This is a comprehensive introduction to Jewish prayer and prayer services that even describes postures, when to stand and sit, when and how to bend, when one can speak, and many similar details about Jewish prayers, its content, and history. The focus generally is on the "how" rather than the "why," although Rubin frequently does offer some views on "why." He writes both about the external compliance with prayer laws as well as the development of an inner spirit and a relationship with God.
Rubin feels that prayer is essentially "man's connection to God" and "Hashem (God) listens to our supplications and pleas, decides what is really best for us, and acts accordingly." He also states that prayer "is an act of introspection, of self-scrutiny." He encourages Jews to pray in Hebrew, even though prayer in any language is acceptable, and gives reasons why this is valuable, such as helping the survival of Jewry. He says that even "vibrations of the soul (bring) us closer to Hashem," despite our not knowing the meaning of the words we are reciting. He stresses that "prayer is essentially an emotional, not an intellectual experience." Prayer, he writes, "makes us humbler, more refined, godlier individuals." He cites mystical writers to prove his point.
Rubin includes a wealth of material about prayer, including how prayer is described in the Bible, how fixed prayer came about, how it developed, prayer books, laws about prayers, gestures during prayers such as swaying, bowing, stepping backward and forward, how to handle holy books, the origin of the synagogue, what it is, and its parts today. He speaks about Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews and describes how their prayers differ. He has sections on subjects such as the morning prayers, discussed in eight chapters, as well as Torah reading, afternoon and evening services, Shabbat prayers, Kiddush, Rosh Chodesh, festivals, and fast days. He includes appendices that discuss nine different subjects, such as God's names, the Jewish calendar, and women.
Some readers may consider his approach to prayer ultra-Orthodox and mystical rather than rational. They may question, for example, why they should pray, if, as Rubin admits, God does what He wants anyway. They may prefer to think of prayer as only a period of self reflection, of self judgment. However, even those who disagree with his world view generally and his approach to prayer specifically, will find much in this wide-ranging and all-embracing book that they will agree with as well as new ideas about Judaism and prayer.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of eighteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House. His website is http://booksnthoughts.com.
The views expressed in this review/article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Eye.
The Artscroll Tehillim, Edited by Rabbi Nosson Scherman and Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz.
The psalms of King David, in Hebrew with English translation on the facing page. This edition includes brief commentaries related to the Tehillim.