Sunday, April 1, 2012

Rav Schachter's Advice for Teaching Tefilla

I have been meaning to share the following interview With Rav Schachter about leading tefillah in day schools (I found this and other resources on tefilla at YU's High Sschool Chinuch Community website).

Whether you know who Rav Hershel Schachter is or not, I think that this video offers a candid glimpse into Orthodox Judaim's educational approach and qualms about tefilla.   Rarely in life do you see an interview of someone tops in their fields talking about the basic A, B's and C's of their subject field and pedagogical approaches for high schools students.

I am amazed at this interviewer's (Rabbi Kenny Schiowitz) approach to the challenging scenarios for contemporary educators and what questions were posed and not posed to this scholar.  Further, it is important to note how Rav Schachter is very open that he doesn't have much practical experience with implementing such approaches in the classrooms "with younger children".  The following are my gleanings from the Rav Schachter's answers:

  • Tefilla should be considered optional in schools were students would want to opt out.
  • Teaching the siddur is more important than teaching gmera (Talmud)
  • Even Rav Schachter abbreviates his tefilla to accommodate what the community does - but it is important for teachers to be with their students, even if you have to interrupt your own tefilla.  
  • The repetition of the leader (hazerat ha'shatz) could be dropped from school tefilla as was the practice of Morrocan Jews following the legal ruling of the Rambam (which reflected a low level of interest in the practice).
  • Orthodox kids are not connecting to davening and this needs to be addressed seriously and with educational flexibility. 

As an educator, I think this session opens a lot of questions regarding how tefilla is working in schools today.  Are there Orthodox schools that are implementing any of Rav Schachter's approaches?

Best to end with his final words, "oy, we all have to improve in our davening!"


  1. This is very interesting. Thank you for posting it. I don't usually watch videos but I am making my way through this one.

    One thing I noticed: at one point R' Shachter amended "better to say a little with kavana than a lot without kavana" to "better to say a little with full pronunciation of the words than a lot without pronouncing the words."

  2. I remember that Rabbi Wohlgemuth zt"l, who taught at Maimonides for many decades, told me that he begged Rav Soloveitchik for permission to do away with chazarat hashatz at shacharit because of the talking and inattention and the Rav was adamant that the school must train the students to be proper shluchei tzibbur and they must maintain the repetition.