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By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom | Series: | Level:

8. [*Yirmoz*, *Yiqrotz* and *Yar’eh* all indicate some form of non-verbal communication; *Yatza* = “has fulfilled the obligation”.]

Someone who is reading K’riat Sh’ma should not *Yirmoz* with his eyes, *Yiqrotz* with his lips or *Yar’eh* indicate with his fingers – in order that his reading should not be *Arai’*. If he did so, even though *Yatza*, it is unseemly.

He must read audibly – for his own ears; if he did not do so, *Yatza*. He must exercise care with regard to the letters; if he did not do so. *Yatza*.


“Hearing” K’riat Sh’ma

Yitzchak Etshalom


Until this point, we have learned about “reading” K’riat Sh’ma. The Hebrew verb used was *KRA* – read; in some cases, this may mean silent reading; however, it may also indicate a verbal (and audible) reading.

Rambam now introduces us to the requirement of “hearing” your own reading of K’riat Sh’ma. Before going further, it is prudent to review two legal terms which are in play here:

(1) *L’khat’hilah* – (lit. “before the fact” – pre facto). A requirement which is termed L’khat’hilah indicates that this is the way it should ideally be done and if, before the fact, someone were to ask us about the necessity of this detail, we would advise them to fulfill it. For example, there is a L’khat’hilah requirement to attend to all of the words of Tefillah. In other words, if someone were to ask us “Must I pay attention to all of the words of the Tefillah as I say them?”, our answer would be a definitive “Yes.”

(2) *B’di’avad* – (lit. “if it was done” – post facto). Although there are some “ideal” components of a given Mitzvah, there are others which are indispensable – “sine qua non”; if someone approaches us after the fact and asks us if this Mitzvah was fulfilled without a particular desideratum, we would advise them that it has not been fulfilled and, if feasible, they should go back and do it again properly. Returning to our earlier example, if someone asks us: “I said the entire Tefillah and did not pay attention to the meaning of any of the words, was I *Yotze* (did I fulfill the obligation)?” – since intent during the first blessing is a sine qua non, we would answer: “No, you have not been Yotze – you should (if the time has not passed) say Tefillah again.”

Rambam rules (as is the ruling of the Gemara; see below) that both “audible” and “careful” reading of K’riat Sh’ma are desiderata L’khat’hilah but are not indispensable.

Any time we have (solely) L’khat’hilah requirements, we have to investigate the nature of the requirement which is, on the face, a bit odd – it has the flavor of “You must do this, but, if you don’t, it’s still acceptable”. This can happen for one of two reasons:

(a) The given requirement is “weak” within the structure of the Mitzvah and, therefore, does not invalidate its performance B’di’avad. For instance, the public Torah reader should, ideally, read each word clearly and perfectly, with proper cantillation as well as proper syntax and parsing. Nevertheless, we only “interrupt” the reader and make him re-read if he made an error which changes the meaning of the reading. This is because the ideal form of reading is a “weaker” obligation and, without it, the reading still fulfills its central function – publicly reading the text in a form which communicates the proper meaning of each word.

(b) The given requirement is sourced in a different consideration than the rest of the details of that Mitzvah – and that consideration is ideal but not necessary. For instance, the public Torah reading is ideally done standing up (BT Megilla 21a, Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 141:1) – however, B’di’avad, if it was read while leaning on the lectern, *Yatza* (see Mishna Berura and Arukh haShulhan ad loc. – Arukh haShulhan notes that Bach (the Halakhist, not the composer) argues that *Lo Yatza*; but this opinion is generally rejected). This is because standing is not part of the core of the public Torah reading and is either a reflection of K’vod haTorah (dignity of the Torah) or a component of *K’vod haTzibbur* – (respect for the assemblage). (see JT Megillah 4:1).

In the same way, we could posit that audible reading is part of the core obligation of K’riat Sh’ma – but it is a “weak” part of that obligation. Alternatively, we could argue that audibility is an external requirement, sourced in something else besides K’riat Sh’ma itself.

In this shiur I will try to explain the requirement of “audible” reading and why it is “only” a L’khat’hilah requirement.



