K'RIAT SH'MA IN TRANSLATION
Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Kriat Shema 2:10
10. A person may read K'riat Sh'ma in any language which he will
understand. Someone who reads in another language [not the
original] must take care to avoid any manner of corruption in
that language and read/enunciate clearly in that language, just
like [he must do] in the Holy Tongue.
[RABD: "A person may read K'riat Sh'ma in any language...and
read/enunciate clearly in that language, just like [he must do]
in the Holy Tongue." RABD z"l wrote: This does not make sense,
since all [other] languages are merely a commentary - who will be
exacting about a commentary? (see the questions for various ways
to understand this comment)]
In a previous shiur (2:08), we discussed the opinion of R. Yosi,
who requires Sh'ma to be heard by the reader. The Gemara finds a
source for R. Yosi in the first word of K'riat Sh'ma -"Sh'ma"
which, literally, means "hear." R. Yehuda, who disagrees with R.
Yosi and does not invalidate a silent K'riat Sh'ma (the Halakha
follows R. Yehuda in this case), must interpret "Sh'ma"
differently. He explains it as follows: *'Sh'ma': b'khol lashon
she'atah shomea'* - (trans. "Sh'ma": meaning, in any language in
which you understand). This exegesis works off of an alternative
meaning of *Sh'ma*, most commonly found in Sefer Devarim -
"understand", "comprehend". (see Devarim 1:16, 9:1, 20:3). A
more accurate reading would be "Pay attention to what I'm going
to say and take it to heart" (see especially 9:1 and 20:3). This
does not preclude auditory input; rather, it places the stress of
the following words on internal processing - thinking about the
import and impact of these words and reacting appropriately.
Although it may seem that R. Yehuda is merely finding an
alternative meaning for "Sh'ma" so as to re-route R. Yosi's
proof, there is sufficient support for his opinions found in a
Mishna in Sotah. This Mishna will be the focus of this week's
THE LIST OF ORIGINAL AND TRANSLATABLE READINGS
The Mishna in Sotah (7:1) records that the following may be read
in any language:
(a) Parashat Sotah (the foreswearing, on the part of a Kohen, of
a woman suspected of adultery, as part of the Sotah ritual - see
Bamidbar [Numbers] 5)
(b) The Ma'aser Recital (in Devarim [Deuteronomy] 26:12-15,
recited upon completion of all the tithing obligations in the
third and sixth years of the Sh'mita [Sabbatical] cycle).
(c) K'riat Sh'ma (aha!)
(d) Tefillah (the standing prayer "Sh'moneh Esreh").
(e) Birkat haMazon (blessings after a meal involving bread. See
(f) Sh'vuat ha'Edut (an oath administered to a reluctant witness
who claims he has nothing about which to testify and is brought
to court by a litigant who could benefit from his testimony - see
Vayyikra [Leviticus] 5:1)
(g) Sh'vuat haPikkadon (an oath administered to a bailee who has
failed to return the entrusted item and claims that it was lost
or destroyed in such a manner which, according to the terms of
the bailing, would exempt him from payment).
The next Mishna lists those recitations which must be made in
(h) Mikra Bikkurim (the reading made in the Temple when bringing
the first fruits - see Devarim 26:1-11)
(i) Halitza (the statements made by the "rejected" sister-in-law
and the "rejecting" brother-in-law in a potential Levirate
marriage - see Devarim 25:5-10, especially vv. 7-10)
(j) B'rakhot uK'lalot (the blessings and curses administered
between the two mountains overlooking Schchem when B'nei Yisra'el
first entered the land - see Devarim 11:29-30, 27:11-26)
(k) Birkat Kohanim (the Kohanim bless the people every day
(outside of Israel, only on Festivals) - see Bamidbar 6:22-27)
(l) Birkat Kohen Gadol (the blessings before and after the Torah
reading, made by the Kohen Gadol on Yom haKippurim after he
finished the Avodah (worship) in the Temple).
