Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
The Laws of Prayer
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Shiur #16: Keriyat Shema- Problematic
Situations and Places (3)
Rav David Brofsky
The previous two shiurim
focused on the high standards of hygiene required during the recitation of devarim
she-bikedusha. The Sages derive this
standard from the verse:
LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you, and to give up
your enemies before you; therefore YOUR CAMP SHALL BE HOLY; that He should see
NO NAKEDNESS in you, and turn away from you… (Devarim 23:13—15)"
Gemara (Berakhot 25b) ALSO derives from this verse that one may not recite
Keriyat Shema while seeing nakedness (erva).
This week, we will continue our
discussion of "your camp shall be holy," and study standards of
modesty as they relate to prayer and devarim she-bikedusha. While the topic of modesty, and standards of tzniut,
deserve a much broader and more comprehensive treatment, we will attempt to
deal with those laws which apply directly to Keriyat Shema.
in the Presence of One's "Erva":
The Peri Megadim, cited by the Biur
Halakha (74), enumerates five cases in which one is prohibited from reciting Keriyat
Shema, or other devarim she-bikedusha, due to erva. He writes that the halakha prohibits
reciting devarim she-bikedusha when can see one's own nakedness, or when
"one's heart can see one's nakedness" (i.e. one doesn't have a
separation, such as clothing or a belt, between one's upper and lower body), as
well as when one is unclad, even if he is unable to see his nakedness. Furthermore, he writes, it is also prohibited
to recite Shema if one can see, or if one's "heart" can see,
The Biur Halakha claims, however,
that there may be halakhic differences between these categories. On the one hand, while one is permitted to
recite Shema in front of erva as long as one turns one's head, or
possibly even if one closes one's eyes, this solution might not help in the
presence of one's own erva.
Alternatively, he writes, while if one covers one's own erva with
water (i.e. in a mikveh) one may recite a berakha, this would not
work in the visual presence of another's erva.
Regarding reciting Shema
while unclad, the Sifre (Devarim 258) teaches: "'For the
LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp… YOUR CAMP SHALL BE HOLY that He
should see NO NAKEDNESS in you, and turn away from you…' – From here we learn
that nakedness causes God's presence to leave…."
Furthermore, the Gemara (Bava
Metzia 114b) records that "One should not separate terumot
while unclad, as it says, 'and He should see no nakedness in you…'"
Regarding men, the Gemara (Berakhot
24b) also mentions that one should not recite Keriyat Shema while one's
"heart sees one's nakedness."
In other words, one should make a demarcation between one's upper and
Regarding women, the Acharonim
debate whether they must ALSO make a separation between their upper and lower
body while reciting Keriyat Shema.
While the Shulchan Arukh (74) writes that this is unnecessary, the Bach
disagrees. The Mishna Berura
(74:16) cites the Shach and Taz (YD 200) who rule that a woman may recite the berakha
upon immersing in a mikveh, even while immersed in clear water, as she
is not required to separate her upper and lower body. The Taz, however, suggests that she cross her
arms over her chest, thereby separating her upper body from her lower body.
Regarding reciting Shema in
the presence of an undressed member of the opposite sex, the Gemara, as well as
the Rishonim and Acharonim, debate the definition of these areas
as well as the scope of the prohibition.
Incidentally, these halakhot should no be confused with the
general warning against gazing at members of the opposite sex (histaklut),
especially if this will lead to improper thoughts. These laws are discussed in the Shulchan
Arukh EH 21.
The Gemara (Berakhot 24a)
teaches that a man should not recite Keriyat Shema in the presence of
"erva." Aside from the
obvious definition of "erva," i.e. private parts, the Gemara
lists other types of erva. As we
shall see, the Gemara prohibits reciting Shema in the presence of a
women's "shok," "se'ar," and while listening
her singing voice ("kol be-isha"). Furthermore, a man may also not recite Shema
in the presence of a "tefach" of an area of a women's body
which is ordinarily covered.
Regarding the "shok,"
the Gemara (Berakhot 24a) teaches, "Rav Chisda said: The shok
of a woman is nakedness as it says, 'Expose a thigh to cross a river' (Yishayahu
47:2) and it says (Ibid. 3) 'Your
nakedness will be exposed…'"
The Acharonim discuss the
precise definition of "shok."