The Mishnah in Berakhot (2:3) cites the following two disputes: “If someone read K’riat Sh’ma and did not hear his own reading, (R. Yehuda says:*) Yatza, R. Yosi says: Lo Yatza. If he read carelessly (without enunciating cleanly and properly), R. Yosi says: Yatza; R. Yehuda says: Lo Yatza.”

(*the Gemara identifies the anonymous first opinion as that of R. Yehuda; hence the parentheses).

The Gemara (Berakhot 15b) rules: The Halakha follows both of them *L’kula* – leniently (i.e. Halakha follows R. Yehuda regarding “audible” reading; it follows R. Yosi regarding “careful” reading). The understanding of the Halakha, according to R. Yehuda, is that “audible” reading is a L’khat’hilah requirement but, without it, Yatza.

We need to clarify two issues here:

(a) What is the source of the dispute between R. Yosi and R. Yehuda?

(b) Why does R. Yehuda “accept” the audibility requirement – but only L’khat’hilah?

In addition, two other questions must be addressed:

(c) What is the definition of “audible” and “inaudible” reading? For instance, what if someone else heard the reading – but not the reader? What if you read loud enough to be heard under normal circumstances but, due to external causes (e.g. loud noises) were unable to hear? In other words, how do we measure “audiblity” of reading?

(d) According to R. Yehuda, who accepts (B’di’avad) “inaudible” reading – must there be some basic form of “speech” (i.e. moving lips to form the words) or is purely “meditative” reading sufficient?


The Gemara (Berakhot 15a) provides a source for R. Yosi: *Sh’ma* (literally – “hear”) – R. Yosi infers from this word that we must “hear” the words of Sh’ma – and that we may say Sh’ma in any language we understand (since *Sh’ma* chiefly means “grasp, understand”). R. Yehuda rejects the first exegesis and only infers, from *Sh’ma*, the permit to read Sh’ma in any language the reader understands (we will deal with this Halakha in our discussion of 2:10). Therefore, R. Yosi’s position seems to be obvious – part of the Torah’s definition of K’riat Sh’ma is for the person fulfilling the Mitzvah to hear his own reading (hence – *Sh’ma*) (Thus partially answering the first question above). Failing that, he has not properly “heard” the required message. However, R. Yehuda’s position is still unclear; since he does not accept the *Sh’ma* = “hear what you read” – what is his source for the L’khat’hilah requirement (the rest of the first question)?

We have two options here: either R. Yehuda maintains (for whatever reason) that a certain class of Halakhic actions (e.g. those which require some form of speech), of which K’riat Sh’ma is a member, demands audible verbalization – or he holds that it is a Halakhah unique to “K’riat Sh’ma”; required yet dispensable. A variation/combination of these is the following: It may indeed be the case that there is a group of actions which demand audibility – yet the source for this demand may come from K’riat Sh’ma itself.



If we accept the first proposal, that audibility is a demand for any Halakhic action which requires speech, we may want to define “speech” as “audible speech”. In other words, playing off of the “if a tree falls…” question, if someone speaks but no one hears it, perhaps it is not defined as speech. We may want to define it a bit tighter; even if no one hears it, as long as it is audible (capable of being heard), we may still accept it as speech. After all, the basic raison d’etre of speech is communication – which fails if the speech is not audible at all.

As mentioned, it is possible that the source for this notion is purely “s’vara” (reasoning) – that speech is only defined as such if it is audible. Ironically, it may be that K’riat Sh’ma itself provides the textual source for this idea. “And these words which I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them to your children and speak of them…” Here we find that along with Kavvanat haLev (having these words “on your heart”) there is also audible speech (teach/speak). Perhaps the Parasha of K’riat Sh’ma is instructive not only for its own parameters, but also for Halakhic obligations in general – that all of those matters which are to be spoken, must be spoken in a manner which is harmonious with teaching – i.e. aloud and audible.

Within this definition, we can now address one of the four questions posited earlier: for speech to be audible, must it be heard/hearable by the speaker or does it satisfy the criterion of audibility if it is heard by another?



Here we find several cases against which to test the question. The easiest is a deaf person who is not mute and can recite a blessing or read K’riat Sh’ma etc. – but cannot hear his own reading.

