Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 61:4:

We are accustomed to reading the first verse [of "Sh'ma"] in a loud voice in order to arouse the direction [of our thoughts].

SA OC 101:2:

But he should not make his voice heard [when saying sh'mone esre]. But if he can't direct [his thoughts] silently, it's permitted. However, that's only when he's alone: while with the community it's forbidden, as he'll come to disturb the community.

(For practical halacha, CYLOR; certainly don't count on my quoting or translating these correctly. Note also that I didn't quote the commentaries on the SA.)

Why is it that "Sh'ma" we say aloud to effect kavana (direction of thoughts) while sh'mone esre we say quietly so as not to disturb others? Why doesn't the same rule apply to both? What determines that not affecting others is more important for sh'mone esre but effecting one's own kavana is more important for "Sh'ma"?

  • If I remember to when I get home, I'll expand a full answer. However the Shemona esraei should be personalized, and not everybody should be praying the same words.
    – avi
    Jul 11, 2011 at 11:14

2 Answers 2


We learn from Chana not to raise our voices for tefillah. (One reason given is that we imply that Hashem canot hear us otherwise.) See, for example, Aruch haShulchan 101:2.

Shema is not tefillah, it is a declaration.

  • So perhaps you could say, Amida is directed to G-d, Shema is directed to ourselves.
    – Menachem
    Jul 13, 2011 at 21:54
  • 1
    @Menachem, I'm not sure what you are adding.
    – YDK
    Jul 14, 2011 at 5:27
  • @YDK: It was just an observation. If Shema was a declaration to G-d, it would stand to reason that we would not be able to raise our voices, since that would imply G-d could not hear us otherwise. Rather, we are declaring to ourselves that G-d is One, which is why we can do it in a loud voice.
    – Menachem
    Jul 14, 2011 at 5:31
  • @Menachem, perhaps, but not necessarily. This principle may apply only by a WIIFM, where I think I may only get what I need if I talk aloud (similar to Chana). A declaration may not have the same rule.
    – YDK
    Jul 14, 2011 at 20:24

Shema is said aloud in unison and you do not disturb others when you do it, however if everyone was saying their part of Shemona Esrei out loud there would be no way to concetrate. In addition at Shemona Esrei we request personal requests, which is different by everyone and would be quiet confusing (and maybe a bit uncomfortable) if said out loud.

  • +1, I was thinking the same, while reading the question :). One more point is that first verse of Shema is short enough to be said in unison, while the whole Shemona Esrei is not.
    – jutky
    Jul 10, 2011 at 20:41
  • But (a) "Sh'ma" is not said in unison in many synagogues, but is said aloud anyway, and (b) sh'mone esre could be said in unison.
    – msh210
    Jul 10, 2011 at 21:19

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