1

Women, slaves and children are exempt from Kri'at Shema. We should teach children to recite it at the proper time with the blessings before and after it, in order to educate them regarding the commandments.

One who is preoccupied and in an anxious state regarding a religious duty is exempt from all commandments, including Kri'at Shema. Therefore, a bridegroom whose bride is a virgin is exempt from Kri'at Shema until he has consummated the marriage, because he is distracted lest he not find her a virgin.

However, if he delays until Saturday night after the wedding and does not have relations with her, he is obligated to recite the Shema from that time onward, since his mind has settled and he is familiar with her even though they have not consummated the marriage.

א

נשים ועבדים וקטנים פטורים מקריאת שמע ומלמדין את הקטנים לקרותה בעונתה ומברכין לפניה ולאחריה כדי לחנכן במצות מי שהיה לבו טרוד ונחפז לדבר מצוה פטור מכל המצות ומקריאת שמע לפיכך חתן שנשא בתולה פטור מקריאת שמע עד שיבא עליה לפי שאין דעתו פנויה שמא לא ימצא לה בתולים ואם שהה עד מוצאי שבת ולא בעל חייב לקרות ממוצאי שבת ואילך שהרי נתקררה דעתו ולבו גס בה אף על פי שלא בעל:

Women - Berachot 20b relates:

A woman's exemption from Kri'at Shema is obvious. It is a time-oriented commandment [i.e., the Shema must be recited at specific times and is thus classified as "time-oriented" (see Chapter 1, Halachot 9 to 13)], and women are exempt from all such commandments.
What might I have thought? That since [Kri'at Shema] contains the acceptance of the sovereignty of Heaven [even women would be called upon to recite it.
It [i.e., the Mishnah] teaches that this is not so and that women are indeed exempt from Kri'at Shema.

In terms of actual halachic ruling, the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 70:1 rules that although women have no obligation, even rabbinic, to recite the Shema, it is proper that they do so in order to accept upon themselves the yoke of the sovereignty of Heaven.

Women are also exempt from the blessings before Kri'at Shema, but are obligated to recite the blessings after it, because there is a mention of the Exodus from Egypt, which women are also obligated to remember and mention (Magen Avraham 70:1).

The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 70:1) also mentions that women may recite all the blessings of Kri'at Shema and adds that the women of his area (Russia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century) were accustomed to do so, and that they should be blessed for their meritorious actions.

The responsa, Yabia Omer (2:6), states that women of Sephardic origin are not accustomed to recite the blessings. However, Kaf HaChayim rules that they may.

slaves - This refers to Canaanite slaves who have been sold to a Jewish owner and are obligated by all the commandments that women are obligated to perform. A halachic comparison between the two is found in Chaggigah 4a and Kiddushin 23a.

The Jerusalem Talmud quotes a separate source for the exemption of slaves: "Hear O Israel, God our Lord, God is One" (Deuteronomy 6:4). He who has no master other than the Almighty [is obligated to recite the Shema], thus exempting the slave, who has another master.

Chaggigah 4a also derives the halachah in a similar fashion, albeit from a different verse.

and children - I.e., boys under the age of 13 years and one day. They are minors and exempt from all the Torah's commandments.

We should teach children to recite it at the proper time - The latter point represents a difference in opinion between Rashi and the Rambam. The Mishnah, Berachot 20a, states that children are free from the obligation to recite the Shema. Rashi states that they are entirely free of obligation even according to Rabbinic law because their parents may not be available at the specific times at which the Shema must be recited.

The Rambam and Rabbenu Tam differ and maintain that the mishnah is only referring to the obligations according to Torah law, but according to Rabbinic decree they are obligated. The Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 70:2 rules in accordance with the Rambam and Rabbenu Tam.

with the blessings before and after it, in order to educate them regarding commandments - - According to Rashi (Berachot 48a) and the Ramban (Milchamot Hashem, Berachot 20b), there is no obligation incumbent on the child himself. Rather, the child's father is obligated to educate him. If he has no father, the obligation falls on his mother and on the local Rabbinic court (Terumat Hadeshen 99).

