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Birkot Keriat Shema: Interruptions (1)

  • Rav David Brofsky



            The first Mishna in the second chapter of Massekhet Berakhot (13a) teaches:


"In between paragraphs, one may inquire and reply out of RESPECT. In the middle of paragraphs, one may inquire and respond out of FEAR, these are the words of Rabbi Meier. Rabbi Yehuda says, in the middle of paragraphs one may inquire out of FEAR and respond out of RESPECT, and in between paragraphs, one may inquire out of RESPECT and respond to anyone…"


The Mishna continues,


"These are considered in between paragraphs: between the first and second berakha, and between the second and shema, between shema and ve-haya, and between ve-haya and va-yomer, and between va-yomer and emet ve-yatziv. Rabbi Yehuda says one should not interrupt between va-yomer and emet ve-yatziv…"


Based on the Gemara (14a), the Rishonim (see Tosafot 13b s.v. sho'el, for example) rule in accordance with Rabbi Yehuda. Therefore, IN BETWEEN paragraphs, one may inquire out of RESPECT (kavod) and respond to anyone, while in the MIDDLE of paragraphs, one may only inquire out of FEAR (yira') and respond out of RESPECT. Furthermore, one should not interrupt in between shema and "emet."


(The Biur Halacha (66 s.v. le-kaddish) notes that while saying the actual berakha, i.e. if one began the "barukh ata Hashem," one should not interrupt at all.)


Definition of FEAR and RESPECT:


            The Rishonim question, how does the Gemara define, "Out of fear"? What about, "Out of respect"? And, are there other valid reasons to interrupt during Keriyat Shema and its berakhot?


            Regarding "out of fear," the Rishonim differ as to whether fear refers to physical danger, or to a sense of awe.


            Rashi (Berakhot 13a) and the Rambam (Hilkhot Keriyat Shema 2:15) both explain that if one fears for one’s life one may interrupt DURING the paragraphs. The Rosh (Berakhot 2:5) disagrees, as almost anything would be permitted for "piku'ach nefesh"! Rather, he explains that "fear" refers to the awe one has for one’s parents, or teacher.


            Regarding "out of respect," the Rishonimim once again disagree. The Rambam explains that "out of respect" refers to one’s parents ("kabed et avikha"), while Rashi explains that it merely refers to a respected person worthy of inquiring as to their well being.


            The Shulchan Arukh rules that one may "inquire out of respect," in between paragraphs, of an "adam nikhbad," apparently in accordance with Rashi. The Mishna Berura (66:3) explains that this refers to the elderly, wise, or a wealthy person deserving of respect.


            Furthermore, the Shulchan Arukh rules in accordance with the Rosh, permitting one to interrupt in the middle of a paragraph "out of fear" for a parent or teacher, and adds that one may also interrupt for a person of great wisdom, a king or a thief. One may also respond to any "adam nikhbad" in the middle of a paragraph. The Biur Halacha (s.v. u-meishiv) discusses whether the response should be limited to one word, or may be a proper greeting.


            The Magen Avraham (66:1) notes that the Mishna only permitted these interruptions lest the other person become angry and think poorly of the person praying. The custom nowadays, he writes, is to completely refrain from all interruptions. The Mishna Berura (66:2) and Arukh Ha-Shulchan (66:4) concur with his ruling.


            However, if one is truly in a situation in which the other person may be seriously insulted, such as a ba'al teshuva who refuses to greet his or her parents while praying, seemingly one may act in accordance with the Mishna.


            Furthermore, the Biur Halacha notes (s.v. o anas) that even for "financial loss" one would be permitted to interrupt in between paragraphs.


            As for interrupting in the middle of a verse, the Rosh (Berakhot 2:5) learns from the Yerushalmi (Berakhot 2:1) that one may even interrupt a verse in order to respond out of fear, or inquire out of respect. The Tur (66) also cites this ruling. The Beit Yosef comments that while this may be true, one should NOT interrupt during the verse of "shema Yisrael" or "barukh shem kevod," as nothing is be more important than kabbalat ol malkhut shamayim.


            Rav Yosef Karo, author of the Beit Yosef, records this ruling in his Shulchan Arukh (66:1). The Magen Avraham (66:3) notes that if must interrupt during a verse, then one should at least try to conclude an "inyan" (an idea) within that verse, and if not, should return afterwards to the beginning of that verse.


Other Permitted Interruptions- Kaddish, Kedush, Barkhu and other Berakhot:


            Are there other cases in which one is permitted to interrupt during Birkot Keriyat Shema/Shema? Can we expand the definition of "out of respect" to included other interruptions?


            The Rosh (Berakhot 2:5) cites a debate whether one may ALSO interrupt, even in the middle of a paragraph, in order to answer Kaddish, Kedusha and Barkhu. The Maharam of Rotenberg argues that since one is already engaged in praising God one should not interrupt in order to engage in a different praise!


            Others (Rosh, Tosafot 13b, Mordekhai Berakhot siman 40 in the name of the Avi Ha-Ezri, and the Rashba Responsa 5:9) argue that interrupting in order to answer these devarim she-bikdusha can be no worse than responding to someone out of respect! Rabbeinu Yona (Berakhot 7b in Rif) adds that one may even interrupt in order to say the word "modim" during the Chazarat ha-Shatz. The Semak (cited by the Beit Yosef) even writes that one may answer "amen" to the berakhot of Ha-kel Ha-kadosh and Shema Koleinu (as they conclude the distinct units of the Shemoneh Esrei).


            The Shulchan Arukh (66:3) rules that one may respond to Kaddish, Kedusha, Barkhu and the beginning of Modim ("Modim anachnu lakh") EVEN in the middle of a verse. The Rema adds that one may even answer "amen" to Ha-kel Ha-kadosh during the berakhot. However, one should NOT answer "amen" to the rest of Kaddish, or other berakhot, during Birkot Keriyat Shema. Furthermore, when responding to Kedusha, one should only say "kadosh etc." or "barukh etc.", and not "yimlokh," or the other verses, as they are merely additions to the original Kedusha.


            Regarding Birkat Kohanim, Rav Moshe Feinstein (OC 4 21:2) writes that answering "amen" to Birkat Kohanim is a "tzorekh tefilla – necessary part of prayer" and is permitted, even in the middle of the berakhot. He concludes, however, that one should not answer the kohens' berakha of "asher kideshanu… le-varech et amo…," as it is no different than an ordinary birkat ha-mitzva.


            In between paragraphs, however, the Mishna Berura (66:23) concludes that one may answer "amen" after any berakha; also one should still only say the first words of Modim.


            The Mishna Berura (66:23) rules that if one went to the bathroom during the berakhot of Keriyat Shema, he should NOT recite Asher Yatzar, but rather wait until the end of the tefilla. He also discusses (66:19) whether one who hears thunder may recite the berakha of "she-kokho…," as it is a "mitzva overet," a berakha that may not be recited later. He concludes in accordance with the Chayyei Adam that IN BETWEEN paragraphs one MAY say the berakha.


            The Kaf Ha-Chayyim (66:7) writes that one who sees someone violating an issur may "hint" to him, in order to separate him from sin. If that is insufficient, one may even speak in order to separate this person from aveira. He argues, if one may interrupt for the sake of "basar ve-dam – flesh and blood" in the middle of Shema, certainly for the sake of heaven it should be permitted!


            The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (66:4) records that despite the current practice of not interrupting during the Birkot Keriyat Shema to inquire, or respond, when a rabbi is asked a question regarding issur ve-heter (the permissibility of something), he may respond between paragraphs. 


Next week we will continue our study of interruptions during Keriyat Shema and its berakhot.