The Need for Voice with Respect to the Amida Prayer (I [Part I])

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

YHE-HALAKHA: TOPICS IN HALAKHA

 

The Need for Voice with Respect to the Amida Prayer
(I [Part I])

 

HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein

 

 

            A comprehensive discussion of the need to voice the Amida prayer must focus on three issues:

 

1) Must the Amida prayer be voiced, lekhatchila or bedi'eved?

 

2) Assuming that prayer must be voiced, at least lekhatchila, is a person obligated, permitted or forbidden to pray in such a manner that his prayer is audible to his own ears?

 

3) What is the scope and foundation of the law, appearing in Sota 32b and other places, that the Amida prayer was instituted to be recited in a soft tone, and not in a loud tone?

 

            In this shiur, I shall limit myself to the first issue; as for the others, I shall deal with them in future shiurim.

 

            We read in Berakhot 31a:

 

Rav Hamnuna said: How many most important laws can be learned from these verses relating to Chana!  "Now Chana spoke in her heart" - from here we learn that one who prays must direct his heart. "Only her lips moved" - from here we learn that one who prays must pronounce the words with his lips. "But her voice could not be heard" - from here we learn that it is forbidden to raise one's voice in prayer. "Therefore Eli thought she was drunk" - from here we learn that a drunken person is forbidden to pray.[1]

 

            We see then that it is explicitly stated that prayer must be pronounced with the lips, and that it is not only "the meditation of my heart", but also "the words of my mouth."[2]  But the fact that this rule is learned from the verses relating to Chana suggests that it is not included in the very definition of prayer, and thus not self-evident that prayer must be spoken. Hence, there is room to examine whether or not this law is an indispensable requirement for fulfilling one's duty even bedi'eved. Indeed, Rav Hamnuna's rulings on prayer include the prohibition to pray with a raised voice, which certainly does not hinder one's fulfillment of the mitzva, as is proven by the fact that one who is incapable of focusing his attention when praying in a low tone is permitted to sound his voice (Berakhot 24b). Even though the Gemara there speaks of an allowance "to sound one's voice," it is clear that the same applies to “raising one’s voice” if one is unable to concentrate without actually raising his voice; moreover, the Halakhot Gedolot has a version of Rav Hamnuna’s statement that reads: "to sound one's voice." What of the fact that Rav Hamnuna includes in his ruling the obligation to direct one's heart while praying and the prohibition to pray while drunk, both of which are indispensable elements for fulfilling one's duty of prayer? Regarding the first one, it may be suggested that we are dealing here with concentration that is in fact dispensable, i.e., concentration in the blessings other than the first, where the obligation of concentration is only lekhatchila, as the Baraita states: "One who prays must direct his heart in all the blessings, and if he cannot direct his heart in all of them, he should direct his heart in one of them." As for the law regarding a drunk – this is different than the first three laws mentioned in the Gemara, which define the manner and form of prayer, and can more easily be seen as applying only lekhatchila, whereas the law regarding a drunk person is a disqualification of the person, which can more easily be seen as being indispensable. In addition, the Rambam (Hilkhot Tefila 4:17), does not bring the disqualification of a drunk as a separate law, but as a branch of the law of concentration, for he writes: "An intoxicated person must not pray, because he cannot concentrate. If he prays, his prayer is an abomination." It is possible that, according to the Rambam, the prohibition learned from Chana does not relate to a real drunk (shikor), who in any event is disqualified from praying owing to his inability to maintain concentration, but rather to a person who is under the influence of drink (shatui), about whom it says: "A person under the influence of drink should not pray, but if he recited the prayer, it is regarded as prayer."

