Learn Along with the Yeshiva – Berachot

Lesson#1 – Content and Discussion

Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein
The Conservative Yeshiva

Before we start, I want you to have the proper “equipment” available. It would be a good thing to have a traditional siddur available as well as a Tanach (a Jewish Bible) so that when we are discussing the position of various things in the siddur (or in the case of the Talmud, our siddur in the making), you will be able to get a picture of what we are talking about.


View the English text for Berachot 9b

View the Hebrew text for Berachot 9b

Guide Questions and Issues

The Mishnah

The subject of our first Mishnah is the determination of the time parameters for the recitation of the Shma in the morning. The basis for this discussion is found in the “v’ahavta”, the first paragraph of the Shma (Deuteronomy 6:4-8) when it says: “ בשכבך ובקומך ”(6:7) – “when you lie down and when you get up”. Here, on our Mishnah, we are interested in the meaning of “when you get up”. That is the crux of the debate underlying our Mishnah.

When you study the Mishnah think about how each of the parties to the debate defines “when you get up”. When you see the Mishnah this way, then you will have a true feel for the meaning of Torah she’baal peh –Oral Torah.

The Mishnah contains two מחלוקות – disputes : one over the earliest time in the morning when the Shema can be recited and the other over the latest time in the morning when it can be recited. The dispute over the earliest time is between the סתם משנה – the anonymous voice of the Mishnah and Rabbi Eliezer. The dispute over the latest time is between the סתם משנה and Rabbi Joshua.

1. The first debate is over distinguishing between different colors while it is still dark outside (and progressively becoming more light). There is one complicating factor. Sure, we are asked to distinguish between different colors but how large are the sample swatches? Are they strings of tzitziyot (the ritual fringes) or are they bundles of material? The Mishnah does not elaborate. Now that provides room for a Talmudic discussion, if I ever saw one.

2. In the dispute between the Stam Mishnah and Rabbi Eliezer (steps 2 and 3), who stands for the earlier time?

3. The Stam Mishnah provides a very small window for what we call zman kriyat shma – the time for reading the Shma – from the earliest time until sun rise. Rabbi Joshua, on the other hand, broadens the window until the third hour.

A word about time and hours is necessary.When we are talking about hours in this Mishnah, we are talking about halachic hours. What are halachic hours? The daylight is divided into 12 and the hour will be long or short depending on the time of the year. The same calculations are done at night.

To put things in perspective in step 5, if we are talking about the period of time when night and day are equal, then sunrise will be at 6:00 AM and the third hour will be at 9:00 AM. 9:00 AM will then be the end of zman kriyat shma.

4. In the debate over the meaning of “and when you rise up”, how do the Stam Mishnah and Rabbi Eliezer define it differently?

5. Step 6 defines the significance of reading the Shma in the morning after that time. It defines levels of observance. Recitation of Shma during the designated time fulfills one kind of obligation. Reciting it outside of that period, while not fulfilling that particular obligation, still is a worthy act – namely Torah study.

Moderns are not used to thinking in terms of religious obligation and meeting religious deadlines. Is there religious significance to be found in such obligations?


Part 1

The first sugya consists of 7 steps. The first part of this discussion is technical in nature. It attempts to define more clearly the parameters for determining the earliest time in part because of the ambiguity that we noted in the Mishnah.

1. This is the crux of the first Shealah.

2. The Teshuva comes to answer this question by first posing an answer which it shoots down and by offering what it considers a more credible answer.

Note the technical term: אילימא – ‘if you should say’. This term always introduced an answer which will be refuted in favor of a better answer.

3. After offering what the Gemara considers a good interpretation of the Mishnah, it brings a baraita introduced by the word ‘ תניא ’. (Remember, a baraita is a Tanaitic teaching not included in the Mishnah). This baraita offers 3 alternative standards for determining the early time.

Do these opinions seem to seem to fix the earliest time as earlier or later?

4. This step introduces a מימרא , namely the opinion of an אמורא – a sage from the period of the Talmud. This sage, Rav Huna, a Babylonian sage of the 2nd generation of Talmudic sages in Babylonia, decides the Halacha according to the last opinion in the baraita.

5. Here we are introduced to the opinion of an Amora which differs from that of Rav Huna. Abaye accepts Rav Huna’s opinion for the earliest time that a person can put on tefillin but comes up with a different opinion for the earliest time for reciting Shma, namely, ותיקין .

What is ותיקין ?We get a hint from Rabbi Yochanan who tells us the ותיקין would finish saying Shma with sunrise. This opinion contradicts the Mishnahwhich says that sunrise is the latest time. Here Abaye turns it into the earliest time.

6. The term תניא נמיהכי introduces a baraita which is brought to corroborate a later opinion. This baraita also tells us a little more about the practice of the ותיקין . The ותיקין wanted to pray גאולה (the blessing גאל ישראל ) and immediately afterwards תפילה – the prayer which we know as the Amidah. Not only that but they wanted to do this at sunrise.

