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Q & A: Standing During Birkot Keriat Shema (Part II)

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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?

Menachem
(Via E-Mail)  

Summary of our response up to this point: One is indeed permitted to stand during Birkot Keriat Shema, and I often do so myself. We cited a similar question posed to my uncle Rabbi Sholom Klass, zt”l, about a practice in some Conservative synagogues to stand during Shema possibly based on the following mistranslation of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (17:2): “If one happened to be sitting, then he is permitted to be strict and rise.” It should read: “If he is sitting, he should not be overly strict and rise.” The Kitzur was following the position of both the Tur and the Mechaber (Orach Chayim 63:2) that one should remain seated.

The Magen Avraham explains that a person who acts strictly in public when he should be lenient is showing off, and he should be punished with excommunication. If it is known, however, that his actions are l’shem shamayim, we do not punish him. And yet, if a person is strict in front of his rabbi (in a matter that his rabbi is lenient about), then he should be punished with excommunication even if he is sincere.

* * * * *

Let us turn to the source for the ruling of the Tur and Mechaber: the mishnah in Berachot (10b). It reads:

“Beth Shammai say that in the evening every man should recline when he recites Shema, but in the morning he should stand, as it says [Deuteronomy 6:7]: ‘beshachbecha u’vekumecha – when you lie down and when you rise.’ Beth Hillel, however, say that every man should recite Shema in his own way, as it says [6:7 supra]: ‘u’velechtecha baderech – when you walk on your way.’ Why, then, does the Torah say: ‘when you lie down and when you rise’? [It means] at the time when people lie down and at the time when people rise. Rabbi Tarfon said, ‘I was once walking along the way and I reclined to recite Shema in the manner prescribed by Beth Shammai and I incurred danger from robbers.’ The Sages said to him: ‘You deserved to come to harm because you acted against the opinion of Beth Hillel.’”

Now, if we examine this mishnah, nowhere do we see a discussion, let alone a requirement, to sit during Shema.

In truth, whether one stands or sits during prayer is up to one’s discretion. However, we might compare Shema to tekiyot me’yushav (literally, “sitting blasts”) which we hear on Rosh Hashanah (in addition to the tekiyot me’umad, literally, “standing blasts”). What is really meant by these terms is that the first blasts occur when one may sit, i.e., before the Amidah, while the latter refer to the blasts blown during the Amidah, when one must stand.

In addition to the Amidah, there are three points in the course of Pesukei d’Zimrah (those chapters recited after Korbanot until right before Barchu) that require standing. They are Baruch She’amar, Va’yevarech David, and Yishtabach (Rema, Orach Chayim 51:7). For any other part of the prayer (even Kaddish), one may sit, although this isn’t a requirement.

(To be continued)

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.


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