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Why is the Amidah read silently?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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The role model of silent prayer was Chanah, mother of the Prophet Samuel, who prayed silently and effectively.1

What is so special about silent prayer? 

1. The Talmud says2 that "one who raises his voice in prayer is from the 'minor believers.'" We find that the pagan prophets of the Baal "called out [to the Baal] with a loud voice",3 and Elijah mocked them by saying "Cry out in a loud voice, for he is a god! Perhaps he is conversing, or pursuing [enemies], or relieving himself; perhaps he is asleep and he will awaken!"

We, on the other hand, believe that G-d can hear us although we are whispering. In fact, one who prays aloud is demonstrating a lack of belief in G-d's omniscience.

Saying the Amidah loudly is only permitted if a person feels unable to concentrate on the prayers unless praying aloud. However, this exception applies only if the person is praying at home, not in a synagogue where the loud prayer can distract others
Now, the fact that we say other prayers aloud doesn't pose a contradiction, for the Amidah is the only prayer where we are directly addressing G-d. The other prayers are Psalms or other praises of G-d which we say in order to prepare ourselves for the Amidah - our actual encounter with the King.

2. Many people add private prayers while reciting the Amidah, and others utilize the occasion to confess their sins. It would obviously be inappropriate for these people to say theses prayers aloud. Furthermore, we don't want these people to feel conspicuous and self-conscious, by being the only ones in the congregation who are praying silently, so we all do.

3. The daily prayers are compared to a ladder. Each part of the prayer is another rung, elevating us to a higher level of spiritual awareness. The Amidah prayer is the top of the ladder, and represents the ultimate in bittul (nullification) to G-d; at this point in an ideal prayer, the person is in a state of total submission to G-d and His will. For this reason we stand at attention and whisper, for praying aloud is a slight form of self-expression, something which we now want to avoid.

Saying the Amidah loudly is permitted if a person feels unable to concentrate on the prayers unless praying aloud. However, this exception applies only if the person is praying at home, not in a synagogue where the loud prayer can distract others.

Also during the High Holidays it is permitted to pray aloud - but this is not the normal practice.4

Footnotes

  • 1. See Samuel I chapter 1 and Talmud tractate Brachot 31:a and b
  • 2. Berachot 24a.
  • 3. Kings I 18:28.
  • 4. Sources: Zohar, Bereishis 210a; Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 101:2; Torah Ohr, Parshas Vayechi 45c; Likutei Sichos, vol. 35 p. 192-197.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Mitzvot » Prayer » Laws and Customs

Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Amidah
Highlight of every prayer, recited silently while standing. Weekday Amidah consists of nineteen blessings, Sabbath and holiday Amidah contains seven blessings.
Samuel
1. A prophet and judge who appointed Saul as the first king of Israel in the 9th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, named after the abovementioned Samuel, one of the main characters of the book.
Elijah
A legendary prophet who lived in the 8th century BCE, and saved the Jewish religion from being corrupted by the pagan worship of Baal. He never died, he was taken to heaven alive. According to Jewish tradition, he visits every circumcision and every Passover Seder table.
Psalms
The Book of Psalms. One of the 24 books of the Bible. Compiled by King David; mostly comprised of poetic praise for G-d. A large part of our prayers are culled from this book.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.