Accepting Ishei Israel

Nothing makes heterodox Jews squirm queasily – and probably just skip to the next page – like the prayer book’s pleas that the Jerusalem Temple be rebuilt and animal sacrifices be restored. There are plenty of very legitimate reasons why, from the seeming brutality and bloodiness of sacred barbecue to the fear (sadly warranted) of… Read more »

ואהבת לרעך כמוך/ Ve’ahavta le’reyakha kamokha / “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”

This week we read Parashat Kedoshim, which lies near the physical center of a Torah scroll and constitutes the spiritual center of biblical religion. Let’s look at this section’s most famous verse and its place in prayer. Modern Bible scholars distinguish among the Torah’s component parts, whose religious views are not always identical. This week… Read more »

Prayer of the Whirlwind and of the Driven Leaf

“Improvisation is the only artform in which the same note can be played night after night but differently each time. It is the hidden things, the subconscious, that lets you know you feel this, you play this.” – jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman. A very long time ago, davveners held no prayer books. They hadn’t been… Read more »

The Prayer of Every Mouth

As noted in last week’s post, the Amidah’s final petitionary prayer concludes שומע תפילה/shome’a tefillah, “Blessed is God who hears prayer,” an affirmation that God can be conceived of as an infinitely absorbent ear for our prayers. Although we often describe private prayer as the “silent” Amidah, this is slightly inaccurate. The Hebrew term is… Read more »

Whispering in the Cosmic Ear

The Amidah’s final petition, in the 16th paragraph, concludes שומע תפילה/shome’a tefillah, “Blessed is God who hears prayer.” Oh, really now? How fortunate. In subsequent posts I will take up the language of this paragraph and try to explain it in ways that I hope enhance davvening. For this post, I want to consider the… Read more »