This excerpt is a rabbinic discussion about Hannah’s prayer from tractate Berachot, in the Babylonian Talmud. Though this text was compiled around 600 CE, it records the words of rabbis from the second century CE. The text explains the existence of some traditional Jewish norms about prayer (specifically, prayer from the heart, the necessity of vocalizing prayer, and the need for quietude and privacy in prayer). The most remarkable part of the passage is the rabbinic assertion that Eli did not recognize what Hanna was doing because the “Holy Spirit” (רוּחַ הַקּוֹדֶשׁ; ruach hakodesh) and the divine Presence (שְׁכִינָה; Shechinah) did not dwell with him. This talmudic text begins by referring to “halakhot,” or Jewish laws, and develops into a discussion that includes the Holy Spirit’s role in discernment.

Rav Hamnuna said: How many significant halakhot can be derived from these verses of the prayer of Hannah? As it says: “And Hannah spoke in her heart, only her lips moved and her voice could not be heard, so Eli thought her to be drunk” (I Samuel 1:13). The Gemara elaborates: From that which is stated here: “And Hannah spoke in her heart,” the halakha that one who prays must focus his heart on his prayer is derived. And from that which is stated here: “Only her lips moved,” the halakha that one who prays must enunciate the words with his lips, not only contemplate them in his heart, is derived. From that which is written here: “And her voice could not be heard,” the halakha that one is forbidden to raise his voice in his Amida prayer as it must be recited silently (quietly). From the continuation of the verse here: “So Eli thought her to be drunk,” the halakha that a drunk person is forbidden to pray. That is why he rebuked her. On the subject of Eli’s rebuke of Hannah, as it is stated: “And Eli said to her: How long will you remain drunk? Remove your wine from yourself” (I Samuel 1:14); Rabbi Elazar said: From here the halakha that one who sees in another an unseemly matter, he must reprimand him, is derived.

“And Hannah answered and she said no, my master, I am a woman of distressed spirit, and I have drunk neither wine nor liquor, but I pour out my soul before the Lord” (I Samuel 1:15). Regarding the words: “No, my master,” Ulla, and some say Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Ḥanina, said that she said to him, in an allusion: With regard to this matter, you are not a master, and the Divine (holy) Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּוֹדֶשׁ) does not rest upon you, as you falsely suspect me of this. Some say another version of her response. She said to him, questioning: Aren’t you a master? Aren’t the Divine Presence and Divine (holy) Spirit (שְׁכִינָה וְרוּחַ הַקּוֹדֶשׁ) with you that you judged me to be guilty, and you did not judge me to be innocent? Didn’t you know that I am a woman of distressed spirit? (Berachot 31a, Davidson Translation)




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