Question: I have noticed that some people stand during the Birkot Keriat Shema. I was always under the impression that one is supposed to sit for Shema and its berachot. Is there a source that allows one to stand during this part of the prayer?
Answer: As we will show, one is indeed permitted to stand during Birkot Keriat Shema – that is, from right after Barchu until Shemonah Esreh. I very often do so myself.
My uncle, Rabbi Sholom Klass, zt”l, was asked a related question by a reader, who referred to a practice in some Conservative synagogues.
“There are some who erroneously believe that they must stand at the recitation of the Shema. Perhaps their mistake is due to an incorrect translation in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (17:2), where it states: ‘Ve’im hayah yoshev, asur le’hachmir ve’la’amod.’ The English translation follows: ‘If one happened to be sitting, then he is permitted to be strict and rise.’
“Could you acknowledge the mistake for the sake of those who do not read the Hebrew and are misled by the English? Can you state some of the opinions of our Sages on this matter?”
Now, I know that my uncle never entered a Conservative synagogue, and neither have I. Therefore, I cannot really ascertain on my own or from his writings the practice in these synagogues. But I believe that in my uncle’s reply we will find an answer to your question as well. To do so, we will adapt somewhat from his response and also cite from additional sources.
First, it is obvious that the translation of this halacha in the Kitzur is wrong. It should read: “If he is sitting [when he is about to start Shema], he should not be overly strict and rise.” In other words, he should remain seated. The Kitzur was basically quoting both the Tur and the Mechaber (Orach Chayim 63:2) who rule as follows: “He who seeks to be strict and rise when he is sitting and recite Shema is called a sinner.”
I would venture to say that the mistranslation of the Kitzur’s text was an inadvertent copy editor’s error. I base this on my perusal of the balance of the translator’s work, which appears to be the product of an individual (Hyman Goldin) who is G-d fearing as well as a scholar. It’s an unfortunate error, and I’m not sure how many printings have gone by with this error remaining uncorrected.
As for the reason for this ruling: The Magen Avraham (loc. cit.) cites Yeshuat Shimshon, who writes as follows: Publicly refraining from a behavior that is well known to be permitted is seen as arrogant, and we should place a person who acts in such a manner in excommunication. We do not punish him, however, if it is known that his actions are l’shem shamayim. If he is in front of his rabbi, though, and his rabbi is lenient in this matter (even if being lenient seems incorrect in this case), then he should act similarly. If he doesn’t, he should be punished with excommunication even if he is sincere.
(To be continued)