Tosafot (Berachot 48a) differs and explains that the Sages placed the obligation on the minor himself. Support for this premise can be derived from the Rambam's decision in Hilchot Berachot 5:15-16, which states that an adult who ate a small meal can fulfill his obligation to recite grace by listening to a child reciting those blessings (for both are obligated by virtue of Rabbinic decree). Though others object on the grounds that the child himself is not obligated in the mitzvah, the Rambam states that such a practice is acceptable.

One who is preoccupied and in an anxious state regarding a religious duty - Berachot 16b differentiates between a bridegroom, who is exempt because of his involvement in a mitzvah, and one whose ship is sinking in the sea. Though the latter individual is also anxious, he is obligated to recite the Shema, because his preoccupation is not with regard to a commandment.

is exempt from all commandments - This is based on the principle - העוסק במצוה פטור מן המצוה - One who is involved in one commandment is exempt from another (Sukkah 25a, Sotah 44b).

including Kri'at Shema. - I.e., even though it contains an acceptance of the yoke of the sovereignty of Heaven, he is still exempt.

The phrase, Deuteronomy 6:7, ובשבתך בביתך (and while you are sitting in your house) implies that the obligation is only incumbent on someone who is involved in his own personal affairs - "your house." Thus, it excludes one who is involved in the performance of a mitzvah (Berachot 11a and 16a).

Therefore, a bridegroom whose bride is a virgin is exempt from Kri'at Shema until he has consummated the marriage - The Mishnah, Berachot 16a, explains the derivation of the bridegroom's exemption. The phrase ובלכתך בדרך - "and as you go in your way" implies that the obligation to recite the Shema only applies to someone going on "your way," i.e., involved in his own personal affairs and not preoccupied with the fulfillment of a mitzvah as is a bridegroom. [In his commentary on that Mishnah, the Rambam mentions that the bridegroom is involved in the mitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying.]

Rashi explains that this concept could not be derived from the phrase בשבתך בביתך - "and while you are sitting in your house" because if there were only one verse, one would have thought that only one who is actually involved in the performance of a commandment is exempted. Thus, an additional phrase is necessary to exempt a bridegroom, who though not immediately involved in the performance of the mitzvah is in an anxious state, because of the possible problems inherent in the overall situation.

because he is distracted lest he not find her a virgin. - as explained above. Rabbenu Manoach writes in the name of the Ra'avad that the bridegroom is exempt from Kri'at Shema only if he is able to have relations with his wife. However, if she is menstruating or sick, he is obligated to recite the Shema.

Rabbenu Manoach also discusses the different views regarding the bridegroom's obligation to recite the Shema during the day if he does not engage in relations the first night. He concludes that he should be obligated since "the Jews are a holy people and the bridegroom will be able to divert his thoughts from his wife and concentrate on reciting the Shema."

And if he delays until Saturday night after the wedding - This is dependent on the Talmudic custom (Ketubot 2a), which relates that virgins would marry on Wednesday night.

and does not have relations with her, he is obligated to recite the Shema from that time onward, since - he has waited this long, we can assume that...

his mind has settled and he is familiar with her even though they have not consummated the marriage. - I.e., he is no longer nervous and distracted and can be expected to recite the Shema with the proper intention. In his commentary on the Mishnah, the Rambam mentions that by this time, his all-consuming desire to consummate the marriage has passed.

In this instance, the actual halachah does not reflect the Rambam's position. The Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 70:3, mentions that bridegrooms were originally exempt from Kri'at Shema the first three days (i.e., days and nights) after the wedding. However, today, because of the general lack of intention that everyone has regarding Kri'at Shema, even the bridegroom is obligated to recite the Shema.

