Having Kavana for Mitzvot
This is the approved revision of this page, as well as being the most recent.
Kavanah is a mindset necessary for the performance of many mitzvot. There are two types of Kavanah (intentions) for mitzvot:
- One is the concentration on the mitzvah to the exclusion of anything else and a sincerity of heart about what one is saying. Preferably, one should have this intention, however, after the fact if one didn't one has fulfilled the mitzvah except by the first pasuk of Shema and the first bracha of Shmoneh Esrei where this intent is absolutely necessary even after the fact.  See the details of this in the section Mitzvot that require special Kavana.
- The second type of Kavanah is that prior to performing a mitzvah one should think that I am hereby going to fulfill a particular Mitzvah. According to all opinions, it's preferable to have this intent, however, according to the accepted opinion this intent is necessary even after the fact (in most cases). The details of this second Kavanah are discussed below.
The Basic Obligation
- Even though many Rishonim hold that Mitzvot don’t need Kavana (intent) to fulfill a mitzvah , meaning as long as one has Kavana to do the action of the Mitzvah and not to do it by accident one fulfilled one's obligation, nonetheless,  the Halacha follows the other Rishonim who hold that Mitzvot need Kavana to fulfill the Mitzvah.  If one has Kavana not to fulfill one’s obligation according to all opinions one doesn’t fulfill his obligation. 
- Some Achronim hold according to the opinion that one must have Kavana, the obligation is Derabanan  but most hold it’s Deoritta. 
After the fact
- If one is unsure whether one had Kavana on a mitzvah Deoritta, Ashkenazim hold one must repeat the Mitzvah without a Bracha. Sephardim hold one fulfilled his Mitzvah but should be strict to repeat it. 
- If one did a mitzvah without Kavana to fulfill the mitzvah one should repeat it without a bracha. 
- By Derabanan Mitzvot, many Achronim hold that one doesn’t need Kavana, and some hold even by Derabanan’s one needs Kavana. 
- Some say that by Mitzvot that involve speech like Kriyat Shema one needs Kavana even according to the Rishonim who hold Mitzvot don’t need Kavana.  However most Achronim hold that there’s no differentiation.  Nonetheless, we pasken like the Rishonim who hold Mitzvot need Kavana. 
- Some say that Bedieved if one didn’t have Kavana but did the Mitzvah in the way that’s recognizable that it was done for the mitzvah (Shema with Brachot in middle of his Tefilah, Matzah in middle of Seder on Pesach, blowing Shofar on Rosh Hashana) one fulfills the obligation.  Still, Lechatchila, one should have Kavana to fulfill the Mitzvah. 
- Similarly, if a Mitzvah has a certain pleasure associated with it, like eating Matzah on Pesach, then one can fulfill his or her obligation even without Kavana. 
- Yet, if one regularly prays Arvit during the day and during the night repeats Shema to fulfill his obligation, and one time he prays Arvit during the night, he needs to have Kavana since he regularly doesn’t fulfill the mitzvah in his regular Arvit prayers. 
Mitzvot that require special Kavana
- Besides Kavana that one has to fulfill the positive Mitzvah to say Shema, one needs to understand what one is saying in the first pasuk of Shema because of the Kabalat Ol Malchut Shamayim (acceptance of yoke of heaven) and Yichud Hashem (knowing the Hashem is one).  However, in the rest of Shema one only needs Kavana to say the words (not to be Metasek, accidentally doing the action). 
- Mishna Brurah 60:7
- This distinction is clarified by the Tosfot (Brachot 12a s.v. lo), Ohel Moed (Kriyat Shema 2:4), and Mishna Brurah 60:7.
- Rabbenu Chananel (Brachot 13a), Ravyah (Brachot 1:45), Or Zaruh (Shema 31), Rashbetz in name of Rav Shrira Goan and other Geonim, Rav Yitzchak Even Giyat in Meah Sharim (1 pg 36) in name of Rav Hai Goan, Rashbam (quoted by Talmedei Rabbenu Yonah 6a), Bal HaMoar (3rd Perek of Rosh Hashana), Itur (Shofar 2:1 pg 59b), Sefer Eshkol 3:6 pg 12, Sefer Hashlama (Brachot 13a), Sefer Meorot (Brachot 13a), Raah (Brachot 13a), Rashba (Brachot 13a; Shu”t Rashba 1:344), Ritva (Rosh Hashana 28b), and Meiri Brachot 13a-b, Sefer HaShulchan (Shema 2), Radvaz (4:1094 against what he writes in 6:2246), and Maharal (Gevuros HaShem chapter 52) hold that Mitzvot don’t need Kavana to fulfill the mitzvah. Bal HaMoar, Talmedei Rabbenu Yonah, and Tur writes that even these opinions will hold that Lechatchila one should have Kavana.
