Book Review: Jewish Prayer
By Jay Levinson
The How & Why of Jewish Prayer: A Guidebook for Men & Women
by Israel Rubin
Beit Shemesh, Israel: Arba Kanfot Press (5771/2011)
Israel Rubin has done a fine job in compiling a thorough and systematic compendium of the laws and practices involved in Jewish prayer. The book is divided into two major parts --- a twenty-five page introduction, then a lengthy treatment of how we pray. Rubin has dealt with newly religious for some twenty years, and this book is certainly suitable for them as well as for anyone else looking to supplement a rudimentary background. He addresses issues ranging from the structure of prayer and proper Hebrew pronunciation to when to sit and stand.
The introduction is written in straight-forward language, and it is appropriate to be read and periodically re-read by every Jew no matter how rich his background be. Rather than summarize Rubin's words, perhaps it is best to quote him directly.
"Are prayers always answered? Of course, we would like an immediate response from G-d to our pleadings, but this idea is na´ve. G-d listens to our supplications and pleas, decides what is really best for us, and acts accordingly."
"As a child learns to walk by walking regularly, so we learn to pray by praying regularly."
"Put simple, kavanah means complete concentration on prayer. But kavanah is more than mere concentration. It means grasping the essence of the relationship between you and G-d."
"Talking during prayer service is a very serious offense. Firstly, there is the damage you do to yourself. Secondly, there is the damage you do to others." In numerous places Israel Rubin is extremely explicit that every step must be taken to insure proper decorum in the synagogue.
One of the reasons he attributes to talking is the lack of understanding --- both its severity and the meaning of the words --- by both talker and listener. The antidote is clear --- learn! Lean why we pray, and learn the meaning of the prayers.
Nor is a synagogue a carpentry shop. Rubin makes the point in very direct language that people should open and close folding seats very quietly and not bang them. Noise disturbs.
In a book review it is not possible to bring down all of the pointers that Rubin offers. His work is virtually encyclopedic, covering all aspects of prayer. If any negative remark is to be made, it is clear that Rubin is working from an American Modern Orthodox perspective, but there is certainly nothing wrong with that. His highlighted practice is in the Ashkenaz tradition, although he does bring in other traditions as well.
In summary, this book is an excellent guide for the newly religious who is feeling his way in Jewish practice. The book also has many reminders for all of us without exception, particularly regarding such basic issues as kavana, the seriousness of prayer, our relationship with the Al-mighty, and synagogue decorum. This book took many years to write.
"Israel Rubin, you have done a fine job!"
from the November 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine