Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Kriat Shema 4:7
7. Anyone who is exempt from K'riat Sh'ma, if he wanted to be
strict with himself and read, he may do so - as long as his mind
is settled. However, if this person, who is exempt from reading
was confused, he is not allowed to read until he gets settled.
[RABD: [relating to the second clause in the Halakhah] - so what?
let him read and he will be considered like one who is reading
Torah, and he shouldn't be considered like one who rejects God's
Name [by not reading] - and this case is not like that of
Tefillah. We are no longer concerned with *Yohara* (see
questions) in our day, since it is generally known that most
people who read [K'riat Sh'ma] and say Tefillah are just doing it
by rote - we even find that the sages of the Gemara said this: "I
owe thanks to my head; when I get to 'Modim', it bows on its
own!"; another said that he used to count bathhouses (in the
city) during Tefillah, while another said that he would think
about who is going to bring the myrtle branches to the king's
(Haughtiness in the Realm of Mitzvot)
[This shiur is based on a shiur given by R. Aharon Lichtestein,
Rosh Yeshivat Har Etzion. R. Lichtenstein has not checked this
SOURCES IN THE MISHNAH
The Mishnah in Berakhot (2:5) states: A *Hatan* (groom) is exempt
from [reading] K'riat Sh'ma on the first night until Motza'ei
Shabbat [Saturday night] if he has not consummated the marriage.
It was related that Rabban Gamliel read [K'riat Sh'ma] on the
first night [of his marriage]; his students told him: "Our
Master, did you not teach us that a groom is exempt from K'riat
Sh'ma?"; whereupon he responded: "I will not heed you and
[thereby] uproot the Kingdom of Heaven from myself for even one
(1) What was the challenge of the students? According to their
statement, a groom is merely exempt from K'riat Sh'ma - there is
no hint that ignoring this exemption is problematic.
(2) What is R. Gamliel's response? After all, they are quoting
him to himself - why does he say: "I will not heed _you_"? He
doesn't need to heed them, rather himself!
In Mishnah 8, we read: If a Hatan wishes to read K'riat Sh'ma on
the first night, he may read; Rabban Shim'on b. Gamliel (son of
the Rabban Gamliel of Mishnah 5) says: Not everyone who wishes
*litol et hashem* (lit. - "to take the name" - thie phrase is
discussed in the shiur) should do so.
R. Shim'on b. Gamliel's words could be understood two ways:
(a) No one may "take the name" - i.e. claim such a reputation for
(b) Some people may do so, but it isn't open for anyone who wants
Following (a), R. Gamliel must disagree - since he read! However,
it is possible that R. Gamliel agrees that not everyone has the
right to behave so "religiously", but that some may (and he is
included in that group).
Rashi (Berakhot 17b s.v. lo kol harotzeh) takes approach (b),
that if someone is known to be otherwise sagacious and pious, he
may read in this case, even though he is exempt.
From this sugya alone, we could not infer rules about behaving
"holier than thou" regarding other Mitzvot; we could posit that
even those who limit access to K'riat Sh'ma when it isn't
commanded (R. Shim'on b. Gamliel), would not do so in other areas
- since the assumption of the ability to focus on holy things at
such a time is an extreme case of yohara. Alternatively, even
Rabanan (who oppose R. Shim'on b. Gamliel) might say that in
other circumstances, we are concerned with yohara, but here,
because of the importance of K'riat Sh'ma (and its attendant
Kabbalat Ol Malkhut Shamayim - acceptance of God's rule), we
overlook it. Such an approach is suggested later on (Berakhot
20b) regarding women - that I might think that they should be
obligated to read K'riat Sh'ma, in spite of its time-orientation
which would normally exempt them, because of Kabbalat Ol Malkhut
Shamayim. (See our discussion at K'riat Sh'ma 4:01).
The Mishnah in Pesahim, amidst a list of behaviors which are
determined by local custom, states: On Tish'a B'av (the national
day of mourning for Yerushalayim in mid-summer), in a place where
the custom is that people work, they work; in a place where the
custom is that people do not work, they do not work. In all
places, Talmidei Hakhamim (scholars) desist from work. R.
Shim'on b. Gamliel says: A person should always make himself to
be a Talmid Hakham [in this matter].
