Teaching Baiurei HaTefilla
This article originally appeared in Ten Da’at, vol. 5, 2, 1991, pp. 37-38. Appears here with permission.
Educators have always been faced with the challenge of inspiring students toward meaningful tefilla. One approach is to emphasize the interpretation of the words and the structure of the siddur. The following course utilizes this approach and has been in effect in the Maimonides School of Boston. Its emphasis is on the rationale, meaning and various halakhot of tefilla.
The course is divided into a number of units, several of which are taught every academic year. Although the course could have been offered in one year by teaching it daily, we thought it more meaningful to schedule one or two weekly classes on every grade level throughout high school. In addition, each year time is devoted to the tefillot of the Yamim Tovim to deepen student understanding. In the senior year students take a comprehensive test, as well as present papers on topics that had only been covered briefly.
A bibliography of the course would include all of Jewish scholarship: halakha and agada, Talmud and poskim, philosophy and history, Jewish literature and poetry. Naturally, only a small selection of that huge material can be covered and I therefore have tried to concentrate on those themes that are most meaningful and interesting. The Talmudic sources of tefilla, however, are not curtailed. To give students easy access to those sections I compiled a booklet containing selections, as well as review questions. In addition to these sources I also teach Rav Soloveitchik's ideas and philosophy of prayer.
The texts used are Shulhan Arukh Orah Haim, the Siddur Avodath Yisrael by Yitzhak Ber (Dov), a classic commentary on the siddur published in 19th century Germany belonging to the genre of Die Wissenschaft Des Judentums, and the above-mentioned text booklet. The school library has many volumes that can be used for research.
Birkot HaShahar- P'sukei DeZimra
Birkot Kriat Shma Shaharit V'Arvit
Amida for weekdays, Shabbat and Hagim
Tahanun until Shir Shel Yom
Kabbalat Shabbat – Hallel – Piyutim
Hagim including Slihot and Haggada
Special emphasis is placed on dinim, adjusted of course to meet the needs and level of each individual class.
Method of Instruction
The method of instruction consists partly of lectures, partly of class discussions. I point out to my students that baiurei tefilla is not an exact science. For instance, the Talmud teaches that vidui on Yom Kippur is said by the individual after the amida, but by the congregation in kedushat hayom. Why? The Talmud proper does not address this. In asking students for their opinions I receive the most fascinating attempts to solve the problem. Or, for instance, the Ramo and the Mehaber, Rav Yosef Karo, argue about the need to respond to ahava raba and to gaal Yisrael with amen. Naturally, the commentaries offer their insights, but students find much enjoyment in devising reasons of their own. During neilah we only say the short vidui, why? What is more meaningful, a free prayer as it was said during the time of the first Temple or a set text as introduced by the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah? There is no end to the questions and problems that can be posed. Such probing questions stimulate students and keep their interest alive. They frequently offer novel ideas that enrich my own thinking.
A Sample Lesson
Hashahar from lasekhvi bina until hasadim tovim
similar in-depth study of each part of the siddur can open up new worlds
for students, and strengthen their hashkafa. Usually lack of time makes
it impossible to exhaust all the teachings contained in any section and the
instructor will have to make choices.
A similar in-depth study of each part of the siddur can open up new worlds for students, and strengthen their hashkafa. Usually lack of time makes it impossible to exhaust all the teachings contained in any section and the instructor will have to make choices.