The Conflict of Halakhah and Prayer

by: Joseph Tabory

This article originally appeared in Tradition, vol. 25, 1, 1989, pp. 17-30. Appears here with permission.
Although the subject to which this paper is devoted is how the all-encompassing halakhah, superior to the world of prayer, absorbs into itself the realm of prayer, I preferred to use a title which implies some sort of equality between them, in order to emphasize the inherent conflict between the two concepts. The essence of halakhah is legal systematization, presenting a complete pattern of life which orders the day-to-day and even minute-to-minute conduct of the individual. It is in this sense that the word halakhah has been understood to be derived from the root halakh, “to go,” because it defined the path in which a Jew is to walk. 1 Indeed, it has been suggested that a central theme in many halakhot is the idea of circumscription and definition; the law creates order out of chaos and keeps the Jew in the world of order and out of chaos.2
How different is the world of prayer! Prayer has been called by the rabbis “the service of the heart.” Prayer arises from the heart rather than from the mind, from a heart full of emotion which knows no rational restrictions. Jewish prayer has been described by a master of Jewish law, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, as arising from a heart which beats “rapidly and with an irregular rhythm, “a heart which is “wild, savage, and primitive.” 3 How can the world of halakhah, the world of law and order, attempt to regulate something which is by its very nature free and wild? It seems that such an attempt would tend to change the essence of prayer and transmute it into a “commandment of men, learned by rote” (Isaiah, 29:13).
Nevertheless, halakhah by its own nature could not leave any aspect of life unregulated- certainly not such an important and central one as that of prayer. We shall discuss here a few aspects of the endeavour of halakhah to grapple with what is still today a central problem of our facing God in prayer: How can we have a regulated, organized prayer which will, at the same time, preserve the freedom of a personal relationship with our Creator? 4
The inherent conflict between the obligation to pray and the need for prayer to rise independently from the wellsprings of the heart is reflected in a discussion which was formulated only in the medieval period, although this discussion was, of course, based on an analysis of earlier Talmudic texts. Is a Jew commanded by God to pray to Him? The rabbis interpreted the general biblical injunction to worship God as referring to the specific duty of praying to Him (Sifrei Devarim, 41). Maimonides (Rambam) took this statement at its face value as meaning that God commanded man to pray to him although he tacitly concedes that the exact details of how and when to pray are not specified by the Torah (Sefer haMitzvot, Positive Commandment 5; Cf. Hilkhot Tefillah, 1:1). Nahmanides (Ramban), in his critical remarks to this work, presented formalistic objections to Maimonides by pointing to the numerous statements in the Talmud which assert that the obligation to pray is of rabbinic origin. Nahmanides had no intention of denigrating the importance of prayer. Quite the contrary, he states elsewhere that God had no other purpose in the creation of man but that man should praise his Creator. This is, according to him, the significance of raising one’s voice in prayer and of gathering together in the synagogue in order to publicize our praise of God. 5 Nevertheless, there is no biblical commandment to do this; all its forms have been fixed by the rabbis. Nahmanides’ objections to counting prayer among the biblical commandments are technical and we feel that he himself was not fully convinced by them. He indeed suggested that Maimonides may have been correct in accepting the rabbinic statement at its face value but he suggested a new interpretation of that statement. According to Nahmanides, it should rather be explained as requiring a person who prays through his own volition, one who cannot help but call out from his anguish and suffering, to direct his call to God in the belief that He hears our prayers and helps us through prayer. 6 We may suspect therefore that there is really some other or additional reason which underlies the rejection of the concept that God commands man to pray to Him. One may perhaps explain that the philosophical background to this is that prayer can not be demanded but can only come forth from the inner recognition of the true believer. 7 It may even be said that prayer is the only true free-offering which man has to give God and the negation of its freeness by a commandment to pray would deny its true value. 8
Even if we assume that Nahmanides is correct in stating that God does not demand of us that we pray to Him, there is clearly a rabbinical injunction to pray. Although the original injunction required only two prayers a day- the evening prayer being considered voluntary- today we accept three prayers a day as being obligatory. The halakhic obligation to pray three times a day shows the aspiration of halakhah to create an ordered regimen. Such a regimen tends to stifle extra-curricular activities even when their goals coincide with those of the regime. Is this true also of halakhah and prayer? Is one limited to the prayers prescribed by halakhah or is there still some element of a free-offering? Can one offer a new prayer of his own when he feels a need to communicate with God?
