5/22/2009

'Hear' vs. 'Listen'

The Chief Rabbi's translation (in the Singer Siddur and in the newly released Koren Siddur - linked at the right and reviewed by me here) of the word "shema" has been discussed a good deal. Rather than the more common "Hear O Israel", he translates it as "Listen, Israel".

In general, I think that "listen" makes a lot more sense. However, this seems to be precisely the debate between Rabbi and the Sages in Brachot 13a. Each of them derives a different law from the word "shema". Rabbi derives from there that one's recitation must be audible - it must be heard. The Sages derive from there that the Shema may be recited in any language, as long as the speaker understands what he is saying.

In general, the word "listen" captures bot the biological (hearing) and cognitive (understanding) elements of the process.

As someone with ADD, I have a listening problem, but not a hearing problem.
This is a fairly intuitive distoinction, immortalized in S & G's "Sounds of Silence" ("people hearing without listening") and le-havdil, in "White Men Can't Jump", albeit with a bit of a counterintuitive bent ("Look man, you can listen to Jimi but you can't hear him. There's a difference, man. Just because you're listening to him doesn't mean you're hearing him.")
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