- Rosh Hashana 32b and 33b say that a Metasek someone just involved in some action and by accident the mitzvah happens one doesn’t fulfill the obligation (even according to the opinions that hold Mitzvot don’t need Kavana). Shulchan Aruch 589:10 codifies this as halacha.
- Bahag (Brachot 2, 7) holds Mitzvot need Kavana. Rif (Rosh Hashana 7b) seems to agree as he rules like Rabbi Zeira that Shofar needs Kavana. Ravyah 2:533, Ramban (Milchamot Rosh Hashana 7b), Rosh (Rosh Hashana 3:11), Rabbenu Yerucham 6:2, Ran (Halachot Rosh Hashana 28b), and Meiri (Rosh Hashana 28b) explain the Rif in this way. Rashba (Rosh Hashana 28b), and Orchot Chaim (Shofar 8) explains Rif that one doesn’t need Kavana for Mitzvah just Kavana to listen to the Shofar. Tur 589 and Bet Yosef 589 understand the Rosh that Mitzvot need Kavana (See Sh”t Mishpat Tzedek 2:62 who explains that the Rosh holds only by Deoritta’s one needs Kavana). Rambam (Shofar 2:4) rules one needs Kavana but by Matzah 6:3 he rules one doesn’t need kavana. Ravad (Pesachim 10th Perek), Meiri and Ran (Rosh Hashana 28b) answer that Matzah doesn’t need Kavana because one gets benefit; thus, Rambam holds Mitzvot need Kavana. Shulchan Aruch 60:6 and 589:8 rules that the halacha is Mitzvot need Kavana.
- Rabbenu Yonah (Brachot 6a s.v. verabbenu shmuel) cites the Rashbam who holds that if one has intent not to fulfill an obligation then according to all opinions one doesn't fulfill one's obligation. The Ohel Moed (Kriyat Shema 2:4) quotes Tosfot and Rashba as holding that if you have negative kavana you don't fulfill your obligation but the Raah held that you do. Bet Yosef 589 and S”A 6:4 rules that if one has Kavana not to be Yotzei one doesn’t fulfill the obligation against one’s will based on many Rishonim unlike the Raah. See Sh”t Otzrot Yosef 3:9
- Sh”t Kol Eliyahu O”C 1:34, Cheker Halacha 2 pg 32d, Pat Yam 89b, Sh”t Binyan Olam O”C 18, Sh”t Yad Elazar 29, Sh”t Tov Tam VeDaat (3rd edition 127 D”H VeHeneh), and Sh”t Shenot Chaim (Stam 48 pg 60d) hold that the Kavana is only Derabanan.
- Sh”t Shemesh Tzedaka Oo”C 29 pg 36d in name of Tosfot (Rosh Hashana D”H Amar Rava), Pri Chadash 475:4. Mahari Najer in Moedei Hashem 58a in name of Turei Even(Rosh Hashana 29a) and Rashbam (Pesachim 114b). Shulchan Aruch HaRav 60:5, Yeshuot Yacov 60 pg 38b. Erech HaShulchan Y”D 120:16 in name of Hagahot Asherei (Rosh Hashana 3) and Ramban (Milchamot Rosh Hashana 3). Sh”t Yehuda Yaleh Asad O”C 172-3, Sh”t Tzvi Tiferet 48 and Mishna Brurah (Beiur Halacha 60 s.v. VeYesh Omrim) imply this from the Rashbam. Sh”t Imrei Binah O”C 14, Sh”t She’ilat Shmuel 8, Sh”t Bet Yitzchak Y”D 2:168(9), Sedei Chemed (Mem 61) all hold having Kavana is Deoritta. See further, Sh”t Yecheve Daat 6:29 in the note and Sh”t Chazon Ovadyah (vol 2 29 pg 557)
- There is also a dispute whether S”A ruled like the Rishonim who hold Kavana is necessary out of doubt or with certainty he ruled that the halacha is such. Pri Megadim (Introduction to Brachot HaShachar s.v. Od Ra’eti), Hagahot Rabbi Akiva Eiger 60:3, and Olot Tamid (quoted by Eliyah Rabba 213) hold S”A ruled out of doubt and Eliyah Rabba 213, Gra 60:9, and Mishna Brurah (Beiur Halacha s.v. VeChen Halacha) hold S”A rule with certainty. Thus according to Pri Megadim and Olot Tamid that S”A was uncertain then in our case that one is unsure if he had Kavana there is a Safek Safeka not to have to repeat the mitzvah. There is two doubts about the Deoritta law (Doubt whether halacha is like the opinions that one needs Kavana, and Safek whether one had Kavana) and a third doubt that Kavana may be only a derabanan obligation (Safek whether Kavana is Deoritta or Derabbanan). However according to Eliyah Rabba, Gra, and Mishna Brurah one can’t make a Safek Safeka according to S”A. Pri Megadim A”A 589:5 in name of Magen