The Gemara (both in Berakhot and Pesahim) note the seeming
inconsistencies here: In Berakhot, R. Shim'on b. Gamliel is
concerned about Yohara- that someone who isn't obligated in
K'riat Sh'ma because we all know that he can't concentrate, as he
is about to be married, shouldn't read. By reading anyways, he
seems to be saying that he is in a "higher category" of people,
who aren't affected by such human anxieties. In Pesahim, on the
other hand, R. Shim'on b. Gamliel not only allows
"self-inclusion" in an elite category, he even promotes it. The
Rabanan take the opposite position in each case.
In Berakhot (17b), we have two different approaches to
reconciling these sources:
Solution #1: R. Yohanan says, the names are reversed. In other
words, R. Yohanan sees the two statements as doubly
irreconcilable and understands that there must have been a
mistake in the oral transmission here - he therefore claims that
one of these Mishnayot has an inverted association of authorities
Note: The inconsistency is much stronger in the case of R.
Shim'on b. Gamliel; since he forbids some people (or everyone)
from assuming this pose in Berakhot, yet encourages it here. On
the other hand, Rabanan are not necessarily inconsistent. In
Berakhot, they allow anyone to make his own choice - and, in
Pesahim, they make no statements about other people. Since R.
Yohanan saw both positions as irreconcilable, it must be that he
understood that Rabanan in Pesahim disallowed others to desist
from work (unless they are Talmidei Hakhamim, or in a place where
that is the custom) - and, responding to that, R. Shim'on b.
Gamliel encourages everyone to desist.
Solution #2: R. Shesha b. d'Rav Idi: There is no need to reverse.
Rabanan are consistent, in that in both cases the person is doing
the same as everyone else (reading K'riat Sh'ma, working) and not
deviating from communal norms. If he would not work, he would be
"joining" the group of Talmidei Hakhamim - to whom he really
doesn't belong. Rabban Shim'on b. Gamliel's positions are also
consistent: In each case, he is behaving in a way which is
obviously "holier than thou"; in the case of K'riat Sh'ma,
everyone knows he is about to be wed and cannot focus, regarding
Tish'a b'Av, noone knows why he isn't working (it's possible that
he is either lazy or unemployed).
ANALYZING THE DISPUTE
Perhaps R. Yohanan and R. Shesha are debating the extent of
yohara- does it only apply to situations where someone is
behaving differently than everyone else (R. Shesha) or in any
case (R. Yohanan). This may play out in one of two ways:
(a) There is a subjective evaluation at play here: R. Yohanan is
concerned in both cases, that each one may lead to yohara,
whereas R. Shesha is only concerned when someone does something
which is explicitly and clearly a deviation from the norm.
(b) There is a difference of opinion about the nature of yohara -
whether it is appearance-driven or internally-driven. In other
words, are we concerned with how a particular action is perceived
by others (R. Shesha), in which case the yohara is less of an
issue when he is acting consistently with others - or are we
concerned with the fact of yohara (R. Yohanan), in which case it
doesn't matter what the public perception and awareness hold -
yohara is problematic due to its internal effect and affect.
Note that in the sugya, it begins with assigning who is *hoshesh
l'yohara* - who is "concerned about yohara"; but, after R.
Shesha's explanation, switches to a lexicon of *mehzi k'yohara* -
"it looks to be yohara." This may represent a subtle shift in
emphasis from internal issue (R. Yohanan) to public perception
[Parenthetically, there is a dispute among the Aharonim as to
whether the issue of yohara applies in private. Maharshal (R.
Shlomo Luria) (Yam Shel Shlomo, Bava Kama 7:41) holds that it
applies in private, as well as public; Sh'vut Ya'akov (2:44)
holds that it only applies in public. The approach of Sh'vut
Ya'akov may be understood in two ways:
(a) Yohara is only a public concern - how one's extravagant
behavior affects the community. In that case, he is in
principled disagreement with Maharshal.
(b) Yohara is also a private concern (how it affects the person
internally). However, the locale where such behavior has that
effect is in the public eye. If so, he agrees with Maharshal
that yohara is a problem of personal development, attitude etc.;
but disagrees as to the "reach" of such behavior.
