Question: Until what time may one recite the Shacharit prayer? What is meant by the latest time for praying Shacharit “according to the Magen Avraham” and “according to the Gra” printed in calendars of halachic times?
Answer: The Mishnah in Masechet Berachot as well as the Gemara there (27a) state that the proper time for praying Shacharit is until the end of the fourth hour of the day, i.e. one should count a third of the day from the beginning of the day (since every day is composed of twelve hours). One may pray Shacharit until the end of these four hours.
When To Begin Counting These Four Hours
The latest time for reciting the morning Keri’at Shema is until the end of the third hour of the day, i.e. one seasonal hour before the latest time to pray Shacharit. The later authorities disagree regarding if these hours are calculated beginning from dawn (the Magen Avraham’s opinion) or beginning from sunrise which is later (the Gra’s opinion). The disagreement regarding the time for Keri’at Shema applies equally to the end time for prayer and while some maintain that these four hours are calculated beginning from dawn, others maintain that they are calculated beginning from sunrise.
Halachically speaking, regarding Keri’at Shema, we have already written that according to Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l, these hours should be calculated beginning from dawn corresponding to the time of Keri’at Shema according to the Magen Avraham printed in calendars. Nevertheless, Maran zt”l quotes many authorities who side with the Rambam’s opinion and rule that these hours are calculated beginning from sunrise. This seems to likewise be the opinion of Rav Sa’adya Gaon (in his Siddur, page 12) who lived even before the period of the Rishonim. Thus, even with regards to Keri’at Shema which is a Torah obligation, Maran zt”l rules that in pressing circumstances, one may act leniently and rely on the Gra’s opinion of calculating these hours from sunrise making the end time later. This is certainly the law regarding the end time for the Shacharit prayer whose time is not dictated by Torah law and is merely a rabbinic enactment and as such, there is always room for leniency to calculate this time as four hours after sunrise as printed in most calendars.
How These Four Hours Are Calculated
The four hours that we have been discussing are not four regular hours. Rather, they are seasonal hours. The way to calculate seasonal hours is by dividing the daylight hours of the day from sunrise to sunset into twelve equal parts with each part amounting to one seasonal hour. (Thus, in the summer months when the days are longer, the seasonal hour is longer than a standard hour and reaches approximately one hour and ten minutes. In the winter when the days are shorter, the seasonal hour is shorter as well.)
This is indeed the custom in many places where the set prayer times for various Minyanim are all within four seasonal hours of sunrise. Only in several places which are not meticulous with Mitzvah observance are Minyanim for Shabbat morning services set for times past four seasonal hours from sunrise. (The end of these four hours in Israel at this time of year is at approximately 10:00 AM and in New York at approximately 10:20 AM. This time refers to when one must have concluded the Shacharit Amida prayer after having recited Keri’at Shema at its proper time.)
One Who Has Delayed Past Four Hours
If one is late and has not yet prayed Shacharit until the four seasonal hours since sunrise have passed, although this is halachically incorrect since one has missed the proper time for prayer, one may still pray until halachic midday which is six seasonal hours after sunrise. During this time of year in Israel, halachic midday is at approximately 11:53 AM and in New York it is at approximately 12:10 PM.
Nevertheless, preferably one may not delay praying until such a late hour; rather, one should always be meticulous to pray within the four seasonal hours from sunrise. Some say that if one intentionally delayed praying until after these four seasonal hours past sunrise, although one may in fact pray until halachic midday, nevertheless, one may only pray while making a condition that this prayer is a “donation,” by stipulating that if one is still permitted to be praying now, one has in mind to pray the Shacharit prayer and if one is no longer permitted to pray at this time, then this prayer should be considered a “donated prayer.”
The Shacharit Prayer Past Halachic Midday
Once halachic midday has passed, one may no longer pray the Shacharit prayer. If this was done unintentionally or due to circumstances completely beyond one’s control, one must pray a compensational prayer. Although immediately following halachic midday it is not yet time for the Mincha prayer until another half-hour elapses, nevertheless, one may not pray Shacharit after halachic midday, even if is immediately past this time.
Prayer Past Halachic Midday Regarding Women
We have already discussed several times that the Sephardic custom is that women are only obligated to pray one daily prayer. This prayer can be either Shacharit, Mincha, or Arvit as the woman wishes. After halachic midday, one can no longer pray Shacharit and Mincha prayers cannot be recited until another half-hour passes. The question arises: May a woman pray at such a time that is neither the appropriate time for Shacharit or Mincha? Seemingly, since a woman is only required to pray one daily prayer, it can be any one that she chooses, and she should be able to pray at such a time. We posed this question to Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l in the past and he replied that a woman may not pray her daily prayer at this time, for since she is ultimately obligated to recite one prayer according to the edict of our Sages, it must be either Shacharit or Mincha, but it may not be a prayer at a time that is associated with neither of them.
One should preferably pray the Shacharit prayer within four seasonal hours of sunrise. If one was delayed and has not prayed by this time, one may pray Shacharit until halachic midday. There is no distinction between men and women regarding this law.