I’d like to spend some time talking about prayer. And I really mean talking. As in discussion. As in, two mouths but four ears. I really need as much feedback as possible and I reserve the right to say at a future date that any of the statements I am making right now are wrong and I have reconsidered them, and that I now think differently. All comments can be made to this blog site or to my email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am in a process.
I have recently begun relearning some of the sources in the gemarra and understand there are two sources for prayer, or perhaps more accurately, two types of prayer. The original source for prayer originates in the torah and is illustrated by personal example. We learn that Abrahm, Isaac, and Jacob, prayed. We also see that Hanna was, in many ways, the pinnacle of prayer. For those of you who have read my book, Hanna the milk maid was based on Hannah the biblical character. Also for those who read my novel, The Hope Merchant, the book begins with a morning prayer and ends with a prayer upon going to sleep (actually, in preparation for death, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise for those who haven’t read the book). Biblical prayer is a non-time bound mitzvah. I would like to take that one step further and say that the act of prayer connects timefullness with timelessness.
Before I go into that, I would like to discuss what rabbinic prayer is and why it isn’t biblical prayer. The concept of “Rabbi” as we have come to know it is not a Jewish concept. In Halachic literature, the term “Rabbi” is derogatory, meaning someone who serves as a leader for enlightened communities, i.e. Conservative, Reform, or any of the other non-Orthodox branches of Judaism. These people served as religious leaders though they were not necessarily well-versed in classical Jewish learning. In the traditional Jewish communities, the Rabbi was learned, acting as a teacher and interpreter of Jewish law. In the enlightenment, the Jewish communities wanted to blend into the Christian mainstream culture, so they created a position that was more similar to the Christian priest than the traditional Jewish Rabbi. The Rabbi was never supposed to be a prayer leader. In traditional synagogues, the prayer leader is practically anyone, usually chosen on the spot, with preference given to mourners. The Christian priest was a prayer leader, an intermediary between man and God. Judaism does not have a tradition of an intermediary or prayer leader. The concept of a professional prayer leader is foreign to Judaism. I am raising this issue so that my next statement will not be misunderstood.
Torah authorities from just after the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem established prayer in place of the temple sacrifices. That is actually more problematic than it sounds. There already was a tradition of prayer and it was in no way connected to the temple or sacrifices. The temple service was a public ceremony with strict guidelines. There was a caste system in place, separating Israel into familial groups with specific functions and places in the service. The temple service was separate from torah learning and the political system. After the Hasmonean uprising, the family of priests entered into politics with disastrous results. When the sages established prayer in place of the temple service, remnants of the priest’s role were retained but there was never any connection made between torah learning and the temple service or prayer. There are several cases in the gemarra describing the tension between priests and learned men. Even when they established prayer as a surrogate for temple service, the priests were not designated as prayer leaders. Neither were the learned men of the community. I believe it is because even as a surrogate for temple service, the sages recognized that prayer is a separate discipline, requiring different skills and serving a different purpose. Learning also serves a different purpose and is a separate discipline in no way connected to prayer. When the sages connected prayer and temple service it was so that the temple service would not be forgotten during the exile. It was, essentially, a mismatch. The two activities are in no way connected or similar. Temple sacrifice requires functionaries and a leader, and it is public. Having a prayer leader is counterproductive to biblical Jewish prayer. Prayer is a solitary effort and should not be done as a group.
There are several necessary aspects of Judaism that confuse me. They don’t seem necessary for my personal struggle to connect to God. Why is religion passed down from your parents? A caste system seems barbaric. Women, for the most part, are treated in an egalitarian manner, but they are excluded from being witnesses. All these, and more, are points that confuse me. But the most confusing is how the sages connected two activities that serve such different purposes. And how did the Rabbis insert themselves into the temple service and prayer, a position for which they are not equipped, designated, nor is there a tradition in prayer of such a position?
In my next blog, I would like to begin to investigate what I understand biblical prayer to be. I will need a lot of help with that.
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