“שמע ישראל ה’ אלקינו ה’ אחד”
The Gemara in Gittin (60b) says that there is a prohibition to recite pessukim by heart. It is learned from the passuk “כתוב לך את הדברים האלה” (שמות ל”ד) that which is supposed to be written, may not be said by heart. Some poskim hold this is a Torah prohibition, while others say it is only a Rabbinic prohibition.
The מחבר (או”ח סימן מ”ט סעיף א’) writes that pessukim that everyone is familiar with, for example; Krias Shema, Birchas Kohanim, Parshas Hatamid and anything similar, are permitted to be recited by heart. The Pri Megadim writes that if only the person himself is familiar with certain pessukim, he may not recite them by heart.
The opinion of the Rosh and Tosfos in מסכת תמורה is that the prohibition was said only when you are being מוציא someone else with their obligation, not when reading it for yourself. The חות יאיר holds that if one is saying the pessukim as שבח והודאה ורחמים ותחנונים then it has a דין like prayer which is not included in this prohibition. Also Included in this would be pessukim that are said for סגולה ושמירה like קריאת שמע שעל המטה or the pessukim of one’s name at the end of שמונה עשרה.
The משנה ברורה says regarding one who is speaking in public and it would be too difficult to find every passuk in the Chumash “אפשר שיש להקל” – one may be lenient. A blind person, as well as an older person who does not see well, may also be lenient because of “עת לעשות לד’ הפרו תורתיך”. The same is true if one is in prison and has no access to a Chumash. The מגן אברהם rules that after all the leniencies, still one should only be lenient with the cases the Shulchan Aruch gives. The reason is that it is difficult to find all the leniencies in one scenario, since most of the opinions argue with each other. The חות יאיר however rules that one may recite the entire ספר תהלים by heart, since it is to be מעורר רחמים it has a halacha of Teffilah. The משנה ברורה says that one can rely on this since anyways the עטרת זקנים והגר”א rule that the prohibition is only when being מוציא the ציבור their obligation.
The חתם סופר says another reason why it is permissible to recite tehillim by heart. This was always the תקנה for tehillim. The לויים in the בית המקדש for sure did not sing from a sefer. By the קרבן פסח as well they did not recite the הלל from a sefer. It must be that the prohibition never applied to tehillim. In regard to הלל the ביאור הלכה says that it seems from Tosfos in יומא that it is permitted. However only if he is very fluent with the words, otherwise he can make a mistake since “לא לנו” which is קאפיטל קט”ו is very similar to קאפיטל קל”ה. If he makes a mistake he won’t fulfill the mitzvah of hallel and his brocha will be לבטלה.
Reb Elyashiv zt”l understands the ruling of the גר”א that it is prohibited only when being מוציא a ציבור, not individuals. Therefore, when making kiddush at home, one may recite ויכולו by heart. Reb Elyashiv himself said it from a siddur, but he said it was only a הידור to do so. The same is true with Kiddush on Shabbos day. Reb Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a said that the Chazon Ish zt”l was not מקפיד to say ויכולו from a כתב. It is interesting to note that on a recent video Reb Chaim is seen saying havdalah from a כתב.
The חתם סופר says that the halacha really is that pessukim have to be read from a Sefer Torah or Nach that are כשרים. Since today no one has their own קלף it is permissible to recite them by heart because of “עת לעשות לד’ הפרו תורתיך”.
Prepared by R’ Avrohom Yehoshua Ziskind