by Emily Goldberg
Judaism is ever-evolving, a religion that has for centuries faced the challenges of modernization. With young people steering these new paths, our religion has undergone some drastic changes in order to stay relevant in today’s world. Despite the radical changes, such as the consideration of egalitarianism, political involvement and music, there is one prevalent aspect of Judaism that will never be eradicated: prayer.
Prayer, derived from the Latin term “to beg,” is a fundamental value of most religions. Since the formation of rabbinic Judaism, Jews across the globe have congregated to recognize, praise and communicate with a higher theological being. Depending on the denomination and synagogue, some congregations of Jews sit separately by gender, vehemently studying Torah while dressed in traditional Jewish garments. Other communities will have a more liberal approach to spirituality, beating tambourines and dancing in circles while wearing a multitude of colors. While the styles and structures may differ, prayer unites congregations as they grow together. One cannot help but watch in awe as a room filled with faithful people, regardless of background or religion, springs into life.
Jews form daily minyanim, or quorums of at least ten adults, in order to chant an organized service in unison. There are set times to pray as a group, along with separate opportunities for personalized individual prayer. There are customized body movements while participating in prayer and proper times to either sit or stand. In the siddur, or prayer book, there are endless prayers that thank God for the blessings we receive in life. Varying from weddings to the sighting of rainbows, there is a plethora of written prayers we recite when celebrating the joys in life. These liturgical prayer books have enabled Jews to stay committed to their worship gatherings; with the same words in every book, congregations can sing together.
Prayer is easy during the blissful moments in our faith. Picking up a siddur and openly praising God becomes second nature when we are blessed.
Prayer is harder in times of suffering and struggle. When we experience shock, hardship and grief, the thought of praising and thanking God seems almost impossible. During those galvanizing moments in our faith, we doubt the value of our prayers and impose our rabbis with the difficult question: Why do we pray? If the feeling of loss is inevitable at some point in life, how can our thoughts and mediations feel impactful?
While such questions have no particular answer, it is important to formulate our own views of theology when we pray. Personally, I consider God as more of a parent figure in our lives, with prayer being an opportunity to merely “vent” about the situations we encounter each day. With no guaranteed blessings or successes in return, prayer enables me to lay out all of my issues and decisions and share them with someone who will hear them. During the most climactic moments in my personal prayer, I do not discern the distinct boundaries between an Almighty theological being and me; I just see a parent, one who tries as hard as any other.
Organized prayer services also connect me to the people surrounding me. Perhaps that is why Jewish minyanim require at least ten congregants in order to begin praying; faithful people are meant to share faith together. We do not realize how vital a quorum of ten people is when we, ourselves, do not feel empty. Faithful people are meant to share faith together. For some, your prayer can mean the world; it could be an initial step toward a physical or spiritual healing process. For others, your faith can inspire them to change the world themselves. In unity, prayer enables the Jewish community at large to be strengthened.