For a proper understanding of the question of new and additional prayers it should be pointed out that the only prayer in which one could be considered by halakhah as facing God is the one which is known today as Shmone Esreh (eighteen benedictions). This prayer is also known as the Amidah– derived from the Hebrew word meaning “to stand”- because it is the only prayer of the individual in which he is required to stand. It is this prayer which is meant by the rabbis when they speak of tefillah (prayer) because it is prayer par excellence. Therefore, early discussions of the possibility of praying to God in addition to the required prayers were limited to this prayer. It is in this sense that Rav Saadyah Gaon says “whoever wishes to add a voluntary prayer may pray the eighteen benedictions as many times as he wants, since there is no other prayer but it.” 9 Rav Saadyah’s statement is in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yokhanan who uttered the wish that “would a person might pray the whole day long.” 10 Rabbi Yokhanan’s wish, as it appears in the Palestinian Talmud and in the Midrash, was to be taken literally. He really meant that a person might pray as often as he wished. However, the true interpretation of Rabbi Yokhanan’s wish was made difficult by the necessity of reconciling it with two statements of Samuel which come after that of Rabbi Yokhanan in the Babylonian Talmud (Berakhot, 21a). In his first statement, Samuel declared that if a person who remembered in the middle of his prayer that he had already prayed, he should stop praying even if he were in the middle of one of the benedictions. Samuel’s second statement was that a person who had already prayed by himself and now found a quorum praying could join them in prayer- but only if he could introduce some novelty into his prayer. In an opinion attributed to Rav Hai Gaon, the statements were reconciled by limiting the force of Rabbi Yokhanan’s statement. The author of this opinion ruled that even Rabbi Yokhanan did not permit one to offer additional prayer unless one could introduce some novelty. 11 A less forced reconciliation of these statements is given by Rabbi Isaac Alfasi. He explains that the two sages are talking about separate cases: Rav Yokhanan permits voluntary prayer when it is clearly voluntary; Samuel talks of the case in which one meant to pray an obligatory prayer but its nature was changed because he remembered in the middle of it that he had already prayed his obligatory prayer. In this case. Rabbi Yokhanan would agree that one should stop in the middle. The rationale for this, as given by Alfasi, is based on the idea that prayer is a substitute for sacrifice. Just as obligatory sacrifices cannot be offered voluntarily, so too obligatory prayers. On the other hand, just as there is room for voluntary sacrifices, there is room for voluntary prayer. 12
Although Alfasi’s explanation seems clear enough, Rabbi Joseph Karo claimed that Alfasi really agrees with Rav Hai’s limitation that an individual may offer a voluntary prayer only if there is an element of novelty. 13 The effect of this limitation on voluntary prayer is so great that a commentator was brought to remark that even the evening prayer would be forbidden- since it was originally a voluntary prayer- if there were not a specific reference to it in the Bible. Nevertheless, in spite of this restriction, freedom of prayer seems assured- at least in the case in which the individual wishes to add something new or introduce some novelty to his prayer.
The different ways that “something new” or “novelty” were interpreted reflect the various attitudes to spontaneous prayer. Rav Sherira Gaon, who was asked what “novelty” was required by Samuel, explained that Samuel’s permission to pray a second time in order to pray with the community extended even to Mussaf of Shabbat. In that case, Rav Sherira replied, it would be considered sufficient novelty to say “may it be Thy will, O Lord our God, that You will hear the prayer that I prayed before You and that You will restore us to our land and plant us in our border and we will offer to You our obligatory sacrifices.” 14 We do not know whether Rav Sherira demanded a novelty in a true spontaneous prayer, but it is clear that even if he did, this demand was no stumbling block in its path. A man could offer the standard prayer freely- as long as he showed in some way that his prayer was a free-offering. Entirely different was the attitude of Maimonides who stated that each of the intermediate blessings of the Amidah must be formulated anew while retaining the general intent prescribed by the rabbis. 15 Only the first blessings of praise and the last blessings of thanksgiving may, and must, be retained intact. According to Maimonides, a man could pray freely to God only by creating what was virtually a new composition. This limited drastically the circle of those who could pray spontaneously.
A much more liberal explanation was given by Rabbeinu Asher, although his intention was actually to limit the opportunities for voluntary prayer. Maimonides’ explanation of “something new” was no limitation for, according to Rabbeinu Asher, anybody was capable of composing a new prayer.16 Rabbeinu Asher therefore explained that the intention of the Talmud was to limit voluntary prayer to anyone who had a new, unforeseen, motivation for prayer. If, for instance, somebody in his family had become sick after he had last prayed, he could now pray voluntarily in order to add a prayer for the health of the sick man. “Something new” meant, in the opinion of Rabbeinu Asher, not a new composition but a new motivation for prayer. Someone who did not remember whether he had prayed or not could pray without adding anything new at all. 17 The very fact that he was not sure that he had fulfilled his obligation was considered a sufficiently new motivation.
