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?
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 a mistranslation of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch’s statement (17:2), “Ve’im hayah yoshev, asur le’hachmir ve’la’amod.”
A popular English rendition of the Kitzur inadvertently translates this statement as: “If one happened to be sitting, then he is permitted to be strict and rise.” It should, however, 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.
Last week we turned to the source of the ruling of how to conduct oneself during Shema: Berachot 10b. We saw that according to Beth Shammai, Shema should be recited in the evening while reclining, but in the morning while standing. According to Beth Hillel, everyone should recite it in his own way. Nowhere do we see a requirement to sit during Shema. We concluded that each person can decide whether to stand or sit.
We referred to Rosh Hashanah’s tekiyot me’yushav (sitting blasts) and tekiyot me’umad (standing blasts). They are called by those names not because we are required to sit or stand when hearing them. Instead, the first blasts are blown when one may sit, i.e., before the Amidah, while the latter are blown in the course of the Amidah, when one must stand.
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For a better understanding of this matter, let us turn to the Gemara (Berachot 13b): R. Nathan b. Mar Ukba said in the name of R. Judah: “‘al levavecha – upon your heart’ must be recited standing. Not only the words ‘upon your heart’ but up to the words ‘upon your heart’ must be said standing. From that point, it is not necessary to stand. R. Johanan, however, said: The entire first section must be recited while standing.”
The Bach (on the Tur, Orach Chayim 63) explains that these statements refer specifically to someone who is walking along his way when the appointed time to recite Shema arrives. Even Beth Hillel would agree that this person should stop because a person is not settled and cannot have the type of proper kavanah when he is walking as when he is standing still. In other words, the requirement to stand doesn’t mean one must get up if one is sitting. What it means is that if one is walking, one must stop and stand still.
In his commentary on the Tur, the Bet Yosef cites both the Rif and the Rosh commenting on the Jerusalem Talmud. They are even more emphatic on the issue and state: “It does not mean that if a person is sitting, he should stand. Rather, if he is walking, then he should stand still. This is in accord with Rashi (B.T. 13b s.v. “b’amida”) and Tosafot (ad loc. s.v. “al leva’vevecha b’amida”) who explains that even though Beth Hillel rules that every man should say Shema in his own way, a person optimally performs the mitzvah by standing still if he is walking because his mind is not that settled and he would find it difficult to attain the proper concentration.”
Indeed, the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 2:1) cites the following: “R. Chuna, R. Uri, Rav Joseph and Rav Judah said in the name of Samuel: One is obligated to accept upon himself the yoke of the Heavenly Kingdom while standing. I would think that this means that if a person is sitting he should stand, but no, it means rather that if he is walking, he should stand still.”
In his concluding comment to the seventh chapter of Berachot (infra 7:5 in the Jerusalem Talmud), Rabbi Moshe Margolies (Mar’eh Hapanim s.v. “achal mehalech…”) notes that in general [he is discussing Birkat Hamzon] one does not properly display honor and fear of G-d if one recites while walking.
Thus, it is clear that it suffices for one to sit or stand in one place in order to have proper kavanah, even during Shema.
What is most interesting is what I found in the Shulchan Aruch Harav (Orach Chayim 63:3). He reiterates most of what we have said, but adds the following, which to me was quite astonishing: “…therefore, for those who have the custom to say on Yom Hakipurim ‘Baruch Shem K’vod Malchuto l’olam va’ed’ while standing, it is permissible to rise upon reaching Keriat Shema, even though one is sitting and would be able to have proper concentration. This is because [in this instance, one is not standing] due to the obligation of Keriat Shema. Rather it is due to the obligation of the day [i.e., Yom Kippur].”
We find in the notes to Shulchan Aruch Harav (note 21) that the source for this practice is none other than Ateret Zakeinim in the name of the Maharshal (Rabbi Shlomo Luria) in his glosses on the Tur. We find in the note the following qualifier: “But such is not the custom of Chabad.”
From what I have observed on Yom Hakipurim in every Orthodox venue where I have participated, all congregants say “Baruch shem kvod…” aloud but do not rise for its recitation. I would be interested if any of our readers could apprise me of such a practice in an Orthodox synagogue.
Nevertheless, as I noted at the outset, one may stand or sit for the entire Birkot Keriat Shema. Either way, one is acting properly from a halachic perspective.