HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

From the Editor

by Barbara Davis Issue: Tefillah

Several years ago, NPR correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty reported that “scientists are making the first attempts to understand spiritual experience—and what happens in the brains and bodies of people who believe they connect with the divine. The field is called ‘neurotheology,’ and although it is new, it’s drawing prominent researchers in the US and Canada. Scientists have found that the brains of people who spend untold hours in prayer and meditation are different.”

This issue of HaYidion focuses on prayer, tefillah. While there are no scientific studies included, there are many examinations of the theme from different perspectives: poetic, analytical, pedagogical, philosophical. Prayer is not hard to define. Wikipedia calls it “an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with a deity, an object of worship, or a spiritual entity through deliberate communication.” It has been said that all prayer falls into one of three categories: Wow; Please, please; and thank you. Someone wrote that prayer represents the pray-er saying “God—pay attention…to ME.” But prayer is also infinitely complex and is subject—particularly in the school setting—to becoming denatured.

The authors in this issue struggle with the fact that prayer in school is often rote, devoid of meaning, emotionless, irrelevant to the pray-ers. They analyze the causes of the impoverishment of what should be a transcendent experience, and they offer creative and often passionate suggestions for the enhancement of the prayer experience. Their analyses are cogent and enlightening, and offer meaningful pathways to enhance and enrich davening.

The poet Robert Frost, in a sermon in a synagogue, said that religion “is the straining of the spirit forward to a wisdom beyond wisdom.” Prayer is a means for us to reach out to that “wisdom beyond wisdom.” Moreover, Jewish prayer, which is quintessentially communal prayer, allows participants to overcome the immense sense of loneliness in the universe that sometimes overwhelms all of us. As educators and educational leaders, we seek to give the gifts of prayer to our students. This issue of HaYidion will inspire you to find new ways to meet the challenge of doing so.

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Why Pray?

Seven years ago, a kindergarten teacher brought a student to my office. The children were supposed to be davening,......


Most day schools are committed to cultivating Jewish prayer, tefillah, as a spiritual practice. In practice, they often find the obstacles formidable: lack of curriculum, knowledgeable and passionate prayer leaders, student interest, awareness of goals, to name a few. Articles here aim to help schools clarify their approach and strengthen the educational bases of school tefillah.

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