“One who fixes his prayer,” Rabbi Eliezer is quoted as saying in the Mishnah, “his prayer is not a supplication.”
In the Jerusalem Talmud, Rabbi Abuhu explains: “One should not recite one’s prayers as if he were reading a letter.” Rabbi Aha takes it to mean that “one must add something new each day.”
The Babylonian Talmud interprets Rabbi Eliezer as requiring a lower standard of spontaneity, with Rabbi Jacob ben Idi saying that Rabbi Eliezer is referrering to “anyone whose prayer is like a heavy burden on him.”
Nowadays, most people who don’t like to pray don’t have to go to synagogue.
But students in day schools have less choice, with worship as mandatory as mathematics or social studies.
The challenge is to go beyond crowd control – of keeping kids quiet during services – to making prayer not feel burdensome but actually inspiring.
It’s a bigger challenge than teaching fractions.
We admire all those who play a part in educating the next generation about our ancient tradition of prayer.
That includes all those who teach the aleph bet, the words, the meanings, and the courage to stand up and lead services for their peers.
And we hold particular admiration for those who go the extra mile to make the service extra meaningful to students not naturally inclined to prayer, those who are writing new curricula and trying new approaches to make old words resonate with a new generation.
We write about one such effort this week on page 6. The Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford has begun offering prayer “electives” – chances to explore other modalities of spirituality following a bare-bones abbreviated service.
Rabbi Eliezer would be proud. We are too.