The Peri Megadim (75:1) and Mishna Berura (75:2) argue that "shok"
refers to a woman's thigh, ABOVE the knee, and that in a place in which woman
are accustomed NOT to cover the area below their knees, a man may recite Keriyat
Shema in her presence. The Chazon
Ish (OC 16:8) questions whether "shok" may even refer to
the shin and ankle, and does not arrive at a definitive answer.
The Gemara (Berakhot 24a), as
cited above, enumerates those areas of a women's body that are considered
"erva." After teaching
that regarding Keriyat Shema even a "tefach be-isha" is
considered erva, the Gemara adds:
said: The voice of a woman is nakedness as it says, 'For your voice is sweet
and your countenance comely' (Shir Ha-shirim 2:14)."
is a women's singing voice considered erva? On the one hand, the context
seems to refer to the recitation of Keriyat Shema, while on the other
hand, the juxtaposition with a women's hair and thigh imply that the a women's
voice should be considered "erva" in other contexts as well!
Furthermore, the Gemara elsewhere (Kiddusin 70a) applies "kol
be-isha erva" completely outside of the realm of prayer!
Interestingly, the Rif never cites
this statement in any context. Other Rishonim
do, yet they disagree as to when the statement "kol be-isha erva"
Some explain that a women's voice is
considered to be "erva" ONLY in the context of Keriyat
Shema. Rav Hai Gaon (Otzar
HaGeonim Berakhot, Peirushim 102), for example, explains, "One may
also not recite [Keriyat Shema] while a woman is singing because a
woman's voice is nakedness... However,
if one can focus on one's prayers while she is singing in a manner that one
does not hear her and does not pay attention to her, it is permissible [to
recite Keriyat Shema]." Rabbeinu Chananel, as well as the Ritva (Berakhot
24a) concurs with this view.
The Yereim (392) also rules that a
male should not learn Torah or recite devarim she-bikedusha while
listening to the singing voice of a woman, yet bemoans, "Because of our
great sins we are living among the non-Jews and 'at times one must violate the
Torah in order to act (eit la'asot la-Shem hefeiru Toratecha)' and
therefore we are not careful about learning while hearing a non-Jewess
Other Rishonim, such as the
Rosh (Berakhot 3:37) explain that while it is generally prohibited for a
man to hear a woman's singing voice, it does not prevent the fulfillment of the
mitzva of Keriyat Shema. The
Tur, and the Rambam, apparently also agree, as they cite Shmuel's statement
ONLY in the broader context of avoiding immodest dress (see Tur Even Ha-Ezer
21 and Rambam Hilkhot Issurei Biah 21:2), and not in the laws of Keriyat
The Shulchan Arukh (EH 21:1)
rules in accordance with the Rosh and Rambam, and prohibits men from listening
to a women's singing voice. Regarding Keriyat
Shema (75:2-3) he writes, "One should be careful regarding
listening to the voice of a women singing while reciting Keriyat Shema." The Rema adds, "Even the voice of one's
wife, however her regular voice (i.e. her speaking voice) is not considered erva."
The Acharonim and poskim
discuss the scope of "kol isha" and its contemporary
applications (microphones, radio, zemirot etc.), which are beyond the
topic of this shiur.
The Gemara (Berakhot) also
records, in the name of Rav Sheshet, that "the hair of a woman is
nakedness…" The Shulchan Arukh (75:2) rules accordingly, noting
that an unmarried women's hair is NOT considered erva. Furthermore, the Rema adds that hair
which usually hangs out of ones hair-covering (chutz litzmatan), as well
as a wig, do not constitute erva.
While the topic of "kisu'i
rosh le-nashim" is worthy of discussion, in our context we will only
address that which is relevant to Keriyat Shema.
The Acharonim debate whether
one may recite Keriyat Shema in that presence of a women's uncovered
hair in a place in which woman are accustomed NOT to cover their hair.
The Mishna Berura (75:10), as well
as the Chazon Ish (16:6), insists that despite the custom of women NOT
to cover their hair, a man may NOT recite the Keriyat Shema in the
presence of a married women's hair.
The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (75:7),
however, in a well-known piece, writes:
protest the immodesty of our generation.
In our sins, for many years Jewish women have violate this halakha
and do not cover their hair, and all that they have protested have not help nor
been effective… however, in any case, the halakha seems to be that it is
permitted to pray, and recite berakhot in the presence of their
uncovered hair, as most of them walk as such (i.e. without hair-covering), and
it should count as those parts of the body which are normally uncovered…"
Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe OC 1:42), as well as the Ben Ish Chai
(Parashat Bo 12) and Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yabia Omer OC 6:13), rule in
accordance with the Arukh Ha-Shulchan.
The above cited Gemara (Berakhot
24a) also teaches, "Rav Yitzchak said: A tefach of a woman is
nakedness (erva). For what? … Keriyat
The Shulchan Arukh (75:1) cites this
Gemara, ruling that a man may not recite Shema in the presence of an
uncovered tefach from an area which is usually covered, even of one's
wife. The Rema notes that clearly refers
only to a man in the presence of a women, while a women MAY recite Keriyat
Shema in the presence of areas of a man's body which are ordinarily
covered. Furthermore, he adds that he
may not recite Shema in the presence of even LESS than a tefach
if the woman is not his wife. Many Achronim
(Shulchan Arukh HaRav, Arukh Ha-Shulchan, and Chayyei Adam 4:2) disagree.
Incidentally, the Acharonim
discuss whether the standards of modesty put forth by Chazal are
objective, or whether that may be affected by communal norms.
The Divrei Chamudot (Berakhot
3:37 on the Rosh) writes that the Chazal's standards were a function of
the communal norms of their time, and "It would seem that every place
according to its custom, as the reason why areas which are not usually covered
are not considered to be erva is because they do not arouse sexual
thoughts (hirhur), as he is accustomed to them…"
Rabbi Ovadiah Hadayah (1890 – 1969),
in his responsa Yaskil Avdi (4:9), permits reciting berakhot in
the presence of women's uncovered arms, be-sha'at ha-dochak,
arguing that nowadays arms should be no different than hands, which are not
normally covered! We should note that his ruling refers to the permissibility
of reciting Shema, and not to how one should or may dress.
Others (see Tiferet Shemuel [Rosh
Berakhot 3:37], Chayye Adam 4:1, Iggrot Moshe [OC 1:42-3] as well as
Rav Ovadya Yosef [Yabia Omer OC 6:14:3]) disagree, and distinguish
between object erva, and erva which is defined by communal
One's Eyes or Turning Away:
The authorities question under which
circumstances one may recite a berakha in the presence of erva. Rav Yosef Karo rules (75:6) that not only may
one turn one's head, but even closing one's eyes may suffice. Furthermore, one may recite a berakha
in the presence of erva if the room is dark, or if he is blind! He
explains that since the verse relates to "seeing" ("…He should
SEE no nakedness"), the prohibition is dependent upon whether one actually
SEES erva. He rules accordingly
in the Shulchan Arukh.
Most Acharonim (Bach, Magen
Avraham 75:9, Taz 75:2, Chayyei Adam 4:3, Mishna Berura 75:29 and the
Arukh Ha-Shulchan 75:11) disagree, noting that the Torah does not say "He
should not SEE" (yir'e) but rather, "Nakedness should not be
seen" (yeira'eh)." The halakha
seems to be in accordance with these views.
Incidentally, the Mishna Berura (27)
also writes that turning away one's head doesn't work when one is unclad.
The Nishmat Adam (4:1) questions
whether this stringency applies only to erva, literally, or to all parts
of the body which are ordinarily covered.
The Chazon Ish (16:7) rules that
regarding "tefach ba-isha erva," which is only prohibited
because it distracts one from praying properly, closing one's eyes, or even
gazing aside, would suffice. Rav Ovadya
Yosef (OC 3:7:10) also permits one to recite berakhot, and to learn
Torah, in the presence of immodestly dressed women (including exposed arms and
necks) if one closes his eyes, or looks aside.
One may find a fuller treatment of
this topic in Rav Elyakim Ellinson's "Hatznei'a Lechet"
Next week, we will continue our
study of the laws of Keriyat Shema.