom line to this machlokes of how late one may recite shema is only a machlokes on a bdieved because lekatchila everyone holds it should be recited at tzeis hakochavim.

The Rashba disagrees with the above Rabbeinu Yona and says that lekatchila, shema may be said from tzais hakochavim until a later zman. According to the Chachamim, one may read shema lekatchila until midnight. According to Rabban Gamliel, one may say shema lekatchila until alos hashachar, sunrise. The Rashba explains the gemara mentioned above as a restriction only for eating or drinking once the zman of shema arrives at tzeis hakochavim. Other activities may be permissible and one is not required to daven immediately at tzeis hakochavim. The Rashba says that his opinion is different from the Rif and other gedolim who hold that once it is tzeis hakochavim, one may not delay and he should recite shema and daven immediately.

The Tur in siman resh lamed heh paskens that mitzad the ikkar din one may wait lekatchila to say shema until the morning, but one should not eat or drink beforehand. The Bais Yosef explains that this is based on the Rashba, the Rosh and Tosfos. The Bais Yosef continues and says that according to the Rambam in Perek Alef Hilchos Krias Shemahalacha tes, the zman of shema is from tzeis hakochavim; however, if he was oveir and did not read it at tzeis, he may say shema until alos hashachar.

In the Shulchan Aruch, siman resh lamed heh, seif gimmel, the Mechaber writes that lekatchila one should say shema at tzeis hakochavim like the Rambam’s ruling. The Magen Avraham in seif koton tes says that it is forbidden to do any melacha from the time of tzeis hakochavim onward until one recites shemaSiman resh lamed bais lists things one is forbidden to do at mincha time in order to make sure one davens mincha on time. Included in these prohibitions would be eating a big meal. The Pri Megadim asks the following question. According to Rabbeinu Yona it should be forbidden to even sit and do nothing because one should immediately read shema at tzeis. Why is it only forbidden to eat or drink? The Magen Avraham holds that one may grab a quick nosh or a quick drink before reciting shema. He says it is not similar to kiddush and havdala where one is not allowed to even taste something, because kiddush and havdala were established at the beginning of Shabbos and as soon as Shabbos leaves. The question that needs clarification here is that shema was also established at the beginning of the night, so why is the ruling of eating before reciting shema different than before saying kiddush?

The Eishel Avraham differentiates that shema was not established right away. The Chachamim were concerned that one might forget to read shema so they said one should do so at tzeis hakochavim. This is why krias shema would have the same halachos as zman Mincha.

The Levush in siman resh lamed heh, seif gimmel says a different reason why one must read shema at tzeis; it is because of zrizin makdimin lemitzvos. If we hold like the Levush we see that mitzad dinei krias Shema it is not a din that it needs to be at tzeis, it is just for zrizim. This therefore would explain the difference between kiddush and shema. This discussion could all come into play if one davens early on Erev Shabbos and wishes to eat his meal, but it is close to tzeis hakochavim and therefore may not do so. If the reason why one may not eat the meal then is because the zman of shema, he would not be allowed to begin his meal. However, if the reason were because of zrizim, then maybe he would be allowed to begin his meal.

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