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Chapter Fifteen-Part Four

The Laws of Reciting Shema


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed


9.The Laws of Reciting Shema
A person must recite Shema with great kavanah, fear, awe, and trembling, and concentrate in his heart that he is now proclaiming the sovereignty of the King, Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Even though Shema is recited every day in Shacharit and Ma’ariv, one must try hard to concentrate on the meaning of the words, as if they were new to him (Shulchan Aruch 61:1-2).
In addition to kavanah, the person saying Shema must pronounce the letters precisely, being careful not to swallow any letter nor to emphasize the soft sounds, or weaken the strong ones. Therefore, l'chatchilah, one should make a distinction in sound when pronouncing an alef and an ayin, a chaf and a chet, a kamatz and a patach, a tzeirei and a segol (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 61:14-23). The Chachamim say, "One who recites Shema and is careful to pronounce its letters exactly, Gehinnom is cooled down for him" (Berachot 15b). B’dieved, if he did not recite the Shema meticulously, he nevertheless fulfilled his obligation provided that he did not miss a word or a full syllable of a word (Shulchan Aruch 62:1; Mishnah Berurah 1).
A person’s ears must hear what is coming out of his mouth. B’dieved, if he read the words only with his lips but did not hear what he was saying, since he mouthed the words, he fulfilled his obligation. However, regarding one who only recited Shema in his mind, since he did not mouth the words, he did not fulfill his obligation (Shulchan Aruch 62:3; and see earlier in this book 1:9). 6
In principle, though it is proper to recite Shema and the Amidah in Hebrew, if a person recited Shema and prayed the Amidah in a different language, he fulfilled his obligation, provided that he understands that language (see earlier in this book 1:10). However, a few of the major Acharonim write that today we cannot fulfill the obligation of Keriat Shema by reciting it in a different language because there are words that we do not know how to translate accurately. For example, the Hebrew word "v’shinantam" means both learning (shinun) and sharpening (chidud). There is no such single word in other languages. Hence, since the Shema cannot be translated exactly, it may not be recited in a different language (Mishnah Berurah 62:3). 7

10.The Manner in which to Recite Shema
It is permissible to recite Shema while standing, sitting, or lying down on one’s side. Indeed, according to Beit Shamai, one must recite the Shema of the evening while lying down, and the Shema of the morning while standing, as it says, "When you lie down and when you rise up." Yet, the halachah follows Beit Hillel who interpreted the verse to mean the times that one is required to recite Shema – when people lie down (to go to sleep in the evening) and rise (wake up in the morning). According to Beit Hillel, whether the person stands, sits, or lies down is optional (Berachot 10a; Shulchan Aruch 63:1).
We can learn from this halachah that faith is not something detached from this world, something that can only be achieved under specific circumstances. Rather, the faith expressed in saying Shema encompasses all of a person’s life in this world, and therefore it is possible to recite Shema in any position.
In principle, it is permissible to recite Shema even while walking, as it says, "When you are walking on your way." However, the Chachamim maintain that it is not proper for a person to accept upon himself the yoke of Heaven casually. Therefore, one who is walking should stand still when he recites the first verse of Shema (Shulchan Aruch 63:3; Mishnah Berurah 9). It is also forbidden to say Shema while lying on one’s stomach or back, since this is not a respectful recital (Shulchan Aruch 63:1; and see Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 23:3). 8
Because of the importance of the first paragraph, in which we accept upon ourselves the yoke of Heaven, a person must be careful while saying it not to occupy himself with anything else, and not signal with his eyes, fingers, or lips (Shulchan Aruch 63:6).

11.Tefillin and Tzitzit while Reciting Shema
We must pray and recite Shema of Shacharit with tefillin, as it says in the Shema paragraph, "And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes." The Chachamim say, "A person who recites Shema without wearing tefillin is as if he gives false testimony of himself" (Berachot 14b). Nevertheless, even a person who does not have tefillin is required to recite Shema, since these two mitzvot are not interdependent. If a person cannot fulfill the mitzvah of tefillin, he should at least fulfill the mitzvah of Shema, and he is not considered giving false testimony, since it is due to circumstances beyond his control (Mishnah Berurah 46:33; see earlier in this book 12:9, footnote 10).
It is customary to touch the tefillin of the arm when saying, "Bind them as a sign on your hand," and the tefillin of the head while saying, "And they shall be as frontlets between your eyes," and then to kiss the hand that touched the tefillin (Shulchan Aruch 61:25; Chayei Adam 14:15).
It is also customary to wrap oneself in tzitzit before Shacharit since the third paragraph of Shema discusses the mitzvah of tzitzit. It is customary to hold the tzitziyot with one’s left hand adjacent to the heart during the time one says Shema as a reminder of what is written, "Put these words… on your heart" (Shulchan Aruch 24:2). Some take the two tzitziyot in front and others gather all four tzitziyot. 9
It is customary before the paragraph of Vayomer to take the tzitziyot with one’s right hand (Mishnah Berurah 24:4) or with both hands (Kaf HaChaim 24:8) and while saying the word "tzitzit," kiss the tzitzit, and while saying, "u’re’item oto", ("and you shall see them"), look at them. Some pass them over their eyes and kiss them. It is also customary to kiss the tzitzit at the end of the paragraph while saying "emet." We continue to hold the tzitziyot until the words, "v’nechemadim la’ad," in Birkat Emet V’Yatziv, and then we kiss the tzitziyot again and put them down (Mishnah Berurah 24:4; Kaf HaChaim 24:8, 18). There are additional customs concerning this; however, all these customs are enhancements of the mitzvah and do not prevent one from fulfilling one's obligation if they are not performed.

12. 248 (רמ"ח) Words
The Torah provides life and healing to the world and to mankind. This is especially true concerning Keriat Shema, in which the fundamentals of faith and the fulfillment of the mitzvot are included. The Chachamim teach that Shema is comprised of 248 words and that in a person’s body there are 248 organs. When a person recites Shema properly, each and every organ is healed by the word corresponding to it. However, in the three paragraphs of Shema there are actually 245 words, and in order to total 248, the chazan repeats the last three words, "Hashem Elokeichem emet" ("Hashem, your God, is true"), thereby completing the count to 248 (Zohar Chadash Ruth 95:1).
A person who prays individually is missing the last three words. There are a few minhagim concerning their completion. According to the Ashkenazic minhag, before Shema a person says, "Kel Melech Ne’eman" ("Almighty faithful King"). According to the Shulchan Aruch, one should have specific kavanah while pronouncing the first fifteen "vavs" in the opening words of Birkat Emet V’Yatziv ("V’Yatziv, V’Nachon, V’Kayam, V’Yashar, etc.…") because they allude to three names of Hashem and are a substitute for the three missing words (Shulchan Aruch and Rama 61:3).
It is the minhag of most Sephardim that a person praying individually should complete the three missing words on his own and repeat "Hashem Elokeichem emet," instead of the chazan. Although an individual’s repetition of these words is clearly less important than the chazan’s reiteration, nevertheless, there is a certain substitution in it. Additionally, a person who finishes reciting Shema after the chazan concludes "Hashem Elokeichem emet" should repeat those last words so as to complete the three missing words (Kaf HaChaim 61: 15-16). 10

^ 6.Talmidei Rabbi Yonah maintain that it is proper to recite Shema with cantillation signs and there are those who are accustomed to enhancing the mitzvah in that way (Shulchan Aruch 61:24). Others say that since kavanah is of principal importance, if someone finds that reciting Shema with cantillation signs disrupts his concentration, it is better that he recite Shema without them (Rama; Mishnah Berurah 61:38).
The Mishnah Berurah 61:40 writes that, according to the majority of poskim, a person can fulfill his obligation of Keriat Shema by hearing another person recite it. In the opinion of the Aruch HaShulchan 62:8, one can fulfill his obligation by hearing Shema on condition that a minyan is present. (There is disagreement as to whether the person fulfilling his obligation by hearing the Shema is required to understand the whole paragraph. See Mishnah Berurah and Ishei Yisrael 20:26.)

^ 7.This is problematic, for translations are never precisely like the original and if Chazal say that one who recites Shema in any language fulfilled his obligation, it can then be understood that it is unnecessary for the translation to be perfectly accurate. The Aruch HaShulchan 62:4 explains that, indeed, during the time of the Mishnah and Talmud, they completely understood the Hebrew language. However, today, we have doubts regarding the meaning of some words, and therefore we cannot translate perfectly. The Aruch HaShulchan continues by giving some examples of uncertainties and concludes, "Therefore at this time, it is forbidden to recite the Shema, the prayers, and all the berachot in any language other than the holy tongue. And that is what the prominent learned scholars taught for approximately eighty years." Still, this remains problematic, for were there no doubts regarding language prior to that time? If so, why did they not teach then that one may not fulfill his obligation with a translation? Maybe this question was not very common and therefore it was not written down. Or perhaps it is possible to say that nowadays (especially after the invention of the printing press) we are more meticulous concerning the precise meaning of the words, and as a result doubts have increased. Hence, regarding our translations today, there is no precision, and therefore one may not fulfill his obligation with them. However, when people were not so meticulous in translating the external meaning of the word, but rather focused on the idea that could be understood from the context, the translation was thought to be exact. As a rule , even today, the Makor Chayim 62:2 writes that a ger tzedek (righteous convert) who does not read or understand Hebrew may recite Shema in translation.