 

            In any event, even if we cannot prove anything from the context in which the law is found, there is certainly room to raise the question whether or not the law that prayer must be voiced is indispensable even bedi'eved. The Rambam's position on the matter is clear. In chapter 4 of Hilkhot Tefila, where he lists the five requisites which hinder the proper recitation of the Amida prayer, he does not mention the requirement that prayer be voiced, whereas in chapter 5, where he lists eight things "that should be heeded and observed, but if they were disregarded, owing to stress, disability, or even willfully, the do not hinder the proper recital of the prayer" (halakha 1), he includes "modulation of the voice." He writes: "Modulation of the voice. How so? One should not raise his voice during prayer, nor should he pray in his heart, but rather he should pronounce the words with his lips and softly sound them to his ears." We see from here that the Rambam sets prayer offered in a soft voice as the lekhatchila option between the two extremes, praying with a raised voice on the one side, and praying silently in the heart on the other, and it is clear that bedie'ved he fulfills his obligation with both of them. This is similar to what the Rambam writes about blessings in general: "All the blessings should be so recited that the reciter hears what he is saying. But he who has not recited the blessings so that he can hear them, has nevertheless fulfilled his obligation, whether he uttered them with his lips or recited them in his heart" (Hilkhot Berakhot 1:7). The source of this ruling is a Baraita brought in Berakhot 15a: "One should not recite Birkat ha-Mazon in his heart, but if he did, he has nevertheless fulfilled his obligation." Even though Rashi (s.v. be-libo) explains, "that he didn't sound it to his ears," and several Rishonim follow in his path (Ba'al ha-Ma'or, 20b; Talmidei Rabbenu Yonah, 20b; Rosh, chap. 3, sec. 14; and others), the Rambam understands the Baraita in its plain sense, and rules that a person fulfills his obligation even without pronouncing the words with his lips. If this is true regarding Birkat ha-Mazon and the other blessings, we should not be surprised that, according to the Rambam, a person fulfills his duty of prayer bedi'eved even without voicing the words at all.

 

            It would seem, however, that an objection may be raised against the Rambam's ruling from the Gemara dealing with a ba'al keri (a person who ejaculated and is ritually impure). For we learned in the Mishna: "A ba'al keri meditates upon the words [of Shema] in his heart, without reciting a blessing either before or after. At meals he recites a blessing after [eating], but he does not recite a blessing before." On this the Gemara says:

 

Ravina said: This shows that silent meditation is equivalent to actual speaking (hirhur ke-dibbur dami). For if you assume that it is not equivalent to actual speaking, why should he meditate upon it? What then? [You say that] silent meditation is equivalent to actual speaking. Then let him pronounce the words with his lips! We do as we find it was done at Sinai. R. Chisda, however, said: Silent meditation is not equivalent to actual speaking. For if you assume that silent meditation is equivalent to actual speaking, then let him pronounce the words with his lips! What then? [You say that] silent meditation is not equivalent to actual speaking? Why then should he meditate upon it? Rabbi Elazar said: So that he not sit idle while everyone else is engaged in saying it. (Berakhot 20b)

 

            And regarding the Amida prayer, we learn later in the Mishna (22b): "If a person was standing in prayer and he remembers that he is a ba'al keri, he should not break off but rather he should shorten [his prayer]." The Gemara infers from this (21a): "Now the reason is that he had commenced; but if he had not yet commenced, he should not do so." Now if we assume that voicing the words is indispensable for the fulfillment of one's obligation, we understand this last ruling. For in order to fulfill his obligation, the ba'al keri would have to voice the words and this is forbidden to him. But according to the Rambam, why should the ba'al keri pass on prayer? Surely he can pray silently in his heart, and in that way he would fulfill his obligation of prayer, without violating the prohibition imposed upon a ba'al keri regarding words of Torah, which only applies when he actually utters those words. See the Gemara there (21b), which indeed asks why shouldn't the ba'al keri meditate in his heart upon the Amida, according to Rav Chisda, and answers that the whole obligation is only by rabbinic law, and therefore the Sages did not require him to meditate upon the prayer in his heart. But the objection there is raised according to Rav Chisda, and with respect to the law "that he not sit idle while everyone else is engaged in saying it." According to the Rambam's ruling, however, the question can be asked in a sharper manner: why should he not recite the Amida prayer in his heart and thus fulfill his obligation? For according to the Rambam, the situation regarding prayer is precisely like that regarding Shema and Birkat ha-Mazon according to Ravina – i.e., that he is obligated in silent meditation, and he fulfills his obligation, because actual voicing is not indispensable for his fulfillment, but he does not violate the prohibition, because silent meditation is not equivalent to actual speaking. See the Tosafot, s.v. ve-harei, who raise the following question:

