Friday, October 16, 2009

"Why Jews Pray"

First Things has an essay by Rabbi Ben Greenberg, Orthodox Jewish Chaplain of Harvard University as well as the Orthodox Rabbi of Harvard Hillel, called, "Why Jews Pray."
Every moment that we stop and begin to move our lips in prayerful words towards God is a testament to the notion of purposeful creation. The basic ability to pray, to yearn for a connection to God, demonstrates the meaningfulness of life. Yet, this only explains a broad universalistic Jewish motivation for prayer. What lies at the core of Jewish prayer?

The question is answered, like most Jewish questions, with a debate. Maimonides (Laws of Prayer 1:1) argues that it is a commandment to pray to God everyday based on the verse “And you shall serve the Lord your God.” The service being referred to in this verse is none other than prayer as the sages in the Talmud (Tractate Taanit 2a) had already noted. However, for Nahmanides (Notes on the Book of Commandments, Positive Commandment 5), the commandment to pray applies only when the community is faced with great distress and then, in that moment, it is an imperative to affirm our belief in a God that listens to prayers and intervenes.

We are thus presented with two differing reasons for Jewish prayer. On the one hand, as expressed by Maimonides, praying daily is of fundamental importance. One can speculate a myriad of reasons why this would be so. On the other hand, however, prayer is only necessary when the community is faced with a tremendous difficulty and needs to turn to God and cry out for help in that very moment. ...

Maimonides, then, is in agreement with Nahmanides that meaningful prayer arises only when one is in a state of difficulty. But the difference lies in the application of difficulty to the circumstances of life. Nahmanides considers trouble to be something that can only manifests itself as a distinct and recognizable event, Maimonides, however, sees life itself as full of difficulty and burden. The very nature of what it means to be alive is one that is rife with existential strife and tension that necessitates daily prayer.
Not a long essay and well worth your time.

No comments: