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Question
"G-d knows our thoughts as well as our words. The obligation to pray requires us, however, to speak. " - R. Jonathan Blass The Amidah, the Shema, berachot . . . how far does this extend? To every word of the Siddur? And must speaking require sound or is moving lips like Hannah acceptable? Is quickly pronouncing parts of each word or phrase acceptable? Is it better to abbreviate ones prayer content or to pray with a rushed slurring? Of course, neither are ideal.
Answer
Shalom, Thank you for your questions. In relation to the question of enunciating one’s prayers, and to what extent must this be done. All prayers need to be “recited” (verbally) and not just “thought” (in one’s mind) [although, we will examine the question if a prayer just “thought” in the mind has any weight in a moment]. This applies to all prayers – the Amidah, Shema, Brachot, and all other prayers. (See for example, the Shulchan Aruch, Orech Haim, 206,4; 185, 2; 62, 3). However, there is some discussion as to what exactly is the definition of “verbalization”. The Zohar is quoted as saying that when praying the Amidah one should move their lips but recite the words so softly that it does not make any sound. Some people pray the Amidah in this “silent” fashion. However, many of the commentators argue with this understanding of the Zohar, and claim that the correct understanding is that all agree that one should pronounce the words to the level that they can hear themselves. (See the Mishna Brurah on the Shulchan Aruch 101, (5)). And this is indeed the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch. For all other prayers, all agree that one should vocalize them to the extent that one can (at least) hear themselves saying the words, even if others standing nearby cannot hear them. If one only “thought” the prayer – there is a major argument between the early Rabbis. The Rambam is of the opinion the the Talmudic ruling that “thought does not equal speech”, that is that one must verbally say the words, and not just think them, only applies to the mitzvah of saying Shema. However, the overwhelming concensus is that this rule applies for all prayer. With that in mind, some Rabbis rule that if a person (incorrectly, or because they had no other choice) only thought the blessing or prayer in their mind, the law is that after the fact we would rely on the Rambam, and not require them to repeat the blessing again verbally. However, others rule that even after the fact, a thought out prayer is invalid, and the prayer or blessing would need to be repeated. (See the commentators on the Shulchan Aruch, Orech Haim, 62,4). This argument also has bearing in a case where a person is unable to speak – then they should definitely think the blessing and prayer – as this has some value. As for your question if just pronouncing a part of each word or phrase acceptable – certainly, ideally, one should pronounce each word exactly and with great care. If this was not done, then it will depend in each case as to what was left out. Sometimes leaving parts of a word out changes the meaning, sometimes it is just a sloppy way of saying the same words. For example, in English, say instead of “Good Day” - “G’Day”, would be (at least as a second best) acceptable, But saying “G-ay” is an entirely different word (meaning “Happy” or “Glad” and not “Good Day” at all). This applies to our prayers also. Your last question as to what is better – sloppy pronunciation or shorter prayers. In general it is better to go for less said in a better way, than more said in a bad way. But, there are exceptions to this rule. May all our prayers be received and answered for good.
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