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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Jewish Prayer, In Quiet Dignity or Enthusiastic Participation

The online Tablet Magazine has an article about synagogue prayers and concerts, decorum and participation.
...Participatory services are more popular than services in which the congregation sits quietly for the most part, watching the rabbi and hazzan perform the work of worship up on the bimah.
Two: Tefillah was never meant to be a spectator sport, and by nature is the very opposite of a passive activity drained of emotion. We are talking about the attempt to stand before God, after all, however one understands God. This has never been an easy thing to do—consult the writings of religious virtuosi throughout the centuries—and is certainly not a routine matter for modern Jews in the pews. Nor is it easy to stand before oneself. The verb “to pray” in Hebrew is reflexive. Prayer is about exposing and facing up to depths of self, asking difficult questions and trying to answer them, pondering the meaning of God’s teachings for one’s life. The process can be uplifting, upsetting, or both. The tefillot we utter are meant to move us. At times the movement within has a chance to find expression in movement of the body—we bow, dance, sway, or parade around the synagogue. At other times, we keep what is inside bottled up, not wanting to reveal the turmoil...
It's certainly food for thought.  And it's a great relief to remember that there have always been many kinds and styles of synagogues and how they conduct prayers. The basic "rule" is, whether Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Liberal, in Israel or Out, the more artistically skilled and expensive the Chazzan, Cantor, prayer leader, the less participatory, especially if there's a choir assisting. And that means that I'm extraordinarily lucky; our local synagogues enjoy the services of neighbors and guests, not professional Chazzanim.  

Even better for me is the fact that our Ezrat Nashim, Women's Gallery is upstairs.  I can sing happily along, "dance" in my place and nobody seems to care.  The men downstairs don't hear me, and nobody upstairs has dared to complain.  I don't bang on the seats, tables nor clap my hands. I try to be as quiet as can be knowing how easy it is to lose concentration when someone makes a loud startling noise.  Freed of the responsibility of leading public prayer, my female neighbors and I high up in the balcony have the freedom to sing happily out of tune when the mood suits us.  When my voice breaks from emotion, it's between me and G-d; I can switch volume at will.  We're neither performing nor responsible for inspiring the Tzibur, community in to prayer.  Yes, I do consider this a freedom.  I very sincerely thank G-d every morning when praying the Morning Blessings for making me "according to His Will."

Jewish Prayers are not supposed to be a disciplined "concert, " observed by a polite and mostly silent audience.  We, the congregation are supposed to say the prayers.  The chazzan, or less professional ba'al tefilah or Shaliach Tzibur, which means "messenger of the community," is supposed to facilitate, inspire us to pray to G-d.  According to Judaism we have a direct connection to G-d which we must use.

The Halachot Laws of Prayer are derived from the story of the Biblical Chana, Hannah in Shiloh.  And that is the story read in the Rosh Hashannah Haftara, 1 Samuel 1,1-2,10.
יב  וְהָיָה כִּי הִרְבְּתָה, לְהִתְפַּלֵּל לִפְנֵי יְהוָה; וְעֵלִי, שֹׁמֵר אֶת-פִּיהָ. 12 And it came to pass, as she prayed long before the LORD, that Eli watched her mouth.
יג  וְחַנָּה, הִיא מְדַבֶּרֶת עַל-לִבָּהּ--רַק שְׂפָתֶיהָ נָּעוֹת, וְקוֹלָהּ לֹא יִשָּׁמֵעַ; וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ עֵלִי, לְשִׁכֹּרָה. 13 Now Hannah, she spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard; therefore, Eli thought she had been drunken.
Unlike most other pilgrims to the Mishkan, Tabernacle in Shiloh who requested that Eli or his sons pass their message, request, prayers to G-d, Chana prayed directly to G-d.  And Chana's request was granted.

When we pray directly to G-d, we connect to G-d and develop a relationship with Him. If we count on the cantor, then we're not communicating with G-d, and we miss out.  You don't need a great impressive voice for G-d to hear.  If we count on others to do our praying, we may end up creating a congregation of "tape recorders."
in Florida, This Happens
In a large Florida City, the rabbi developed quite a reputation for his sermons; so much so that everyone who was Jewish in the community came every Shabbat. Unfortunately, one weekend a member had to visit Long Island for his nephew's bar mitzvah. But he didn't want to miss the rabbi's sermon. So he decided to hire a Shabbat goy to sit in the congregation and tape the sermon so he could listen to it when he returned. Other congregants saw what was going on, and they also decided to hire Shabbat goys to tape the sermon so they could play golf instead of going to shul. Within a few weeks time there were 500 gentiles sitting in shul taping the rabbi. The rabbi got wise to this. The following Shabbat he, too, hired a Shabbat goy who brought a tape recorder to play his prerecorded sermon to the 500 gentiles in the congregation who dutifully recorded his words on their machines. Witnesses said this marked the first incidence in history of artificial insermonation!
And if we're supposed to communicate our prayers to G-d, then we must use a siddur with a language we understand.  The prayers in Israel, especially in shuls like mine, Beit Knesset Noam Yonatan in Ramat Shmuel, Shiloh,  are amazing.  One of the reasons for this was noticed by a young cousin who once spent a Shabbat with us.
"Everyone understands the words!"

Jewish Prayers are in Hebrew, and Hebrew is the language spoken by most of my neighbors.  We're not mumbling, or even singing in gibberish.  When I've been a guest in homes in which the person saying Kiddush or Havdalah doesn't comprehend Hebrew, the prayer sounds different.  So, one of the ways to connect to Jewish Prayer is to learn Hebrew. And in the interim, keep checking up on the translation.


Shy Guy said...

The language barrier is one of the big obstacles indeed. The last time I needed an English translation siddur was back in High School.

I have a conflict. I enjoy music and singing but I hate schlepped out davening. I can handle a Carlbach Kabbalat Shabbat once in a blue moon but I cannot handle a Rosh Hashanah Davening that lasts 6-7 hours, with or without a Kiddush break. :)

Anyone know? What was the average daily morning nusach, say at the time of the Amora'im or the Ga'onim, compared to what we have compiled today?

Batya said...

I wasn't raised in a dati home, and my Hebrew has come slowly.
I think the dovening in my shul as fine. Not terribly long, but not rushed.

Shy Guy said...

Batya, way back in my US upbringing days, Shabbat morning davening in almost every large formal shul started at 9AM and ended at 12PM, sometimes 12:30.

In the last 2 years of high school, I moved to a 1H45MN long shteibel minyan. My kavana improved because my mind stopped wandering.

Batya said...

Shy, here in our small Shiloh shul, on Shabbat we start at 8 and finish after 10. How much after depends on the "parsha" and the Shaliach tzibbur. There are more than a handful of other minyanim to choose from, different times, styles and Nusachim.

Sandra said...

Basya,, little understanding of Hebrew , has for me been helped enormously by a linear translation Siddur. It slows me right down as I read the English underneath every Hebrew word, but I do get much more out of my davening! It must be wonderful to understand what you are saying!

Shy Guy said...

Sandra, invest in decades to come of a more intuitively and meaningful life and learn Hebrew.

Doors will open like you could never imagine.

Batya said...

Sandra, the Hebrew in prayers is much more difficult than the Hebrew we speak. It takes decades unless you really study.