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Unsure if he Recited Birkat Hatorah

Sometimes I am unsure if I recited Birkat Hatorah (=BKHT) and so I plan to remedy the situation by having in mind to fulfill BKHT with Ahava Raba. Sometimes, though, I am not sure whether I had that in mind while I was reciting Ahava Raba. What do I do in such a case?

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Rabbi Daniel Mann

Adar I 21 5782
Question: Sometimes I am unsure if I recited Birkat Hatorah (=BKHT) and so I plan to remedy the situation by having in mind to fulfill BKHT with Ahava Raba. Sometimes, though, I am not sure whether I had that in mind while I was reciting Ahava Raba. What do I do in such a case?

Answer: It is good to have a set order of practices, which helps avoid the doubt, but these things happen. Regarding one with a doubt whether he recited BKHT, poskim assume that whether or not one has to recite it now depends if BKHT is a Torah-level obligation or a Rabbinic one (see Mishna Berura 47:1). The gemara (Berachot 21a) identifies this as the measuring stick regarding doubt about having recited Kri’at Shema and mentioning yetzi’at Mitzrayim. The same gemara cites p’sukim as sources for the obligations of Birkat Hamazon and BKHT, which many identify as the two berachot of Torah origin (Ramban, Shich’chat Aseh 15). Therefore, the Sha’agat Aryeh (24) and many others rule that one who is in doubt whether he needs to recite BKHT, should do so. He just says (ibid. 25) that since the mitzva from the Torah is fulfilled with one beracha, in a case of doubt we recite only "… asher bachar banu …" Some (Birkei Yosef, OC 47:8- see other opinions in the Mishna Berura ibid.) posit that BKHT is only Rabbinic and that we do not recite in a case of doubt (as we generally say, safek berachot l’hakel).

Although the stronger opinion is to recite BKHT when in doubt, the Mishna Berura (ibid.) suggests the alternative you mentioned – to fulfill the obligation with the beracha before Kri’at Shema – Ahava Raba. While this seems to follow the general halachic "sentiment" to keep things safe, it is not a foregone conclusion that this is fully safe. First, there is a major machloket whether it is permitted to recite P’sukei D’zimra, which consists of Torah texts that are recited as praise in tefilla, before BKHT (see opinions in the Shulchan Aruch, OC 46:9). Indeed, if one realizes in the midst of P’sukei D’zimra that he definitely did not recite BKHT, most rule that he should interrupt P’sukei D’zimra to recite it (Mishna Berura 51:10; Yabia Omer IV, OC 7; Tefilla K’hilchata 9:31).

Another drawback of using Ahava Raba is that it is unclear that it is always done correctly. The gemara (Berachot 11b) does say that after having said Ahava Raba, one no longer needs BKHT, but the Yerushalmi limits it to a case where one learned right afterward. Considering that Kri’at Shema, which comes from the Torah, follows Ahava Raba, wouldn’t this condition be trivial? One of the Beit Yosef’s (OC 47) answers posits that Kri’at Shema does not count, as it is not done for the purpose of learning and/or it is not clearly for that purpose. In the Shulchan Aruch (OC 47:7-8), he cites two opinions on whether one needs to learn something else right after davening and recommends stringency. Although one can wait until the end of Shacharit as long as he does not talk about matters not related to Torah or tefilla in the meantime (Be’ur Halacha ad loc.), the Shulchan Aruch considers it risky to rely on this system to fulfill BKHT.

Your plan to have in mind to fulfill the obligation with Ahava Raba during recitation, while worthwhile to strive for (Mishna Berura 47:1; see Be’ur Halacha to 47:8) is most likely not a requirement (Mishna Berura 47:14; see Be’ur Halacha ibid.). In a case like this of multiple sefeikot (maybe you said BKHT, maybe you had sufficient intent for Ahava Raba, maybe intent is not needed), it is easier to be lenient (see Ishei Yisrael 6:(33)).

The halachically simplest way to get out of doubt (but is not always practical or pleasant) is to find someone who has not yet made the beracha and have him do it for you with intention to include you (Mishna Berura 47:1). While women recite BKHT (Shulchan Aruch, OC 47:14), it is not agreed that she is obligated to do so or at least obligated in the same way as a man. Therefore, while it is plausible that a woman can be motzi a man (Be’ur Halacha ad loc.), one should not rely upon this (see Tzitz Eliezer XV:24).
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