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Notes from Limmudfest 2008

The Foundations of Jewish Prayer: The History of the Shema

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

The Shema can be interpreted as either a declaration of faith, or a representative piece of תלמוד תורה.

Consider the בְּרָכוֹת surrounding it.

Berachot 1:8 בְּרָכוֹת א ח
In the morning two blessings are to be said before it, and one after it. In the evening two are said before it and two after it, one long and one short. Where the Sages laid down that a long one should be said, it is not permitted to say a short one. Where they ordained a short one, a long one is not permitted. A prayer which they ordered to be concluded with a benediction must not be left without such a conclusion; one which they ordered to be left without such a conclusion must not be so concluded. בשחר מברך שתיים לפניה ואחת לאחריה ובערב מברך שתיים לפניה ושתיים לאחריה אחת ארוכה ואחת קצרה׃ מקום שאמרו להאריך אינו רשאי לקצר לקצר אינו רשאי להאריך׃ לחתום אינו רשאי שלא לחתום ושלא לחתום אינו רשאי לחתום׃

What is meant by a long and short בְּרָכָה? Rashi says just length, the Rambam says how many themes.

Prayer in early Israel was more spontaneous than in Babylonia. In Babylonia there were rigid rules; in Israel you could make up prayers adhering to the set themes and endings.

Why are there a different number of בְּרָכוֹת in the evening and morning?

Talmud Yerushalmi (מס׳ בְּרָכוֹת פרק א דף ג טור ג /ה״ד):

R. Simon in the name of R. Shmuel bar Naḥman: According to the verse [Josh. 1:8] but recite it day and night: the recitations of the day and night should be equal. R. Yossi b. R. Abin in the name of R. Yehoshua b. Levi: According to the verse [Psalms 119:164] for Your just rules. R. Naḥman in the name of R. Manni: One who has fulfulled I praise you seven times each day it is as if he has fulfilled but recite it day and night.

Why do we recite these two paragraphs each day? R. Levi and R. Simon: R. Simon says: Because it states in them lying down and rising up. R. Levi says: Because the Ten Commandments are included in them.

ר' סימון בשם ר' שמואל בר נחמן ע"ש והגית בו יומם ולילה שתהא הגיות היום והלילה שוין רבי יוסי בר אבין בשם רבי יהושע בן לוי ע"ש שבע ביום הללתיך על משפטי צדקך. ר' נחמן בשם רבי מנא כל המקיים שבע ביום הללתיך כאלו קיים והגית בו יומם ולילה: מפני מה קורין שתי פרשיות הללו בכל יום. רבי לוי ורבי סימון. רבי סימון אמר מפני שכתוב בהן שכיבה וקימה רבי לוי אמר מפני שעשרת הדברות כלולין בהן.

The first bit goes back to the debate about how we recite the שְׁמַע: There was an argument that the third paragraph, which is about צִיצִית, is not read at night, because you can't then see your צִיצִית. Consider also the well-known passage of the five rabbis in the Haggadah:

Berachot 1:5 בְּרָכוֹת א ה
One must mention the Exodus from Egypt at night. R. Eleazar ben Azariah said, "I am about seventy, yet I never merited to understand the reason why they talk about the Exodus from Egypt in the nights, until Ben Zoma expounded it, as it is says, In order that you may recall the day you went out from the land of Egypt all the days of your life. 'The days of your life' implies days only; 'all the days of your life' includes the nights also." But the Sages say, 'The days of your life' implies this life; 'all the days of your life' implies the days of the Messiah. מזכירין יציאת מצרים בלילות׃ אמר רבי אלעזר בן עזריה הרי אני כבן שבעים שנה ולא זכיתי שתאמר יציאת מצרים בלילות עד שדרשה למען תזכור את יום צאתך מארץ מצרים [דברים טז] בן זומא שנאמר כל ימי חייך׃ ימי חייך הימים׃ כל ימי חייך הלילות׃ וחכמים אומרים ימי חייך העולם הזה׃ כל ימי חייך להביא לימות המשיח׃

יציאת מצרים is the rabbinic name for the third paragraph of the שְׁמַע. But the exodus happened in the day.

Returning to the former text: "The recitations of the day and night should be equal": The extra בְּרָכָה is to make up for the missing paragraph of the שְׁמַע. But we don't drop the third paragraph; what we have left is the trace of a vanished custom. A second explanation is that given above by R. Naḥman in the name of R. Manni: "One who has fulfulled I praise you seven times each day it is as if he has fulfilled but recite it day and night."

The first explanation sees the בְּרָכוֹת as intimately related to the שְׁמַע itself, the second does not; i.e. according to the second explanation there is no connection between their content and the fact they are next to the שְׁמַע.

There are slight variations of how to say the בְּרָכוֹת between the Sephardi and Ashkenazi rituals. This is a hint of something in the past that left its mark on the siddur.

