Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Prayer By Proxy
The idea of a 'shaliach' is common in Jewish literature; this is the notion of having someone represent you, or to literally be your 'messenger' in certain situations. In prayer, the leader is called the shaliach tzibur - the community messenger - and leads the group in communal prayer and holy repetitions that cannot be side as sole individuals.
What about hiring someone to do the praying for you? Today I read on Tablet Magazine - in "Pay to Pray" by Tamar Fox - a critique of the growing industry of services offered for those who pay people to daven on behalf of others; here is the link: http://www.tabletmag.com/life-and-religion/73355/pay-to-pray/
I think Fox's piece is well thought out and cites both anecdotal and textual sources to highlight her point that paying people to pray on one's behalf is a perplexing and perhaps unproductive trend (unless you are the ones profiting off of the payments). As educators, I think it is important to have in mind Fox's notion of "farmed out prayer" as a natural byproduct of a listless prayer experience. The paradox of Tefilla for many young Jewish adults is that they have internalized the message of the ritual need and great importance of prayer but struggle to actually practice the spiritual experience. The performance regularly is a disappointment but there remains a faith that someone else can deliver their prayer and achieve results that they were not worthy of reaching.
This, I believe, is the same feeling that propels many more people to go to synagogues for the High Holy Days or draws them to the Kotel. This feeling is a need that someone else can bring them higher - which again is a kosher notion to Jewish philosophy. The danger o this approach is in believing that only the shaliach has the true connection. In essence this is an issue of insiders and outsiders. Insiders feel ownership, know the rules and are familiar with the territory of the experience. Outsiders are strangers, need direction to function appropriately, and lack the terminology to fit it and figure the best way to fast track their goal is to hire (farm out to) an insider. Our goal as educators is to make our students passionate and dynamic insiders.