The Mishnah Berurah (70:14) adds that a bridegroom who does not recite the Shema appears haughty, because his actions appear to imply that he usually has a high level of intentions. The bridegroom is also obligated to recite the blessings before and after Kri'at Shema and to pray as usual (Magen Avraham; Mishnah Berurah). These positions are based on Tosafot in Berachot 17b.

2

However, one who marries a woman who is not a virgin is obligated to recite the Shema, because even though he, too, is involved in the performance of a mitzvah, it is not so distracting. The same principle applies to similar cases.

ב

אבל הנושא את הבעולה אע"פ שעוסק במצוה חייב לקרות הואיל ואין לו דבר שמבלבל דעתו וכן כל כיוצא בזה:

However, one who marries a woman who is not a virgin is obligated to recite the Shema, - on his wedding night

because even though he, too, is involved in the performance of a mitzvah, - the mitzvah of procreation

it is not so distracting. - for there is no question of the woman's virginity.

The same principle applies to similar cases.

3

One who is bereaved of a relative for whom he is obligated to mourn is exempt from Kri'at Shema until he has buried him, because his attention is distracted from reciting [the Shema].

A person who is watching a body is also exempt, even if it is not the body of a relative. When there are two watchers, one should continue watching while the other withdraws and recites the Shema. [When the latter] returns, the other should depart and recite [the Shema].

A gravedigger is also exempt from Kri'at Shema.

ג

מי שמת לו מת שהוא חייב להתאבל עליו פטור מקריאת שמע עד שיקברנו מפני שאין דעתו פנויה לקרות ואם היה משמר את המת אף על פי שאינו מתו פטור מקריאת שמע ואם היו השומרים שנים האחד משמר והשני נשמט למקום אחר וקורא וחוזר ומשמר ונשמט האחר וקורא וכן החופר קבר למת פטור מקריאת שמע:

One who is bereaved of a relative for whom he is obligated to mourn - Leviticus 21:2-3 mentions the six relatives for whom a person is obligated to mourn: a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister. The Rabbis also added the obligation to mourn for one's wife or husband. See Hilchot Eivel 2:1.

is exempt from Kri'at Shema - and all the other mitzvot of the Torah (Hilchot Eivel 4:6).

until he has buried him - The Mishnah, Berachot 17b, states that one who has his dead one "lying in front of him" is exempt from Kri'at Shema. The Talmud (ibid. 18a) explains that any relative waiting to be buried is considered to be "lying in front of him." This is derived from Abraham's characterization of Sarah as being in front of him (Genesis 23:4), even though her body was not physically present.

because his attention is distracted from reciting [the Shema]. - I.e., even if he is not necessarily involved in dealing with the arrangements for the burial or the burial itself, he is exempt, because his mind is distracted (Kessef Mishneh).

The Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 3:1) derives this halachah from Deuteronomy 16:3: "to remember the day you left Egypt all the days of your life." This implies "days that you are involved with the living and not days in which you are involved with the dead." Since the obligation to remember the Exodus (an integral part of Kri'at Shema - see Chapter 1, Halachot 2 and 3) does not apply on those days when one is involved in dealing with the burial of one's loved ones, one is also exempted from reciting the Shema.

Sukkah 25a explains that the exemption of a mourner cannot be derived from that of a bridegroom mentioned in Halachah 1. A bridegroom's lack of concentration stems from his involvement with a mitzvah. In contrast, the mourner's inability to concentrate is a personal matter. Rashi elaborates: Though mourning is a mitzvah, the pain associated with mourning is not.

The Jerusalem Talmud notes that a mourner should not voluntarily recite the Shema. It is a sign of disrespect to the departed for their relatives to recite the Shema before they have been buried.

A person who is watching the body - I.e., guarding the body from an animal or other damage. (See Berachot 18a.)

is also exempt, even if it is not the body of a relative - Since a person involved in one commandment is exempt from another. (See the commentary on Halachah 1.)

