The Gemara[1] records how a certain sage would address a sick person during the week:

Rabbah bar bar Chanah said: When we would go with R' Elazar to visit a sick person, we noticed that sometimes he said, "May G-d remember you for peace" in Hebrew, and sometimes he said, "May the Merciful One remember you for peace" in Aramaic.[2]

The Gemara asks: How could he have done this? That is, how could R' Elazar have prayed in Aramaic? But Rav Yehudah has said: A person should never request his needs in Aramaic, the ministering angels do not pay attention to him, because the ministering angels do not know Aramaic. The Gemara explains how R' Elazar could pray in Aramaic: A sick person is different because the Divine Presence is with him. As Rav Anan said in the name of Rav: From where is it stated: Hashem will support him on the sick bed.

R' Yochanan felt that the angels do not understand Aramaic, only Hebrew (Levush, Orach Chaim 101:7, and see Eliyahu Rabbah ibid). Yet other commentators differed. Some felt that angels understood all languages but only pay attention to the ones said in Hebrew (see Tosafos, Eliyahu Rabbah ibid). This issue aside, how do we reconcile this with Rambam?

In his fifth Principle of Faith (which every Jew must accept literally), Rambam writes:

"It is the Blessed One Whom it is proper to worship, to exalt, to propagate His greatness, and to fulfill His commandments. But one must not do so for anything of lower existence than G-d Himself], such as the angels, the stars, the spheres, the elements and whatever is composed of them . . . It is likewise improper to pray that they act as intercessors to present [our prayers] to Him. Only to Him shall one's thoughts be directed; and all besides Him should be ignored . . ." (Commentary of Mishnah, Sanhedrin ch. 10).

The Ramban agreed. He explained:

[Simialry], "The third form of idolatry is considering the angels capable of serving as intermediaries between G-d and His worshipers . . . Realize that even to pray to them for this purpose is forbidden to us .. ." (Toras HaShem Temimah).

These Rishonim explained this Gemara to mean that prayers to them are ineffectual. Meiri explains that this Gemara is not literal. It is the poetic style. Yet others feel that when the sick pray only G-d can answer (Rashi).

Question: How do we reconcile this Gemara with the Rishonim?

[1] Talmud Bavli 12b 1

[2] Disregarding, for the moment, the issue of whether it is permitted to pray in any language other than Hebrew

  • 2
    – kouty
    Commented Dec 8, 2020 at 1:11
  • @kouty Tractate Shabbos.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Dec 8, 2020 at 1:35
  • I skimmed through Shabbat 112b here: sefaria.org/Shabbat.112b.1?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en and did not see anything resembling your quote. Can you please edit the source into your question? But to answer your question, the answer classically given is that one is praying to G-d, but the angels are intermediaries to deliver the prayers to G-d (i.e. they're sort of like secretaries who deliver the prayers), not that we pray to the angels instead of G-d. Commented Dec 8, 2020 at 14:19
  • @Salmononius2 Hmm. Idk. Are you sure your reading from Shabbat 12b? I usually use books than on the internet. It's the tractate Shabbos (Schottenstein version). The Artscroll addition.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Dec 8, 2020 at 18:59
  • @Salmononius2 Oh, I see. I made a mistake. What I meant was 12b1, not 112b. I'll fix it.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Dec 8, 2020 at 19:00

2 Answers 2


The non-canonical book of Tobit (Tuvia), which seems to have been written 100 BCE, around 300 years before Rabbi Yochanan, was found in the caves at Qumran, and was included in the Septuagint (so it is of the sefarim chitzonim), may shed light on this in a manner that there is no contradiction. Since it was authored by a Jewish person, it might show us a prevalent Jewish belief about the role of angels as it relates to prayer.

One of the main characters in Tobit is the angel of healing, Refael. In Tobit 12:12, the angel says:

Now when you, Tobit, and Sarah prayed, it was I who presented the record of your prayer before the Glory of the Lord; and likewise whenever you used to bury the dead.

These prayers addressed God, not the angel Refael. Thus, in Tobit 8:4-8, Tobit and his wife pray:

When Tobias and Sarah were alone behind closed doors, Tobias got up from the bed and said to his wife, Get up, dear. Let's pray for the Lord to be merciful and to protect us. 5 Sarah got up so that they could pray together and ask God for his protection. Then Tobias prayed: God of our ancestors, you are worthy of praise. May your name be honored forever and ever by all your creatures in heaven and on earth. You created Adam and gave him his wife Eve to be his helper and support. They became the parents of the whole human race. You said, It is not good for man to live alone. I will make a suitable helper for him. Lord, I have chosen Sarah because it is right, not because I lusted for her. Please be merciful to us and grant that we may grow old together. Then they both said Amen and went to bed for the night.

Rabbi Yochanan, in Shabbat 12b, could similarly view angels as mere postmen, who deliver prayers to God, where those prayers were addressed to God. He is saying that if the prayer is in Aramaic, then the postman angel will not understand and cannot deliver the prayer. This is no contradiction with the Rambam, who says that you can only pray to God.

  • Does this agree with the presentation of the Avos in this story? chabad.org/kids/article_cdo/aid/1380/jewish/Purim-Hebron.htm (asking the avos to pray on our behalf)
    – rosends
    Commented Dec 29, 2020 at 17:30
  • 1
    quite possibly not. These are the Avot, humans, so there isn't the same issue as praying to angels. but doresh el hameisim might be a concern. Chabad might have a different approach towards what is acceptable here, and how to understand the underlying gemaras, and that impact the modern retelling of the story. approaches could include: prayer to Hashem at a gravesite of a tzaddik, asking the tzadik to convey the prayer, asking the tzadik to intervene on earth. See chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/562222/jewish/… Commented Dec 29, 2020 at 18:56

Everyone, including the Gemorah referenced, agrees that one may not pray to Malachim. Rashi explains the Gemorah as meaning that the Melochim help bring the prayers to Hashem. It is an old question in Halacha about what exactly they help with.

Some of the Achronim did not say any of the Selichos like "Machnesey Rachmim" because they imply tefila is being said to Malachim or that they have independent power to help us with our tefilos. Most of us do say them because of our understanding of the function Melochim have with our tefilos.

The Gemora Sanhedrin 44B says in the name of Rav Yochanan לעולם יבקש אדם רחמים שיהו הכל מאמצין את כחו ואל יהו לו צרים מלמעלה

A person should always pray for mercy that all (heavenly beings) should strengthen his power of prayer, and that he should have no enemies (causing him trouble) in Heaven above.

Rashi explains it as meaning that the Melochim should help him with his prayers and not prosecute against him to Hashem.

There are posukim in Iyov (33:23-24) which talk about malachim advocating to Hashem for people.There are also Midrashim which speak about Melochim helping tefilos get accepted . The Midrashim themselves are clear that the Melochim only have to ability to daven and advocate on your behalf but have no power to make any decisions of their own. Similar to asking any guy off the street to pray for you. Only the melochim are in closer proximity to Hashem.

Tefilos are not said in Aramaic so that the Melochim should be able understand it and give their help with it getting accepted. Not because we are davening to them in any way ch'v

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