It is appropriate, at this point, to look at the nature of the
problem. Yohara may be, as mentioned above, a public issue; but,
as we will see later on, it certainly is rooted in private and
personal issues. It may fall under the general rubric of
"Ga'avah" (haughtiness) - that a person is supposed to develop a
humble spirit and not to see himself as more than he really is.
The basic sugya of Ga'avah is in Sotah, 4-5 and in MT De'ot Ch.
1-2. See also Sefer Mitzvot Katan #14.
It may, alternatively, be a unique form of Ga'avah - the
association of undue pride with Avodat Hashem. If someone
[erroneously] sees himself as a superior musician or actor, that
is one type of Ga'avah. However, to find the area of Ga'avah
specifically within the realm of Avodat Hashem - to pride oneself
on "frumkeit" and see himself as "the most religious" etc. is,
possibly, a more heinous form of Ga'avah, as it is using worship
of God to further one's own goals.]
The phrase which shows up at the beginning of our sugya is
*hayyish l'yohara* - lit. "is concerned with yohara". This
concern may be understood in two ways:
(a) Sometimes is person is not *hoshesh* for something, meaning
that he is not concerned that it will come to pass. Indeed, if
it did happen, it would be a tragedy - but he isn't concerned
that it will happen in his case. (Smoking and cancer is a
perfect example - it would be a tragedy but "it won't happen to
(b) Other times, a person is not *hoshesh* for something, because
even if it does happen, that isn't such a tragedy.
"I'm not concerned about this grade" may mean - "I'm fairly
confident that I will get a good grade" OR "I'm not going to be
negatively affected even if I do get the bad grade."
In our case, the one who is *hoshesh l'yohara* (either Rabban
Shim'on b. Gamliel in both cases, or each side once) is concerned
that yohara is a terrible thing if it indeed is caused by this
action and is also concerned that it is quite likely to occur.
His opponent will hold either:
(a) It isn't so bad even if it happens, OR
(b) it isn't likely to happen OR
(c) even though it is terrible and likely to happen, it may not
outweigh the opposing consideration - in the case of K'riat
Sh'ma, the value of reading Sh'ma.
This may explain R. Gamliel's response to his students: "I will
not heed you..." ; meaning that their point was that the concern
for yohara should outweigh the value of reading Sh'ma - and it
was that suggestion that he chose to ignore.
K'RIAT SH'MA, KAVVANAH AND YOHARA
R. Shesha explains that unlike working on Tish'a b'Av, when no
one can know why he is desisting from work (hence, R. Shim'on b.
Gamliel's encouragement for everyone to behave like a Talmid
Hakham), "K'riat Sh'ma depends on Kavvanah, and everyone knows
that he cannot focus." What is this answer?
R. Lichtenstein suggested that this response has nothing to do
with yohara, per se, but is rooted in the demands of Kavvanah for
K'riat Sh'ma. Although we regard Tefillah with greater concern
(e.g. dress, standing etc.) - such that, as Rambam rules (MT
Tefillah 4:15) that if someone cannot focus on Tefillah, he is
_not_allowed_ to say Tefillah, the demands are generally less
stringent with regard to K'riat Sh'ma. It is possible that the
fact that he cannot focus (and is exempt) moves us to prohibit
him from reading.
This is possible as a read of the Gemara in Berakhot. However,
in the parallel sugya in Pesahim (55a), the term *mehze k'yohara*
is explicitly mentioned in this context. Nevertheless, the
original explanation may still work. Under normal circumstances,
we would allow the successful fulfillment of a Mitzvah to
outweigh the concern for yohara. However, since we know that he
won't be able to concentrate properly, it no longer outweighs it.
In other words, there is a combination of factors; the demand for
Kavvanah in K'riat Sh'ma and the concern of yohara.
As we discussed in the last shiur, an *onen* (someone whose close
relative has died and he is involved in funerary preparation) is
exempt from K'riat Sh'ma. What if an onen wishes to read K'riat
Sh'ma (or say Berakhot etc.) nonetheless? The Bavli does not
address this issue, but the Yerushalmi (Berakhot 3:1) says that
we do not allow him. At this point, we would expect an argument
of yohara - that he may not read because he is exempt and such
reading smacks of "overpiety". However, no such reason is
offered. The Yerushalmi maintains that he isn't allowed to read
K'riat Sh'ma on account of honor for the dead relative (see our
discussion in the last shiur). Why isn't yohara mentioned here?