 

You might say: Since he does not know the answer to be brought below, let him ask also according to Ravina: Why Shema and Birkat ha-Mazon more than prayer? You can answer that according to Ravina we understand; since silent meditation is like actual speaking, we should require it regarding Shema and Birkat ha-Mazon which are by Torah law more than regarding prayer which is by rabbinic decree. But according to Rav Chisda, since silent meditation is nothing, only that he should not sit idle, what is the difference between Shema and prayer?

 

            This answer, however, does not help for the Rambam, for he maintains (Hilkhot Tefila 1:1) that the obligation to pray daily is a positive commandment by Torah law. Thus, it should be governed by the same law as Shema and Birkat ha-Mazon, which are also Torah laws, as opposed to the blessings of Shema and blessings over foods and the like which are only by rabbinic decree, and so there is no obligation to meditate upon them in one's heart, even though it would be possible to fulfill one's obligation in that manner.[3] In fact, there is room to object to the Rambam even from the law governing the blessings of Shema, for why should one not recite them in one's heart, and thus fulfill one's obligation without violating any prohibition. In fact, the Yerushalmi ad loc. (3:4) says: "What is the law regarding silent meditation with respect to blessings?" That is to say, in contrast to what the Bavli says that a ba'al keri should meditate upon the Shema in his heart, and skip the blessings entirely, the Yerushalmi understands that he should recite Shema with his mouth, and meditate upon the blessings in his heart. This fits in well with the Rambam's ruling that pronunciation with the lips is not indispensable with respect to blessings. But most of the Rishonim – with the exception of the Roke'ach (no. 321) - rule in accordance with the Bavli.[4] As for the question why doesn't the ba'al keri meditate upon the blessings of Shema in his heart – this question should not be directed at the Rambam, but rather against Ravina, and whatever we answer for Ravina – either that in the case of rabbinic laws all agree that silent meditation does not suffice, as argued by R. Akiva Eiger (see his novellae on Orach Chayim, 111); or that the Sages didn't obligate him to meditate upon the blessings, for whatever reason – can be used to answer the difficulty in the Rambam. But as for the Amida prayer, which according to the Rambam is obligatory by Torah law, the question remains why shouldn't the ba'al keri say it in his heart. Needless to say, there is room to raise this question according to Ravina who explicitly distinguishes between the prohibition governing the ba'al keri and the mitzva of Shema, and therefore the same should apply to the Amida prayer. But there is room to ask this question even according to Rav Chisda who seems to maintain that such a distinction cannot be made, and therefore he asks, "for if you think that silent meditation is equivalent to actual speaking, he should pronounce it with his lips." For Rav Chisda only asked this question were we to say that silent meditation is equivalent to actual speaking, for then there would be no room to distinguish between silent meditation and actual speaking, or between the prohibition governing a ba'al keri and the fulfillment of Shema. This is not the case according to his own opinion that silent meditation is not equivalent to actual speaking, and if praying in the heart is effective, it is not because it is like actually saying it, but for some other reason (see below). And therefore there should be room to object that a ba'al keri should pray in his heart, for then he would fulfill his duty regarding prayer without violating the prohibition.

