"Hearing" K'riat Sh'ma
Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Kriat Shema 2:8
8. [*Yirmoz*, *Yiqrotz* and *Yar'eh* all indicate some form of
non-verbal communication; *Yatza* = "has fulfilled the
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*.
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
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
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
(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
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.
PRIMARY SOURCE: THE MISHNA IN BERAKHOT
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.
(b) Why does R. Yehuda "accept" the audibility requirement - but
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
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
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
AUDIBILITY AS A DEFINITION OF SPEECH
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
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?
LITMUS TEST: SPEECH OF A DEAF PERSON
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
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
RAMBAM AND RASHI
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
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.
HILKHOT BERAKHOT AND HILKHOT K'RIAT SH'MA
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
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
This also explains the discrepancies between Hilkhot Berakhot and
(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
(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
(K'riat Sh'ma:) (must be verbalized) - as an act of Talmud Torah,
it must be have the minimal "Keva'" of verbalization, even
(See Sha'agat Aryeh, 6 & 7, for an extended discussion on this
to the answers:
Q1: Why are there three different verbs used for non-verbal
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
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
A: See shiur above.
Q4: If it is a requirement, why is someone *Yotze* if they read
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