I feel closest to God when I talk to Him in my mind, without saying words. Is that an okay way to pray or does prayer have to be out loud? I see in synagogue people are mainly praying quietly, to themselves.
The Aish Rabbi Replies
Thank you for raising the important issue. The Talmud learns the answer to your question from Chana (Hannah), the mother of the prophet Samuel who was barren for many years. When she stood at the Temple praying tearfully for a child, Eli the High Priest saw her swaying and moving her lips, but did not hear any sound, and as a result he mistook her for a drunk. He falsely accused her of drunkenness, and when he realized his error, he instead blessed her that God answer her prayers. (See I Samuel Ch. 1.)The Talmud (Brachot 31a) notes many laws which can be derived from this short episode. One is that one must move his lips in prayer – enunciating the words rather than just thinking them in his head. On the other hand, Eli could not hear Chana. Thus, we must articulate the words but not raise our voices. (The Talmud also derives that when one falsely suspects his fellow he must both apologize and bless him – as Eli did to Chana when he realized his mistake.) The Talmud elsewhere (Brachot 15b) debates how loud one must minimally say the words. According to the accepted opinion, a person should say them audibly enough that he can hear the words he is saying, but if not, so long as he did utter the words audibly from his lips, his prayers are effective.
Elsewhere the Talmud (Brachot 24b) states the one should pray quietly, and that one who raises his voice has little faith – as if he imagines God will hear him better or take better heed if he speaks up. However, continues the Talmud, if speaking louder will help a person concentrate, he made do so, provided it does not disturb others.
Putting all of this together, we must pray audibly – loud enough that we can hear ourselves, but not so loud (when we are in synagogue) that our neighbor can hear us. This is the rule for the Shemoneh Esrei prayer. The rest of the prayers we can say more loudly – loud enough that others can hear us but not to the extent that it disturbs them. Note also that if you're praying alone, where no one else will be disturbed, you can say Shemoneh Esrei louder as well, but again only if you're not able to concentrate otherwise.
(Sources: Shulchan Aruch O.C. 62:3, 101:2, Mishna Berurah 6-7.)