Don't Give Up On Jewish Prayer Yet

As you’ve intuited, much of what matters about Torah and Judaism has little to do with what happens inside a building. And I’ve got to say that your commitment to Jewish life is incredible – both generous and humbling.

On the one hand, who could ask for more? Especially not being Jewish yourself, why not do what you enjoy, and leave the rest?

My only hesitation is this: the perspective that says that services are unimportant is objectively wrong. Widespread though it may be, it is deeply mistaken. Healthy, vibrant prayer is the sign of that community embraces its own spiritual ideas. That you are bored during services is not a sign that services aren’t for you - it’s that there’s something rotten at the heart of a lot of our services.

Let me be clear, I’m not blaming your synagogue; I am not blaming the reform movement, nor your rabbi, cantor, ritual committee, ushers, volunteers, grandmother, babysitter, et al.

What I’m saying is that you likely find services boring because the people who attend them do not feel themselves compelled by the spiritual ideas expressed in Jewish settings: that there is one God, whose voice was communicated to our ancestors through the Torah, by whose teachings we should pattern out lives. I certainly don’t indict people who question these premises; rather, there is a mismatch between what traditional Judaism teaches and what contemporary Jews believe. It makes for bad prayer.

The famous Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “If our rational methods are deficient and too weak to plumb the depth of faith, let us go into stillness and wait for the age in which reason will learn to appreciate the spirit rather than accept standardized notions that stifle the mind and stultify the soul.”

And I bring all of this up to say that there are places in this world that try – even succeed – to bridge the gap between the teachings of Judaism and the hearts of Jews. These might not be the services for you, but keep your mind open to the possibility that, one day, you will come across some that are.

Rabbi Scott Perlo is a rabbi at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington D.C, a unique institution that reaches out to Jewish and “Jewish adjacent” young professionals of all denominations and backgrounds.

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Don't Give Up On Jewish Prayer Yet

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