The Talmud (Gittin 60b) states: “R. Yehudah b. Nachmani, the public orator of R. Shimon b. Lakish, discoursed as follows: It is written, ‘Write for yourself these words’ (Shmos 34:27), and it is written, ‘For according to the “mouth” of these words’ (ibid.) What are we to make of this? — It means: The words which are written you are not at liberty to say by heart, and the words transmitted orally you are not at liberty to write.” What are the implications of this statement? According to the strict interpretation of the halacha, the implication of the first statement is that we are not permitted to recite words and passages from the Witten Torah by heart. (Ed: The implication of the second statement is that the Oral Torah should not be published in written form. Well, we know that that one has been changed – after all, we’re reading the MBY emails, which are taken from the Mishnah Berura, right? To discover the reason for this change, continue reading to the end of the lesson and apply what you have learned.)
The one modification to this halacha, which is taught in this siman, is that passages which are well-known and oft-recited by the masses are permitted to be recited by heart. This includes Krias Shema, Birkas Kohanim (the Priestly Blessing), and the ‘Tamid’ offering (see previous lesson.)
The Mishnah Berura adds the following to the Shulchan Aruch’s brief synopsis mentioned above:
1) Pesukei d’Zimra (The ‘Psalms of Praise’ section of Shacharis, see Artscroll Siddur, pp. 54-82) is included in well-known passages.
2) Some authorities permit the saying of any of the Tehillim (King David’s Psalms) by heart, as long as they are being recited as Tefila, not as Torah. [Note: Other authorities go so far as to say that as long as a person is not being ‘motzi’ others (i.e. saying it so that others may fulfill their obligation by listening), there is no prohibition against recitation by heart! However, one should preferably not rely on that opinion on its own merit.]
3) One who is delivering a ‘drasha’ (sermon) which includes many Torah passages may recite them by heart, if it will otherwise cause a noticeable delay in his presentation.
4) The corollary of the note in #2 is that if one is being ‘motzi’ others, it is preferable that he read the words from a printed text, even if it is well-known – e.g. Kiddush!
5) Even if someone knows more passages by heart than the norm, he may still recite by heart only those that are well-known by the masses.
6) People who have no choice but to recite written words by heart – e.g. a blind person (ch”v), a prisoner – are permitted to do so. This is based on the Talmudic dictum, “When it is a time to work for Hashem, they may break Your Torah law!” (see Gittin 60a) (Ed: See now if you can uncover why the publication of Oral Torah was permitted…)