Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Morning madness--on davvenning Shacharit

Until I was well into my twenties, the only prayers that I knew in the original Hebrew were the ones that were said or sung aloud in my childhood and early-adulthood synagogues. Learning to davven (pray) in Hebrew (and/or Aramaic, depending on the prayer) has been my personal project for several decades, and my knowledge of the traditional siddur (prayerbook) has expanded greatly over the years. Of late, I’ve taken to davvenning the Shacharit (morning service) at home on Shabbat just to give myself time to say more prayers and to say them with kavvanah/intention/focus. I go to shul (synagogue) afterward to hear the k’riat haTorah (Torah reading) and davven Musaf (the “additional” service). But my latest grand experiment was a colossal disaster.

Last Shabbat, I decided to start the Birkot HaShachar (Morning Blessings section) at “al n’tilat yadayim,” davven everything except the Akedah (“Binding of Isaac”) and korbanot (Temple sacrifices) sections (not my thing), and davven the entire P’sukei D’Zimra (“Verses of Song,” a.k.a. Introductory Prayers). Are you sitting down, folks? By the time I got to the Matbéah shel Tefillah (the core of the service), yours truly, the world’s slowest Hebrew reader, had been davvenning for an entire hour!

Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding of the development of the siddur is that the rabbis of the Talmud required only the recitation of the Matbéah shel Tefillah, which consists, to the best of my knowledge, of the brachot (blessings) before the Sh’ma, the Sh’ma itself, the brachot after the Sh’ma, and the Amidah (prayer recited while standing). Even I can davven the entire Matbéah shel Tefillah in about 15 minutes! But how can anyone possibly davven all the prayers that have been added both before and after with any degree of kavannah when the only way to davven the entire morning service in a reasonable amount of time is to “speed-davven?” Does anyone but me see anything wrong with the fact that the preliminary prayers take four times as long as the essential prayers? How did we get from there to here? And is there any way to get back to “there?” Or is tefillah (prayer) like everything else in Jewish religious practice, ever expanding, never contracting, as with chumrot (extra-stringent observance of Jewish laws)? When and where will it end?

Update: For your entertainment and amusement, check out DovBear's Thursday, January 27, 2005 post, "WHY DAVENING IS LONG," at (Keep looking--it's his 13th post of the day, if I counted correctly. I hope he took time off to eat. :) )


Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I'm the last person to comment on this kind of thing, but since you asked...

The psukeh dezimrah are a warm up. The goal is to get you so into the service that by the time you hit Barchu and birchat kriat shma, your engines are really revving. The shabbos service is longer because a) you don't have to get to work and 2) it's supposed to be a more spiritual service, hence the longer wind up.

My problem has been that I can daven *too* quickly. That which takes you an hour, I can get through in 20 minutes if I go sloooow. I've been speaking hebrew since I was six, and don't know any other way to do it. I have to work on slowing down. Meanwhile, the chazan saying psuekei dzimrah at our shul davens at your pace. Which means that instead of a gradually building crescendo which culminates in the shma, I get to sit around looking bored and thinking about all the things I'd rather be doing while the chazan plods along.

To me that's counter productive. However, for you, maybe it's just right? What's wrong with taking an hour to daven psukei dezimrah if it gets you in the proper state? Maybe you should move out here!

Wed Jan 26, 09:40:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Fran In NH said...