^ 8.According to the Shulchan Aruch 63:1, based on the majority of Rishonim, one may l'chatchilah recite Shema while lying on his side. However, according to Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, only when a person has already gotten undressed, lies down, and it is difficult for him to sit up, is he permitted to recite Shema on his side, yet, l'chatchilah, Shema should not be recited while lying on one’s side. The Rama rules like them. Regarding the recital of the bedtime Shema, which is not a biblical obligation, it is the opinion of the Magen Avraham that one need not be strict about this. Also see Mishnah Berurah 239:6.
^ 9.The Shulchan Aruch, in 24:5 and 61:25, explains that a person takes the two tzitziyot in front of him. So writes Yam Shel Shlomo and the Gra in Ma’aseh Rav 39. There is an additional reason to do so, for sometimes the search for the two tzitziyot in back can disrupt one’s concentration while saying Birkat Ahavat Olam. However, the Ari says that one should take hold of all four tzitziyot, as is brought by Kaf HaChaim 24:8, and so it is written in the Birkei Yosef and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 17:7. The Birkei Yosef writes in the name of the Ari that one should hold his tzitziyot in his left hand between his ring finger and his pinky; so writes the Mishnah Berurah 24:4. Also see Kaf HaChaim 24:9.
A few Acharonim write that a person should gather his tzitziyot when he says, "And bring us in peace from the four corners of the earth" in the berachah of Ahavat Olam (Derech HaChaim, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 17:7).
^ 10.The Acharonim are divided. According to the Mahari Ayash, Sha’arei Teshuvah, and many others, because he heard the chazan say "Hashem Elokeichem emet," even though he did not finish saying Shema, those three words are considered part of the 248 words. That is the Ashkenazic minhag and the minhag of a few Sephardim (as is clarified in Sha’arei Tefillah). However, the Kaf HaChaim 16 writes, based on Kavanot HaAri, that the recital of the three words must be in order. Therefore, if he heard the chazan say them before he concluded his recital of Shema, he repeats individually "Hashem Elokeichem emet."
There is also a difference of minhag regarding how the chazan (and according to the Kaf HaChaim also an individual praying) should complete these words, for if he says, "Hashem Elokeichem emet" twice, he will have recited 249 words. Asarah Ma’amarot and the Gra maintain that when the chazan finishes reciting Shema he should only say "Hashem Elokeichem" and afterwards go back and say "Hashem Elokeichem emet." The Shulchan Aruch and the Pri Megadim write that the chazan should also say "emet" the first time so as not to interrupt between "Elokeichem" and "emet" and that one of them is not considered part of the 248 because it belongs to the berachah "Emet V’Yatziv." That is how Ashkenazim practice. It is the custom of the Sephardim that at the conclusion of the Shema the chazan says out loud "Hashem Elokeichem" and the congregation completes the words and says after him "emet." At the same time, the chazan says "emet" quietly. Afterwards the chazan repeats the words "Hashem Elokeichem emet" out loud (Kaf HaChaim 61:12).
According to the Chesed La’alafim, it is the Sephardic custom that the congregation only says "emet" out loud after the chazan when they finish together with the chazan. However, if they finish before him, they say "emet" individually so as not to pause between "Elokeichem" and "emet" and they should not repeat the word "emet" after the chazan recites it. According to the Kaf HaChaim 61:12, when they finish individually, they do not say "emet," but rather wait until the chazan finishes and answer after him "emet."
In Ma’ariv , a person who did not hear the chazan, according to the Kaf HaChaim, should individually complete the words "Hashem Elokeichem emet." The Ashkenazic minhag is either to say "Kel Melech Ne’eman" before the recital of Shema or, while saying "emet," to have in mind that it represents the three names of Hashem (Mishnah Berurah 12). Ma’amar Mordechai writes that it is not necessary to complete 248 words in Ma’ariv, since the ruling in the Gemara is that there is no requirement to say the Vayomer paragraph at night.

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