(m) Parashat haMelekh (the reading of the Torah by the king, at
the end of each Sh'mitta cycle on Sukkot - see Devarim 31:10-13).
(n) Parashat 'Egla 'Arufa (the reading made by the members of the
court of the city closest to an unidentified dead body found
between cities - see Devarim 21:1-9)
(o) Mashu'ach Milhamah when he speaks to the people (one Kohen
was anointed for the job of spiritually directing the army - see
GLOBAL AND LOCAL REASONS
Whenever we find a list of items which have a common Halakhic
requirement, there are immediately two possible approaches to
understanding the nature of this list:
(1) All of the items have a common characteristic and, on account
of this characteristic, they share the resultant Halakhic
requirement. For example, the Mishna in Megillah (4:3) lists
several components of a prayer service which may not be said
without a Minyan. These include the repetition of the Tefillah,
Torah reading and the Prophetic reading (Haftarah), along with
Birkat Kohanim. The Gemara seems to ascribe one reason to all of
these - that any matter of *Kedushah* demands a Minyan (which is
inferred from a combination of verses). In other words, the
reason that we do not repeat the Tefillah without a Minyan is the
same reason that we do not read from the Torah etc. without one.
The members of the list are there because of a common feature
(the "Kedushah" aspect within that part of the service) which
directly causes this demand. We will refer to this type of
reason as "global" - as it drives all of the members of the list.
(2) The items share membership on a list, but are there for
different reasons. For instance, the Tosefta in Kiddushin (1:8)
lists paternal obligations - B'rit Milah, redeeming the son (if
he is a first-born), teaching him Torah, teaching him a trade,
helping him get married. Although all of these have the result
in common - they are all things which a father must do for his
son, they have "arrived" on the list for different reasons. Most
of these obligations are derived from separate verses and
multiple-inferences (see BT Kiddushin 29a-b). We will refer to
these as "local" reasons - as each member is driven by a
different reason, local to its own Halakhic obligation.
BACK TO OUR LISTS
Are the "translatable" readings driven by a common characteristic
(global) or are they coincidental co-members of the list (local)?
The same question may be posed regarding those items which must
be read in the original (Mishna 2).
Before directly addressing these questions, there is a seeming
anomaly which presents itself in the Gemara discussing our lists.
When looking at our lists, we would expect that one of the two
rules - that it must be said in the original or that it may be
said in translation - is the "norm" and is assumed. We would
then expect that for the list of "unusual" readings (whichever
don't fit the "norm"), we would have some sort of support for the
For instance, if we expected that "original text" is the norm -
that when the Torah requires us to recite something that it be in
the original, we would also expect some reasoning or textual
proof to support those "exceptions" where the Halakhah allows
other languages - but we would need no such proofs for those
"normal" cases where the original language is required.
However, upon inspection of the Gemara at the beginning of the
seventh chapter of Sotah, we find proofs and arguments provided
for each member of both lists! There is apparently no "norm"
here. Why is this the case?
When the Torah obligates us to say something as response to a
given circumstance, there are two concerns at play:
(i) That we understand what we is being said. This may include
the speaker, the listeners (if applicable) and, perhaps, even
(ii) That we say that which has been presented to us - in its
original form. Anytime that we translate or rephrase, we lose so
much of the multiple meanings and associations which exist in the
Since both of these concerns are, to a greater or lesser degree,
central to a given recitation, the ideal is clearly to accomplish
both - to recite, with full understanding, the original text.
The various proofs (for both lists) are indicating which of these
two issues is the overriding concern in that given Halakhic
obligation. For instance, even though we would prefer that
K'riat Sh'ma be said in the original - preserving all of the
Scriptual and Midrashic associations and multiple meanings - if
doing so will stand in the way of understanding, the key word
"Sh'ma" tells us that understanding overrides original text.