When there are two watchers, one should continue watching while the other withdraws and recites the Shema. [When the latter] returns, the other should depart and recite [the Shema]. - As opposed to the actual mourners, the guards are obligated to recite the Shema if they are able to. Their exemption is not based on their distracted condition, but on their involvement in the commandment. Therefore, if another is able to guard the body for a few moments, the guard must recite the Shema. However, if there is no one to relieve the guard, he is not allowed to recite the Shema (Mishnah Berurah on the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 71:3).

The watchers must remove themselves in order not to recite the Shema within 6 feet of the dead person. (See Chapter 3, Halachah 2 and commentary.)

A gravedigger is also exempt from Kri'at Shema. - See Berachot 14b. His exemption is also based on the principle that one involved in a commandment is exempt from another. The Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chayim 71:5) points out that even while he is resting for a few moments, the gravedigger is still exempt, because his resting is also part of the mitzvah, since by resting he gains strength to continue his task.

4

A body should not be taken out for burial close to the time for reciting the Shema, unless the deceased was a great man.

If they do begin to remove the deceased and the time for reciting the Shema arrives while they are accompanying the body, anyone required to [carry] the coffin - e.g., the bearers of the coffins and their replacements and those who, in turn, relieve the replacements - whether they are before the coffin or after it, are exempt [from Kri'at Shema].

The rest of those accompanying the body who are not required to [carry] the coffin are obligated [to recite the Shema].

ד

אין מוציאין את המת לקוברו סמוך לזמן קריאת שמע אלא אם כן היה אדם גדול ואם התחילו והוציאו והגיע זמן הקריאה והן מלוין את המת כל שיש למטה צורך בהן כגון נושאי המטה וחילופיהן בין שהיו לפני המטה בין שהיו לאחר המטה פטורין ושאר המלוין שאין למטה צורך בהן חייבין:

A body should not be taken out for burial close to the time for reciting the Shema - Rashi, Berachot 19a, explains that doing so will prevent many people from reciting the Shema.

unless the deceased was a great man. - Berachot, ibid., questions the above statement, noting that when Rav Yosef died he was taken out for burial close to the time of Kri'at Shema. The Talmud answers that a great man is different - i.e., for a man of Rav Yosef's stature, even Kri'at Shema is postponed in order to honor his greatness.

Neither Rav Yitzchak Alfasi or Rabbenu Asher mentions this passage, indicating that they do not feel that it is halachically relevant. The Tur (Orach Chayim 72) mentions the Rambam's view, but adds that his father, Rabbenu Asher, did not differentiate between important and normal people.

The Beit Yosef explains that, at present, there is no person of a stature that we would not delay his burial in order to recite the Shema at its proper time. Therefore, the halachah is not in force. The Shulchan Aruch also omits reference to it.

The Magen Avraham mentions that the prohibition against burying someone close to the time of Kri'at Shema relates only to Kri'at Shema in the morning. However, in the early evening, one should first bury the body and then recite the Shema, or recite the Shema early enough to allow the burial to take place before nightfall so that the person will be buried as close to the day of his death as possible.

If they do begin to remove the deceased and the time for reciting the Shema arrives while they are accompanying the body, - to the burial

anyone required to [carry] the coffin - e.g., the bearers of the coffin and their replacements and those who, in turn, relieve the replacements, whether they are before the coffin - I.e., they have yet to carry it

or after it - I.e., they have already carried it. It is customary for several people to carry the coffin, in order to involve themselves in the mitzvah.

are exempt [from Kri'at Shema] - The Mishnah, Berachot 17b, states:

The bearers of the coffin, their replacements and those who in turn will relieve the replacements, the ones before the coffin and the ones after the coffin - the ones who are before it and are required to [carry] the coffin are exempt. Those who are after it, even if they are required to [carry] the coffin, are obligated [to recite the Shema]."

This certainly seems to differentiate between those before and after the coffin, and indicates clearly that those who have already carried the coffin are indeed obligated to recite the Shema, unlike the halachah written by the Rambam.

Rashi explains that those who have already carried the coffin are obligated to recite the Shema, even though they may be needed to carry it again, because they have already fulfilled their obligation.

