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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Worship, Conversion, Intermarriage (5/12)
Section - Question 9.4: How do Jews pray?

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                                  Answer:
   
   In public and in private; in groups and alone. Jews pray loudly and in
   silence; in Hebrew, English, and any other language you can name.
   Sometimes Jews even pray without language. Jews pray from the depth of
   their souls, at the tops of their lungs, and from the quiet of their
   hearts. It is difficult to point to a specific "Jewish" way of
   praying.
   
   However, one's prayers must fulfill certain daily obligations, so a
   standard order of prayers has been developed to accomplish this.
   Still, even in a structured prayer service, there are many
   opportunities for a silent, personal supplication to G-d.
   
   The introduction to the Artscroll Siddur (Orthodox) provides a good
   overview of the Jewish view of prayer, and the book [5]To Pray as a
   Jew discusses more of the particulars.
   
   The next question is: So, why do we pray at all. Often, when we think
   of 'prayer', we think of needs and requests. This is not necessarily
   the Jewish concept of prayer.
   
   In Judaism, prayer is an introspective process. It is process of
   discovering what one is, what one should be, and how to achieve the
   transformation. Prayer is described in Torah as a service of the
   heart, not of the mouth (Talmud Bavli, Ta'anit 2a). By improving
   ourselves with prayer, we become capable of absorbing G-d's blessing.
   
   The Hebrew word for prayer is tefila, based on the words 'to judge' or
   'to differentiate'. The exercise of judgements is called 'pilelah',
   whose roots mean 'a clear separation'. Prayer is viewed as a means to
   define what truly matters, to ignore the trivialities.
   
   So why pray? Doesn't G-d know our requirements already? In Jewish
   tradition, the purpose of tefila is not to tell G-d something, but
   rather to raise the level of the person praying by improving their
   perceptions of life so they can become worthy of blessing.
   
   Note that Jewish law requires the worshiper to be aware that it is G-d
   being addressed, to "know before Whom you are standing" (Talmud Bavli,
   Berakhot, 28b). Thus, Jewish prayer is more than reading from a prayer
   book. Prayer requires the sense of standing in the presence of G-d and
   the intent to fulfill at least one of G-d's commandments. This intent
   is called kavanah.
   
   Talmud teaches that the minimal level of kavanah required is that "one
   who prays must direct one's heart towards heaven" (Berakhot, 31a). The
   next higher level of kavanah is to know and understand fully the
   meanings of the prayers. The level following that is to free one's
   mind of all extraneous and interfering thoughts. At the highest level,
   kavanah means to think about the deeper meaning of what one is saying
   and praying with extraordinary devotion. Should circumstances make it
   necessary for a person to choose between saying more prayers without
   kavanah or saying fewer prayers with kavanah, the fewer are preferred.
   (Shulkhan Arukh, Orah Hayim 1:4)

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Top Document: soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Worship, Conversion, Intermarriage (5/12)
Previous Document: Question 9.3: Do you need a rabbi for a divorce?
Next Document: Question 9.5: Is there a distinctly Jewish form of meditation?

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