The Direction of Prayer

By Rabbi Chaim Galfand

Sunday, May 13, is Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Reunification Day. This Israeli national holiday celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 in the wake of the Six Day War. As we prepare to mark this occasion when the Kotel (Western Wall) and the entirety of the Old City came under Israeli control, it seems like a very appropriate time to answer a question that has been posed to me: why do Jews face east when they pray? [Read more…]

Archbishop Sends Passover Greetings

Archbishop Chaput.

Archbishop Chaput.

Dear Friends,

Now that the annual observance of Passover is drawing near, I take this opportunity to send greetings to the Jewish community in the Philadelphia area. Both on my own, and in union with the clergy and laity of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, I offer my prayerful best wishes on this holy occasion.

We live in a time when global issues like war and persecution have resulted in many newcomers in our midst.  They are often made to feel very alienated.  The experience of the people of the Exodus has something very timely for us to learn.  They were urged to be just and kind to the stranger. We must apply this teaching to our day with greater devotion than ever. [Read more…]

May the Angels Carry You

— by Reb Simcha Raphael

I am pleased to announce the release of my most recent book, May the Angels Carry You: Jewish Prayers and Meditations for the Deathbed

This book provides a collection of traditional and contemporary Jewish prayers, meditations and sacred readings designed to offer comfort and solace for those wrestling with dying and the approach of death. May the Angels Carry You is a simple, practical and functional deathbed manual for people on an end-of-life journey, for family members who accompany them, and for professional care-givers in search of practical tools for Jewish patients.

Honoring the legacy of Jewish deathbed practices and inspired by the spiritual insight of Jewish renewal, this small volume — the third in the Albion-Andalus “Jewish Death and Transition Series” — is a valuable and unique deathbed resource for contemporary Jewish life. Among material included in this book are:

  • traditional and innovative Vidui prayers;
  • an essay entitled “What Does It Mean to Pray for Someone Who is Dying?”;
  • Prayer for When Life Support Is Being Removed” and
  • a Foreword by Rabbi Nadya Gross.

In this book of deathbed prayers and meditations, Dr. Simcha Paul Raphael provides us with powerful insights into Jewish tradition. His look at the role and power of prayer as life ebbs provides the reader with a foundation for comfort, compassion and caring that links us with a sense of the sacred. His desire to have us ritually engaged with life’s last passage serves as a practical tool for the mysterious journey at the end of life. May The Angels Carry You guides one’s soul with a sense of dignity and celebration of the gift that is our life.

—Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, Director, Jewish Sacred Aging

Special Prayer: Shabbat of Unity With the People of Israel

— by Rabbi David Wolpe

We invite people around the world to recite this kavannah in unity with the State of Israel this Shabbat, October 17, 2015.

El Maleh Rachamim — Compassionate God,
We pray not to wipe out haters but to banish hatred.
Not to destroy sinners but to lessen sin.
Our prayers are not for a perfect world but a better one
Where parents are not bereaved by the savagery of sudden attacks
Or children orphaned by blades glinting in a noonday sun.
Help us dear God, to have the courage to remain strong, to stand fast.
Spread your light on the dark hearts of the slayers
And your comfort to the bereaved hearts of families of the slain.
Let calm return Your city Jerusalem, and to Israel, Your blessed land.
We grieve with those wounded in body and spirit,
Pray for the fortitude of our sisters and brothers,
And ask you to awaken the world to our struggle and help us bring peace.

Prayerbook Review: Siddur Eit Ratzon

A Powerful Companion for Your Spiritual Journey

Dr. Joseph Rosenstein, the series creator of Siddur Eit Ratzon , offers authentic, refreshing and accessible approaches to fashioning a healthy, meaningful Jewish prayer life. This isn’t a denominational publication — whatever your degree of orientation to Judaism, his approach will delight, inform and awaken. I’m giving birth to this review after nine months of praying the new Siddur Eit Ratzon collection, because I want you to know about this body of work in time to obtain copies to partner your high holiday experience.

More after the jump.
Dr. Rosenstein is a mathematics professor at Rutgers University focused on applications for K-12. Hence his remarkably articulate, conceptual ability to serve as a field guide to Jewish prayer as a spiritual journey. In his words:

You may walk along a particular path many times without being aware of its features. However a few words from a guide may enable you to see its depth and beauty. As it is with the natural world, so it is with prayer: you may have recited the prayers many times without seeing the spiritual motivation of their authors or how the prayers fit together to create an organic whole.