There is, however, another version of the Mishnah. See Tosafot in Berachot 17b and most printed versions of the Mishnah (Rabbinic edition, Kahati, Mossad Harav Kook edition of the Rambam's commentary on the Mishnah). It states:

The bearers of the coffin and their replacements and those who in turn will relieve the replacements, the ones before the coffin and the ones after the coffin - the ones who are required to [carry] the coffin - are exempt. And those who are not required to [carry] the coffin are obligated to recite the Shema."

The Mishnah in this form can serve as the source for the Rambam's halachah. The "are exempt" term in the halachah refers back to all the cases written before it, including "the ones after the coffin."

The difference in the original Hebrew versions of the Mishnah is simply one word. Rashi's version:
ואת שלאחר המטה את שלפני המטה צורך בהם פטורים
the Rambam's version:
ואת שלאחר המטה שלמטה צורך בהם פטורים.

The rest of those accompanying the body who are not required to [carry] the coffin are obligated [to recite the Shema], - because, as stated in the Mishnah: "And those who are not required to [carry] the coffin are obligated to recite the Shema." The people are accompanying the body simply as a token of honor for the dead person, but are not occupied in the performance of a mitzvah such that they would be exempt from Kri'at Shema. The Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 72:1 and Yoreh De'ah 358:1 quote the Rambam's position.

5

Should they be involved in eulogies when the time for Kri'at Shema arrives, if they are in the presence of the deceased they should withdraw singly and recite, and then return to the eulogy.

If the deceased is not present, all the people should recite the Shema except the mourner, who remains silent, because he is not obligated to recite the Shema until he buries his relative.

ה

היו עסוקים בהספד והגיע זמן קריאת שמע בזמן שהמת מונח לפניהן נשמטים אחד אחד וקוראין וחוזרין להספד אין המת מוטל לפניהם כל העם קורין קריאת שמע והאבל יושב ודומם לפי שאינו חייב לקרות עד שיקבור את מתו:

Should they be involved in eulogies when the time for Kri'at Shema arrives - See Berachot 19a.

if they are in the presence of the deceased they should withdraw - in order not to recite the Shema in his presence (See Halachah 3)

singly and recite, - but not all at once, because this is lacking in respect for the deceased.

and then return to the eulogy.

If the deceased is not present, all the people should recite the Shema - I.e., there is then no problem of embarrassing the dead by performing commandments.

except the mourner, who remains silent, because he is not obligated to recite the Shema until he buries his relative. - This halachah also underscores the fact that the exception for mourners is not conditional on their involvement in the care for the deceased. In our case, the deceased is not present and the mourner is sitting silent, and yet he is still not obligated because of his distracted state (see Halachah 3).

6

After the burial, the mourners return to receive condolences and the people follow them from the gravesite to the place where they form a line to receive condolences. If the people are able to start and finish even one verse [of Kri'at Shema] before they arrive at the line, they should do so. If not, they should not start until they have consoled the mourners.

After they have taken their leave they should commence reciting. Those standing in the inner line - i.e., they can see the faces of the mourners - are exempt from Kri'at Shema. Those at the outside, since they cannot see the mourner, are obligated to recite the Shema where they are.

ו

קברו את המת וחזרו האבלים לקבל תנחומין וכל העם הולכים אחריהם ממקום הקבר למקום שעומדים בו האבלים לעשות שורה לקבל תנחומין אם יכולין העם להתחיל ולגמור אפילו פסוק אחד קודם שיגיעו לשורה יתחילו ואם לאו לא יתחילו אלא ינחמו את האבלים ואחר שיפטרו מהן יתחילו לקרות בני אדם העומדין בשורה הפנימיים שהן רואין פני האבלים פטורין מקריאת שמע והחיצונים הואיל ואינן רואין את האבלים חייבין בקריאת שמע במקומן:

After the burial, when the mourners return to receive condolences and the people follow them from the gravesite to the place where they form a line to receive condolences. - The people form a שורה - a line (or lines) around the mourners. Afterwards, they offer their condolences one by one, as they pass before the mourners (Hilchot Aivel 13:1,2). Others interpret the שורה as two lines facing each other. The mourners then walk between these two lines, and as they pass, the people offer their condolences.

