Adonay Sefatai Tiftach

אדנ’י שפתי תפתח ופי יגיד תהלתך/Adonay sefatai tiftach, u’fi yagid tehilatekha. “My Lord, open my lips and let my mouth declare Your praise.” [Psalm 51.17] The Amidah is preceded by this quotation from Psalms that amounts to a prayer for the power to pray. I will sing God’s praises, sure, but I need God to… Read more »

All My Bones

Last week I posted about standing physically still during the Amidah, as a technique for spiritual focus. As everyone knows, however, there is a long tradition of swaying back and forth – in Yiddish to shuckel – in prayer and study. Do these two techniques go together? To illustrate the tension, check out this Talmudic… Read more »

Standing Still

Our central prayer is known by the instructive term Amidah, or “standing.” This usage of Amidah as a noun, as opposed to a gerund, is post-Talmudic. The Sages called this liturgy simply תפילה/tefillah, or prayer par excellence. In the pithy phrasing of the Mishnah, they instructed about proper posture: “One only stands to pray in… Read more »

All You Need is Ahavah

“For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;  the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing has come…  Arise, my love!” Song of Songs, 2:11-12  In these weeks leading to Passover, the verses from Shir haShirim, the Song of Songs, perfectly capture the awakening of nature and human spirit after a… Read more »

Satirizing God

On the eve of Purim, let us digress from the prayer book to the Bible’s sex farce, the book of Esther. “A zany laugh-riot,” rave the critics. “A naughty evening of colorful costumes and off-color jokes.” “I laughed, I cried” say shul-goers. “It was better than Katz.”   How did this book make it into the… Read more »