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One Who Was Reading Shema

-Tosafot distorted the Mishna.
-The Shulchan Aruch ignored the Gemara when ruling on an issue.

Proofreading: Did Tosafot distort the Mishna?

The Mishna in Berachot 13a says: "One who was reading Torah and the time for reciting Shema arrived, if he directed his heart [intended it], he fulfilled his obligation."

The Gemara addresses this Mishna from the background of a well-known disagreement over whether one needs to intend to fulfill commandments (mitzvot tzrichot kavana). For example, when one eats matza and does not specifically intend to fulfill the commandment, has one fulfilled one's obligation? According to Rava, yes. Intention is not necessary. Keep in mind that Rava had studied for years under Rav Nachman and eventually became the Rosh Yeshiva in Pumbedita. He had dedicated his life to primarily learning and teaching the Mishna. If there is a Mishna that proved him wrong, he would have known about it and changed his view.

Therefore, the Gemara in Berachot 13a asks how those who hold that commandments do not require intention understand the Mishna that says, "One who was reading Torah and the time for reciting Shema arrived, if he directed his heart, he fulfilled his obligation." According to Rava, even if he did not have intention he should fulfill his obligation. Certainly, Rava was aware of this Mishna. How, since he did not change his mind, did he understand it?

Let us look at the Mishna. It says, "One who was reading Torah." Reading in what way? Was he reading to fulfill the mitzva of Shema? Was he reading for the sake of learning Torah? The Gemara answers that according to Rava he was proofreading.

How does this explain the Mishna according to Rava? Tosafot (sv bekoreh lehagia) explain that one who proofreads pronounces words as they are written and not as they are supposed to be pronounced. This helps the proofreader find spelling mistakes. For example, "letotafot" is instead read "letotefet." If one were to read in this way, intentionally mispronouncing words, one would not fulfill the obligation of reciting Shema.

This explanation is very difficult and seems forced. However, the rishonim were too intellectually honest to allow this forced reading to stand. Other rishonim recognized that sometimes even Tosafot can give an explanation that is difficult. For example, Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah on the Rif (Berachot 7a sv hayah koreh) say, "This is all forced." Similarly, the Rashba in his commentary (13a) writes about Tosafot's explanation, "This is not clear." Because of this, they offer other explanations.

Rashi and Rav Hai Gaon explain that one who proofreads intends to look at it with his eyes. Even if he says the words out loud as he reads, this is really just an accident and not intentional. According to everyone, even Rava, in order to fulfill one's obligation one has to intend to read it. The whole dispute is only whether one has to also intend to fulfill the commandment. However, everyone agrees that one who accidentally or unintentionally reads Shema has not fulfilled the commandment. The Rashba agrees with this explanation. See Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah for a different explanation.

Tosafot did not set out to distort the Gemara or the Mishna. Rather, knowing that the Gemara had a very sensible explanation, Tosafot set out with the proper humility to determine what the Gemara meant. Instead of rejecting a Gemara that seemed difficult, Tosafot offered the best explanation they had. Even if they were not correct, they humbly knew that a reasonable explanation would eventually be found. In that, they were correct.

Intent for Mitzvot: Did the Shulchan Aruch Ignore the Gemara?

The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah 28b continues asking similar questions on Rava's view. How did Rava, who held that commandments do not require intent, explain the Mishna that says: "One who passed behind a synagogue... and heard the sound of a shofar or a megillah, if he directed his heart he fulfilled his obligation"? According to Rava, why should he need intent? The Gemara answers, and Rabbeinu Chananel explains this clearly, that people walking down the street hear so many noises that they frequently do not pay attention to them. Did you hear a siren wailing or a baby crying? Sometimes you stop to listen and sometimes you are too preoccupied to notice the difference. The absent-minded professor or the talmid chacham thinking about learning will not always be able to identify the sounds that float around in the background.

In order to fulfill one's obligation, one has to pay enough attention to know what the sound is - to know that it is a shofar blowing and not a donkey braying. Similarly, one has to pay attention to know that it is megillah being read and not the Torah or even just a song being sung. If one did not pay attention, but looked up, saw a synagogue, and realized that the sound just heard was a shofar, then one did not have enough intent to fulfill the commandment. At the time of the sound, one must pay attention.

Earlier, on 28a, the Gemara says:

If they forced him to eat matza he has fulfilled his obligation... Rava said: This means that one who blows [shofar] for music has fulfilled his obligation. [The Gemara says that] this is obvious, they are the same. One would have thought that the Torah says one must eat matza and he did eat it [and therefore fulfilled his obligation]. But here the Torah says (Leviticus 23:24) "a remembrance with shofar blasts" (zichron teruah) and he was only slightly occupied. [Rava] taught us [not to say this].

Rava equates the case of someone forced to eat matza with the case of someone who blows shofar for music. The Gemara asks what Rava is adding because the equivalence is obvious. It answers that, in fact, the equivalence is not obvious. There is a very plausible reason why the two cases are different. The Ran in his commentary on the Rif (Rosh Hashanah 7b sv garsi') explains that with matza the commandment is to eat it. Regardless of one's original intentions, when food is being swallowed one has some enjoyment and intends to eat it. Even if for only a brief moment, one intends to swallow the matza. Shofar and other commandments that do not have this uniqueness are different (it is clear from the Ran's words that he did not have in his text the part about "a remembrance with shofar blasts".) But, according to Rava we do not make this distinction and we say that these cases are equivalent.

Rav Yosef Karo in his Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 475:4) rules that someone who is forced to eat matza has fulfilled his obligation. Later in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 589:8) he rules that someone who blows shofar for music has not fulfilled his obligation. But how can that be? The Gemara we quoted above says that these two cases are equivalent. How can Rav Yosef Karo contradict the clear statement of the Gemara? Should we assume that this holy giant, the man whom Sepharadim call "Maran" and whose writings are considered the most important halachic works in the past 500 years, ignored the Gemara? Should we think that we can understand the Gemara better than he?

Certainly not. In fact, the solution to our problem is quite simple. In addition to writing the Shulchan Aruch, Rav Karo also wrote the Beit Yosef which contains, among other things, detailed explanations of his rulings. In his Beit Yosef (Orach Chaim 475 sv achalan), he explains the Gemara like the Ran. Only according to Rava are the two cases equivalent. However, the Rif (Rosh Hashanah 7b), Rosh (Ibid. chapter 3 part 11), and Rambam (Hilchot Shofar 2:4) rule like Rabbi Zeira who, in Rosh Hashanah 28b and 33a, disagrees with Rava. According to Rabbi Zeira, the two cases are different. What the Gemara suggests that those who disagree with Rava claim, Rav Karo says that Rabbi Zeira holds. By matza, one only has to eat it. However, by shofar and other commandments, one need to have intention to fulfill the obligation.

The Shulchan Aruch did not contradict the Gemara. Rather, Rav Yosef Karo agreed with it and followed its logic to its natural conclusion. Questions like these are easily answered when one is willing to think and to look in the right books.

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Contributor(s): Gil Student
Last revised: 10/17/01
© Aishdas 2001