The Mishna (Terumot 1:2) rules that a deaf person should not separate Terumah L’khat’hilah. (Terumah is one of the gifts – a percentage of the harvest – given to Kohanim. Separating it from the rest of the harvest is a Mitzvah, as well as necessary to allow the rest of the food to be eaten). The Gemara (Berakhot 15a) explains that the reason is that when separating Terumah, a B’rakhah must be said – and this presents a problem for the deaf person who cannot hear his own B’rakhah.

Similarly, the Gemara there cites a Baraita to the effect that a person should not recite Birkat haMazon (the blessings said after a meal) “in his heart” (see below for the two approaches to this) but, if he did so, *Yatza*.

Rambam (MT Berakhot 1:7) rules that all Berakhot bear this rule; that L’khat’hilah the one making the blessing must hear what he is saying; but, if he said the blessing silently or even if he “thought” the blessing, *Yatza*.

On the other hand, according to some Rishonim (Rashi and perhaps Rambam), a deaf person can L’khat’hilah perform Halitzah (the transaction/rite whereby a potential Levirate marriage is disbanded), even though it involves making a declaration (“I do not desire her” from the man or “Thus shall be done to the man who refuses to build his brother’s house” from the woman) – since he can make that declaration (heard by others) that is considered “speech”. (See BT Yevamot 104b and read MT Yibum 4:13 carefully).


One way of resolving this apparent contradiction is to look at the goal of this communication: A declaration must be heard; hence, as long as it is audible, that is sufficient. We have no reason to care (according to Rashi and Rambam) if the declarant hears it – after all, he already knows what he intends to say. Therefore, according to Rashi and Rambam, we would explain the approach to B’rakhot and K’riat Sh’ma as follows:

K’riat Sh’ma and B’rakhot have a self-directing component – reaffirming certain principles (K’riat Sh’ma), awareness of gratitude to God (B’rakhot related to pleasure) and directing the next action (B’rakhot before Mitzvot – e.g. separating Terumah). Therefore, although the person reciting Sh’ma or a B’rakhah knows what he intends, that knowledge is more intensely internalized when he simultaneously hears it. Hearing is, therefore, a separate component of the act, not a “weaker” part of speech.


Ramban and Ritba, on the other hand, maintain that a deaf person may not perform Halitza because s/he is not able to perform the declaration (see Ramban, Ritba and Keren Orah at Yevamot 104b. See also Beit haLevi 3:2 for an extended discussion). In other words, even though he could “say” the words, since he himself cannot hear them, this invalidates the declaration. This approach indicates a greater consistency between the various areas of law – that speech is defined as being heard by the speaker. We would explain their approach vis-a-vis K’riat Sh’ma as follows:

Where the Torah demands speech, the deaf person is out of the picture, since speech is defined as verbalizing the words and simultaneously hearing them. However, where speech is an expression of an internal thought/emotion this is not necessary. Although we would ideally prefer “complete speech” – we recognize that the verbalization is merely a vehicle for expressing those ideas. Therefore, we see audibility as a more complete form of speech, which is dispensable when the speech itself is not the essential act, rather an expression of it.



We find a related dispute among the Rishonim about “silent” B’rakhot. The above-quoted Baraita stated that if someone says Birkat haMazon “in his heart”, Yatza. Most Rishonim hold that even though a silent reading is valid B’di’avad, the reader must lip-synch the words. In other words, a totally “meditative” B’rakha is invalid even B’di’avad. (see Ba’al haMa’or and RABD on Berakhot RIF pages 12a). However, Rambam (MT Berakhot 1:7) clearly and explicitly validates even a “meditative” B’rakhah.

One approach to Rambam’s theory may connect with the previous discussion about the Halitza declaration. Since we posited that Rambam sees audibility as a function of communication as opposed to speech, it follows that if the communication is self-directed, lip-synching is no more favorable than meditative reading.


There are two glaring differences between Rambam’s formulation in Hilkhot Berakhot and our Halakhah:

(a) in Hilkhot Berakhot, he says that the person should “audibilize for his ears what he is SAYING”; in K’riat Sh’ma: “audibilize for his ears what he is READING”;

(b) in Hilkhot Berakhot: “if he did not audibilize, Yatza, whether he expressed it with his lips OR SAID IT IN HIS HEART.” In K’riat Sh’ma, no such formula is found. Indeed, Rabbenu Manoach (see Kessef Mishneh on our Halakhah), posits that according to Rambam, you are only Yotze K’riat Sh’ma (B’di’avad) if you lip-synched – and that meditative reading is invalid.

