Jewcy is proud to introduce a second regular Hacker of the Faith: Our Hanukkah blogger Tamar Fox.
Last weekend, at Limmud NY, I attended a session about the “Technology of Prayer” led by a med/rabbinical student named Yonah Feldman. Together we looked at a bunch of texts about methods of praying that are and aren’t allowed according to various rabbinic sources. I was shocked to read in two different Talmudic sources that the prayers of a rabbi are more effective than the prayers of a layperson.
Maybe I’ve been naïve, but I always had a kind of communist view of prayer. I respect rabbis and everything, but I have a hard time believing that getting smicha (rabbinical ordination) means a direct line to the Big Guy. And I mean, what about all those stories about the Baal Shem Tov telling little boys they could pray by playing the flute? Isn’t the whole message of Hasidism that you don’t have to be learned to have a connection with God?
Also at Limmud NY, I saw a preview of a fantastic documentary called Praying With Lior about a Philadelphia kid with Down Syndrome who is known for his passionate and enthusiastic prayers. The woman who made the film, Ilana Trachtman, talked about how impressed she was with Lior because she has such a hard time davening and he’s so good at it. In fact, the film shows various members of Lior’s community talking about how amazing he is at davening. Watching him daven on screen, it’s hard to disagree. But the contrast between the message of "Praying With Lior" and the message of the "Technology of Prayer" session was pretty extreme. I mean, either there’s a hierarchy of prayer or there isn’t.
Personally, I think there isn’t. For one thing, I know plenty of rabbis who don’t seem particularly confident about the quality of the connection they have with God, and so I can’t imagine asking them to put in a good word for me. Plus, I just don’t like the idea that the time I set aside for God is less important to him because I never finished learning Bava Kama.
All things being equal, I see no reason why God should prefer one person’s prayers over another. But I have to admit, most of the time, all things aren’t equal. I pray every morning; I use all the accessories and everything. But usually I’m praying because it’s the first thing on my to do list every day, and I’m in a hurry to get to the second thing. And if I tried to claim that I’m able to stay focused for even the twenty minutes that I spend davening, well, that’d be a big lie. So yeah, some people are definitely better at it than I am. Lior, for one. And any number of rabbis who have longer attention spans than I do. I’m operating under the assumption that I’ll get better with time. And I’m hoping that my prayers don’t get knocked too far back in line because I have a Modest Mouse song stuck in my head all the way through Alenu.
Tamar Fox has an MFA from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, but she still doesn't like sweet tea. Born and raised in Chicago, she's also lived in Iowa City, Dublin, Oxford, and Jerusalem. When she's not rocking out at honky tonks she teaches text study, cooks elaborate meals, and volunteers for a hospice. When she grows up she wants to be a professional whiskey taster.