The people are generally accustomed to say: May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

If the people are able to start and finish even one verse [of Kri'at Shema] before they arrive at the line, - directly before the mourners

they should do so. If not, they should not start - the recitation of the Shema.

The above is conditional upon there being enough time afterwards to recite the Shema. However, if the third hour is passing, the Shema should be recited immediately (Kessef Mishneh). The Ramah quotes this halachah in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 72:4. The Magen Avraham explains that one is allowed to recite the Shema before comforting the mourners, because he has not yet begun performing the mitzvah of comforting them.

until they have consoled the mourners. After they have taken their leave, they should commence reciting. - Rabbenu Yonah explains that not only the burial of the dead, but also the consoling of the mourners is part of the commandment of גמילות חסדים (acts of lovingkindness). In his commentary on Mishnah Pe'ah 1:1, the Rambam divides acts of lovingkindness into two categories: a) those one does with his money, such as charity,
b) those one does with his body - e.g., comforting mourners and accompanying the dead to burial.

Rabbenu Yonah states explicitly that this is a Torah commandment. The Rambam, however, is of the opinion that burying the dead, comforting the mourners, and all acts of lovingkindness are Rabbinic commandments. In Hilchot Eivel 14:1, he writes:

It is a positive commandment of Rabbinic origin to visit the sick, comfort those mourning, take out the dead, bring in the bride, accompany guests [from your house] and to involve oneself in those things necessary for burial - i.e., to carry [the coffin] on his shoulders, to walk before him, to eulogize him, to dig [the grave] and to bury him.

The Rambam's classification of these commandments as of Rabbinic origin creates a problem for us. How are we to understand the halachot we have just learned?

The Rambam has taught us that those involved in the burial of the dead and the comforting of the mourners are exempt from reciting the Shema, based on the principle that those involved in the performance of one commandment are exempt from another. According to Rabbenu Yonah, who understands גמילות חסד (acts of lovingkindness) to be Torah commandments, this is easily comprehended. However, according to the Rambam, how can involvement in a Rabbinic commandment exempt one from the fulfillment of a Torah obligation, especially one as central as Kri'at Shema?

The answer to this question depends on the continuation of Hilchot Eivel, ibid.:

Even though all these commandments are of Rabbinic origin, they are included [in the command] ואהבת לרעך כמוך (Love your fellow as yourself, Leviticus 19:18). All those things that you would want others to do for you in the realm of Torah and commandments, you should do for your colleague.

Thus, the Rabbinic commandments regarding acts of lovingkindness are the specific ways established by the sages to express the Torah commandment of "Love your fellow as yourself." Accordingly, although these commandments are Rabbinic in origin, since their ultimate source is found in a Torah commandment, the rule that "one performing one commandment is exempt from another" applies to them as well.

Those standing in the inner line - i.e., they can see the faces of the mourners - are exempt from Kri'at Shema. Those at the outside, since they cannot see the mourner, are obligated to recite the Shema where they are. - This is in accordance with the beraita quoted in Berachot 19b. The Ra'avad understands, however, that the words "inner line" in the beraita refer to the inner circle - i.e., the family of the mourners. It is the Rambam's position which is most widely accepted.

7

Anyone who has an exemption from Kri'at Shema, but nevertheless desires to be strict with himself and recite, may do so. This is conditional upon the fact that his mind is not distracted. However, if this exempted person is in a confused state, he is not permitted to recite [the Shema] until he composes himself.

