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The Importance of Prayer

Worship is the outpouring of the human soul in the service of the Divine. As the synagogue was the structural invention of Judaism, so the concept and practice of prayer was an innovation of Judaism. It has a place both in the life of the individual and in the life of the community.

Prayer within the context of the communityt’fillah b’tzibbur — is the ideal form of Jewish worship. Judaism recognizes that prayer is the sense of holiness best felt and appreciated within the context and environment of fellow worshippers. More so, prayer in this manner connects us to the terrestrial community around us, and it relates us to the Heavenly community beyond us.

The environment and appreciation of prayer and worship should not be confused with the enjoyment of entertainment or the experience of therapy. As God is understood as total otherness, so the act of worship can be sensed as an experience of otherness.

It is unfortunate that too many in our time believe that the worship experience consists of the clergy as performers, the congregation as the audience and God as the prompter. In a more theologically correct understanding of worship, it is God who is the audience, the members of the congregation who are the performers and the clergy who are the prompters. And because it is the Holy One who is really the audience, the ultimate challenge of prayer is not merely in reciting it but in living it to what it demands.

Prayers should not be pleasing to us, but rather our actions — resulting from those prayers — should be pleasing to God. It’s not enough merely to pray. We must live up to the experience.

NOTE: Among the things that are unique about Temple Emanu-El is its continued use of the Union Prayer Book in its worship. Conceived in the late 19th century by the growing Reform Movement in America, the Union Prayer Book (ultimately revised several times) is a work that combines the essence of Jewish tradition along with a spirit of classical dignity. By evoking the feeling that prayer is truly different, use of the Union Prayer Book is an attempt to reach a mode of thinking and feeling that transcends the ordinary here and now and that seeks the realms of the sublime.

In June 2015, Temple Emanu-El began using at services an updated version of the Union Prayer Book with gender-sensitive poetry and prose, as well as contemporary idioms and transliterated Hebrew. This offprint was created for us by Rabbi Howard Berman, executive director of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism and co-editor of The Union Prayer Book: Sinai Edition, Revised, the contemporary-language version published in 2012. In February 2016, Rabbi Berman was our scholar in residence to discuss “Liturgical Evolution and the Union Prayer Book” and to lead us in a community conversation about Temple Emanu-El’s liturgical journey. Listen to Rabbi Berman’s sermons »

Temple members who wish to express their thoughts about what they value in a prayer book should send a message to our rabbis.

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