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Why do Jews daven (pray)?

There are essentially four schools of thought:

A. The simple idea of prayer: the social approach: One confronts God and asks for one’s needs, and God really does listen to prayer. This is the primary approach to prayer found in the Jewish Bible and by Chazal, the sages of the Mishnah and Talmud.

“The concept of prayer is based on the conviction that God exists, hears, and answers – that God is a personal deity. In a sense it is a corollary of the biblical concept that man was created ‘in the image of God’, which implies, inter alia, fellowship with God. Although prayer has an intellectual base, it is essentially emotional in character. It is an expression of man’s quest for the Divine and his longing to unburden his soul before God….That prayer is answered is an accepted biblical verity; but Scripture is no less emphatic that not all prayers are answered.” – Encyclopaedia Judaica, Prayer

The rationalist approach: In this view, ultimate goal of prayer is to help train a person to focus on divinity through philosophy and intellectual contemplation. This approach was taken by Maimonides Samuel Ibn Tibbon, Joseph Albo, and the other medieval rationalists.

The educational approach: In this view, prayer is not a conversation. Rather, it is meant to inculcate certain attitudes in the one who prays, but not to influence. This has been the approach of Rabbenu Bachya, Yehuda Halevy, Joseph Albo, Samson Raphael Hirsch, and Joseph Dov Soloveitchik. This view is expressed by Rabbi Nosson Scherman in the overview to the Artscroll Siddur (p. XIII); note that Scherman goes on to also affirm the Kabbalistic view.

Kabbalistic view: Jewish mysticism ascribes a higher meaning to the purpose of prayer, which is no less than affecting the very fabric of reality itself, restructuring and repairing the universe in a real fashion. In this view, every word of every prayer, and indeed, even every letter of every word, has a precise meaning and a precise effect. Prayers thus literally affect the mystical forces of the universe, and repair the fabric of creation. This approach has been taken by the Chassidei Ashkenaz (German pietists of the Middle-Ages), the Zohar, the Arizal’s Kabbalist tradition, the Ramchal, most of Hassidism, the Vilna Gaon and Jacob Emden.

How do Jews daven?

(to be added)

Keva and Kavvanah

(to be added)

What are the four basic types of Jewish prayer?

In Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer, Seth Kadish writes:

There are four basic types of tefila.

I. Hoda’ah (thanks)

“One of the most basic ethical assumptions in Judaism is that whenever one receives a favor from another, one is duty-bound to acknowledge the source of the good he has received…This acknowledgement is nor primarily for the giver’s benefit, but is rather a healthy moral response on the part of receiver. Its purpose is not to make the giver feel good by knowing that his gift was well received (though it may and should accomplish this as well).” [Kadish, 54]

II. Vidduy (confession)

“The Torah obligates each Jew to confess his wrong-doing to God. This is knwon as vidduy, and is part of the process of teshuvah (repentence). Halakhically, prayer constitutes an obligation that is entirely sepratae from repentance (and vidduy). That is why Rambam (Maimonides) confines vidduy to his Laws of Repentence, rather than discussing it in his Laws of Prayer.” Nonetheless, vidduy is widely considered to be a form of prayer because (1) “It addresses God in the second person, as do typical rabbinic prayers. If prayer is defined as talking directly to God, then confessing sins to Him obviously fits the pattern. (2) It follows the conceptual structure of Biblical prayer.” [Kadish, p.53]

III. Shevach (praise)

Shevach “was the subject of heated debate from rabbinic times through the middle ages, and to a certain degree the discussion has continued into modern times as well. It was the very assumption that a man is even _capable_ of praising God that caused all of the controversy: after all, praise implies describing the object of the praise. How can finite man presume to describe God, who is entirely beyond human understanding? And if man cannot, then is it not blasphemous for him to make the attempt?

It may be said that this single problem is mostly responsible for the Rambam [Maimonides] writing the first part of the Moreh Nuvukhim [The Guide of the Perplexed”. His solution was that the Torah uses human analogies that the common people unfortunately take literally; but if these analogies were understood correctly then it becomes clear that they don’t really presume to describe God in human terms….However, this problem with shevah is not one that is central to most modern thinkers, who seem to be satisfied with an approach similar to Rambam’s answer.”
[Kadish, p.55,56]

IV. Bakkashah (petitioning God for our needs)

“When we take an overall look at the content of Jewish prayer, it immediately becomes clear that the bakkashah is the central aspect of tefila. The prayers of biblical characters…revolve almost totally around entirely around petition. Rabbinic prayer as embodied in the Amidah consists of petitions on thirteen different themes in its ‘middle’ blessings, as opposed to just three blessings of praise and three for thanksgiving. But while petition is the essence of prayer, at the same time it poses the deepest and most fundamental problems about prayer.”
[Kadish, p.56]

What are the Jewish prayerbooks?

Siddur – (Hebrewסדור‎‎, plural siddurim סדורים) The basic prayer book. It contains the set order of daily prayers. Some are for weekdays, others for Shabbat and festivals. They may all be published in a single book. Many publishers break this into 2 volumes (Weekday, and Shabbat/Festivals.) The word siddur comes from the Hebrew root Hebrewס.ד.ר‎‎ meaning “order”, as in “set order of prayers.”

Machzor is a special form of the siddur, with prayers added for important holidays. The most common ones are used for the High Holy Days – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Some Jews use of mahzorim for the three pilgrimage festivals of PassoverShavuot, and Sukkot. The word mahzor  ח־ז־ר  means “cycle”, as in “cycle of prayers.”

Bentcher (or Birchon) – is a small booklet with prayers for Shabbat home rituals, Grace After Meals, and prayers for celebrations such as weddings. Bentcher is a Yiddish word that actually derives from the Latin term benediction.They commonly have tefilot (prayers) for:

Sabbath and Holiday eve candle lighting; Blessing the Children; Sabbath eve and morning Kiddush, and other occasions, Zemiroth (songs) for Sabbath Day; Havdalah – Ending the Shabbath. Grace after meals for events such as a Brit milah (circumcision) and weddings. Blessings before and after eating.

Haggadah  הַגָּדָה (“telling”) sets forth the order of the Passover Seder. Reading it is a fulfillment of the mitzvah (commandment) to tell one’s children of the Israelite’s liberation from slavery in Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus.



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