Can You Stand It?

Question

Dear Rabbi,

Why is it customary to remain seated while reciting the Shma Yisrael prayer in the morning and the evening? It would seem that during such an important and central prayer, we should show the utmost respect and attention by standing. Thank you.

4 months

Answers

  1. As King Solomon said: “Don’t be too righteous.” It’s perfectly okay to sit during the morning Shma. In fact, it’s preferable.

    The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) says that being strict by standing for the morning Shma is wrong. It’s like taking the words in the verse “when you get up” literally. The verse that says, “You shall speak them (i.e. the words of the Shma)… when you lie down and when you get up” actually means that the Shma should be said in the morning and in the evening. It does not mean that you should stand up or sit down or lie down to say it.

    Accordingly, at night one who is standing shouldn’t try to be strict by sitting or lying down.

    Before I was married, someone invited me for the Friday night meal. Before the meal he reminded me to repeat the Shma, suggesting to do so right away. (In many communities, the evening service is held before nightfall, requiring one to repeat the Shma after dark.) My host was sitting and I began moving towards my assigned chair.

    “Don’t sit down,” said my host.
    “Can I?” I asked.
    “No,” he said.
    “Can I sit down?” I asked again.
    He looked at me with disbelief. “No!”
    “I repeated the Shma already,” I said, trying not to smile. “I just want to sit down!”

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team