Avraham 589:5 says that if one is unsure whether one had Kavana one must repeat and we don’t say a Safek Safeka. Mishna Brurah 60:8 rules like Pri Megadim that one needs to repeat in a case when one is unsure whether one had Kavana. However, Sh”t Chazon Ovadyah 1:29 pg 561 and Halacha Brurah (60:12) rule that because of there are many Rishonim who hold one doesn’t need kavana and even if S”A with certainty ruled Kavana is needed one can still make a Safek Safeka (Safek whether Kavana is only Derabanan and Safek whether one had case in our case) one can be lenient not to repeat the mitzvah with Kavana. However it’s preferable to repeat it with Kavana without a bracha both according to Mishna Brurah (60:8) and Halacha Brurah (20:12) as there’s a Safek Brachot LeHakel even against S”A and so there’s a doubt that one fulfilled his mitzvah when one did it without Kavana like the opinions that one doesn’t need Kavana.
- Magen Avraham 489:8 writes that one needs specific intent to fulfill one’s obligation, but if one did the mitzvah Stam (no Kavana to be Yotze or not) one should repeat it without a Bracha since there’s Rishonim who hold Mitzvot need Kavana. Shaarei Knesset Gedola 489:1, Chok Yacov 489, Gra 489, Shulchan Aruch HaRav 489:14, and Mishna Brurah (60:8,10, Beiur Halacha s.v. Vechen Halacha) concur. However, Taz 489:8 holds that there’s no distinction between the mitzvah and the bracha and any time there’s a need to repeat the mitzvah one can make a Bracha. Nonetheless, Sh”t Nachfa Bekesef O”C 8, Chok Yacov 589:15, Mamer Mordechai 489:6 reject the Taz.] S”A 213:3 says that unless the one hearing the bracha and the one making the bracha have Kavana one doesn’t fulfill his obligation, implying that if one didn’t have such Kavana’s then one should repeat the bracha. Eliyah Rabba 213:8 and Levush explain that we don’t say Safek Brachot LeHakel in this case because S”A holds for certain like the opinion Mitzvot need Kavana and so one can repeat the bracha without Safek. Additionally, Pri Megadim (Introduction to Brachot HaShachar s.v. Od Ra’eti) holds that if one did a mitzvah without Kavana one must repeat with a bracha. Halacha Brurah 60:13 (like Magen Avraham and Mishna Brurah) rules that because of Safek Brachot LeHakel (which is said even against S”A as in Sh”t Chaim Shal 2:15, Sh”t Yabia Omer O”C 5:42(3), Sh”t Otzrot Yosef 1:28) one shouldn’t repeat the bracha since there’s a Safek for the Rishonim that one doesn’t need Kavana and also a Safek that Kavana may only be required on a Derabanan level but on a Deoritta level one fulfill the mitzvah.
- The following Achronim hold that Mitzvot Derabanan don’t need Kavana: Magen Avraham 60:3 in name of Sh”t Radvaz 4:1094, Sh”t Mishpat Tzedek 2:62, Knesset Gedolah 589, Chok Yacov 475:18, Eliyah Rabba 60:3, and Erech HaShulchan 60:1 (but only Bedieved), Shulchan Aruch HaRav 475:29 (who writes that preferably one should be strict). Reasons why Mitzvot Derabanan wouldn’t need Kavana: 1)Bach 475 says that the Rosh holds by Deoritta’s one needs Kavana like some Geonim but by Derabanan’s one doesn’t need Kavana. Seemingly, the Bach differentiates between Deoritta’s and Derabanan’s because by Deoritta a Safek is judged stringently and by Derabanan a Safek is judged leniently. Pri Megadim (Introduction to Brachot HaShachar D”H Od Ra’eti), Sh”t She’ilat Shmeul 8, Chaye Olam (Lech Lecha 26d), Sh”t Machane Chaim O”C 1:33 write similarly. 2) Sh”t Amudei Or 4:4, Shevilei David (Brachot pg 5c), and Sh”t Arugat HaBosem O”C 16:7 write that according to those who hold S”A ruled with certainty (Eliyah Rabba 213, Gra 60:9, and Mishna Brurah (Beiur Halacha D”H VeChen Halacha)) the only difference one can make is that Deoritta’s are more strict and so they require Kavana whereas Derabanan’s are more lenient and don’t require Kavana.