This may be understood by looking at Rabban Shim'on b. Gamliel's
phrasing - *lo kol harotzeh litol et hashem yitol* - what does
*netilat shem* (taking a name) mean?
Evidently the problem of yohara is not with specific pietistic
behaviors, except insofar as they reflect membership of an elite
sector of society to which this person doesn't rightfully belong.
The language of the Mishnah in Pesahim is even clearer on this
point - there are two groups, Talmidei Hakhamim and everyone
else, and R. Shim'on b. Gamliel is suggesting that everyone
endeavor to be associated with this group.
Not every behavior puts someone in a different class; perhaps a
groom who reads K'riat Sh'ma on his wedding night is attempting
to associate himself with a certain elite group, whereas an onen
who reads K'riat Sh'ma is not doing so.
Another explanation is possible here:
The groom is exempted from reading not because the rabbis wanted
him to focus on his bride and the upcoming consummation; rather
because they were aware of this human anxiety and exempted him on
its account. The groom who "shows his willpower" and reads
K'riat Sh'ma is demonstrating his ability to overcome this human
An onen , on the other hand, is not desisting from K'riat Sh'ma
necessarily because of his own difficulties in focus; rather, the
Halakhah directed him to focus on the burial. His "negotiation"
is not with his internal emotions, rather with the Shulhan Arukh.
If he were to read, this would not be demonstrating extra-special
willpower, unlike the groom.
SOURCES IN THE MISHNAH (2)
[In describing the sequence of fasts undertaken and decreed when
the rainy season has begun and there is a drought; the first part
of that sequence is:] If the 17th of Marcheshvan (sometime in
November) came and no rain has fallen, *yechidim* (lit.
"special/elite people") fast three fasts...
Although the Mishnah alludes to a select group of people
(yechidim), they are not identified; neither are we told how to
respond if a "non-yachid" wants to join the group.
The Gemara (Ta'anit 10a) asks "who are the yechidim" and answers
in the name of R. Huna: *rabanan* (students of Torah).
The Gemara then goes on (10b) to raise our question: The Rabbis
taught: A student should not say "I am not worthy to be a
yachid", rather, all talmidei hakhamim are considered yechidim.
[At this point, we are given some sense of distinction, albeit
blurry, of who is defined as a yachid.]
The Gemara quotes a second Baraita, which directly addresses our
issue: The Rabbis taught: Not everyone who wishes to make himself
a yachid may do so, nor everyone who wishes to make himself a
talmid may do so [I am following one reading here; the other one
is possibly translated as "not everyone who wishes to make
himself a yachid may do so, but anyone who wishes to make himself
a talmid may do so] - these are the words of R. Me'ir. R. Yosi
[or - according to Rif - R. Yehudah] says: [Anyone] may do so
[make himself to be a yachid] and is well-remembered, since it is
not a matter of benefit for him, rather it is painful [i.e.
Another Baraita, which hits home, is quoted: Not everyone who
wishes to make himself to be a yachid may do so, nor anyone who
wishes to make himself a talmid may do so [again, there are two
readings here], these are the words of R. Shim'on b. Elazar. R.
Shim'on b. Gamliel says: When does this apply? Regarding a matter
of honor; however, regarding a painful matter, he may do so and
is well-remembered, since it is not a matter of benefit for him,
rather it is painful.
Here we see our own R. Shim'on b. Gamliel qualifying the
limitations on "joining the ranks" - if it involves a matter
which is painful and difficult, he lets loose the reins and
allows anyone who wishes to join these ranks to do so.
Why would he distinguish between self-promotion to the elite
class in cases of honor and in cases of difficulty?
It is possible that the concern - that this inclusion with the
upper crust will lead him to arrogance - is offset by the painful
and humbling nature of fasting.
It is interesting that this Baraita was not cited or considered
in either Berakhot or Pesahim, where our discussion is rooted. In
order to understand why, we may have to reevaluate the sugya of
"yechidim" and its unique association with yohara.