ז

כל מי שהוא פטור מלקרות קריאת שמע אם רצה להחמיר על עצמו לקרות קורא והוא שתהא דעתו פנויה עליו אבל אם היה זה הפטור מלקרות מבוהל אינו רשאי לקרות עד שתתיישב דעתו עליו:

Anyone who has an exemption from Kri'at Shema but nevertheless desires to be strict with himself and recite, may do so. - The Mishnah (Berachot 16b) records a difference of opinion whether a bridegroom may recite the Shema on the first night or not.

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel states: "Not everyone who wants to take the name may take it," (i.e., not everyone may pronounce God's name whenever he pleases). The Sages differ and allow the Shema's recitation.

This is conditional upon the fact that his mind is not distracted. - The Sages maintain that a person has the potential to compose himself to the extent that he can recite the Shema with proper intention. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel maintains that this is not possible for most people. Indeed, a person who does so is considered tobe acting haughtily, implying that he has the power to concentrate when most people cannot.

However, if this exempted person is in a confused state, he is not permitted to recite [the Shema] until he composes himself. - If he cannot compose himself, even the Sages agree that the Shema should not be recited.

The Rambam follows the majority position of the Sages. Rabbenu Asher accepts the opinion of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel. However, Tosafot (ibid. 17b) explains that at present, our level of concentration has changed and all bridegrooms should recite the Shema. Any bridegroom who does not recite the Shema would be acting haughtily by intimating that usually he has a very high level of concentration. The Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 70:3 accepts Tosafot's position. (See also the commentary on Halachah 2.)

As mentioned above, a mourner should not recite the Shema for it is disrespectful to the deceased to imply that one could still concentrate on the Shema despite their passing.

8

All those ritually impure are obligated to read the Shema and recite the blessings before and after it in their impure state. This applies even when it is possible for them to purify themselves that day - e.g., one who has touched [the carcass of] a שרץ (crawling animal), a menstrual woman, a זבה, or the couch on which these people have laid, and the like.

Ezra and his colleagues decreed that a man who had a seminal emission was forbidden to read the words of the Torah. Thus, they separated him from the other ritually impure until he immersed himself in a mikveh. This ordinance was not universally accepted among the Jewish people. Most were unable to observe it and it was therefore negated.

The Jewish people accepted the custom of reading the Torah and reciting the Shema even after a seminal emission, because the words of Torah cannot contract ritual impurity. Rather, they stand in their state of purity forever, as [Jeremiah 23:29] states: "Are not my words like fire, declares the Lord." Just as fire is incapable of becoming ritually impure, so, too, the words of Torah are never defiled.

ח

כל הטמאין חייבין בקריאת שמע ומברכין לפניה ולאחריה והן בטומאתן אף על פי שאפשר להן לעלות מטומאתן בו ביום כגון הנוגעין בשרץ או בנדה וזבה ומשכבה וכיוצא בהן ועזרא ובית דינו תקנו שלא יקרא בדברי תורה בעל קרי לבדו והוציאוהו מכלל שאר הטמאין עד שיטבול ולא פשטה תקנה זו בכל ישראל ולא היה כח ברוב הציבור לעמוד בה לפיכך בטלה וכבר נהגו כל ישראל לקרות בתורה ולקרות קריאת שמע והן בעלי קריין לפי שאין דברי תורה מקבלין טומאה אלא עומדין בטהרתן לעולם שנאמר הלא כה דברי כאש נאם יי' מה אש אינה מקבלת טומאה אף דברי תורה אינם מקבלין טומאה:

All those ritually impure are obligated to read the Shema and recite the blessings before and after it in their impure state. - The Mishnah (Berachot 26a) mentions a difference of opinion concerning this issue and the Rambam accepts the more lenient view.

This applies even when it is possible for them to purify themselves - by immersing in the mikveh

that day - before the time for the Shema passes. It is not necessary to make that effort and the person may recite the Shema in an impure state.

e.g., one who has touched [the carcass of a] a sheretz (crawling animal), - Leviticus 11:39 deems such a person as ritually impure.

a menstrual woman - Leviticus 15:19 states that not only a menstrual women, but anyone or anything she touches contracts ritual impurity.

a זבה - The term refers to a woman with a venereal disease similar to syphliss or gonorrhea. Leviticus 15:25 equates the ritual impurity of such a woman with that of a menstrual woman.

or the couch on which these people have laid, - See Leviticus 15:10 which explains that even that which is sat upon by someone impure, may not be touched.

and the like. - e.g., one who touches either a man with discharges or someone who contracts ritual impurity by contact with a corpse.