On the other hand, although we would prefer to have the reader
understand Mikra Bikkurim, if that would necessitate reading it
in translation, that is a choice we will not make, as the
original text is the overriding concern. Thus, each of the
prooftexts or arguments presents which of these two concerns is
more central to the given Halakhic obligation.
[Of course, it is possible that some of these obligations have
only one of the concerns. My teacher and Haver, Rabbi Yisroel
Miller, suggested that Sh'vuat haPikkadon, Sh'vuat ha'Edut and
Parashat Sotah have no "original text" component and there is no
concern whatsoever that they be said in the original. See MT
Sh'vu'ot 11:14 and MT Sotah 3:7].
When we look at each of the proofs, it seems that they are
unrelated. Specific verses - or, more accurately, "code-words"
within the verses - indicate which way to go for each obligation.
The verb root "AMR" indicates saying it in any language, as does
the root "ShM'" - whereas "AMR" together with "'NH" indicates
fidelity to the original. Although some of the members of the
list are linked (e.g. the obligation that Mikra Bikkurim be in
the original is associated with that obligation in the case of
B'rakhot uK'lalot), they are generally presented as separate
proofs. It seems that there is no single characteristic which
binds the members of either list together.
However, it is possible that these verses are only proofs
"after-the-fact"; i.e. that the Halakhah goes one way or the
other, based on a more core issue, and that the verses provide
textual "reliance" for that ruling. (This is known as an
When we look at the list of those things which may be said in any
language, no global solution is evident; however, it may become
clear once we look at the other list.
What characteristic is shared by Mikra Bikkurim, B'rakhot
uK'lalot, Birkat Kohanim, Birkat Kohen Gadol, Parashat haMelekh,
Parashat 'Egla 'Arufa and Mashu'ach Milhamah?
They are all recitations made within a national context. Some of
them are made by representatives of the nation (Parashat 'Egla
'Arufa), others, in addition, are made in national gatherings
(Parashat haMelekh, Birkat Kohen Gadol, B'rakhot uK'lalot),
Mashu'ach Milhamah). One of them (Mikra Bikkurim) is a retelling
of the national history, in a national context (Beit HaMikdash
[Temple]) and one has the spiritual representatives of the nation
and of God (see BT Kiddushin 23b) blessing us in God's Name.
Halitzah is the one exception to this rule (although it could be
argued that issues administered by the court take on a national
context. In that case, we would have to distinguish between the
Sh'vu'ot which may be said in any language and Halitzah) and it
may be on this list for a different reason.
Now, we can revisit the first list: Parashat Sotah ,The Ma'aser
Recital ,K'riat Sh'ma, Tefillah, Birkat haMazon, Sh'vuat ha'Edut
and Sh'vuat haPikkadon. Each of these is essentially a private
recitation - either between a person and his own thoughts (K'riat
Sh'ma), between Man and God (Birkat haMazon, Tefillah), between
someone administering an oath and the one taking the oath
(Parashat Sotah and the two Sh'vu'ot) or between a man and the
members of his community (if we wish to read Vidui Ma'asrot tha
way - otherwise it joins Tefillah and Birkat haMazon). Here,
there is either no particular reason to favor Hebrew over any
other language (possibly Rambam's position - see the answer to Q3
below) or there is no demand that the reading absolutely be in
Hebrew (perhaps RABD's position), although this is preferable.
It is only regarding those recitations which reflect our national
character that there is an absolute demand that they be made in
our national language and that they maintain, with absolute
fidelity, the words and spirit of the original text.
[See the comments of the Keren Orah at the beginning of the
seventh chapter of Sotah.]
now, to the responses:
Q1: Why is it permissible to read K'riat Sh'ma in any language?
