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Question: When reciting a berachah in English, does a person fulfill his obligation if he says “Hashem” instead of “L-rd” or “G-d”?

Yosef

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Answer: My uncle, HaRav Sholom Klass, zt”l, addressed this question many years ago. Below is his reply (from Responsa of Modern Judaism, Vol II), which we have modified somewhat for the purposes of this discussion:

The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 102:4) states: A person may pray in any language he desires – when praying with a congregation. When praying alone, though, he should not pray in any language other than the Holy Tongue. Others state that the restriction to pray in Hebrew only applies to prayers of a personal nature (e.g., a sickness or some other troubling personal need). For standard prayers, however, an individual may pray in any language, save for Aramaic.

This ruling is based upon the following passage in the Talmud (Shabbos 12b): R. Judah said, “A person should never ask for his personal needs in Aramaic.” R. Yochanan said, “The attending angels pay no heed to a person who asks for his personal needs in Aramaic because they do not recognize the Aramaic language.”

We find further in the Talmud (Sotah 32a): “These may be said in any language: the sotah chapter, the tithing confessional, Keri’at Shema, prayers etc.”

The Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 1:4) elaborates: After the Jewish people were exiled in the days of the wicked Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, they were interspersed among the peoples of Persia, Greece, and many other lands. There they gave birth to children who were not fluent in the Holy Tongue, their speech being mixed with the local vernacular. Thus, when a person wished to pray, he was at times speechless and unable to request his needs or extol the Holy One Blessed Is He. Therefore, Ezra and his synod enacted a uniform text in the Holy Tongue for each of our prayers. They enacted as well that everyone say the Shemoneh Esreh thrice daily, in the morning, afternoon, and evening.

The Rambam does not explain why the Amidah contains 18 blessings. The Talmud (Megillah 17b) states that Shimon HaPikuli set forth the 18 blessings before Rabban Gamaliel in Yavneh. The Gemara further states that 120 elders – among them many prophets – enacted these 18 blessings. The question is: Why 18?

The Gemara (Berachot 28b) states that Hillel the son of R. Shmuel b. Nachmeini said that the 18 blessings correspond to the 18 times Hashem’s name appears in Psalm 29, “Havu LaHashem bnei eilim – Render unto Hashem, you sons of the powerful.” R. Yosef said they correspond to the 18 times Hashem’s name appears in Shema. R. Tanchum said in the name of R. Yehoshua b. Levi that they correspond to the 18 vertebrae of the spinal column.

Hashem’s name also appears 18 times in the paragraph “Yehi chvod Hashem l’olam” in Pesukei D’Zimrah, which should therefore be said with great concentration and reverence.

There are some Aramaic prayers in the siddur which were added at a later date, among them Kaddish, which is said at every communal prayer at least twice. We also have “Yekum Purkan,” which is said on Shabbat before Musaf. In his time, Rabbenu Sa’adia Gaon included some prayers in Arabic as well.

Since the 16th century, the prayer book has been translated into most European languages because of men and women unschooled in Hebrew but fully conversant in their native tongues. Notwithstanding, the Hebrew text always appears in these siddurim along with the translation.

(To be continued)

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.