 

            Afterwards I saw that the Magen Avraham already noted this proof, though without mentioning the Rambam.[5] For he writes as follows:

 

We must examine whether a person who prays in his heart fulfills his obligation. For it would seem that he fulfills his obligation. Even though we maintain that silent meditation is not equivalent to actual speaking, as we find in sec. 62 and sec. 185, prayer is different. For we learn from the verse: "'And to serve Him with all your heart' – what is service of the heart? This is prayer." If so, the essence [of prayer] depends on intention of the heart, and the Holy One, blessed be He, knows [man's] thoughts. However, the Gemara implies that he does not fulfill his obligation. For were this not true, [the Sages] should have enacted that a ba'al keri should pray in his heart, for he is permitted to meditate, since we maintain that silent meditation is not equivalent to actual speaking. Rather you are forced to say that he does not fulfill his obligation with silent meditation, but rather he must formulate the words with his lips."

 

Upon closer examination, however, it seems that we can explain the Rambam's position. For the aforementioned objection is based on two assumptions:

 

1) Bedi'eved, prayer does not have to be voiced.

 

2) A ba'al keri is not forbidden to pray in his heart, even if he fulfills his obligation thereby.

 

The first assumption is indeed the position of the Rambam under discussion. As for the second assumption, it is rooted in the talmudic passage which says that according to Ravina, a ba'al keri recites Shema in his heart, and fulfills his obligation thereby, because a ba'al keri is only forbidden "as we find it was done at Sinai." A question may be raised, however, whether there is a connection between this passage and the matter under discussion. For regarding "as we find it was done at Sinai," the Tosafot write (s.v. ki-de-ishkechan):

 

This means: Even though [silent meditation] is equivalent to actual speaking it in that he fulfills his obligation, nevertheless it is not like actual speaking so that a ba'al keri should be forbidden to say it in his heart, as we find at Sinai, that words were spoken there, and they had to immerse themselves, for even though they remained silent, hearing is equivalent to speaking.

 

            It would seem that we are not dealing here merely with a precise imitation of the conditions that prevailed at Sinai, but rather a definition of the basis of the prohibition governing a ba'al keri. For it is clear, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that one fulfills the mitzva of Torah study with silent meditation, even if it is not equivalent to actual speaking, for "And you shall meditate upon it," does not demand verbalization, but rather suffices with meditation in the heart. Even though reading the Written Law may require reading with the lips – this would seem to depend on the disagreement whether silent meditation is equivalent to actual speaking –regarding the general mitzva of Torah study, whoever understands the words of the Torah and meditates upon them certainly fulfills the mitzva. This being the case, since a ba'al keri is permitted to meditate upon the words of the Torah in his heart, for the prohibition was modeled on what was done at Sinai, this proves that he was never forbidden to engage in the mitzva of Torah study, but rather that the cheftza of the words of the Torah are forbidden to him. And as for this cheftza, it may be argued that the prohibition is limited to the case where the words of Torah assume a concrete and objective form. But as long as they remain in the ba'al keri's consciousness, they are not defined as a cheftza of Torah subject to prohibition. While it is true that in the case of the Oral Law, the content in itself clearly comprises a cheftza of Torah, only a concrete and objectively defined cheftza is forbidden. This definition is supported by a Tannaitic disagreement (Berakhot 22a) regarding the scope of this prohibition:

 

A zav, a metzora, and one who had sexual relations with a menstruating woman are permitted to read the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings, and to study the Mishna, the Talmud, halakhot and aggadot. But a ba'al keri is forbidden. Rabbi Yose says: He may review those with which he is familiar, so long as he does not expound the Mishnah. Rabbi Yonatan ben Yosef says: He may expound the Mishnah but he must not expound the Midrash.  Rabbi Natan ben Avshalom says: He may expound the Midrash also, provided only he does not mention the Divine names that occur in it. Rabbi Yonatan the sandal-maker, the disciple of Rabbi Akiva, said in the name of Rabbi Akiva: He should not enter upon the Midrash at all. Some read: He should not enter the Bet ha-Midrash at all. Rabbi Yehuda says: He may review the laws of Derekh Eretz.