- The following Achronim hold that Mitzvot Derabanan need Kavana: Pri Chadash 475:4 explains that S”A holds by Derabanan’s one doesn’t need Kavana but disagrees and holds Derabanan’s need Kavana. Mikrei Kodesh of Rav Abulafiyah (quoted by Birkei Yosef 489:13), Eliyah Rabba 213:5, Birkei Yosef 489, Mishna Brurah 60:10, Biur Halacha 273:6, and Gra 489 argue that S”A agrees that Derabanan’s need Kavana. Shulchan Aruch 213:3 and 273:6 are proofs that derabbanans need kavana. Interestingly, Sh”t HaRemetz O”C 10:13 writes that even the opinion that holds Mitzvot don’t need Kavana, holds that Derabanan’s need Kavana. Sh”t Shemesh Tzedeka O”C 29 and Sh”t Bet Yitzchak E”H 2 pg 95b say that according to those who hold that Kavana is a Deoritta obligation will hold here that by Derabanan’s Kavana is needed since Derabanan is patterned after Deoritta’s. Kaf HaChaim 60:10 writes that according to Kabala Derabanan’s also need Kavana.
- Talmedei Rabbenu Yonah 7a (quoted by Bet Yosef 589) writes that those who hold Mitzvot don’t Kavana only that opinion by Mitzvot that have an action. However by Mitzvot that involve speech need Kavana according to everyone.
- Many Achronim argue that in Rosh Hashana 28b the Gemara brings a proof that Mitzvot need Kavana from Kriyat Shema and according to the distinction of the Talmedei Rabbenu Yonah the Gemara should have rejected the proof saying the Kriyat Shema is different since it’s a mitzvah of speech including: Lechem Mishna (Megilah 2:5), Pri Chadash 589e, Turei Even (Rosh Hashana 28b), Sh”t Divrei Moshe 193, and Bear Yacov 589 pg 36b.
- The Derisha implies from the Tur (and S”A) who quote this dispute by Kriyat Shema (Siman 60) that the opinions who hold one doesn’t need Kavana shouldn’t also need Kavana by Kriyat Shema. Halacha Brurah 60:15 rules that S”A doesn’t hold of the Rabbenu Yonah’s distinction.
- Chaye Adam 68, Mishna Brurah 60:10, and Halacha Brurah 60:17 write that if it’s clear from one’s actions that one was doing the Mitzvah Bedieved one doesn’t need Kavana. This is sourced in the Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashana 3; which is quoted by the Ran (Rosh Hashana 7a), Bet Yosef 589, and Magen Avraham 589:5) which says that someone standing outside a Shul and hears Shofar there’s a Chazaka that he had Kavana.
- Mishna Brurah 60:10 and Halacha Brurah 60:17
- Rosh Hashana 28a, Rashi ad loc., Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 475:4
- Mishna Brurah (Beiur Halacha 60 s.v. VeChen Halacha), and Halacha Brurah 60:17
- Sh”t Rashba 1:344 writes that even though one needs Kavana by every mitzvah by Shema and Shmoneh Esrei one needs also to think about the words. This is also the opinion of S”A 60:5
- Raah (Brachot 2e) writes that there’s three levels of Kavana; first is not to be Metasek to intend to do the action of the mitzvah such as reading the words of Shema even if his intention is to check that it’s written correctly, then second is Kavana to fulfill every mitzvah, and the third Kavana is to intend every word for Hashem as one is able. This is quoted by Sefer Hashlama, Sefer Meorot, Rav Avraham Alashvili, Shitah Mekubeset, Ritva all found on Brachot 13a, and Avudraham (Siddur Kol Hashana). S”A 60:5 rules that the first Kavana is sufficient for the rest of Shema and the third level of Kavana is needed for the first pasuk of Shema. This is also the opinion of many Achronim including Sh”t Radvaz 4:1094, Magen Avrham 60:4, Pri Chadash 60:5, Eliyah Raba 60:3, Pri Megadim A”A 60:4, Shulchan Aruch HaRav 60:5 and Halacha Brurah 60:17.