Sunday, March 15, 2009

Prayer, beyond the Siddur

[This week's Haveil Havalim is here!]

What's on my mind this evening: Thinking Outside the Siddur.

I'm teaching a class Thursday night, How we pray, but it has almost nothing to do with the siddur. Rather, I want to look at some of the non-siddur ways we pray. I'm still at the beginning of developing this class, but I like the ideas I'm formulating, so I thought I might share some of the concepts here for thought and feedback.

For the purpose of this discussion, I will define "prayer" not as speaking with Gd, but more broadly: communicating with Gd, verbally and otherwise.

The Torah provides types of prayer that bear little resemblance to the siddur style of davening (although some of them do influence the siddur):

We find korban, a generous act, giving of ourselves. (From Kayin/Hevel to Noach to Avraham to Har Sinai to the Mishkan)

We find song, an artistic act, creating expressions of lyrical and/or musical beauty. (From songs of thanks to the service-tied song of the Leviyyim to King David's reflective Tehillim)

We find monuments, a public act, visibly demonstrating loyalty to Gd. (These are most controversial, because the Avot create them, but then HaShem later prohibits them.)

We find meditation, an internal act, less about prayer and more about developing awareness. (The most commonly cited example is ויצא יצחק לשוח בשדה, but I am not convinced this is actually meditation. R' Aryeh Kaplan, of course, has much on this.)

And we find siguf and fasting, self-denial which aids us in returning to Gd. (Ninveh, Esther. Perhaps Kayin's fate of נע ונד תהיה בארץ as well, if we take the view that he tried to return to Gd?)

Some of these have changed their forms over time, but they still exist within our religious lives. Here are some examples (you'll need to come to the class for more):

Korban - Tzedakah, Hiddur Mitzvah, Hakdashat Zman;
Song - Piyyutim, Zmirot Shabbat;
Monuments - Building a shul, Mezuzah;
Meditation - Hitboninut, Hitbodidut;
Siguf/Fasting - Taanit, pre-Yom Kippur practices of teshuvah and kapparah.

It's dangerous for us to limit our concept of prayer to the siddur; there are so many more ways we communicate with Gd. I hope this class will help sensitize people to some of those ways.


  1. in the prayer class I was taking (with the Rebbetzin), we talked about how we can talk/pray to Hashem at any time, and the organized prayer in the Siddur serves one purpose, but there is room in prayer to talk to Hashem...that our belief is that we have a very personal relationship with Hashem that allows for that.

  2. I certainly agree. I think it's fascinating to go even further, though, and look for the places where these other forms of worship remain in our lives - the korban, the monument, etc.