In spite of the liberality of Rabbeinu Asher’s opinion, he himself was the source for limiting the possibilities of voluntary prayer. A question was addressed to him about the propriety of R. Masliah’s custom of praying twice in the afternoon, once at high noon and a second time towards the evening. In his responsum, Rabbeinu Asher says that nobody should offer a voluntary prayer unless he was very sure of himself that he would be able to pray intently from the beginning until the very end. If he could not do so, he would be included among those of whom it is said “What need have I of your sacrifices, says the Lord” (Isaiah 1:11). 18 This warning has been so effective that voluntary prayer has virtually been eradicated. Indeed, although this warning was issued to a person who wished to offer a completely voluntary prayer, it was but a short and natural step to apply it in other cases. The Shulhan Arukh permitted one to pray in the case that he did not remember whether he had fulfilled his obligation in accordance with the above-mentioned opinion of Rabbeinu Asher. However, the danger that this might really be a voluntary prayer- in the event that the person had really prayed but had forgotten it- caused Rabbi Avraham Danziger to declare that in our times one is actually forbidden to pray even in such a case. 19 Others felt that he had gone too far; one should pray in that circumstance. 20 Nevertheless, the general consensus is that the road to voluntary prayer has been closed, de facto if not de jure. Rabbi Yehiel Epstein remarked that he had never seen anyone offer a voluntary prayer. 21
A more fertile field for innovation lay in the realm of new prayers for various occasions. Since these are not included in the halakhic category of prayer, there is no limitation on their introduction. They caught on because the one who used them in his prayers felt that they helped him in his expression of communion with God and in the outpouring of his heart. Such prayers have been composed throughout the generations. Many of the early ones, composed before the end of the Talmudic era, have been incorporated into the prayer book. Some of them have become part of the regular daily service (such as blessings recited before the prayer proper), while others appear as prayers for special occasions (such as the prayer recited when going out on a journey). These prayers show the hallmark of their origin by their use of standard forms of prayer, such as blessings, in a manner that does not conform to the rules drawn by the rabbis. 22 The fact that these have been included in the prayer-book has not served as a precedent to introduce others. The fear that reciting an unsanctioned blessings may involve one in the sin of taking God’s name in vain has created a consensus that one can not introduce new blessings which have not been mentioned already in the Talmud. 23 There have even been attempts to expunge from the prayer-book some of the morning blessings which are not mentioned in the Talmud. 24 This fear has created a vicious cycle which has lessened the significance of some of the blessings which are mentioned in the Talmud. Due to this fear, copyists of the Talmud omitted the first part of the blessing which contained the name of God and copied only the final part. They assumed that everyone knew that the blessings were to be recited with the name of God so that there was no reason that they should copy his name unnecessarily. 25 Later generations, trying to adapt their rituals to the Talmud, found these shortened blessings in their text and assumed that they were really to be recited without mentioning the name of God.
The reluctance to mention the name of God when there is any doubt of its halakhic necessity had aroused much controversy about the application of existing blessings to new situations. A well known case is that of the sheheheyanu on Yom haAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. With all its differences, there is a similarity in this question to that of whether one should recite hagomel after an airplane trip, as this also is not specified in the Talmud as one of the reasons to recite this blessing. 26 I would like to bring a further example of this, if I may be permitted a personal reminiscence. When I returned from my participation in an artillery unit in the Litani operation in Lebanon. I recited hagomel in the synagogue. A heated discussion arose whether this situation is to be included among those which required this blessing. This discussion was conducted in the same terms as the discussion of the application of hagomel to an airplane journey. The different welt-anschaungen which may have been involved found no expression in the open level of discussion. 27
Prayers composed in post-Talmudic times, by such luminaries as Rav Saadyah Gaon and Nahmanides, have avoided these problems by not using halakhic forms. The use of non-halakhic forms has even sanctioned the return to the prayer-book of an item that had been rejected earlier. Rabbi Shlomo Luria recited Asseret haDibrot daily in spite of the injunction in the Talmud against this (BT Berakhot 12a). He explained that the Talmudic injunction refers only to their incorporation into a prayer. 28 As long as one does not resort to halakhic forms of prayer, one may recite whatever one wishes. Many post-halakhic prayers have been composed in non-halakhic forms. The tradition of such compositions has extended into modern times with special attention given to those who are not able to get the full benefit from the regular obligatory prayers. Many prayers were created in the circles of Hasidim who were encouraged to pour out their heart to God. 29 Numerous prayers were created for women, in Yiddish, to be recited at every phase of life. 30 These prayers have received partial legitimization which typifies the dialectics of rejection and acceptance of new prayers. Rabbi Avraham Gombiner ruled that women who say such a prayer have fulfilled at least the biblical commandment to pray. 31 A more far reaching decision is found in the response of Rabbi Yitzhak Yaakov Weiss. In reference to the rule that a person may not eat on Shabbat morning after prayer until he has made kiddush, Rabbi Weiss ruled that even such a prayer is considered as prayer.32
Most modern prayers that have found acceptance in traditional communities follow non-halakhic forms. We may count as examples of those forms both prayers of the community (such as the prayer for the State of Israel), and prayers of the individual (such as the prayer of a paratroop before his jump). Opposition to such prayers may bear the guise of halakhic or quasi-halakhic criticism to new prayer as such but its source is generally antagonism to the things that are behind the new prayer- whether it is antipathy to the goal that is prayed for or even the composers of the prayers. Rabbi Duschinsky, a late chief rabbi of the ultra-orthodox community in Jerusalem, presents an interesting example of this. In one of his responsa he reports that he was asked by “a great rabbi” about the advisability of instituting a new prayer. The historical background of this question is obscured in the responsum but from its date (1942) one may assume that it was a prayer for the British forces to be victorious over Rommel. Rabbi Duschinsky replied that the Men of the Great Assembly who composed our prayers were able to give them an inner content of which we are not fully aware. The outer aspects of the prayer composed by the “great rabbi” are beyond criticism but Rabbi Duschinsky is unable to judge whether they have an inner content. He concludes, therefore that we should be satisfied rather with the traditional prayer “May he who gives salvation to kings….” 33 Nevertheless, in 1948, Rabbi Duschinsky wrote in praise of some rabbis who instituted an order of prayer for Jerusalem in that year. 34 An interesting parallel can be drawn from another pole of the world which is diametrically opposed both physically and spiritually. Louis Ginzberg of the Jewish Theological Seminary wrote to Morris Silverman, compiler of an American prayer-book “I am not particularly fond of making prayers- they ought to flow from the hearts of inspired poets.” 35 Nevertheless Ginzberg himself composed a prayer for divine aid during the Second World War. 36
Innovations in prayer have been of limited success. Most of those that have been accepted in public prayer are meant more as an expression of communal feelings and mutual goals than an expression of communion with God and appeal to Him. The realm of communication with God is left to the standard forms of prayer which have been used throughout the generations. Although these prayers are meant to be a road leading to God, their obligatory nature makes them seem rather as closed gates which prevent the traveler from starting on his journey. As the desire of modern man to travel on the road to God has seemed to lessen, these gates seem to have grown in height. It is to the nature of these gates and the attempt to overcome them that we shall now turn our attention.