THE ROLE OF THE YECHIDIM
In our chief sugya, where the groom is exempted from K'riat Sh'ma
and nevertheless wishes to read, we have no distinctions given as
to group-membership. The exemption applies to grooms equally
(although the possibility to ignore the exemption may be
group-based). Therefore, the groom who wishes to read is not
trying to enlist himself in a more elite group than is
appropriate; he is merely not taking advantage of a particular
exemption. This is not the case in Ta'anit, where the Mishnah
sets up two distinct groups - yechidim and everyone else. [The
word yechidim, by itself, implies that there is another group -
the "non-yechidim"; if everyone is a member of the yechidim, they
are no longer yechidim.] Therefore, the person who is not called
upon the fast at this juncture and does so anyway, is attempting
to place himself in a group to which he does not belong;
therefore, the yohara problem may be more severe here and not be
applicable to the groom/K'riat Sh'ma issue. That would explain
why the yechidim/fasting problem was not brought in to the
groom/K'riat Sh'ma discussion.
However, this answer is deficient - because the Mishnah in
Pesahim (talmidei hakhamim/desisting from work on Tish'a b'Av)
does recognize and operate with two distinct groups. Everyone
follows local custom, whereas talmidei hakhamim desist from work
in any case. We seem to be back at square one - why wasn't the
yechidim/fasting material brought in to our discussion?
Another, more critical distinction, may be drawn between the
yechidim and both of our sugyot. In both Berakhot and Pesahim,
we are addressing issues of personal behavior - reading K'riat
Sh'ma when exempt and desisting from work on Tish'a b'Av in a
town where the custom is to engage in work on that day. The issue
of yohara is one of self-promotion beyond what is accurate for
one's own position - and behaving accordingly.
Contradistinctively, the yechidim are not being asked to accept
more honor, to perform another Mitzvah, or even to behave in a
more circumspect manner than everyone else; rather, they are
being called upon by the community to intercede with God on
behalf of the townfolk. Here, the yohara problem is much more
acute, since he is doing more than "posing" as a man of great
willpower or a talmid hakham - he is abusing communal trust.
The Rambam's rulings in these matters seem to bear out this
distinction. In our Halakhah, Rambam seems to rule that anyone
may read K'riat Sh'ma (see above, section V, where R.
Lichtenstein explanation of the Rambam's approach is presented).
He does not raise the yohara issue at all.
(R. Lichtenstein suggested that RABD, there, understood Rambam's
concern with someone reading when unfocussed as relating to
yohara and therefore responded as he did - that yohara is not
operative anymore. Parenthetically, see Tosafot Berakhot 17b
s.v. Rav Shesha, where he puts an interesting twist on the yohara
issue in our day. Nevertheless, it is entirely possible, as
mentioned above, that Rambam's ruling has nothing to do with
yohara but rather is grounded in a concern for a minimal level of
focus during K'riat Sh'ma.)
Rambam also rules (MT Ta'aniot 5:10) that talmidei hakhamim
desist from work on Tish'a b'Av - but he again avoids the issue
of yohara. It would seem, therefore, that Rambam rules that
anyone may adopt these practices if he wishes to do so.
However, regarding the early-fasters (MT Ta'aniot 3:1), Rambam
rules that *v'khol hatalmidim r'u'yin l'khakh* - "all of the
students are worthy to do so". Here, he explicitly draws a line
between yechidim [=students] and everyone else. According to the
above explanation based on the role of the yechidim, this
distinction within the Rambam's rulings is easily understood.
The Yerushalmi (Berakhot 2:9), commenting on our Mishnah, does
cite the ruling of R. Shim'on b. Gamliel as quoted in Ta'anit.
Evidently, the Yerushalmi understood that the reading K'riat
Sh'ma is to be considered "a matter of benefit" for the groom,
which explains R. Shim'on b. Gamliel's ruling in that matter.
Ra'aviah, in his discussion of our Halakhah (#56), places an
interesting caveat in front of the restriction associated with
yohara: "These rules apply to people in general, however, for a
talmid hakham and *g'dol hador* (Torah leader of the generation),
there is no concern of yohara." As support for this distinction,
Ra'aviah cites R. Shim'on b. Gamliel's restriction alongside the
report of his own father's reading on his wedding night - and,
Ra'aviah asserts, R. Shim'on b. Gamliel was certainly not
challenging his father's ruling. Therefore, it must be the case
that yohara only applies to the general populace, but not to
great scholars and leaders.
