Question: When one recites a blessing, must the words of the blessing be somewhat audible or may one recite the words in complete silence? Furthermore, is it permissible to recite a blessing bare-headed, without wearing a Kippah?
Answer: The Gemara (Berachot 15a) states that all blessings one makes should be audible, i.e. one should not recite a blessing completely silently; rather, one should raise one’s voice at least to the extent that one can hear the words coming out of one’s mouth. Nevertheless, post facto, even if the blessing was recited in a complete undertone and one could not hear the words one uttered at all, as long as one enunciated the words, one has fulfilled one’s obligation and need not repeat the blessing.
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that the same applies to the blessings of the Amida prayer. Although the verse states that Hannah (mother of Shmuel Ha’Navi) prayed silently and “only her lips moved,” nevertheless, this does not mean that one should pray completely silently. Rather, one should enunciate the words to the extent that they are audible to one’s own ears. Although this topic is subject to a disagreement among the great Mekubalim with some maintaining that the Amida should be recited completely silently without emanating any sound from one’s mouth, nevertheless, halachically, one should pray somewhat audibly so that one can hear one’s self (however, it should not be audible to others). Indeed, Rabbeinu Elazar Ezkari, a great Mekubal who lived in the times of Maran Ha’Bet Yosef and the saintly Ari zt”l, writes that even during the Amida prayer, it is improper for one to recite the blessings completely inaudibly; rather, the words should be somewhat audible. Hagaon Harav Shalom Messas zt”l rules likewise.
It is imperative that one teach one’s family not to recite blessings in a rushed manner. It is worthwhile to adopt the advice of Hagaon Harav Yehuda Tzadka zt”l, Rosh Yeshivat Porat Yosef, which was to split every blessing into three parts: “Baruch Ata Hashem,” pause for a moment and then recite “Elokeinu Melech Ha’Olam,” pause for another moment and recite “Shehakol Nihya Bidvaro.” In this way, one will certainly recite blessings with the necessary concentration and without, G-d-forbid, disparaging blessings which are so tremendously important.
Regarding the second question about reciting a blessing bare-headed, the Poskim disagree whether or not walking around with a Kippah is a halachic obligation. Nevertheless, reciting a blessing bare-headed is more serious and while reciting a blessing, one’s head must be covered, for one may not utter the name of Hashem bare-headed. We have discussed this with regards to reciting blessings at the beach.
Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch rules likewise that one may not utter the name of Hashem until one covers one’s head with a Kippah and the like. Thus, even in a place where religious Jews walk around bare-headed, such as at the beach and the like, one must cover one’s head with a Kippah when reciting a blessing.