As long as there is no obligation to pray there is no question about the intentions of the one who does pray. A person who prays because he feels an inner need to do so prays with all his heart and all his soul, whether his prayer is one of supplication in a time of trouble or one of thanks to God for His lovingkindness. However. once there is a halakhic obligation to pray and he prays not because of his own emotional stimulation but in order to fulfill a requirement imposed upon him by others, then the question of kavanah becomes one of paramount importance. Kavanah is a difficult word to translate. We shall discuss two aspects of this concept which we shall call “intention” and “attention.” 37
Kavanah derives from the Hebrew “direction” and its aspect which we called “intention” is partly one of direction. How does one feel the presence of God so that he can direct his prayers to Him? This problem arises when the average person is obligated to pray at specific times. Everybody feels the presence of God in times of trouble. A popular aphorism has it that there are no atheists in the trenches. An interesting Talmudic parallel to this idea is the statement that a thief, when in danger due to his illegal activity, calls out to God (BT Berakhot, 63b). On the other hand, the truly God-intoxicated person feels the presence of God constantly. This is perhaps the real meaning of David’s statement “Evening and morning and noon I pray and sigh” (Psalms 55:18). He does not mean that he sighs but three times a day but rather that he sighs constantly. 38 Halakhah accepts, at least de jure, that a man who is constantly involved in divine activity- like R. Simeon Bar Yohai- need not pray at all (BT Shabbat 11a) for, as Rabbi Soloveitchik has expressed it, studying the word of God also represents a communion with the divine. 39 However, the ordinary person involved in his daily activities may only rarely, perhaps never, feel the presence of God. Halakhah felt that it must call this man to God by requiring him to pray at specific intervals. Indeed, a Tannaitic statement interprets the words of David as insisting on distinctly separate times of prayer in emulation of Daniel who prayed but three times a day (Tosefta Berakhot 3:6. ed. S. Lieberman p. 12). 40 The difficulty inherent in tearing oneself away from one’s daily business in order to face God was recognized by Rav Huna who stressed the special importance of the afternoon prayer (BT Berakhot 6b). The Tur explained that the reason for placing such great stress on the importance of this prayer is because it comes when a man is absorbed in his affairs. 41 We know only too well how rushed the afternoon prayer can be- when it is not completely forgotten- because so many things are on a person’s mind during the day. In this case the rabbis were faced with a problem of their own creation. How could they create the intention of facing God, a turning of the mind towards Heaven, in one who is totally absorbed in mundane activities and feels no such obligation on his own?
The guides and solutions offered by halakhah to the problem of intention emphasize the basic dichotomy between formal law and the essence of religion. While religion is essentially a matter of the heart and mind, law would seem to be capable of regulating only actions and deeds. This is certainly true of secular law, which can impose no sanctions on anything which is not objectively provable in a court of law. However, this is not equally true of religious law which can appeal to a man’s conscience for sanctions. 42 Secular law is satisfied if a man pays his taxes on time, even if he does so unwillingly and does not demand that he do so with the idea that he is supporting social projects whose purpose is to help the under-privileged and deprived. 43 Religious law considers the heart and mind as part of its realm and demands their compliance. While the earliest discussion of the importance of intent in fulfillment of commandments is to be found only in the Babylonian Talmud, this discussion is based on hints in Tannaitic literature. It has been suggested that one of the fundamental differences between the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel, the background to many of their disagreements, may have been the question of the significance of intent. 44 Therefore, it is not surprising that Jewish law legislated for the mind in specifying that one who prays must have intent of heart (Tosefta Berakhot 3:5, p. 12). Rabbi Mana went so far as to say that even if the reading of Shma does not need intent, prayer (the Amidah, the Eighteen Benedictions) does need intent. 45 Rabbi Eliezer went even further in his statement that a man who feels himself unable to pray with kavanah should rather not pray. 46
However, halakhah recognized the difficulties in legislating for the mind and decreed, with some reservations, that prayer was valid even without kavanah. The main efforts of the halakhah towards creating proper kavanah were directed to legislating acts of preparation before prayer. These were to have the effect of arousing the individual to an awareness that he is about to stand in aweful devotion before the Master of the world. This was in accordance with a principle that was formulated much later by the author of Sefer haHinukh that actions have the power to create a state of mind. The relation between actions and intentions is most clearly expressed in the decision of the Shulhan Arukh that though one is required to face the direction of the Holy of Holies in prayer, if he is unable to figure out the correct direction, he is then to direct his heart to his Father who is in heaven (Orah Hayyim 94). 47 The last attitude is, of course, not an inferior one but is rather the desired one48 which can best be reached by external methods because these are better able to arouse the proper awareness than a direct call to be aware. It is with this in mind that we may understand the prescription of the Tur that one who prays must seek a proper place for prayer, that he must dress properly and see that his own body is properly clean and that he must prepare his mind for prayer. 49 The final preparation of the body culminates in the requirement to stand in the posture thought appropriate for a servant who stands before his master (Orah Hayyim 95). Nothing should be held in one’s hands that might interfere with the prayer and the Shulhan Arukh grudgingly permitted holding a prayer book (Orah Hayyim 96, 2). 50 Although the requirements of the Shulhan Arukh are mostly limited to externals, leaving the attainment of the inner awareness to the capability of the individual, Rabbi Hayim of Brisk went so far as to say that if the individual was not at least aware of standing in the presence of God throughout his prayer, he has not fulfilled the minimal requirement of prayer51 which was meant to be an inner religious experience.