Dr. Rosenstein particularly reveals the helpful, holy, life-affirming experiences hidden behind the off-putting English word god and Judaism’s abundance of Hebrew blessings. He offers gender neutral G-d language, and there are many theologies in the volume, creating space for all of us on the page and in the room. He doesn’t shirk from asking the hard questions, offering diverse answers, for example:

“So if all these blessings are provided to us all the time, with no strings attached, and if God won’t give us what we ask, then what purpose does prayer serve?

The answer is simple. We have to be receptive to these blessings…When we ask God for strength, we feel strengthened. When we seek healing, we are better able to draw on our own God-given recuperative powers. When we seek guidance, when we try to discern God’s will for us, we find our way to an appropriate path…”

Then Dr. Rosenstein asks, and here we’re still only on page 1 of the user’s guide: “Is this all truth, or is it all metaphor? The answer is simply “yes.”

In many ways the text helps us to release issues with the literal meaning of the text, while inviting us to  resonate with Jewish prayer through “slow, focused, intentional, and relaxed encounters with individual words, phrases and images.” This is how we are helped to change virtually molecularly, our perspective and way of feeling alive changes through this approach to prayer. Siddur Eit Ratzon shows how to get there in clear, contemporary non-coercive ways.

The truth is that prayer is a practice, meaning taking time with the approaches to prayer offered in Siddur Eit Ratzon, months such as I have, yields the fullness of spiritual juiciness, healing and meaning for living. Too many Jews find themselves glossing over the prayers, with eyes glazed at archaic forms, barely tasting what is possible. Dr. Rosenstein warms us up, so that the prayers can melt into our souls like butter on a warm slice of challah. We know and grow as people, the value of it all begins to come clear. He positions us for spiritual growth. A somewhat different and complementary approach is that of Rabbi Dr. Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Joel Segal in their recent work Davening: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Prayer, as well as that of Rabbi Shefa Gold, The Magic of Hebrew Chant: Healing the Spirit, Transforming the Mind, Deepening Love.  

The Siddur Eit Ratzon series’ brilliant four column format is adopted from adopted with permission from Siddur Chaveirim Kol Yisraeil (across facing pages). From left to right you receive:

Transliteration + Hebrew Text + Interpretive Translation + Commentary.

These volumes sparkle with love and awe of the divine within our lived experience. Dr. Rosenstein views prayer as a spiritual path. Jewish tradition advocates love and awe as the two wings the soul needs to fly, to survive and thrive on life’s challenging journey. He helps us enter into prayer as soul-touching poetry and empowers us to relate to the idea of God through metaphor. For example, when considering the Amidah, he teaches us to “position God, as it were” for we are setting the stage for prayerful connection. “How do we envision God?” Recognizing that we are not the ultimate source of life, that within the Mystery of it all, the sages have selected images, God as metaphor to facilitate our well-being through prayer, Rosenstein translates and guides through the power of metaphor. For example, on page 7 of the Siddur Eit Ratzon paperback version of the daily siddur:

My soul praises You, Adonai.
Vast beyond imagination
You are robed in majesty and glory.
You clothe Yourself in beams of light,
You drape Yourself with the heavens. (Ps. 104:1-2)

How precious is Your Loving kindness, O God:
You shelter us all beneath the spread of Your wings,
You feed us all from the abundance of Your house,
You water us all from the overflow of Your springs.

For with You is the source of life,
In Your light we see light. (Ps. 36:8-10)

Six stages are identified within the traditional order of prayer that, when understood and practiced, matter most, and then he offers visualizations for them that are spread through the text. I recommend studying and engaging in these on as a regular practice — not only by yourself, also with your family, students, and in community. The texture of praying together will change and the prayers themselves will come more fully to life.

Substantial research shows the efficacy upon human health of the imagery elements within prayer. Research such as that by Jeanne Ackterberg, z”l  substantiates Dr. Rosenstein’s inclusions of visualizations such as this one in relation to the verse above: In Your Light we see light, found on page 9 of the daily siddur’s hardback version with instructions that “This guided meditation may be read aloud slowly by a leader, with 3- to 5-second pauses at the ellipses…”

Close your eyes…
Take a deep breath … and another …
  Breathing in … and breathing out … [repeat]

Picture the sun…
and imagine yourself basking in its light …
taking in its brightness and its warmth …
feeling comfort and pleasure …
   Breathing in … and breathing out … [repeat]

Imagine now that the source of that light …
is the source of all light …
that you are now basking in the radiance …
of the source of all life …

Imagine that you are surrounded
by God’s light …by God’s presence …
by God’s love … by God’s blessings …
   Breathing in … and breathing out … [repeat]

Picture the vastness of the universe …
and imagine it filled with god’s light …
light that eclipses all darkness …
light that drapes the heavens …
light that surrounds your soul …

Ki im’cha m’kor chay-yim
For with You is the source of life …
b’or’cha nir-eh or
in Your light we see light…
   Breathing in … and breathing out … [repeat]

When we turn toward Your light …
when we move into Your light …
our darkness is dispelled …
and we experience Your light …

Take another deep breath …
and bask in the spiritual light…
Take another deep breath …
and bask in the spiritual light …
of God’s presence …
In Your light we see light.

