The status of prayer without Kavannah I think has been dealt with. My question is negative kavannah.

Examples of Negative Kavannah are: "I don't want to pray but it wont look good ( or I'll get punished, or fill in another reason here) if I don't pray so I'll just read the words quickly and get it over with" -or an even more extreme case "I disagree with these words that I am saying but I'll say it anyways because that's what in the siddur".

Are there sources that deal with these kinds of cases? Is this even considered prayer?

  • better than nothing. once read in the name of vilna gaon, if one davens without kavana - even if it's not considered an animal korban (with nefesh) at least it's a mincha (without a nefesh). just showing up to minyan is itself a level.
    – ray
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 20:10
  • @ray Was the Vilna Gaon Talking about lack of Kavannah or active Negative Kavannah? The analogy to Korbanot is good though because we do know the halachot of a Korban that is offered with the wrong intentions. Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 21:49
  • lack of kavana usually has bits of negative kavana. you cant just shut your thoughts off and there is a concept that if the good is not there, the bad creeps in. nevertheless, i think just showing up to minyan is something pleasing to G-d especially in our weak generation. most likely just yetzer hara trying to get a person to not come altogether. if that's the case, then obviously better to come even with negative kavana and try to work on it.
    – ray
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 5:29
  • I think this is fine because the following would not happen: "I don't want to dance the polka in a pink spotted dress on top of a train in the rain but I will anyway because if I don't then people will think I am stupid."
    – pcoz
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 3:54
  • Seems to me this is answered explicitly in the Rambam, Hilchos Ahavas perek 4. sefaria.org/… "Any prayer uttered without kavannah is not prayer... it is forbidden to pray till his mind is composed." See there for the power and absolute clarity of his words, and see the next paragraph where he defines kavannah in a way that includes your cases.
    – MichoelR
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 15:48

3 Answers 3


R' Yosef Engel has an essay on this subject in his sefer ''Asvun Deorysa'' . אתוון דאורייתא כלל כג

His דיוק is from a 'תוס in מסכת ברכות on .דף יב, where 'תוס say that if one knows that one made a ברכה of wine and the drink turns out to be beer one must make a new ברכה, implying that your intention to make the ברכה was specifically not what the drink actually was, you're not יוצא. From here R' Yosef Engel extrapolates that negative intent does in fact invalidate according to 'תוס. The other side of this חקירה is that perhaps (against his דיוק in 'תוס) if we say מצוות אינם צריכות כוונה, then we would say that מצוות are removed from all כוונה. It is a fairly long essay (though by far not his longest!) and merits more discussion than this space limits.

  • The Ran discusses Negative Cavana about Shofar and says that it's not valide even for the opinions that Mitzvot don't need Cavana.
    – kouty
    Commented Jul 8, 2022 at 8:11

Gemora Taanis 2a asks on the sentence in Devorim 11 (13) "to serve the L-rd your G-d with all your heart"

"What is the service of the heart? I would say, this is Prayer".

It would seem therefore that prayer requires involvement of the heart. Negative Kavannah by definition does not (positively) involve the heart.

  • The Gemara in Taanis would seem to negate prayer without kavannah more. It does not address negative kavannah. In fact one could even make the argument negative thoughts are better than no thoughts at all according to the criteria of "involvement of the Heart/Mind" Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 21:54

When it comes to mitzvot in general, there is a machloket whether they require kavvanah (Rosh Hashanah 28a, Berakhot 13a). Even if one assumes that they do not require kavvanah, Tosafot (Sukkah 39a) and the Ra'ah (cited by the Ran in Rosh Hashanah 28b) hold that if one has kavvanah not to perform the mitzvah, one is not yotzei.

However, these sources are discussing one who has intent not to fulfill his obligation. In your case, I don't know if there is intent not to fulfill the mitzvah, or just not much interest in doing it. In a case where someone prays out of pressure to conform, that would presumably not be negative kavvanah. In the case of one who disagrees with the words he is saying, perhaps he can disagree but still intend to fulfill an obligation. In any case, if he does not believe in God, the Ramban says such a person cannot perform any mitzvah (introduction to commentary on Iyyov).

(Certain parts of tefillah do require positive kavvanah: For the first pasuk of keriat shema, and the first berakha of shmoneh esreih, one must have kavvanah in order to be yotzei. What that kavvanah consists of is a separate discussion.)

  • So you think Tefilla is an action or a recitation of a set text to be checked off once done. See Yeshayahu Leibowitz on prayer haamnews.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/… Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 15:57
  • @MichaelHorwitz No, and obviously Leibowitz is wrong, but to be yotzei halakha only requires kavvanah for certain parts. Ideally one should have kavvanah for all of prayer, but if one didn't he is still yotzei. The same would presumably be true if one prays begrudgingly.
    – wfb
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 16:52
  • I think this answer ignores the lechatchilah and focuses only on the b'dieved. What if you prayed already without kavannah, do you go back and do it again? That ignores the absolute requirement of the poskim that one is required to have kavannah in prayer. See the Rambam sefaria.org/…: It is forbidden to pray without kavannah. I don't know if that's true of any other mitzvah.
    – MichoelR
    Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 18:51
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    I also think that this answer is assuming that tefillah = saying the words. Like tzaddakah = giving the poor man money. But that is not obvious at all. Once Chazal called prayer, "service of the heart", one ought to suspect that without the heart one has not done the mitzvah at all. Perhaps a better definition of tefillah would be, Speaking to Hashem.
    – MichoelR
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 17:42

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