The Mishnah (Berachot 2:3) records a debate regarding one that recited shema but did not hear what he said. The first opinion is that he has fulfilled his obligation, while R' Yossi disagrees. R' Yossi argues that the opening words of shema, "hear" suggest that it is an obligation to hear the words one recites. The Tana Kama however understands that the word shema teaches that shema can be recited in any language one understands.
The Rambam (Hilchot Keriyat Shema 2:8,10) rules according to the first opinion. He writes that one needs to hear what they are saying. If they do not, they have fulfilled their obligation. The Rambam rules similarly in Hilchot Berachot (1:8) that one should ideally hear the words, when one recites a beracha. If one does not, then they have fulfilled their obligation. The Rambam however adds that this is the case whether they said the words allowed, or only said them in their head (hirhur). The Bach (OC 62) notes that the Rambam appears to differentiate between Shema and other berachot. Unlike berachot, for Shema, hirhur appears to be insufficient. We shall try to understand why.
The discussion would appear to hinge on the question of hirhur ke'dibur dami -- does thought equate to speech. The Shaagat Aryeh (6) directs our attention to hilchot Shabbat (20:8) where the Rambam rules that on Shabbat, one is not allowed to talk about business matters. It is specifically speech that is problematic but not hirhur. Consequently, we find by keriyat Shema and Shabbat hirhur is not considered speech, while by berachot and other mitzvot it is. The Shaagat Aryeh explains that for keriyat Shema and the limits on speech on Shabbat, the pesukim refer to specifically to dibur -- "speech". For Shema it states "ve'dibarta bam" -- and you shall speak of them. Similarly, for Shabbat the pasuk states: "...and if you honour it and go not your ways, not look for affairs and not strike bargains" - "daber davar" (Yeshayahu 58:13). Whenever dibur is mentioned, hirhur is not sufficient.1
The Pri Megadim (MZ OC 62) however explains that the position of the Rambam stems from ruling like the Tanna Kama. Recall that the Tana Kama understands that from the word Shema we understand that one can recite the Shema in any language one understands. If hirhur was sufficient then the derivation would appear unnecessary. The license to recite the shema in any language implies that, for shema, recital is indeed required.
The Emet LeYaakov (Berachot 15a) however suggests a different explanation. Whether or not hirhur is considered speech is debated in the Gemara between Ravina and Rav Chisda. There is indeed a debate between the Rishonim regarding the halacha. The Tosfot and Rosh rule like Rav Chisda. The Baal HaMeor however is not certain and rules only stringently like Rav Chisda. The Emet LaYaakov therefore suggests that the Rambam aligns with the Baal HaMeor. Consequently, for mitzvot that are biblical -- for keriyat shema -- he rules stringently that hirhur is insufficient. Berachot (excluding birkat ha'mazon) however are rabbinic. The Rambam therefore rules leniently in those case; if a beracha was made be'hirhur it should not be recited again.
1 See also Yeshuot Yaakov OC 62, Aruch HaShulchan 62:6.
2 See also Ohr Zaruah Letzadik, Keriyat Shema (2:7)
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