As we prepare for the High Holidays, you may wish to read a thoughtful piece by our congregant, Hershel Allerhand.
Jewish Prayer Quotations
from the Writings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
The Jewish service distinguishes itself by its utter simplicity and the absence of any cultic-ceremonial elements. It lacks the solemnity and magnificence of the Byzantine Greek Orthodox service, the moment of awe- struck wonder of the Roman Catholic Mass of transubstantiation, and the rhythm and streamlined quality of the Protestant church ceremony. It is nothing but a dialogue between God and worshipper, a conversation-ordinary in its beginning, simple in its unfolding and unceremoniously organized at its conclusion. There was never an attempt to use architectural designs (like vaulted halls, half-dark spaces, and lofty gothic sweep), decorative effects (such as the stained glass through which light filters, losing its living brightness and mingling with a magical darkness), or tonal effects (from the hardly perceptible soft pianissimo to triumphant hymn singing) that suggest to the worshiper on the one hand the great mystery, and on the other hand the heavenly bliss, of the God-human encounter.
Judaism sees in all these esthetic motifs, which are designed to intimate the greatness and ineffability of God, merely extraneous means of creating a fugitive mood which will disappear with the departure of the worshipper from the cathedral into the fresh air and sunshine. Instead, Judaism concentrates on feelings which flow not from the outside, but from within the personality, on emotions which are exponents of much more deep-seated experience, enhanced not by external stimuli but by the inner awareness. (Out of the Whirlwind, pp. 170-171)
Prayer, for example, requires more than intent-it requires that we experience God in God’s immediate proximity. There is no greater joy than sensing that one is standing before God. Joy is the sensation that one feels when close to one’s origin, the Creator. One is aware that someone guides and cares for them. The experience standing before God is enhanced through the study of Torah. The survival of the Jews throughout generations of persecution and abuse is due to the sublime experience of being in God’s presence. (Out of the Whirlwind, p. 78)