The second problem involved in the obligation to pray is that aspect of kavanah which we have called “attention,” knowing what one is saying. The researches of J. Heinemann and others have shown that even where prayer was considered obligatory, this obligation did not include strict forms for the prayers. In an intermediary stage, only general rubrics were prescribed such as the idea that one of the requests in prayer must be for the rebuilding of Jerusalem while the actual wording of the request was left to the discretion of the individual. Eventually, the wording of the prayers became definitive and even the number of words in each prayer took on significance. This caused the individual worshipper to have difficulty in feeling a particular relationship to words which had been chosen by others- even when he agreed with the sentiments. 52 The poskim considered this the main problem of prayer and interpreted the statement of the baraita “He who prays should direct his heart to heaven” (BT Berakhot 31a) as meaning that one should pay attention to the meaning of the words which he utters (Tur Orah Hayyim 98). Here they revealed the true dialectic tension between the halakhic call to prayer and the recognition that real prayer can arise only from an inner inspiration. The inability to demand proper intention of the heart is recognized in the concession that although a person is initially required to pay attention to the meanings of all the sections of prayer he may pray even if he feels himself unable to concentrate on all of the sections,- provided he is able to at least concentrate on the meanings of the first sections of Avot. The strict interpretation of this law implies that if he did not apply even the minimum of concentration he must recite his prayers once again. This is stated flatly by the Maimonides (Hilkhot Tefillah 10:1) and is accepted by the Tur. The Tur goes even farther in emphasizing that even if one had kavanah in all the rest of the prayer but omitted the kavanah in Avot, one must repeat the whole prayer. 53 However, the Tur cancelled the practical importance of his novella by stating that in our times we do not repeat a prayer that has been recited without kavanah because the repetition will have no more kavanah than the first recitation. 54 Here we see the theoretical stress on the importance of kavanah combined with the pragmatical recognition of the nigh impossibility of imposing it from without. The practical aspects inherent in halakhah left halakhah no choice but to insist on the outer forms even when it could not insure their inner content. 55 This has, in turn, enabled a late European rabbi, Rabbi Zvi Frommer, to claim that kavanah is no more an essential part of prayer than ya’ ale veyavo.56 “Forgetting” kavanah is as insignificant as forgetting any other section of the prayer. However, this has rightly been rejected by others who recognize the fact that though kavanah cannot be forced, it is nevertheless the heart of prayer. 57
Some people may perceive halakhah as a system which emphasizes external forms to the detriment of true religious feeling which- they claim- can arise only spontaneously. However, it seems obvious that without the demands of halakhah that one keep at least to the outer forms, there would rarely be prayer of any type. Thus, even outer forms have some significance. The most intentless legal forms of worship are a higher form of religious awareness than no worship at all. 58 But, we argue that this is not the purpose of the halakhah. Halakhic regulations about prayer- while regulating the external, do so in order to create that internal awakening and awareness which are the hallmarks of kavanah. Halakhah is not only “a sacred signpost which lights the way to spiritual ascent.” 59 It is also the call to man to follow that road. It is incumbent on the traveler to get the most out of his journey.
1 For the literature on the meaning and derivation of the term see Menahem Alon, Jewish Law: History, Sources, Principles (Jerusalem 1973), pp. 143-144.
2 Mary Douglas, “The Abominations of Leviticus,” Purity and Danger; 2nd ed. (London, 1969), pp. 41-57. See also Manfred Harris, “The Passover Seder, On Entering the Order of History,” Judaism, XV (1976), 167-174.
3 “Tefilatam shel Yehudim,” Maayanot, VIII (1964), 9.
4 In this respect the halakha has been considered as a dialectical synthesis of spontaneity and standardization See I. Twersky, “Some aspects of the Jewish Attitude Toward the Welfare State,” Tradition, V (1963), 144-145; and his further remarks in “The Shulhan Aruk: Enduring Code of Jewish Law,” in The Jewish Expression, ed. Judah Goldin, (Bantam Books, 1970), p. 33; reprinted from Judaism, XVI (1967).
