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When is the proper time to recite the Shema?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg


Library » Daily Life » Prayer | Subscribe | What is RSS?


The Biblical command1   is to recite the Shema “when you lie down and when you rise up.”

Morning Shema

The sages concluded that the time of rising – i.e. the time when one may recite the morning Shema – commences when there is enough sunlight to recognize a casual acquaintance from a distance of four cubits (approximately seven feet),2   and continues until the end of the third hour after sunrise.3  

This is the time when the most “spoiled” citizens, the princes, would awaken. Although it seems that many of today’s teenagers are even more “princely”… but that doesn’t change the established Halachah!

Halachic time” works differently than the clocks we are used to. In Halachah, time is based on Sha'ot Zmaniyot, “proportional hours” that depend on the season. Halachic hours are not necessarily sixty minutes; instead we take the day, from sunrise until sunset,4   and divide it into twelve equal parts.

In Halachah, time is based on Sha'ot Zmaniyot, "proportional hours" that depend on the season
Each part constitutes one Halachic hour. In the summer this can be up to 75 minutes and in the winter it can be as little as 45 minutes. Thus in the winter, the time for reciting the Shema ends earlier than in the summer.

Ideally, one should recite the Shema at the earliest opportunity possible.

Click here to find out the exact end time for the morning Shema for any location or date.5

After this end time, the Shema can – and should – still be recited, however the Biblical Mitzvah of reciting the Shema in its proper time has not been fulfilled.

Evening Shema

The Shema at night may be said after the stars appear—tzeit halochavim. (The above hyperlink also contains these exact times.) Those who pray Maariv before nightfall (see What is Plag Haminchah?) still must repeat the Shema after tzeit hakochavim.

As with the morning Shema, the evening Shema, too, should ideally be recited as early as possible.

Technically, the evening Shema can be recited until dawn, but it is preferable that a person not delay it past midnight lest he fall asleep and not say the Shema. If unavoidable circumstances prevented one from reciting the Shema before dawn, it may be recited until sunrise.6  

It is also customary to recite the Shema again before going to sleep at night.



  • 1. Deuteronomy 6:7.
  • 2. In case of great need, the Shema can be recited from dawn and onwards.
  • 3. Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 58.
  • 4. The above follows the ruling of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the “Alter Rebbe,” as well as Rabbi Elijah of Vilna, the “Vilna Gaon.” According to the Halachic authority Magen Avraham, the day begins at dawn and concludes with the appearance of stars in the night sky. This has two implications on our subject matter: a) each “halachic hour” is slightly longer. b) The three hour period for reciting the morning Shema is counted from dawn, not sunrise. This results in a Shema end time which, depending on your location, is approximately 35-40 minutes before the end time according to the Alter Rebbe.
  • 5. This hyperlink offers the times according to the Alter Rebbe. For the Magen Avraham’s end time, go to (
  • 6. Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 235.


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Mitzvot » Prayer » Laws and Customs

(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Jewish Law. All halachah which is applicable today is found in the Code of Jewish Law.
Pertaining to Jewish Law.
Evening prayer service. One of the three prayers a Jew is obligated to pray every day.
The most fundamental Jewish prayer, recited twice daily. This prayer, of Biblical origin, professes the belief in G-d's absolute unity.