 

            Now, regarding fulfillment of the mitzva of Torah study, there is certainly no difference between the study of Mishna and the study of Midrash, or between verses containing God's name and verses lacking God's name. All of the distinctions made here relate to the cheftza of Torah governed by the prohibition or – perhaps, with respect to the mishnayot with which he is familiar – with the measure of toil that the study demands. This proves then that a ba'al keri is not forbidden to engage in the mitzva of Torah study, but rather that the cheftza of the Torah is forbidden to him. It is difficult to say that the anonymous first Tanna of the Baraita disagrees with the other Tannaim precisely on this point. It is more reasonable to assume that he too accepts this definition of the prohibition, only that he maintains that every cheftza of Torah, without exception, is forbidden to the ba'al keri. Even though it says in the Yerushalmi (Berakhot 3:4): "There they say: Even to hear words of Torah is forbidden," this is because the words of Torah that he hears are forbidden to him – with or without the law that hearing is equivalent to speaking – as the Tosafot write that at Sinai the people were silent, but nonetheless it was considered speech, based on the law that hearing is equivalent to speaking. But meditation in the heart is permitted even according to the Yerushalmi, because only a tangible cheftza of Torah is included in the prohibition. This is also proven by the words of Rabbi Yehuda ben Betera who disagrees with the prohibition relating a ba'al keri (ibid. 22a):

 

It has been taught: Rabbi Yehuda ben Betera would say: Words of Torah are not susceptible of ritual impurity. Once a certain disciple was mumbling over against Rabbi Yehuda ben Betera. He said to him: My son, open your mouth and let your words be clear, for words of Torah are not susceptible to ritual impurity, as it says: "Is not My word like as fire?" Just as fire is not susceptible of ritual impurity, so too words of Torah are not susceptible of ritual impurity.

 

We see that Rabbi Yehuda ben Betera does not relate to the mitzva of Torah study, but rather to the cheftza of words of Torah. And in parallel fashion, it says in Bava Kama (82b) that Ezra instituted immersion in a mikveh "for words of Torah." Thus we understand why silent meditation upon words of Torah is not forbidden to the ba'al keri, even if silent meditation is equivalent to actual speaking, for even if he fulfills the mitzva of Torah study with meditation, there is no cheftza of Torah which is subject to the prohibition.

 

            We find a similar phenomenon in another realm, regarding the blessings recited over Torah study. According to the Agur (no. 2), whose position is brought by the Shulchan Arukh as normative law (Orach Chayim 47:4), "one who silently meditates upon the Torah is not obligated to recite a blessing," because silent meditation is not equivalent to actual speaking. The Vilna Gaon (ad loc., no. 2) raises an objection:

 

This matter requires study, for we are dealing here with a blessing recited over a mitzva. Is there no mitzva in silent meditation [over Torah]? Surely it says: "And you shall meditate upon it," that is to say, in the heart, as it says: "And the meditation of my heart."

 

The Shulchan Arukh's ruling can be reconciled based on what I heard from my revered teacher, the Rav, shelita, in the name of Rav Chayim, ztz"l (cited in his name in Chiddushei Maran Riz ha-Levi al ha-Rambam," Hilkhot Berakhot 11:16), that the blessings recited over the Torah were not instituted as blessings recited over the mitzva of Torah study, but rather as blessings recited over the cheftza of Torah. For this reason, women recite these blessings (Orach Chayim 47:14), even according to the Shulchan Arukh who rules in accordance with the Rambam (Hilkhot Tzitzit 3:9) that women do not recite blessings over positive commandments from which they are exempt, because even their study constitutes a cheftza of Torah. And for this reason, the blessings are also recited when the Torah is read in public, even if the individuals already recited the blessings, and there is no new obligation, because the cheftza of public Torah study has a status of its own. In light of this principle, we can also understand why the blessings are not recited over silent meditation, for even though one fulfills the mitzva of Torah study through silent meditation, as argued by the Vilna Gaon, nevertheless there is no cheftza over which the blessings can be recited.[6] The same applies to the prohibition falling upon a ba'al keri, for in his case as well it is the cheftza of Torah and not the mitzva of Torah study that is forbidden, and so silent meditation is permitted.[7]

 

(To be continued.)

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] Several Rishonim Siddur Rashi (p. 18); Machzor Vitri (p. 14); and Ravya (p. 72) – cite the Gemara, omitting the part about articulating the words with one's lips. Their reading was as follows: "'Now Chana spoke in her heart, only her lips moved, etc.' - from here we learn that one who prays must pray in a low tone." Our reading, however, already appears in Siddur Rav Amram Gaon and in the Halakhot Gedolot. Even according to the other reading, pronunciation with the lips can be understood as included in the term "in a soft tone." See also the parallel statement in the Yerushalmi (4:1): "You might say that a person should raise his voice and pray. It is stated with respect to Chana: 'Now Chana spoke in her heart.' You might say that a person should meditate in his heart. Therefore it says: 'Only her lips moved.'" See also the Gemara in Yoma (73a) regarding the Urim and Tumim: "One does not inquire of God in a [raised] voice. As it is stated: 'Who shall ask for him' (Bamidbar 27:21). And one does not meditate in his heart. As it is stated: 'Who shall ask for him before the Lord.' Rather in the manner that Chana spoke in her prayer. As it is stated: 'Now Chana spoke in her heart.'"

[2] Tehillim 19:15

[3] This objection parallels the objection raised by the Ramban (hasagot to Sefer ha-Mitzvot, positive commandment, no. 5), from the law governing a ba'al keri against the Rambam's view that daily prayer is a Torah law. Only that the Ramban asked from the wording of the Gemara, which explicitly declares that "prayer is by rabbinic decree." This objection can be answered, as was proposed by several Acharonim, if we posit that, according to the Rambam, the Gemara is dealing with additional prayers each day that are in fact only by rabbinic decree. The objection raised here is directed at the law itself – why shouldn't a ba'al keri meditate upon prayer, for the Gemara implies that a ba'al keri must never meditate upon prayer in his heart.

[4] The Vilna Gaon in "Shenot Eliyahu" (ad loc.) tries to explain the Bavli along the lines of the Yerushalmi, but already the Keren Ora (in his commentary to the passage dealing with ba'al keri, printed in his novellae to the first chapter of Berakhot) raised serious objections to this approach. In any event, this understanding was not accepted by the Rishonim. See, however, Tosefta ki-Peshutah, p. 21.

[5] The Peri Megadim (ad loc.) writes: "And from the Rambam, Hilkhot Tefila 5:1 and 9, there is no proof that praying with a raised voice or by way of meditation does not hinder one's fulfillment of the mitzva." That is to say, it is possible that even bedi'eved one does fulfill his duty if he recited the Amida prayer in his heart. The Keren Ora (ibid.) writes with certainty that according to the Rambam, the Amida prayer is like Shema, and not like blessings, and that one does not fulfill his duty with meditation. It seems clear, however, that according to the Rambam, meditation suffices bedi'eved, as was noted by the Elya Rabba (ad loc.).

[6] Unfortunately, I do not remember now whether he applied this principle to the issue of reciting birkat ha-Torah over silent meditation, but it is very possible that he did. As for Rav Chayim's principle, it should be discussed in light of the question whether birkat ha-Torah is a blessing recited over a mitzva or a blessing of praise and thanksgiving. And this should be studied in light of the text of the blessing and whether it is by Torah law or only by rabbinic decree.

[7] It should be noted, however, that a ba'al keri is permitted to meditate upon Torah, even according to the authority who maintains that silent meditation is equivalent to actual speaking, whereas the Agur based his position on the assumption that silent meditation is not equivalent to actual speaking. And this is according to Rav Chisda, who maintains that if silent meditation is equivalent to actual speaking it is a real cheftza of Torah, and therefore he asks: "For if you assume that silent meditation is equivalent to actual speaking, then let him pronounce the words with his lips!" But according to Ravina, it is possible to distinguish with respect to the cheftza, and it is possible that even according to him that silent meditation is equivalent to actual speaking, a blessing should not be recited for meditating upon the Torah.