Before explaining these differences, I’d like to pose one more question – about the placement of this Halakhah. Rambam lists the Halakhah of audible (and careful) reading within a Halakhah describing activities which interfere with the “Keva'” aspect of K’riat Sh’ma. Why does he list these here, instead of independently?

To answer this question – along with the differences between the formulation in Hilkhot Berakhot and our Halakhah we’ll return to the opening shiur. K’riat Sh’ma contains several aspects; besides the “religious tenets” etc., K’riat Sh’ma is also the basic and irreducible daily fulfillment of Talmud Torah (torah study). One of the features of Talmud Torah is “Keva'” – that our study should be a fixed, focussed activity around which other things revolve. (See earlier shiurim on Talmud Torah for in-depth discussions of this concept.)

Unlike reciting blessings, where the verbal expression is reflecting an inner gratitude (e.g.) towards God, reading K’riat Sh’ma also bears a stamp of Talmud Torah and, as such, carries some of its parameters. Just as Talmud Torah should ideally be done aloud (see MT Talmud Torah 3:12), so too with K’riat Sh’ma. However, even a silent Talmud Torah should have the “moving of lips” which serves to (minimally) etch those words more intensely on the heart of the reader. Therefore, Rambam places the Halakhah of audible and careful reading in the context of “Keva'” – they are not uniquely K’riat Sh’ma features; rather, they are sourced in the way we study and find their core application in K’riat Sh’ma.

This also explains the discrepancies between Hilkhot Berakhot and our Halakhah:

(Berakhot:) “what he is saying” – a B’rakha is said, it is an expression of internal feelings;

(K’riat Sh’ma:) “what he is reading” – K’riat Sh’ma is also reading/studying Torah.

(Berakhot:) “even in his heart” – as an expression of internal feelings, lip-synching serves no purpose. Since the goal is communication, either he hears it (best), or thinks it (acceptable).

(K’riat Sh’ma:) (must be verbalized) – as an act of Talmud Torah, it must be have the minimal “Keva'” of verbalization, even without audibility.

(See Sha’agat Aryeh, 6 & 7, for an extended discussion on this topic.)


to the answers:

Q1: Why are there three different verbs used for non-verbal communication here?

A: Rahi (Yoma 19b) points out that they all mean the same, but since “winking” or “pointing” etc. are done with different parts of the body, they are carried by different verbs. In addition, they are different forms of communication: “hinting” with the eyes reflects no formal type of communication, just an allusion; “hinting” with the lips probably refers to lip-synching a message, which is definitely a formal type of communication – words without sound; “hinting” with fingers means pointing to an item (non-formal) or “signing” letters or numbers (formal).

Q2: How does this type of “signing” interfere with proper reading?

A: Unlike speech, which is a direct interruption (of the speaking of Sh’ma), signing does not directly “challenge” Sh’ma – and, as such, does not invalidate the reading. However, it clearly detracts from the focus on the meaning of the words – not only am I trying to communicate a message; but, since I am doing so in non-conventional form, I am likely paying some attention to the person to whom I am “signing” and am watching him to see if he is receiving my signal. This takes a lot of concentration and reflects an attitude that “I can say K’riat Sh’ma without thinking about it.”

Q3: Why is there a *l’khat’hila* (pre-facto) requirement of audible reading?

A: See shiur above.

Q4: If it is a requirement, why is someone *Yotze* if they read silently?

A: See shiur above.

Q5: If careful reading is a requirement, again – why is someone *Yotze* if they read “sloppily”?

A: As suggested in the shiur, reading K’riat Sh’ma audibly is a feature of “Keva'” related to the Talmud Torah aspect of K’riat Sh’ma, and, just as that aspect is ideal but not indispensable in Talmud Torah, so it is with K’riat Sh’ma. In parallel, it is possible that careful reading is an ideal borrowed from Talmud Torah. R. Hayyim Brisker suggests that the Halakha of clear enunciation and reading is not a K’riat Sh’ma Halakha – rather a Halakha of reading any part of Scripture.

Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project Genesis, Inc.