The author does leave out sections that relate to the sacrificial system. While most perhaps will not mind this at all, I find it unfortunate, because once understood, a world of powerful healing metaphors and awareness emerge from these traditions as well. He also categorically rejects the idea of a punishing God, or for that matter an absent God, declaring:

“The perspective of this Siddur is that God is always ready to receive and accept prayer — from any person, at any time — with no qualifications. When we call, God listens. Whenever we turn to God, God is there.”

And the tradition of understand “living in God’s house,” as a reward for the righteous is also transformed here. “The perspective of this Siddur is that each of us is always welcome in God’s house — as a visitor or as a permanent resident.” Kol HaKovod — all honor for taking these courageous, contemporary, neo-Hassidic stances!

Siddur Eit Ratzon is available in several versions — paperback and hardbound, daily, Shabbat and Holidays, and for High Holidays. Print and binding quality is very high and clear. Dr. Rosenstein a founder of the National Havurah Committee and its annual institute, where serious inquiry and exploration into Jewish practice is a respected norm, has undertaken a great deal of research to answer his own questions about the language, sequence, and purpose of traditional Jewish prayer. This vast body of work is a tremendous accomplishment and gift that will endure long into the Jewish future.  

Why I Don’t Go to Shul on Simchat Torah

— by Hannah Lee

For the first time since Before Children, I attended an evening service for Simchat Torah. This was the inaugural Simchat Torah service for our partnership minyan, Lechu Neranena, and we had a terrific turnout. It was held in our new home, a township building that was the first home of the Bala Cynwyd Library. We danced with four sifrei Torah, from two schools and one family. The remarkable aspect of the attendance– other than the 100 or so in number– was the participation of young married women wearing tichels (wrapped headscarves), a group that had never attended the partnership minyan or our women’s tefillah group. (I, myself, wear a hat every day, but some observant women only cover their head for services.) A partnership minyan conducts services according to Orthodox tradition, but where women may give divrei Torah, lead Kabbalat Shabbat, and read from the Torah.

More after the jump.
My introduction to Judaism was in the pioneering communities of the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Flatbush, Brooklyn in the early 80’s, where women’s tefillah groups allowed traditional women access to the Torah. I was in the audience for the first international conference of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA). When my family moved to Lower Merion in 1990, I joined the fledgling Women’s Tefillah Group of the Main Line and when one of the founders moved to Teaneck, I took over as coordinator.

Over the years, I’ve done just about everything that needed to be done: collected dues, labeled and stuffed envelopes, schlepped chairs, and plated munchies. I’ve even leined (chanted) Torah when we lived in Brooklyn, but my voice is not as lovely as those of my husband and girls, so I’ve retired myself.

This Sukkot was the first time I felt really uplifted, when Jews parade with lulav and etrog during the Hoshanot portion of the morning service.  Years ago, I too had my own lulav and etrog in shul, but I was so klutzy holding them while juggling the machzor (holiday prayer book), that I resigned myself to bentching (saying the blessing) in our own sukkah before leaving for shul. I’ve also tried walking with my husband during Hoshanot while the parade was outside of the Sanctuary, but that was deemed not advisable. This year I felt totally fine with not joining in parade.

Simchat Torah was still different. How could I rejoice when I and other women are not allowed to dance with the Torah? So, I stayed away from shul. My refuge was the women’s tefillah gatherings where we davened according to the laws about praying without a minyan, had hakafot with two sifrei Torah, and listened to women chanting from the Torah portion. I was mostly content, but it was hard to be separated from my family and it necessitated juggling logistics and childcare. This Simchat Torah was different and it was lovely. Men, women, and children were all together and we danced with our separate sifrei Torah. This felt right and it was uplifting indeed.

On Monday evening, October 15, Rabbi Daniel Sperber of Bar Ilan University will speak at the University of Pennsylvania campus, Steinhardt Hall, on “New Halachic Frontiers: An Analysis of the Shira Chadasha Movement.” In 1992, Rabbi Sperber was the recipient of the Israel Prize, Israel’s highest honor, for Jewish studies.  He is the halachic advisor for several partnership minyanim, including Shira Chadasha in Jerusalem and Darchei Noam in New York.