5 Torat Hashem Temimah, printed in Kol Kitvei haRamban, ed. Ch. Chavel (Jerusalem, 1963), I, 152-153.
6 Rabbi Haim Soloveitchik asserted that, according to Nahmanides, one who prays has the merit of fulfilling a biblical injunction even though he is not commanded to do so. This has been strongly questioned by R. Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer; [Jerusalem, 1970], 8:2). On the other hand, Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik claimed that even Maimonides’ prayer arises out of anguish- the daily anguish of human existence (Reflections of the Rav, adapted by Abraham Besdin [Jerusalem, 1979], pp. 79-82).
7 This would then be an interesting parallel to another disagreement between the two. Maimonides says that God has commanded us to believe in Him while Nahmanides states that this belief, while being the foundation of all the commandments is not to be counted as a commandment in itself. Interestingly enough, the commandment to love God is considered by Maimonides as an appeal to the mind rather than an appeal to the emotion.
8 Cf. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (Fontana Library, 1960), pp. 443-445. James quotes Sabalier who considers voluntary prayer to be the very essence of religion. Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik agrees that prayer is the essence of religion but he asserts that finite man, made of flesh and blood, would be unable to approach God if God had not commanded him to do so (“Raayonot al Hatefilah,” Hadarom, XLV” [1979], pp. 87-89. The article was reprinted in Ish Hahalakhah; Galuy veNistar (Jerusalem 1979], pp. 243-24S). It is God’s commandment which strengthens man’s backbone so that he can bow down to Him.
9 Siddur R. Saadja Gaon, ed. I. Davidson et. al. (Jerusalem, 1970), p. 45.
10 PT Berakhot, 1:1, p. 2b; Tanhuma Miketz, ed. Buber, 9, p. 196.
11 Quoted in the commentary of Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah to the Alfasi on Berakhot, ed. Wilna. p. 12b. This ruling appears also in the commentary of Rabbeinu Hananel (Otzar haGeonim, Berakhot III, pp. 20-21) although his explanation of the Talmudic passage differs. He accepts the fact that Rabbi Yokhanan disagrees with Samuel but the ruling is in Samuel’s favor. However, Samuel admits that one may pray voluntarily if he introduces something new. This ruling is probably not of Rav Hai’s, as a responsum of his is found in Shaarei Teshuvah (number 96, quoted in Otzar haGeonim, Berakhot, I, p. 50) in which his opinion is identical with that of Alfasi which we shall discuss below. Cf. Tsvi Groner, “A List of Hai Gaon’s Responsa,” Alei Sefer, XIII (1986).
12 Alfasi on Berakhot, 12b. Alfasi may be dependent on the responsum of Rav Hai quoted in the prior note. A corollary of this rationale is that a community, which is not permitted to offer voluntary sacrifices, may not institute voluntary prayer. However, many rabbinical authorities disagreed. See Rabbenu Ephrayim: Disciple-Colleague of Rabbenu Isaac Alfasi (Jerusalem 1976), pp. 340-341.
13Bet Yosef on Tur Orah Hayyim, 107.
14 Shaarei Teshuva, 89 and elsewhere. The responsum is quoted in Otzar haGeonim to Berakhot, p. 52. Rav Sherira’s explanation is probably based on the statement of Rabbi Yosi in the Yerushalmi (Berakhot, end of chapter 4, 8c) as this responsum appears in the collection of Rav Sherira’s responsum in which the Yerushalmi is frequently quoted (Teshuvat haGeonim, ed. Harkavi (Berlin 1887), number 263). See also S. A. Poznanski, lnyanim Shonim Hanogim Litekufat haGeonim (Warsaw, 1909), p. 82. However, Rabbi Yosi’s statement appears as the answer to a somewhat different problem and its application here is, apparently, an innovation of Ray Sherira’s.
15Yad haHazaka, Hilkhot Tefilah, 1:9. However, Maimonides adds that even if one introduced an innovation in only one blessing, it is sufficient to show that it is a voluntary prayer and not an obligatory one. The law, stated by Maimonides, sheds an interesting light on the development of the poetic versions of the Amidah. See Shulamit Elizur, “Reshitam shel Piyutei Yud-Het,” Mehkerei Yerushalayim Besifrut lvrit, V (1974), 165-173.
16 Quoted by his son in Tur Orah Hayyim, 107. This opinion is not found, to the best of my knowledge, in any of Rabbeinu Asher’s extant writings. Does his animadversion show the quality of his society or does is it anticipate his own explanation of “sometbing new”? Rabbi Joseph Karo, in his notes to the Tur; pointed out that many simple people would be at a loss to compose something new.
17 Hilkhot Harosh, Berakhot, 3:15. Rabbeinu Asher is here following a line adopted by the Tosafot. They pointed out that Rabbi Yokhanan’s statement appears in the Babylonian Talmud in connection with a specific situation. The Talmud states that a person who does not remember whether he has prayed his obligatory prayer may do so in the light of Rabbi Yokhanan’s statement. In their attempt to reconcile this with the statements of Samuel, the Tosafot declared that Rabbi Yokhanan’s wish was limited to the case where one did not remember if he had prayed or not. Rabbeinu Asher added the rationale to this: the required novelty need not be a new prayer; it was sufficient for it to be a new motivation for prayer.