What is the rationale behind this distinction? We could posit
that someone who is this great, who is constantly studying and
growing in Torah, is less likely to be drawn to the non-spiritual
characteristics associated with yohara.
However, Ra'aviah, in an earlier comment, makes the same general
statement but in a significantly different phrasing which leads
us to believe that the exception of talmid hakham may be rooted
in a different understanding of yohara.
In his discussion of the first sugya of Berakhot (reading K'riat
Sh'ma earlier than nightfall - see our discussion at K'riat Sh'ma
1:09-10), Ra'aviah makes the statement that "regarding those who
delay and read later [than the common custom - to read K'riat
Sh'ma and say Tefillat 'Arvit before nightfall], it is considered
yohara, since anyone who does anything from which he is exempt is
called a "hedyot" (we will examine to this phrase later on), as
we learn in the Yerushalmi of our Massechet [Berakhot] in the
second chapter. However, for those who are accustomed to
*p'rishut* (behaving differently, more carefully) in other
things, it is not considered yohara." (See Rema, Orach Hayyim
235 for an interesting twist on this piece from Ra'aviah.)
R. Lichtenstein explained this phrase as meaning not just that we
are not concerned that a saintly person and/or talmid hakham will
be drawn into yohara - rather that there is nothing to which to
be drawn! In other words, yohara is not an issue when someone has
an internally consistent level of piety; the problem is when
someone who is otherwise not on that "level" of behavior adopts
one practice which is only appropriate for a more select group
within the community.
An important consequence of this approach is that Halakhah is
not, God forbid, trying to encourage some type of religious
conformism regarding measures of piety; rather, each person
should endeavor to grow in learning and religiosity as much as
possible. However, these steps should be measured, consistent
and part of a whole-person development. Yohara becomes a problem
when the one behavior under discussion does not fit with the
person's place - not only his place in society, but, much more
to our point, his place within himself.
See also Ra'aviah #597, where he clearly states that yohara is
just not applicable to a talmid hakham.
HEDYOT AND YOHARA
As mentioned in the previous section, Ra'aviah makes a connection
between the problem of yohara and the famous statement of the
Yerushalmi (which does not appear in any form in the Bavli): *Kol
haPatur min haDavar v'Oseihu Nikra Hedyot* - Anyone who is exempt
from a matter and does it anyways is called a *Hedyot*
(commoner/low-life). He states that reading K'riat Sh'ma late is
considered yohara because he is exempt [has already fulfilled the
Mitzvah earlier] and, therefore, his action has the stamp of
hedyot on it.
However, this connection is far from clear. The Rishonim use this
phrase when discussing meaningless actions; i.e. actions which in
other contexts are significant but in the particular instance
being discussed are of no value. For instance, Rabbenu Tam
(Sefer haYashar #104) rules that it is silly and foolish to score
the parchment of Tefillin (*sirtut*), since anyone who is exempt
from something and does it anyway is called a hedyot. The reason
this is a meaningless action is since the whole value of ritual
is as a Mitzvah, if it is not required, it has no meaning.
However, our cases of yohara run in the opposite direction -
here, someone wants to fulfill a Mitzvah in the grandest way
possible! (i.e., even when he is personally exempt, although the
Mitzvah is still meaningful and valid). So the Ra'aviah's
connection between yohara and "anyone who is exempt...hedyot"
seems to be a strange one.
Rabbi Soloveitchik zt"l claims that the issue of whether someone
who stays in the Sukkah even while it is raining should be deemed
a hedyot is dependent on this exact point: If we are merely
exempt from Sukkah while it is raining (as a corollary to the
rule of someone who is excessively uncomfortable - *mitz'ta'er*),
then this person would not be a hedyot. This would be similar to
women, who are exempt from Sukkah, but who certainly have a
positive interaction with this Mitzvah (and have reward for doing
so, as the Gemara in Kiddushin implies when it states that
someone who is commanded has greater rewards than someone who
isn't commanded - ergo, someone who isn't commanded still has
some heavenly reward).
