These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

The Barrier

Posted on February 26, 2011 by Shibley

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No, not the barrier you’re likely thinking of. Rather, the language barrier that exists for anybody who is praying in a language that is not their native tongue.

I remember during my religious school days that we struggled to simply pronounce the words well enough to be able to recite them in public. Eventually, we were bordering on memorization. The issue then became actually understanding the words, which I admit can be a significant barrier to meaningful t’fillah. However, there are some conceptual items within the traditional liturgy that some daveners find difficult. In cases such as those, perhaps a more limited understanding is preferable, although in general I do not side with that approach.

Halakhically (according to Jewish Law), almost all of the t’fillot can be said in a language that you understand, which means not necessarily Hebrew. I submit however, that there is something unique about saying the t’fillot in Hebrew. Therefore, given my aversion to prayer in English, and the need to have at least rudimentary understanding, what should be done? I have found it helpful to focus on two brachot, or even a larger section of the t’fillah, until I am entirely comfortable with the content, main themes, words, etc… This can be done by a slower recitation of the selected texts, or through additional examination outside the context of t’fillah.

Through a further understanding of the text, we enable ourselves to appreciate the magnitude of prayer, as well as open the doors to a more personal connection to God and our communities. Good luck.