Saying Amen

There was some discussion recently around our table about whether or not you can say Amen (lit: “truthfulness”) to a bracha (blessing) that you didn’t hear, but that you know has been made. There were opinions on the Yes side as well as the No side. The Yes side backed it up using the large shul in Alexandria as an example. Way back when in the mists of time, there was a shul in Alexandria that was so big, that the people in the back of the shul could neither see nor hear what was going on in the front of the shul, or on the bima. So, when the congregation needed to say Amen, apparently a flag was raised so that those who couldn’t hear knew it was time to say it. This, posited one of the boys, was the reason that we can say Amen to a bracha we didn’t hear.

On the other side, Amen is not a word to be taken lightly. Chabad.org, in an article on the laws of responding Amen, says that if you do not know which bracha has been pronounced, you are not supposed to say Amen. I always thought Amen was just another Hebrew word, but apparently it carries a lot of weight.

So, learned friends, I promised the boys I would ask my JewCrew for their knowledge to help us understand this issue.

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  1. shorty says:

    i learned with my chavrusah that if you didn’t actually hear the bracha “live” then you can’t say amen, so that means even to a recording or somehting on the radio (which you might not know “for sure” if its live or not even) you cannot say Amen.

  2. Daniel says:

    Amen today is more a confirmation or an agreement of what was said. Our culture has changed the original meaning but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If you want to practice the old of the new it’s up to you.

  3. rafi says:

    I had a sefardi (iraqi) friend who would not say amen to anything she could not hear “you never know, perhaps the person was cursing you, and you say amen?”

  4. Y Kohn says:

    The story of the shul in Alexandria is in the Talmud Sucah it is the Halacha. You don’t have to here a bracha to say amen, you just need to know that it has been made.

    This sometimes is the case for women in shul who did not hear the chazan or a (partially) deaf person who knows that a bracha was made but did not hear it.

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