Monday, September 26, 2011
Sunday, September 25, 2011
It is that time of year - when tickets go on sale for synagogues, when school is interrupted by a parade of Jewish holydays, and we plan to eat and eat and eat again.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
I did, however, gain a very important understanding from davening with others. Before frum week, I had assumed that more observant Jews were just speed reading through the prayers, as compared to the Reform Jews in my home congregation, who actively participated in musical prayer services—the kind of service which often helped me feel connected to God. But after spending so much time experiencing this different style of prayer, I begin to sense that the “mumbling” was really its own type of music, with its own rhythm, its own voice rising and falling.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
This is a very interesting trend, in my humble opinion. Consider that Rav Soloveitchik had a machzor published in his name by the OU in 2006 with his insights (for those who don't know Rav Solveitchik zt"l died in 1993).
Thursday, September 8, 2011
In this program we express our understanding of Keva and Kavvanah, and we foster symbolic thinking through an art form. We renew and enrich the culture of derekh eretz in the art room. We perceive that prayer develops our self-awareness as vital individuals and as members of a learning community; that Jews pray alone in community.
In Tefillah Studies we ask, "How can we understand the nature of prayer? How can we understand Rabbi A. J. Heschel’s thoughts on Keva and Kavvanah in Jewish prayer? Where can we find these notions elsewhere in the human experience to help us clarify the act of prayer?
We begin with Rabbi Heschel’s words, quoted in Abraham Joshua Heschel: Interpreter of Jewish Prayer by Arnold Jacob Wolf:
There is a specific difficulty of Jewish prayer. There are laws – Keva: how to pray, when to pray, what to pray. There are fixed times, fixed ways, fixed texts. On the other hand, prayer is worship of the heart, the outpouring of the soul, a matter of inner devotion – Kavvanah. In this way, Jewish prayer is guided by two opposite principles: order and outburst, regularity and spontaneity, uniformity and individuality, law and freedom, a duty and a prerogative, empathy and self-expression, insight and sensitivity, creed and faith. These principles are two poles about which Jewish prayer revolves.
While students explore the ideas Keva and Kavvanah in Tefillah Studies, in Art Class they investigate color and the elements of design. They study the artist Mark Rothko, who said, “I’m not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on” (www.theartstory.org). The class explores Rothko’s approach, learning how complementary colors energize, while altering tones and shades can differentiate strength and mood. Once the learning goals of the component disciplines are met, the study of prayer meets Abstract Expressionism in the art room, where students create a large color field painting. Following Rothko they experiment with how abstract composition and color express ideas. The practice correlates with the themes of duality and conflict in Keva and Kavvanah and students explore through their paintings and written artist statements.
We assess student ability to engage in meaningful discussions, to bridge information from diverse areas of learning, and to connect personal artwork to models from art history. Students must express their understanding of symbolic thinking and Rav Heschel’s thoughts on Keva and Kavvanah in Jewish prayer through their painting and artist statement; they must show comprehension of Abstract Expressionism and produce an extended color wheel; they must elaborate on ideas, and employ diverse art materials; they must persist during a directed lesson, work independently and remain engaged in personal artwork; they must also apply the principles of derekh eretz to the collective learning experience. Through abstract art they evince the solitude and collegiality of Jewish prayer.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
One of the hardest (and most special) parts of davening in a community is the Amidah. When else do you stand in a room with a hundred of people in absolute silence? The answer to this question may be never. It is often hard for people to remain quiet for the 2-4 minutes it takes for people to say their personal 'silent devotion'. The beginning seconds are bothered by the rattling chairs and soon the chatter of those that finish quickly. It is hard to resist the many small conversations but they noise the make can be incredibly frustrating to people trying to concentrate/meditate on their tefilla.
My brother-in-law recently expressed his frustration that at his shul there are couple of folks that whisper their words loud enough to create a hum and noise that interrupts his focus. We looked into the Shulchan Urech in Hilchot Tefilla halacha 101 where it states that you should not only pray in your heart, rather you should move the words on your lips and hear the words in your ears quietly and not hear his voice; these words are appropriate for oneself, but if in a community it is forbidden to disturb the community. This is an allusion to Hannah's prayer in Samuel 1 Chapter 2 which many prayer practices are learned from. Interesting to see the Mishna Berura's comment on this verse which links people who daven loudly as following in the prophets of falsehood and accuses them of lacking in faith by assuming that Hashem could not hear their whispered prayers.
In our overly stimulated environments that are saturated with technology and visual and audio prompts we rarely encounter a few solid moments of silence. As educators, I think it is highly worthwhile to ensure that the students get comfortable with the meditative silence and learn to suppress the urge to cough or chatter with a neighbor during this special moment of tefilla. I have done this exercise in nature (at night) and students have responded positively to questions of awakening feelings of spirituality. Can you do this in a school classroom/synagogue? In an effort to encourage developing spiritual focus I think it is worth testing the respect your students have for the silent moments and possibility of listening to their own hearts.