The second בְּרָכָה before the שְׁמַע starts אַהֲבָה רַבָה אַהַבְתָּנוּ, "With a great love have You loved us". The Sephardi siddur reads אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם אַהַבְתָּנוּ, "With an eternal love have You loved us." The Ashkenazim have a difference between the form of the blessing at שַׁחֲרִית and מַעֲרִיב. Which is the greater love? אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם! Also the Sephardi service is much more influenced by the Kabbala, so the service is built on a curve of increasing intensity up to the עמידה, then coming down again. Hence the greater love in אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם. (There is also more difference in intensity in the end of the service.)

בְּרָכוֹת דף יא עמ׳ ב (BT Berachos 11b):

Which is the other benediction? Rav Yehudah said in the name of Shmuel: "With abounding love". So also did R. Eleazar instruct his son R. Pedath: "With abounding love." It has been taught to the same effect: We do not say, "With everlasting love," but "with abounding love". The Rabbis, however, say that "With everlasting love" is said; and so it is also said, [Jeremiah 31] Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with affection I have drawn thee. ואידך מאי היא? אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל: אהבה רבה וכן אורי ליה רבי אלעזר לר׳ פדת בריה: אהבה רבה תניא נמי: הכי אין אומרים אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם אלא אהבה רבה׃ ורבנן אמרי אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם וכן הוא אומר ואַהֲבַת עוֹלָם אהבתיך על כן משכתיך חסד׃

In that case you had three rabbis but a general statement against. According to the halacha, which is to follow the majority, you should then say אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם! The Ashkenazi communities don't follow the Talmud, because they derived their traditions from somewhere else; the Sephardim derived their customs from the Babylonian Talmud. The Ashkenazim came to the Rhineland from Italy, and to Italy from Israel. R. Eleazar was a scholar from Israel, so was R. Pedath; but "the rabbis" refers to the rabbis of Babylonia.

But it is more complex because maybe the Ashkenazim are following another of the things they do: when it comes to differences of opinion between rabbis in prayer, the Ashkenazi custom is to accept both opinions, for example also the triple blessing upon seeing a rainbow*; also saying both שהכל נהיה בדברו before food and בורא נפשות after it. Another example is the angle at which מְזוּזוּת are attached: neither vertical nor horizontal, but somewhere in between.

* זוכר הברית, "Who remembers the covenant"; ונאמן בבריתו "and is faithful to His covenant"; וקים במאמרו, "and Who keeps to His word".

At the end of the בְּרָכָה before the שְׁמַע, there is a footnote: אֵל מֶלֶךְ נֶאֱמָן. This is probably not in the Sephardi siddur. [I think he may actually be wrong here...] The Ramban (Nachmanides) wrote about it, in his commentary on Berachot 11b, as follows. Now, the Ramban was from Gerona, the northernmost city in Spain, and the closest to the Ashkenazi world. For a very long time the Ashkenazim and Sephardim did not know each other, but when Ashkenazi ideas did begin infiltrating into the Sephardi world, they did so starting with Gerona.

It is the long established custom in the villages, to say between אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם and the שְׁמַע the words אֵל מֶלֶךְ נֶאֱמָן ("G-d, faithful king"). And in my childhood this puzzled me greatly. For it is well known that אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם is the Mitzvah blessing for the reading of the שְׁמַע. For all the commandments require that one recites the blessings and immediately does the action. This is the case with Hallel, and the Megillah and the Reading of the Torah. This is the meaning of the statement: If he rose early, after he has read he is not required to bless, for he has exempted himself by reciting אהבה רבה - for this is the blessing of studying Torah. [...]

In the cities they don't say this. This is a bad custom because it is against the halacha—from Babylon—which is not to pause between a בְּרָכָה and the action it is for.

This follows the idea that the בְּרָכוֹת before the שְׁמַע are intimately related to the שְׁמַע itself, viz. Torah study.

And since this is a Mitzvah blessing, it is clear that just as one who says a blessing over a Mitzvah or over fruit and said אָמֵן after himself between the blessing and the action is completely mistaken.

This is why some שְׁלִיחֵי צִיבּוּר conclude the בְּרָכָה immediately before the Shema in a low voice, so the congregation can't reply אָמֵן. Hence also אֵל מֶלֶךְ נֶאֱמָן.

This has already been specifically mentioned in the Yerushalmi. We have been taught: One who leads the שְׁמַע, or leads the prayer, or lifts his hands, or reads from the Torah, or reads from the Prophets or who recites any one of the blessings which is mentioned in the Torah—must not say Amen after himself. I do not even have to explain this matter, which is obvious to the רִאשׁוֹנִים. It therefore appears that the law is that such a person needs to go back and say the blessing again. ... However, as this is the custom I went and asked Rabbi Meir HaLevy, and he said to me that it is obvious that this is a mistake, and is not the custom of Spain, but rather of the Land of Israel, and we have abolished this blunder from our place.

So once again infiltration of Ashkenazi customs predating the Ashkenazi acceptance of the Babylonian Talmud. The Ashkenazi influence is brought by traders bringing their customs with them. Compare the spread of Carlebach tunes in our day.* But they only do this in villages, not the cities because the villages can't afford a rabbi, who would tell them not to!

* Also, the custom of covering your eyes when lighting the Shabbos candles dates only from the nineteenth century! The earlier sources talk about covering not your eyes but the flame. this is not rabbinical: When רַבֵּינוּ תָּם was asked about this, he asked his wife!—but then came up with a post-facto halachic justification. The custom is probably part of the ancient tradition of saying personal prayers at the time of lighting the candles, and probably putting our your hands as a sign of piety.

Later I saw the French scholars question1, and then say that they have a Midrash Aggadah2 that the שְׁמַע has 248 words, as comparsed to the organs of a person's body. But when they counted, they found only 239. To this add ברוך שם כבוד מלכתו לעולם ועד which the Rabbis have obligated us to say, and אֵל מֶלֶךְ נֶאֱמָן and they complete them.3 [...]

Now I will explain to them where this custom originates. In the early generations the community would not say the blessings themselves; rather the leaders would come before the Ark; they would say all the blessings and they would answer after them Amen. Therefore the חזן would say אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם and the community would answer Amen. They would then say the שְׁמַע, which is a commandment that is incumbent upon each and every individual to recite by himself... and to follow the Midrash they would say אֵל מֶלֶךְ נֶאֱמָן in order to make up the number of words. ...

1. Nachmanides is the first Sephardi scholar conversant with Ashkenazi sources (the תוספות), and also the first to adopt the Ashkenazi metholody. The Ashkenazi style of learning is very aggressive: Rashi says the text means A, and the Tosafists say no, no, it must mean B, and here is why; and then the next generation say "don't be an idiot; it must mean C".* The Sephardi tradition is much more respectful for the preceding interpretations; and even when they disagree, they present their new interpretation as an alternative.

* This is no exaggeration. David Weiss Halivni's presents a sequence of views in his Revelation Restored in which each generation admonishes the previous's for its views in successively stronger terms, culminating in the Maharal's "Unlike that which is said by some who are grammarians [the Radak] and some of the אַחַרוֹנִים—it would have been better had their tongues licked dust than for them to have written these opinions... and said things insulting of the prophets... as if the prophets did not know language—there is no need to respond to such foolishness—everything was transmitted הַלָכָה לְמֹשֶׁה מִסִּנַי."

2. The אגדה [midrash] all comes from Israel, not Babylonia. There are only three or four midrashim from Babylonia.

3. Now, when we read with a minyan, we don't say אֵל מֶלֶךְ נֶאֱמָן, but the chazzan repeats ה׳ אלהיכם אמת instead.

The Ramban finishes by suggesting a compromise whether you are following the שָׁלִיחַ צִיבּוּר or not.

Jewish learning notes index

Date: 2008-09-07 06:15 pm (UTC)
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
From: [personal profile] liv
I said I was going to do more commenting to note when I've found your Jewish learning posts cool and useful. So, this is cool and useful, thanks for posting it. It will likely come in useful when I teach my session on the Shema later in the year! (Are you aware you've pasted the text in twice?)

I did not realize that there was a connection between the Exodus from Egypt and the blessing after the Shema. I like! Also cool the connection between a poetic expression about praising seven times, and the seven blessings associated with the Shema, that's rather neat.

I'm a bit confused about the mention of building up in intensity to the Amidah; both the morning and evening Shema precede the Amidah, so why would there be a difference between Sephardi and Ashkenazi nusach here? But I hadn't heard the theory that Ashkenazim try to include everything when there are differing views on the text of prayers, and I do like your examples.

Date: 2008-09-07 06:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
So, this is cool and useful, thanks for posting it. It will likely come in useful when I teach my session on the Shema later in the year!

If you're interested, I can send you the notes I took in the Conservative Yeshiva on the subject.

(Are you aware you've pasted the text in twice?)

No; thanks.

I did not realize that there was a connection between the Exodus from Egypt and the blessing after the Shema.

It's right there in the words:
אמת... כי הוא... הפודנו מיד מלכים... העשה לנו נסים ונקמה בפרעה אותת ומופתים באדמת בני חם׃ המכה בעברתו כל בכורי מצרים ויוצא את עמו ישראל מתוכם לחרות עולם׃ המעביר בניו בין גזרי ים סוף את רודפיהם ואת שונאיהם בתהמות טבע׃
I'm a bit confused about the mention of building up in intensity to the Amidah; both the morning and evening Shema precede the Amidah, so why would there be a difference between Sephardi and Ashkenazi nusach here?

I think he's saying that the Sephardi nusach plays this build-up in intensity up more.

Date: 2008-09-08 06:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] curious-reader.livejournal.com
I wanted to go to this but I was working or eating in the dining room when Chaim had his sessions. Thank you for posting it. Did you go only to one or more of his prayer sessions?

Date: 2008-09-08 06:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
I also went to another; I'll post my notes on that when I've typed them up.


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