18 Responsa of the Rosh, 4:13. Cf. 4:9.
19 Haye Adam, 27:17.
20Arukh haShulhan, 107:13. Hayim Hizkiya Midini, Responsa Or Li (Smyrna 1844), 20.
21 Arukh haShulhan. 107:12. Rabbi Soloveitchik connects the lack of voluntary prayer today with the fear and trembling which prevent man from approaching God unless he is commanded to do so (Raayonot, p. 89).
22 J. Heinemann, Prayer in the Period of the Tannaim and the Amoraim, tr. from Hebrew by Richard S. Sarasson (Berlin, 1977), p. 156ff.
23 Talmudic Encyclopedia, Vol. 4 (Jerusalem, 1956), p. 313.
24 Ibid. For the vicissitudes of some of these blessings, see Tzvi Groner, “Brakha Shenishtak’ah Veshava Venitbarkha,” Bar-Ilan, XIV-XV (1974), pp. 94-97; M. Halamish, “Birkhat Hanoten Layaef Koah,” Asupot, 1 (1987), pp. 361-377; idem., “Birkhat Magbiah Shefalim- Berakha Shenishtak’a,” Asupot, 2 (1988), pp. 191-200.
25 J. Emden, Sheelat Yaabez, 1:81; M. Feinstein, Igrot Moshe, Hoshen Mishpat (New York, 1964), pp. 245-246.
26 Feinstein, loc. cit.
27 It is of interest to note that an Israeli rabbi ruled that Israeli soldiers are emissaries of the community and should not recite hagomel on return from battle (I. Ben Meir, “Birkat Hagomel Lahozrim Mipeilut Tzevait,” Tehumin, 1 [1980], pp. 349-357) while the former chief rabbi of the Israeli army ruled that they should (S. Goren, Meishiv Mihamah, Vol. II (Jerusalem, 1984), pp. 293-296.
28 Solomon Luria, Responsa, 64.
29 B. Landau, “Hatefilah Besifrut Hahasidut,” Mahanayim, XC (1960).
30 M. Waxman, A History of Jewish Literature, Vol. II, 1900, pp. 641-642; S. Hagai, “Hadimah Hazakah shel haTehinah,” Mahanayim, XC (1960), pp. 113-120.
31 Magen Avraham to Orah Hayyim 107:2. Cf. Medini, op. cit., who questions the opinion of Rabbi Gombiner since these prayers do not fit the standards of prayer.
32 Minhat Yitzhak, IV, 28:3. An abstract of this response appears in E. Elinson, Halsha vehaMitzvot (Jerusalem, 1974), p. 37.
33 Joseph Tzvi Duscbinsky, She’elot uTeshuvot Maharitz (Jerusalem, 1975), 47.
34 Op. cit., 48
35 Eli Ginzberg, Keeper of the Law: Louis Ginzberg (New York: 1966), p. 311. See also Hadoar, 28 Tishri 5706, 24:39, for the reaction of L. Ginzberg and his colleagues to Mordecai Kaplan’s prayerbook.
36 Eli Ginzberg, op. cit., p. 312.
37 S. Rozenberg, (“Tefilah veHagut Yehudit- Kivunim uBeayot,” in Prayer in Judaism: Continuity and Change, ed. Gabriel H. Cohn [Ramat Gan, 1978], p. 92) gives the sources for this division and adds a third aspect of kavanah which we shall not discuss here.
38 For further examples of this, see A. M. Moneyman, “Merismus in Biblical Literature,” Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXI (1952), 11-18.
39 Reflections of the Rav, p. 71-72. In another context Rabbi Soloveitchik has elaborated on the similarity between prayer and Torah study which “unite in one redemptive experience” (“Redemption, Prayer, Talmud Torah,” Tradition, XVII,2 [Spring 1978], 70). It is relevant here to refer to the remark found in Josippon (ed. D. Flusser, [Jerusalem, 1978], p. 27) that “he who prays is speaking with God, he who reads the Torah, God is speaking with him.” Flusser, in note 51, cites earlier references to this idea.
40 Lieberman, in his comments to this passage (Tosefta Ki-fshuta [New York, 1955], p. 29), points out that the passage permits one to spend the whole day in prayer provided that the prayer is divided up into three separate ones.
41 Tur, Orah Hayyim, 221. The Tur apparently thought that the afternoon prayer should be offered early in the afternoon. The Bet Yosef points out that the Tur‘s father, Rabbeinu Asher, was apparently of the same opinion (commentary to Orah Hayyim, 223). However, the popular custom seems to have followed the opinions of the Geonim that the afternoon prayer was said late in the afternoon which enabled them to combine it with the evening prayer. For a discussion of the legal and sociological aspects of this combination see J. Katz, Halakhah and Kabbalah (Jerusalem, 1984), pp. 1785 ff.
