I'm a little confused by Rambam Hil. Tefilla 1:4.

Consequently, when someone would pray, he would be limited in his ability to request his needs or to praise the Holy One, blessed be He, in Hebrew, unless other languages were mixed in with it. When Ezra and his court saw this, they established eighteen blessings in sequence.

Is this saying that G-d only hears Hebrew?

If so, wouldn't this be limiting G-d? What if someone's tongue were cut off, what if he were in captivity and his mouth were shut by his captor? Does G-d not know the intent of our hearts?

  • 1
    I know I suggested you ask this, but I think you need to split this into the main question (Hebrew) and yet another question (non-verbal prayer).
    – Seth J
    Jun 15, 2012 at 18:04
  • @SethJ, I think that my (non-verbal prayer) questions should be answered by the main question(Hebrew).
    – ironman
    Jun 15, 2012 at 18:20
  • @SethJ, If not I will split them and ask another. Thank you for the suggestion.
    – ironman
    Jun 15, 2012 at 18:21
  • Let's see if anyone else comments on it.
    – Seth J
    Jun 15, 2012 at 18:23
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    Bear in mind, though, that all physical references to God (I.e. hearing or seeing) are euphemistic (Rambam Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 1:9-end) Jun 15, 2012 at 20:17

1 Answer 1


God knows the thoughts of man. That is not the issue here. I believe the Rambam is discussing something else. There is a Gemara in Shabbos (12b) which says as follows:

R. Judah said, One should never petition for his needs in Aramaic.

The Rishonim are bothered by the reason for this. The Rosh (1250-1328) in Berachos (2:2) writes that this is an issue unique to Aramaic, because it is not a nice language. The question is why. Ma'adanei Yom Tov on the spot explains that this is because Aramaic isn't its own language, but rather a distortion of Hebrew. He quotes a Rambam to this effect as well. Therefore Aramaic is not normally an acceptable language for prayer - not because it is difficult for God to understand it, but because it is not considered respectable.

If you look carefully at this Rambam, it seems that he is addressing precisely this issue. He is saying that they were not praying in one language but in a big jumble of many languages. In fact his exact words are:

כֵיוָן שֶׁהָיָה מְדַבֵּר, אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְדַבֵּר כָּל צְרָכָיו בְּלָשׁוֹן אַחַת אֶלָּא בְּשִׁבּוּשׁ,‏
Once he would speak, he couldn't speak out all his needs in one language except with distortions.

This is the reason they established a standard wording, and once they were doing so, what better language to set it to than Hebrew? But of course in truth one may pray in any language, as long as it is a proper language.

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    Would this "jumble of languages" argument apply to Yiddish and Ladino too? Jun 15, 2012 at 19:04
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    @MonicaCellio, are Yiddish and Ladino different from any other? English is derived from Old English (Anglo-Saxon) but has lots of words from Old French, of course, and also from many, many other languages. Probably every language has borrowings from others.
    – msh210
    Jun 15, 2012 at 19:23
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    What a mamish gevaldika post on this inyan!
    – Double AA
    Jun 15, 2012 at 19:26
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    @msh210, as I understand it, Yiddish and Ladino are both intentional combinations of Hebrew with other languages, as compared to most "naturally-arising" languages that just grow that way. (Not a linguist, though.) It sounds like the complaint is that Aramaic is mutant Hebrew, and it seems like Yiddish is too (and by extension Ladino, which I don't hear much of). Jun 15, 2012 at 19:30
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    @jake That's a later addition to the nussach. Do we have any classical prayers in Aramaic?
    – Double AA
    Jun 15, 2012 at 22:44

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