Choosing Your Words

Daf 13. Gemara. A parable shows how “recent troubles cause . . . earlier troubles to be forgotten.” The gemara ponders the meaning of name changes (e.g., Abram to Abraham).

Mishnah. One who is reading the sections of the Torah containing the parts of the Shema at the time when one is obliged to recite it has fulfilled the obligation provided he recites it with intent. One should not interrupt one’s recitation, though different kinds of interruptions at different points in the recitation are allowed by some Rabbis. The order of the parts of the blessing (which is a different sequence than the one in which they are written in the Torah) is explained.

Gemara. According to the mishnah, mitzvot require intent. The gemara seeks to understand this. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi teaches that the Shema must be recited exactly as written. The Rabbis disagree, asserting that the Shema may be recited in any language. Eliezer, Akiva, and others dispute whether or not the entire Shema must be said with intent. (“Sumakhos says: One who extends his intonation of the word One [ehad] . . . is rewarded.”) Rav Yosef taught that one should not recite Shema while lying on his back. However, Rabbi Yohanan would do so “because he was corpulent and it was difficult for him to read any other way.”

Comment. The dispute between those who assert that the Shema must be recited in Hebrew and those who assert that it may be recited in any language is central to the question of how important intent is in fulfilling the obligation. For those who do not understand Hebrew, is intent possible if one is not allowed to recite the Shema in a language that they understand?

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One Response to Choosing Your Words

  1. elenizl says:

    Just as important as reciting the Sh’ma is hearing it. After all, that is what the text of the Sh’ma itself says: “Hear, oh Israel!” The gemara seems to be wrestling with whether both the reciting *and* the hearing both need to be in Hebrew or whether it’s okay for the recitation to be in Hebrew and the hearing in one’s own language (if not Hebrew). In any case, what seems to be implicit is that “reciting” and “listening” imply relationship. Whether it’s a relationship to an other (who hears one reciting during communal prayer) or to oneself (who hears in private prayer) reciting and hearing are two sides of the same coin.

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