The gemorah in Sukkah daf 51b explains that, in the enormous shul in Alexandria, in order for everyone to know when to answer Amen when the shliach tzibbur (prayer leader, aka sha"tz) was davening, flags would be raised since not everyone could hear the sha"tz.

But if not everyone could hear, how could they have fulfilled davening? They have to hear whatever brachos were being said in order to be "yotzee" and not just answer Amen.

For reference on the halachos of being yotzee by the Shliach Tzibbur, see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim Siman 124 Sif 1 and Mishneh Brurah there (Sif-Katan 2).

In the gemara's time I have no doubt that this method of prayer (which is now practiced only in certain communities) was still widely being done.

  • Is it not also possible that at the Shul in Alexandria, because of its massive size, this method was not "for sure being done"?
    – Seth J
    Sep 13, 2012 at 1:19
  • Seth - By the fact that the shliach tzibbur was davening outloud I think shows what was being done there (that people were being yotzee from him.
    – Yehoshua
    Sep 13, 2012 at 19:30
  • 1
    Perhaps those who knew how to daven (and motzi themselves) stood in back & those who needed to hear the shatz stood close enough to do so. Sep 13, 2012 at 21:30
  • @Yehoshua ....because you don't have to answer Amen during his repetition? That's obviously not what you mean, but it's the obvious conclusion to make from that statement.
    – Seth J
    Sep 14, 2012 at 3:26

3 Answers 3


Rabbi Moshe Heinemann of Baltimore uses this as proof that one does not need to hear the words in order to be yotzei; one merely needs to be present. I heard this from him in a lecture.

  • How does he explain then the din in SA OC Siman 124!?!?!
    – Yehoshua
    Sep 11, 2012 at 21:12
  • @Yehoshua Which one?
    – Dov F
    Sep 11, 2012 at 21:18
  • First sif. Plus see what the Mishneh Brurah writes in Sif-Katan 2. A person must hear the bracha to be yotzee.
    – Yehoshua
    Sep 11, 2012 at 21:21
  • The SA doesn't say that if one doesn't hear one isn't yotzei. As for the MB, I guess he disagrees.
    – Dov F
    Sep 11, 2012 at 21:24
  • 3
    @Yehoshua Isn't quoting the Shulchan Aruch against a gemara an anachronism? And re: find me one posek...: that's what this answer is, no? And anyway the Shulchan Aruch never said hear, he said focus. Maybe the flags let you focus.
    – Double AA
    Sep 12, 2012 at 16:23

See Remah 124:11, who says that as long as one knows which blessing is being answered, even if he does not hear the blessing at all he can say Amen. The same thing is for Kaddish, Kedusha, and Baruchu.

(I always assumed that the flag system is Alexandria was a complex flag signaling system that not only told the congregation when to answer, but also what blessing they were answering. Similar to the international maritime signal flag system)

The Mishna Berura (:44) points out that the Remah is not arguing with the Mechaber here, but explaining.

See also Shulchan Aruch HaRav 124:11 for different opinions of the conditions needed to answer Amen when you don't hear the blessing (mainly focusing on whether the rest of the congregation has already said Amen or not).

One of the footnotes points to Shulchan Aruch HaRav 57:2, where it is stated that one can only answer Amen to a Baruchu he didn't hear if there were 9 people who did hear it and answer (he points to a Magen Avraham that I didn't look up). This would have been the case in Alexandria as well. At least some of the congregation would be close enough to hear the Shaliach Tzibbur.

  • 1
    You have shown that they can say Amen. But are they Yotzei?
    – Double AA
    Sep 11, 2012 at 19:57
  • Nu? This is not an answer to the question but rather addressing the issue of answering Amen. Which this gemorah is normally brought as a re'ah for (answering Amen when one cannot hear the bracha.)
    – Yehoshua
    Sep 11, 2012 at 21:13
  • This answer is to an old version of the question. Sep 13, 2012 at 1:40
  • I really don't think so. @Shmuel brin
    – Seth J
    Sep 13, 2012 at 2:34

After some investigation I think I've found what could be a reasonable answer in light of the kasha that one could have on the gemorah. How is it they were "yotzee" davening if they couldn't hear the shliach tzibbur?

Look into the Yerushalmi Sukkah Perek 4 Halacha 1 (in my print this comes out on daf 23a a little down from the top.) The version over there the case was that they were leining from the Torah and someone would then alert the tzibbur when to answer Amen on the brachos of Krias HaTorah (according to the Yerushalmi we weren't even talking about Shemoneh Esrei.) Now if one looks into the Karbon Ha'Aeeh you will see this pashut. He does add "v'ee nami" on the brachos of the shliach tzibbur. However I think he is perhaps forced to add this pashut in only because of the traditional understanding of the bavli. However I want to say that without the Yerushalmi you can't begin to understand what the case was exactly. Is there any proof there from the Bavli that it's speaking about Shemoneh Esrei davka? It just uses the word "brachos" However clear in the words of the Yerushalmi that it's talking about Bircas HaTorah.

From the Rosh in Brachos Perek 7 Siman 17 one could say not like this and that pashut in the gemorah was that it's speaking about Shemoneh Esrei. However he also says there that perhaps the gemorah was speaking about when they were already yotzee davening.

So between Yerushalmi and the Rosh there seems what to be in order to answer this kasha on the gemorah.

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