A: See the shiur above. Here's an alternative explanation:
There are three distinct types of Halakhic obligations regarding
(a) Formulae which must be said exactly as presented (e.g. Mikra
(b) Recitations which demand recital of a word-for-word formula -
but allow for deviations from the original (such as translation)
- (e.g. Megillah); and
(c) Those obligations which are purely content-driven and, as
long as specific content areas are covered, have no set formula
It stands to reason that no one obligation can fit any two of
these categories simultaneously; the first focusses on recitation
of certain sounds making certain words, the second addresses a
set word-and-idea pattern but allows translation (as it demands
comprehension) and the third allows for subjective style and
stress (as it is concerned with personal input). It is not
possible to at once obligate someone to recite a certain formula
and at the same time require him to understand that formula.
Similarly, we cannot require a set word-for-word pattern while
expecting personal/subjective input. K'riat Sh'ma, as any other
obligation, must belong to one (but only one) of these
Since K'riat Sh'ma begins with the word "Sh'ma" which implies
comprehension, we cannot obligate it to be said in a specific
language - so it is not category A. Since the Sh'ma also
requires us to recite *Had'varim ha'eleh* (THESE words) - which
implies fidelity to the original text, we cannot put K'riat Sh'ma
in category C. Hence, K'riat Sh'ma demands a set formula but,
since it also demands comprehension, may/must (see shiur) be said
in the vernacular which is understood by the reader.
Q2: Why does Rambam use the awkward phrasing: "in any language
which he will understand" as opposed to the simpler "in any
language which he understands"?
A: Perhaps Rambam should be read (parsed) differently: *b'khol
lashon - sheyih'yeh m'vinah* - it is read in any language - IN
ORDER THAT he may understand.
Q3: Why does Rambam insist on *diqduq b'otiot* (care with
enunciation) in other languages?
A: See Meir Levin's suggestions, posted in the previous shiur.
In addition, we might consider that Rambam maintains that K'riat
Sh'ma in another language is a perfectly acceptable form of
fulfilling the Mitzvah.
In other words, we can view the permit of other languages as just
that - a permit, allowed under those (less-than-ideal)
circumstances where the reader and/or listener does not
understand the original. In that case, we can see K'riat Sh'ma
in translation as an inferior fulfillment of the Mitzvah and,
perhaps, relax the requirement of clear and perfect enunciation.
This may be RABD's approach.
Conversely, if we see K'riat Sh'ma as equally valid in any
language, then the same rules which apply to the original will
apply to the translation. This may be Rambam's approach.
See the shiur, above, for more discussion of this point.
Q4: Following the previous question - how can we mandate such a
thing? How do we deal with regional dialects etc. - in other
words - what is THE proper way to enunciate English, for example?
A: This may be the RABD's challenge. In defense of Rambam's
position, however, we may wish to revisit the obligation of
*dikduk b'otiot* - careful enunciation. It may be that this
obligation is not so much an issue of "correctness" as "care".
In other words, in order for K'riat Sh'ma to be given the proper
care and attention (another form of *Keva'*), we need to vocalize
it with care - not sloppily. That would then "translate" into
reading in careful English (for example), not slurring words
together. The dialect and particular usages would not be of
issue, so long as within the community of speakers of which the
reader in question is a member, this form of speech is considered
correct and clear.
Q5: What is the basis for the dispute between Rambam and RABD?
(see the previous shiur for Meir Levin's remarks - is there
another way to understand their disagreement?)
A: See answer to Q3, above.
Q6: What is the meaning of the last phrase in RABD's gloss? -
the Hebrew reads *umee y'daqdeiq ahar peirusho* - does it mean
that no one would take such care with a "mere" commentary? or
does it mean that no one can provide him with the proper method
of translating? or does it mean something else?
A: Since, according to RABD, any other language is merely an
interpretation, there is no inherent value to the specific words
being used for reading - so that careful enunciation loses its
Although the shiur briefly touched upon the issue of prayer, this
is clearly a major issue with practical ramifications. It will
be addressed more fully and completely when we study the first
chapter of Hilkhot Tefillah. Rambam does not specifically state
that Tefillah may be said in any language; however, in his
description of the evolution of Tefillah, he discusses the
langugage issue (see Tefillah 1:4)
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