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Pray Like a Woman

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein

  

Library » Mitzvot » Prayer » Synagogue | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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Word on the street (or in the synagogue) is that traditional Judaism ascribes the central role of prayer to men, whereas women are left out (to say the least). The premise for that perception is that men play the leading part in the synagogue.

While the premise is accurate, the conclusion is flawed.

It is true that men play a leading role in the synagogue, but let us not confuse ceremony with prayer.

Prayer

The Torah commands us to pray. The Torah, however, makes no mention of the synagogue!

Prayer predated the synagogue, and continues to exceed it. For the first thousand years of Judaism, including the days of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Aaron, and Moses, there were no synagogue; yet there was always prayer.

The essence of prayer is an extremely personal experience, and initially didn’t (and in its essential form still doesn’t) include a standard liturgy.1 (For more about the essence of prayer see here)

Ceremony

Standardized prayer and the synagogue experience were first instituted after the destruction of the Holy Temple in an effort to replace the communal daily public sacrifices and morning services in the Holy Temple.2

the ability to experience internally, to open the heart, to be intuitive, to be, to pray, is just much more established amongst women.
Formal liturgy was added throughout the ages because of the exiles from Israel, as a result of which people lost command of the Hebrew language as well as an understanding for how to approach G-d through the proper words.3

Service

In thier current form, services are comprised of two elements: Prayer and Ceremony.

Fundamentally, these counterparts focus on contrasting needs: being and doing; contemplating and verbalizing; the ability to feel and the need to express; the personal experience and the public display.

The ceremony can be meaningful, but it is the prayer that gives it its essential meaning. The power of internalization in prayer is far more significant than all the ceremonial rituals combined.

That is why despite the "inspiration" of melodious liturgy, and the "glamorous ceremony" of the Torah reading, the essence of prayer is expressed silently in the ultimate prayer: the Amidah.4

Women and Prayer

When prayer is viewed in this light it is evident that women not only have a part in prayer, they are actually naturally much better at praying!

As a matter of fact, in establishing the standard for traditional Jewish prayer the Talmud5 examines the prayer of a woman: Chanah.6

That is because the above mentioned counterparts of the service can be divided into two general terms: femininity and masculinity. As stated earlier the former is much more significant than the latter; and the ability to experience internally, to open the heart, to be intuitive, to be, to pray, is just much more established amongst women.

Progressive is Backward

To think that the lack of participation in ceremony eliminates the significance of prayer is to reduce prayer to public performance and strip it of its heart and soul.

To the contrary: the woman, who has the essential biblical obligation to pray with few formalized rabbinic ordinances; the woman, who can pray at home and has no obligation to go to synagogue; the woman, who can come to the synagogue without becoming the ceremony of the synagogue, personifies prayer in its pure unadulterated form.

Footnotes

  • 1. Maimonidies laws of Prayer 1:2
  • 2. Ibid 1:5
  • 3. Ibid 1:3
  • 4. That is also why someone who prays daily yet never heard the Torah reading in his/her life, fulfilled the obligation of prayer; whereas someone who hears the Torah reading weekly but does not pray daily has not fulfilled his/her obligation to pray.
  • 5. Talmud tractate Brachot 31:a and b
  • 6. Samuel I chapter 1

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COMMENTS

Women & prayer

Posted by: Jennifer, Edmonton, AB on Jan 09, 2010

6 out of 5 stars!

"Hence, it is not that Judaism treats women inferiorly; it is that society has lost appreciation for femininity. It is not that women aren%u2019t given a role in prayer; it is that we as a whole have forgotten what prayer is."

Wow... how powerful. Like a jolt of electricity.

I am learning how to pray from the siddur. I use the written prayers to express what I may not know how to express myself. However, it is liberating to know that I can also pray spontaneously at any given time, anywhere, by MYSELF and my prayers are heard - no minyan required. :)


RELATED CATEGORIES

Women & Judaism » Women's Mitzvot
Women & Judaism » Women's Mitzvot » Obligations/ Exemptions
Mitzvot » Prayer » About

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Amidah
Highlight of every prayer, recited silently while standing. Weekday Amidah consists of nineteen blessings, Sabbath and holiday Amidah contains seven blessings.
Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Sarah
First Jewess, first of the four Jewish Matriarchs, wife of Abraham--the first Jew. Lived in Mesopotamia, and then Canaan, in the 19th century BCE.
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Isaac
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Rebecca
Second of the Jewish Matriarchs. Wife of the Patriarch Isaac, and father of Jacob. b. 1675 BCE, d. 1553 BCE.
Aaron
Brother of Moses. First High Priest of Israel and progenitor of all Kohanim (priests) until this very day. Died in the year 1272 b.c.e.
Rachel
Third of the four Jewish matriarchs. Daughter of Laban, favorite wife of Patriarch Jacob, and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Died while giving birth to Benjamin in 1557 BCE.
Leah
Fourth of the four Jewish matriarchs. Elder daughter of Laban, wife of Patriarch Jacob, and mother of six of the Tribes, including Levi and Judah.
Miriam
Older sister of Moses and Aaron, and a prophetess in her own right.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.