Ezra and his colleagues decreed that a man who had a seminal emission - Leviticus 15:16 deems such a person as ritually impure. However, as above, that would not effect his ability to read the Shema.

was forbidden to read the words of the Torah. - This decree was one of 10 decrees issued by Ezra's court (Bava Kama 82a.).

Berachot 22a explains that the decree mentioned in our halachah was designed to restrain somewhat the physical relationships of the Torah scholars with their wives.

Thus, they separated him from the other ritually impure - who were not prevented from reading the Shema.

until he immersed himself in a mikveh. - Berachot 22a relates that since this was only a Rabbinic decree, certain leniencies could be observed regarding this immersion.

This ordinance was not universally accepted among the Jewish people. Most were unable to observe it - See also Hilchot Tefillah 4:4-6 and commentary.

It must be emphasized that though there is no need to immerse oneself in a mikveh, it is necessary to wash for it is forbidden to recite words of Torah with any traces of semen on his body. See Ramah, Orach Chayim 76:4.

and it was therefore negated. - i.e., because of the inability of the Jewish people to maintain this very high level of purity, the decree was never really accepted as law.

This explanation is significant. The Mishnah (Eduyot 1:5) teaches us that a court does not have the jurisdiction to override the ruling of another court unless it is greater in wisdom and number - i.e., unless the scholars are of a greater stature and more numerous. There was no later court with the stature of Ezra's, and, therefore, no one had the authority to abolish Ezra's ruling (Kessef Mishneh).

The Jewish people accepted the custom of reading the Torah - Berachot 22a relates that one of Rabbi Yehudah ben Beteira's students was mumbling his words. When asked by Rabbi Yehudah to explain his behavior, he stated that he not been able to immerse himself after having a seminal emission. Rabbi Yehudah told him to speak up without embarrassment for the words of Torah cannot contract ritual impurity.

and reciting the Shema even after a seminal emission, because the words of Torah cannot contract ritual impurity. - I.e., even one in a state of ritual impurity may involve himself in Torah study and prayer, because the Torah is unaffected by his impurity (Berachot, ibid.).

The Kessef Mishneh differentiates between physical filth, which renders the recitation of the Shema impossible (as we learned in Chapter 3), and ritual impurity, which does not affect it.

Our awareness of the presence of physical filth produces a subjective response to its somewhat disgusting nature. This response, in turn, has ramifications regarding the honor of the Torah studied in such a place. Ritual impurity is, however, a wholly metaphysical reality, and that particular reality has no ability to affect the Torah.

Rather, they stand in their state of purity forever, as [Jeremiah 23:29] states: "Are not my words like fire, declares the Lord." - Thus, the differentiation made above has its basis, not on human logic, but on Divine decree. Deuteronomy 23:13 teaches: "And your camp shall be holy," forbidding the recitation of the Shema in the presence of physical filth. In contrast, the verse from Jeremiah quoted above clearly implies the inability of ritual impurity to exert its influence over the words of Torah (Kessef Mishneh).

Just as fire is incapable of becoming ritually impure, so, too, the words of Torah are never defiled. - This decision alludes to a fundamental concept regarding the nature of Torah study. On one hand, we see Torah study as being associated with the student, as obvious from the law, Hilchot Talmud Torah 5:11, that allows a Torah scholar to forgo the honor due him. Although that honor is not being paid to him personally, but to the Torah knowledge he possesses, that Torah is considered his to the extent that he can forego the honor. Nevertheless, even while Torah is associated with the person studying it, its essential Godly nature remains intact to the extent that it cannot contract ritual impurity.