Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Praying Sitting or Standing

Does it matter?  Does sitting or standing while davening have an impact on your spiritual feeling?  Call it the calisthenics of tefilla if you will, but do I really raise my tefilla when I rise up?

For me, the issue of posture and prayer started back when I was younger and often heard the “please rise” and “you may be seated” conducted in the tefillot in my Hebrew School and at camp.  I once had a rabbi/teacher who explained the conceptual idea behind the Shmoneh Esrei prayer, called the “Amidah” or “standing”, as being titled such since it is said standing upright which he claimed was a uniquely human posture.  Thus standing erect in prayer before our Creator (and bowing) was a way to acknowledge our special position and connection to God.

Another controversial situation is whether it is proper to sit during the Torah reading in synagogue or stand up.  On this issue, the sitters have won out, but it seems that some sources support this position only out of sheer comfort and not as an ideal way to hear the public reading of the word of God.  In Jewish practice standing is a sign of respect and is done for a parent, teacher or rabbi.  When the Ten Commandments are read publically, people customarily stand up out of respect and as if to re-enact this experience as it was described in the Torah.  (Anecdotally, when Senator Joseph Lieberman went to synagogue the first Shabbat after being nominated in 2000 as the VP candidate, a reporter from the Washington Post wrote that “upon entering the entire congregation rose and read aloud the Ten Commandments”; coincidentally he was tardy for Shul on what happened to be parshat Vi’Etchanan).  Also, when the last lines of any of the five books of the Torah are read, there often is a loud clap in shul or a “please rise” so that we can rise to mark the ending of a book. 

One argument that I hear from some educators is that standing keeps kids from falling asleep.  So goes the theory that slouching is a habit of the lazy and lazy, unfocused people cannot find spiritual transcendence.  Now I have many friends that can sleep anywhere – and it is important not to confuse the bliss and harmony of sleeping with a true spiritual experience.  (It is also noteworthy that one can sleep while standing – indeed this is a habit that the IDF imparts into many an Israeli youth).  But is it a more spiritual posture? Recently when I was on an airplane and couldn’t rise to pray - mainly for safety reasons and courtesy to the others that would have been blocked from moving about in the cabin, I davened in my seat, with a slight recline.  It was a different experience but not a bad one.  I think it was just not what I was normally accustomed to.

Somehow, I think there is a power in having a proper posture in prayer. What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Your post was very thoughtful, although I have not entertained any thought of changing my prayer practice, since I was a child--then I davened regularly at shul where it was the practice to rise during the recitation of the Shema.
    I am always surprised when I conduct my Hebrew High minyan in davening that the standing for certain tefilot is so personally ingrained in my practice it does not occur to me, to question or change it (though I have adapted other aspects of prayer due various considerations).
    I think I would like to discuss this idea of standing or sitting with my minyan.
    Thank you for raising the issue (no pun intended).