The vatikin were special because they wanted to pray at the very first possible moment which according to them was sunrise and did it with regularity.

This brings us to the meaning of the word“ vatikin”. Much ink has been spilled on this term but Professor Moshe Benovitz seems to have put his finger on the meaning. He claims it comes from the Greek word ‘ethikos’, the word we know in English as ‘ethical’. In our context, it would mean – ‘regular’ or ‘dependable’. These dependable students could be relied on to pray at sunrise.

7. Rabbi Zera brings a proof verse to support Rabbi Yochanan’’s conclusion. How does this verse support Rabbi Yochanan’’s position?

Part 2

In this section, we have an excursus on the importance of juxtaposing “geulah” to “tefilah. (What we saw in step 6 of the previous section.)

1. In the first statement of this section, we see a hyperbolic statement praising the virtues of juxtaposing “geulah” to” tefillah” in one’s prayers. The claim made here is that such be behavior will protect the person who does it from harm all day.

2. The Talmud now brings a kushiya in the name of Rabbi Zera. Rabbi Zera challenges Rabbi Yossi ben Yoezer’’s pronouncement from his own personal experience.

3. In the terutz to refute Rabbi Zera’s challenge, the Talmud relates the story of Rabbi Zera’s “bad day ”and then goes on to explain that what he thought was a bad day really was not so bad.

In proving this point, the Talmud relates a meimra of Rabbi Yochanan, pointing out the virtues of seeing human ruler.

4. The sugya closes with an anecdote the effect of juxtaposing “geulah” to “tefillah” on the psyche of a certain sage.

Questions to consider

1. Discuss different religious approaches to the statement in step1.

2. Is there an important statement about religious psychology to be found in the debate between Rabbi’s Zera’s kushiya and its refutation?

3. What is the religious difference between the religious sales pitch found in step 1 and the one found in step 5?

Part 3

Back to halacha and prayer logistics. As in the last section,it will help to have a traditional siddur in hand and to have it open to the amida (Shaharit – weekday morning). Also, again please remember that we aretalking about the formulation of the prayers so some assumptions you mighthave, for the moment for be set to the side.

1. This sugya opens with a kushiya. What is the problem? If you hold that “Ga’al Yisrael – Redeemer ofIsrael” must be juxtaposed with the Amida, how can it be that Rabbi Yochanan prescribed that a verse from Psalms should precede the Amida and another verse from Psalms should follow the Amida? Doesn’t this preclude the required juxtaposition?

2. Now we must do some juggling for a teirutz – an answer.

I want to introduce a new term here. But before I do, I want to note something about Rabbi Yochanan’s meimra. Note thatthere is no specific indication in Rabbi Yochanan’s opinion of which Amida, he intended to apply his prescription to. It may that he intended to apply it to every Amida. In order to create a teirutz, we are going to create an אוקימתא – we are going to assert that Rabbi Yochanan intended his statement to apply to a specificsituation. In our case, we will say his ruling applies where there is no needfor the juxtaposition of geula and tefila.

Rabbi Elazar applies Rabbi Yochanan’s prescription to a prayer where he thinks there is no requirement for juxtaposition because Gaal Yisrael is not juxtaposed with tefillah.

3. Oops, there goes that אוקימתא . Better luck next time. Explain how it was eliminated?

4. Another try.

5. Finally the answer that the tradition adopted. Explain this אוקימתא ?

Part 4

1. Here we have another examination of Rabbi Yochanan’s prescription. He assets that the verse: “Maythe words of My mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to You, my Rock and my Redeemer.” should be recited after the finish of the Amidah. This question challenges this stance and asks why if there is a reason why thisverse is not recited before the Amidah as well since its message would be equally appropriate there. (The verse even mentions the idea of God asredeemer.)

2. This teirutz offers a very interesting argument in response to this challenge. It asserts that there is a parallel between David’s composition of the book of Psalms and the construction of theAmida. Here, he claims that since David placed this verse after 18 psalms (Iknow, it is found at the end of the 19th psalm. See the response instep 3), that is why the verse was placed at the end of the Amida which was originally composed of 18 blessings.

3. You got it. Great argument but the math does not add up!

4. We can fix that. There is a tradition that the first two psalms were really one psalm and that would turn psalm 19 into psalm 18. Whether this is historically true is another question.Professor Shamma Friedman thinks that psalms 9 and 10 might originally havebeen one psalm.

All of this is brought from a rabbinic teaching which asserts that David positioned certain verses in the book ofPsalms as a message.

5. This meimra continues onsimilar lines.

Questions to Consider

1. In part 4, we see an interesting dynamic between laws offered without offering a rationale for the law and the justification of a law through Scriptural references after the law is challenged. Describe the relationship between the “law” and “Scriptural” asfound in this sugya.

2. Discuss the manner of deriving proof from Scripture.

Go to Next Class – 10a-10b