An initiative of the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora - DavenSpot aims to create a platform for educators who are instigating dynamic energy to school prayer. The ultimate question here is how do we teach people to daven and how can we evaluate our progress.
Monday, May 27, 2013
Shared-Post: Giving Prayer a Prayer of a Chance
The following article was published on the 25th of May by Aryeh Ben David in the Times of Israel. It offers a honest, pointed, and pedagogically sound theory - so why won't administrators and teachers try this approach? Cliches are reflection of an effectual prayer and I am thinking more and more that we need to reboot our teaching of tefilla.
Giving Prayer a Prayer of a Chance
Rav Kook writes that one of the signs of the coming of the
Messianic Era is that people will begin to hate rabbis. I think we’re getting
Why hate rabbis? Because they will still be consumed with
the small stuff, the details – and people will want more.
Organized prayer is an example. It’s just not working.
The overwhelmingly widespread disaster of organized prayer
in religious high schools and synagogues is impossible to ignore – yet the
rabbis keep offering the same worn-out clichés.
It’s not the system’s fault – you just have to try harder
This is how we've always done it and it worked for our
It’s a slippery slope and if we tamper with anything, the
whole system will fall apart
From “lo l’shma – ba l’shma” (doing without connection will
eventually bring connection)
It provides community-building
The system is not working – and we’re living the Emperor’s
clothes story by choosing to ignore the extent of the problem.
As educators, we know that if one student fails a subject,
it’s his fault. But if the whole class fails – then it is the teacher’s fault.
Well, what if the whole school fails? What if the whole district fails? What if
the whole city fails? Then there is a systematic problem going on which is
bigger than any individual student, class, school, or district. That is what we
have on our hands.
I was shocked by one particularly ghastly personal
educational experience. I asked many orthodox rabbis and educators the
following question: If a kid was having trouble connecting to organized
prayer and you could look into your crystal ball and saw two potential
alternatives – which path would you advise him?
Either: The boy could take a month off from praying the
prayer book and just sit, meditate on God, look for God’s footprints in the
world, and then after a month begin to say just a few lines – but only lines he
was personally connected to and had meaning for him. Then he would keep slowly
adding lines for the next months. And your crystal ball told you that this
would dramatically improve his prayer focus and depth for the rest of his life.
Or: He would keep praying, trying harder, but there
would be no significant deepening of his prayer life for the rest of his life.
To my shock and dismay – EVERY single rabbi and educator
answered me that they would not advise taking the first route, even if they
knew 100% that it would have positive effects for the next 50 years!
Well, I guess I am a heretic or maybe just
an apikoris – but I don’t get the educational wisdom of that
Personally, I took the first route,
stopped davening for several month. I sat in tallit and tefillin,
reflected on my relationship with God, and very slowly began to add selected
words and phrases from the prayer book. The effect on my prayer life has been
astounding. I really look forward to praying now. It is personal, meaningful,
and from my heart.
The Talmud itself says that the core prayer experience
should be “the work of the heart.” We have to bring our hearts into prayer –
and today, a vast majority of guys keep telling me that they are just going
through the motions.
The relationship with God is a core Jewish and human
experience. The morning conversation creates a template for all the other
conversations during the day. When kids (and adults) begin the day by having a
mindless, unfocused, mumbling, “how long is this going to take and why is
the shaliach tzibur taking so long” conversation with God – how does
this portend for all of that day’s succeeding relationships?
Fixed and organized prayer serves a need to bring the
community together and provides a structure for the formal, external exigencies
of prayer. But now kids and adults are wanting more – wanting something that
also evokes and responds to the inner voice of their heart and soul. Something
that they are connected to and has personal meaning.
If we do not stop and consider how to give it to them – they
will simply check out, or go somewhere else. It’s happening all around us.
Let’s not be consumed by the details – the time has come for
more. The slope isn't that slippery. Isn't it time we started recognizing that
we have a systemic failure on our hands and start seeking beyond the cliches?