42 In this vein, Moshe Silberg has pointed out that secular law is oriented to the judge and the court while the halakhah is oriented to the individual (Principia Talmudica, Faculty of Law of the Hebrew University Legal Studies, 8 [Jerusalem, 1964], p. 52). M. Alon discussed the sanction of conscience in Jewish law in his above-cited work, pp. 173-180.
43 Twersky shows the significance of this in philanthropic acts in “Some Aspects of the Jewish Attitude Toward the Welfare State” (above, note 4).
44 J. D. Gilat, “Kavanah uMaaseh beTorat haTannaim,” Bar-llan, III-V (1966), 104-116.
45 PT Berakhot, 2:5, p. 5a, according to the reading in the Geniza ms. See L. Ginzberg, A Commentary on the Palestinian Talmud (New York, 1941), I, ; E.E. Urbach, The Sages-Their Concepts and Beliefs (Jerusalem, 1969), p. 395.
46 BT Berakhot, 3Ob. From the context in the Talmud, the statement seems to be an early one. Although the author is not specifically identified as Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrkanos, his statement is certainly consistent with the latters approach to prayer. Cf. Y. D. Gilat, The Teachings of R. Eliezer Ben Hyrkanos and Their Position in the History of the Halakha (Tel Aviv, 1968), pp. 83-84. The absence of statements by R. Eliezer in liturgical matters has been noted by Neusner as being consistent with R. Eliezer’s opinion that a fixed liturgy is not to be followed (“The formation of Rabbinic Judaism,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der romischen Welt, XIX, 2 [Berlin-N.Y., 1979], p. 29.
47 Saul Lieberman (op cit., pp. 43-44) points out that the fact that the Tosefta refers to “his Father who is in heaven” in the same context in which the Mishna refers to “the Holy of Holies” shows that the latter reference is really a toponomy for He whose Presence is felt in the Holy of Holies. For a further discussion of this toponomy see I. E. Efrati, “Levirur Hashimush Bakinuy ‘Hamakom’,” Bar-llan, XIII (1976), pp. 107-124.
48 Lieberman (op. cit., n. 44) shows that the turning of the heart may also have been taken literally.
49 Tur, Orah Hayyim, 90. I have changed the order of the requirements from that of the printed editions so that they coincide with the order of their exposition in the following chapters. Preparation of the mind is dealt with in the last place in chapter 98. Further external devices as aids in arousing kavanah such as: using a prayerbook; praying quickly (!); and others, have been suggested by more recent Rabbis. See a list with bibliography in Yabia Omer; III, 14:4.
50 See L. Ginzberg, Geonica, (repr. N.Y., 1968), I, p. 120, on the introduction of prayer-books.
51 Hidushei Rabbeinu Hayim HaLevi, Hilkhot Tefilah, 1:4. A similar idea is found in the dictum of Ramban, quoted by the Bet Yosef and glossed by the Ramo in Yoreh Deah 335:4, that one who visited the sick and did not pray for him has not fulfilled his obligation.
52 We shall not discuss here those cases in which the sentiments were no longer felt to be appropriate due to historical changes such as the call to eliminate the prayer for the Babylonian Exilarch or the more recent demand to change the form of mourning for the fall of Jerusalem. See Joseph Heinemann, “Changes in the Prayer and in Synagogue Practice,” Steps (The Movement for Torah Judaism, Jerusalem, 5731 [1971)], 37-43 (a selection, in English, of various Hebrew publications of this movement).
53Tur, Orah Hayyim 101. The Tur‘s novella changes the whole impact of the Talmudic statement. Originally it intended to lessen the demand for kavanah but according to the Tur‘s explanation it created a total demand for kavanah, albeit limited to Avot.
54Tur, loc. cit. This modification was not included in the Shulhan Arukh of Rabbi Yosef Karo who rather includes the stricter novella of the Tur. However, Rabbi Moses Isserles added this last modification to the Shulhan Arukh.
55 This is again reflected in the insistence of modern decisors on the use of Hebrew for prayer (Mishnah Berurah, 101:13 and in the Biur Halakhah) even though earlier decisors permitted the use of other languages if Hebrew was not understood. However, the insistence on Hebrew was part of the reaction against reform. See J. Heinemann’s review of Jakob J. Petuchowski’s Prayerbook Reform in Europe, in Tarbiz, XXXIX (1970), pp. 218-221.
56 Eretz Tzvi, Lublin 1939, 22. Rabbi Frommer stressed the importance of prayer with a congregation since such prayer is accepted even without intention. This has the effect of changing the significance of prayer from being a communion with God to being an expression of the community of Israel. In many Jewish communities outside Israel, this has become the main meaning of the synagogue. The idea of community prayer is the main theme of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s essay “The Synagogue as an Institution and as an Idea,” Rabbi Joseph H. Lookstein Memorial Volume, ed. L. Landman (New York, 1980), pp. 321-339.
57 R. Ovadyah Yosef, Yabia Omer, Vol. 3, 10:4.
58 Cf. Aaron Lichtenstein, “R. Joseph Soloveitchik,” in Great Jewish Thinkers of the Twentieth Century, ed. Simon Noveck (1963), p. 294.
59 Ruth Birnbaum, “The Man of Dialogue and the Man of Halakha,” Judaism, XXVI (1977), 52.