You're soooo right! I can attest to the fact that the siddur has grown exponentially just since the Torah-True Orthodox movement started, somewhere back in the early sixties (well, it was probably coalescing well before that, but didn't proclaim itself until then, at any rate). When I was "Crazy" Orthodox, and read THE JEWISH OBSERVER magazine (Agudas Isreal), it seemed that every week there were calls for more tefillah and longer services, on the theory that whenever some talmid chacham "discovers" that certain rabbis of old recited this or that tefillah that currently isn't included, then of COURSE it must be added because OUR generation knows NOTHING compared to the older ones. Also, it's a variation on the old Yiddish maxim (and I'm probably murdering it, but here goes)"Shver tzu zein ein Yid", or "It's hard to be a Jew", except that to THEM it's more like "It must ABSOLUTELY, positively, be hard to be a Torah-True Jew". In some cases, adding "or else" on the end of that completes their intent, too. This obsession with Mehadrim (being one of the "glorifiers" who go far beyond what's normally required) puts incredible pressure on ANYONE, Orthodox or not, to justify their "authenticity", and makes far too many of us afraid NOT to daven "a gantze megillah" every morning just to be "safe". Worse, I encountered rabbis who insisted that, once a woman undertook to daven anything "extra", she was bound by halacha to continue FOREVER, or else! This, I am sure, was NEVER the intent of the original compilers of siddurim. Jewish tradition has always allowed for abreviated versions of tefillah, and sometimes REQUIRED it of Jews whose livelihoods, etc., would be negatively impacted by regular davening. Unfortunately, as I've said, the "mehadrim" have gone nuts and now we feel guilty when we don't "do it all". I think it's said in Pirke Avos that "Better a little with piety than much without", and, as someone who could easily win the title of "Most Hopeless Hebrew Davener", I certainly follow that rule. For those who CAN "do it all", and still feel kavannah, I say GO FOR IT! For myself, I'm afraid, kavannah is something that just doesn't materialize, as I often wonder if anyone's listening. Thank God doubt isn't a sin in Judaism, as it is in Christianity. Strangely enough, the prayer I find most comforting is the Kaddish, but ONLY in the Ashkenazic version! If I could daven just that, I'd have NO trouble at all. Weird, huh?

Wed Jan 26, 01:27:00 PM 2005  
Blogger DovBear said...

My shul insists on davening slowly. They could race a pregnant woman and come in third. We time services with a calander. We... where was I? Right. We're very slow, but still we get from the very begining of davening to the Taking Out of the Torah in about 75 minutes.

Psuka d'zimrah takes about 35 minutes.

I have a post about this coming up.

Wed Jan 26, 01:29:00 PM 2005  
Blogger DovBear said...

::just since the Torah-True Orthodox movement started, somewhere back in the early sixties (well, it was probably coalescing well before that, but didn't proclaim itself until then, at any rate)::

Um, what the hell are you talking about? I mean you're right that the Torah True Movement is a disaster, but nothing has been _added_ to the siddur since the early 60s. Assuming you mean the 1960s

What could you POSSIBLY be talking about?

Wed Jan 26, 01:31:00 PM 2005  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I don't have a big problem with the NUMBER of tfilos (except for nusach sfard--they seem to go out of their way to add). I think that if you're pretty fluent, the number is just about right. When I daven at my normal pace, by the time I get up to shachris I'm really into it.

You have to understand that the siddur was not constructed for people like you. It was made for people who were fluent in hebrew and could understand the prayers, and needed the meditation time to get to the meat of the service. My problem is with the slow pace of the davening, like at Dov's shul. It kills the momentum. And it also prevents me from attending minyan during the week on a consistent basis, because I need to get to work.

I think for you, it would be ok to skip a bit. Just say what you need to get into the mood. As you get more fluent, add some in to take up the slack.

Wed Jan 26, 04:54:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Is it “better to pray fewer words with greater intent and focus than to pray the whole liturgy,” as Rachel asserts? Half of me says yes, and the other half says no. Half of me wants to davven with kavannah, while the other half wants to be able to pray *all* the prayers. Am I davvening for the sake of davvening, or am I davvening as a way of learning all the prayers that I didn't learn when I was younger? The answer is "both," which is part of my problem.

PsychoToddler is certainly correct in stating that the liturgy was designed for people who are fluent in both reading and understanding Hebrew. Unfortunately, when *I* davven the entire the P’sukei D’Zimra, it functions less as a warm-up than as a marathon—by the time I get to the Matbeah shel Tefillah, I’m too tired to focus.

I guess I’m going to have to follow Rachel’s and Naomi’s advice and go back to picking and choosing. A former rabbi of mine told me, if I understood him correctly, that, from a halachic point of view, the rock-bottom minimum is to say one “prayer,” namely, Ashrei, before the Matbeah shel Tefillah, then pray the entire Matbeah shel Tefillah, then recite one prayer, preferably Aleinu, thereafter. Everything else is gravy, as the saying goes. I guess I’ll go back to what I was doing before, and just keep adding to the gravy, since biting off more than I could chew didn't work very well. My current project is to learn those of the “Hallelukah” psalms—the ones that appear toward the end of P’sukei D’Zimra—that I don’t already know.

