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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: The Mechaber rules (based on Shabbos 12b and Sotah 32a) that one may pray in any language when praying with a congregation, save for Aramaic, which angels do not know. The Beit Yosef explains that Aramaic is an unpleasant language. Tosafot (Shabbos 12b) notes that, of the angels, only Gabriel recognizes Aramaic.

The Chochmat Shlomo (Rabbi Shlomo Luria) explains that each nation’s ministering angel knows the language of that nation. Therefore, Michael, the ministering angel of the Jewish people, speaks only Hebrew.

The Aruch Hashulchan notes that gentile prayers are not said in Hebrew, yet King Solomon’s prayer upon completion of the Beis Hamikdash specifically mentions gentiles praying. Nonetheless, he argues that a Jew should pray in Hebrew except when it comes to prayers like selichot and yotzrot. Shulchan Aruch HaRav states that it is far better for someone who has not mastered the Holy Tongue to pray in a language he understands.

Last week we cited a responsum of the former chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, zt”l (Yabia Omer, vol 1, Orach Chayim 12). He was asked about transliterated siddurim, the basic question being whether a person can discharge his obligation by reading prayers whose meaning he doesn’t understand. Furthermore, can he discharge his obligation by listening to someone else say them? Tosafot and the Rosh maintain that a completely ignorant person cannot discharge his obligation in this manner. Rashi and Tosafot are more lenient regarding listening to Megillat Esther. Some authorities like the Me’e’ri and Ravya maintain that an ignorant person can always fulfill his obligation by listening to another for such matters as Birkat Hamazon and Megillah.

* * * * *

Rabbi Ovadya Yosef cites the Tur (Orach Chayim 193) who states as follows: Any time there are fewer than three people dining together, they must split as per the baraita (Berachot 45b): “Two who ate together are required to recite the Grace after Meals on their own.” However, as for Hamotzi, one person can discharge the obligation of others. Even for Birkat Hamazon, if only one person knows the blessing, he should say it while the other people listen; in this manner, they will fulfill their obligation. They must, however, understand what is being said. If they don’t, they have not fulfilled their obligation.

The Rema (Darkei Moshe to the Tur and in his glosses to the Mechaber, Orach Chayim 193:7) rules that the custom is in accord with Rashi – that women can discharge their bentching obligation by listening to others bentching, even if they do not understand what is being said. The Mordechai (beginning of seventh perek, Berachot) and Bach rule likewise – and state that the same applies to tefillah. The Magen Avraham concludes that it is best for those listening to direct their attention to every word being said.

Rabbi Yosef notes as well the view of the Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 124:1) who writes, “After the congregation concludes their prayer, the chazzan should repeat the Amida so that anyone unable to pray can direct his attention to what the chazzan is saying and fulfill his obligation thereby. They must pay attention from beginning to end.” He comments that it is obvious from the Mechaber’s words that the person listening must understand what is being said. Otherwise, why must he pay attention to every word? Thus, Sefardic and Oriental Jews who follow the Mechaber’s rulings cannot fulfill their tefillah or benthing obligations via “shome’a k’oneh” (“hearing is like saying”). They must actually understand what is being said.

Rabbi Yosef notes a view of many (among them the Bach, Orach Chayim 124) that a person fulfills his obligation when praying in the Holy Tongue even if he doesn’t understand what he’s saying. He also refers to the Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 193) who concludes that a person listening should recite word for word with the one reciting and in this way fulfill his obligation.

Rabbi Yosef cites the Levush (beginning of Orach Chayim 193) who distinguishes between the one reciting and the one listening. The one reciting a blessing –even if he doesn’t understand what he is saying – fulfills his obligation as long as he says the proper Hebrew words as established by our Sages. However, the one who listens does not fulfil his obligation if he does not understand what the one reciting is saying. This is also the view of Sha’ar Ephraim (Responsa 13).

What emerges is something of an astonishing arrangement with an ignorant person (who doesn’t know what he’s reading) discharging the obligation of someone knowledgeable (of the words being said)!

(To be continued)

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is chairman of the Presidium of the Rabbinical Alliance of America; rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn; and Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com and Rabbi@igud.us.