However, if there is no Mitzvah of Sukkah at all when it is
raining - i.e. it isn't just an exemption based on discomfort but
an uprooting of the Mitzvah, then this person is certainly a
Ramban (Kiddushin 31 a s.v. man d'amar li) makes a similar
distinction with regards to women and their fulfillment of
Mitzvot regarding which they are not commanded.
However, the Yerushalmi (Berakhot 2:9) cites a case of R. Yasa
and R. Sh'muel b. R. Yitzchak who were sitting and eating; when
the time for Tefillah came, R. Sh'muel b. R. Yitzchak stood up
[interrupting his meal] and prayed. R. Meisha pointed out to him
the ruling of the Mishnah (Shabbat 1:2) that if one begins a
meal, he need not interrupt for Tefillah (unless, of course, the
time for Tefillah is passing); he then quoted Hezekiah who said:
Anyone who is exempt from a matter and does it anyway is called a
In this case, we certainly won't regard this Tefillah as having
no value - the only questionable action was the necessity of
interrupting the meal. This Yerushalmi (and Ra'aviah who cites
it) seem to maintain a different approach than that of Ramban.
The exempt person who is considered a hedyot is not only the one
who does a meaningless action - but also one whose action has a
negative spin on it; whether on account of yohara or some other
As I mentioned at the top of this shiur, most of the material and
presentation here are based on a shiur given by R. Aharon
Lichtenstein in the summer of 1983. I hope that the presentation
here has been faithful to the original.
In concluding the shiur, R. Lichtenstein pointed out that, of
course, this was only the tip of the iceberg of the issue of
yohara and that, as should be obvious, the issue has many
ramifications which reach well beyond the narrow and (hopefully)
well-defined Halakhic parameters presented here.
now, to the questions:
Q1: Why would we think that a person who is exempt may not read
- why does Rambam have to tell us that he may do so?
A: Two possible reasons: Yohara (see the shiur) or because there
is something inherently problematic with reading K'riat Sh'ma
"improperly". The argument goes as follows: When someone is
obligated, he does the best he can to read properly, with total
focus etc. However, if someone isn't obligated, we cannot excuse
"poor" reading and prefer to avoid it if it can't be done right.
See question 3 for more on this.
Q2: Why is the "confused" fellow not allowed to read?
A: See next question.
Q3: How do we defend Rambam against RABD's challenge - indeed,
if the "confused" fellow reads, he is just reading words of Torah
- there is nothing negative about that!
A: As mentioned in the shiur, it is possible to read Rambam's
ruling as having nothing to do with Yohara, rather with a minimal
demand for Kavvanah in K'riat Sh'ma before the fact. In other
words, whereas in Tefillah we demand that a person be "settled"
and able to focus -and, barring that, he is not allowed to say
Tefillah, it is possible that we extend this idea to K'riat
Sh'ma, but, of course, with more minimal demands. It is
possible, therefore, that RABD rejects this whole approach and
sees nothing inherently negative about reading K'riat Sh'ma in
such a state. It could also be that RABD understood Rambam's
ruling to be yohara-based, and, responding to that, claimed that
we do not concern ourselves with yohara anymore. In addition, as
Migdal Oz (quoted in Kessef Mishneh) says, that Rambam's concern
is about the Berakhot of K'riat Sh'ma; i.e. that if the K'riat
Sh'ma is said without any Kavvanah whatsoever, (and by someone
who is exempt, to boot), the B'rakhot may be in vain. See,
however, the rest of Kessef Mishneh's approach.
Q4: Why does RABD mention *Yohara* here - what does it mean and
what is its relevance?
A: See the shiur.
Q5: Why does RABD cite these sages who had difficulty focussing
A: We see two things from these anecdotes:
(1) Even for great sages, total focus is not always present - so
we should "lower our demands" of Kavvanah.
(2) Even though they were aware of this shortcoming, they didn't
desist from prayer. If they were prepared to say Tefillah, which
involves Berakhot and has a higher demand of Kavvanah, even
though they couldn't always meet such a standard, then certainly
K'riat Sh'ma (which is "just words of Torah" - see question 3)
should not be avoided in spite of distractions.
Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project