Thu Jan 27, 12:18:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

I agree with Rachel and Naomi. I also think that the purpose of prayer is ultimately to connect with G-d, not merely to fulfill an obligation. And I will do anything for that connection. But that is me. I have never found it a hardship, but rather, a liberation.

I think it helps to know why you pray and what you expect from prayer. To daven all the words is an achievement in itself but I don't know how much that helps to connect with G-d. So, my advice is, know the why and wherefore of your prayer, which, while being standardised and public, is very personal.

I think of standardised prayer as possessing a Bach-like structure with a contrapuntal quality. Within that structure are infinite themes, motifs, and variations to create and to discover and to explore and bounce off, sometimes not very successfully. Mozart?-prayer is not!

Rachel, I affiliate Conservative, and have not heard anyone dictate that all the words need to be spoken. In my little neck of the woods, showing up is a good start, and davenning with kavannah is the desired state, but there is nothing technical about reaching that state. We aim for ruach in the davenning, and morning minyan is the place where it is most likely to be happen.

For me, prayer is a need and/or worthwhile challenge, and it sounds as if it is for everyone who has posted.

Fri Jan 28, 12:59:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

I forgot to add that I daven in English! My goal now is to learn to lead in Hebrew, but I expect to absorb the meaning as I go along.

Fri Jan 28, 01:00:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Elianah-Sharon said...

Shows you what I know...I didn't even know you COULD daven in English! Silly me...

But I am with ladies here. Kavannah is ultimately more important and as Barefoot points out, to make that connection, to be in tune with Adonai is what I believe prayer to be about. Not rote words either intoned at the speed of lightning or sounding like some weird dirge. But a balance between the two...

Quality gang...not quantity...that's my bag.

Fri Jan 28, 10:27:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Jason H. Elbaum said...

Rabbi Abadi proposes minimizing the Shabbat morning services to finish in one hour:

The Shacharit starts with Berachot, then Baruch She'Amar, Ashrei, Nishmat and Yishtabach. That is say 10 minutes max. Anyone can come earlier and say as much as they like, but let's not force those of us who can't sit so long.
Then there is Birchot Kriat Shema, Shema, and the Amida/Shemona Esrey. About 12 minutes max. Then the Chazan repeats the Amida/Shemona Esrey, so add 5 minutes (please, no singing). A total of 27 minutes to say Shacharit slowly carefully and without the additives.

Then the reading of the Torah shouldn't be much more than 25 minutes. Drop the Mi Sheberachs.

Followed by Mussaf for about 4minutes and repeated by the Chazan for another 5 minutes. Add 3 minutes for Aleinu and some assorted delays &/or Kaddish and we are done.

A Grand-Total of 64 minutes.

Sun Feb 06, 11:57:00 AM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it “better to pray fewer words with greater intent and focus than to pray the whole liturgy,” ?

Absolutely. My Rabbi kindly went through the siddur with me marking out the essential bits.

If you have any doubts and think this is Reform or something see Rabbi Yosef Caro in the Shulchan Aruch:
Orach Chaim 1 paragraph 4
"A small amount of prayer that is offered with proper concentration is better than a large amount of prayer without proper concentration."

Sun Nov 25, 09:47:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Jon, I've pretty much stopped adding "new" prayers (that is, ones that I've just learned or am learning) to my davvening. There's a limit to my kavvanah (ability to)/focus, not to mention a limit to my time, and I think I've just about reached it. It's nice to know that I have Rabbi Yosef Caro on my side.

On the other hand, I think that the bare-bones Shacharit for Shabbat that Zman Biur attributed to Rabbi Abadi--sorry, it appears that the link no longer works--is a bit *too* bare-boned. I would add at least the so-called Great Hallel/Hallel HaGadol (hodu laShem ki tov) and Psalm 150 Hallelu Kel b'kosho back into P'sukei d'Zimra. And I would leave at least one song (either Ein Kelokeinu or Adon Olam) at the end, not only for the kids (if any), but also to help mitigate the sense that the congregation is "speed-davvening."

Mon Nov 26, 10:46:00 PM 2007  

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