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Prayer Tutorial
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Hebrew for Christians
Introduction to Jewish Prayer


to Jewish Prayer

The English word "pray" derives from a root word meaning "to beg or entreat," whereas the Hebrew word hitpallel comes from a verb meaning "to judge oneself." When we pray, we first inwardly examine ourselves and then sincerely call upon the Lord with reverent singleness of heart.

In Jewish thinking, devotion from the heart, called kavanat ha lev, is considered essential to true prayer. Kavanah implies concentration, worship, and single-mindedness: you simply cannot reach the Lord without earnestness and passion of the whole heart (see Jer. 29:13, Heb 11:6). One of the Jewish sages wrote, "Prayer without kavanah is like a body without a soul," suggesting that merely mouthing the "right words" of a prayer is empty hypocrisy if the inmost heart is not also profoundly involved. And will God, who is Spirit, listen to such insincerity from our lips? (see Isa. 29:13)

Rabbi Eliezer said, "One who makes one's prayers fixed, that person's prayers are not sincere petitions" (Mishnah Berakhot 4:4)

The Language of Prayer
The Talmud states that it is permissible to pray in any language that you can understand; however, traditional Judaism has always stressed the importance of praying in Hebrew. There is the story of the uneducated Jewish boy who wanted to pray but did not understand any Hebrew, so he began reciting the only Hebrew he knew: the Aleph-Bet. One day, as he was davening the letters, a rabbi came to him and asked him why he prayed in this manner.  The little boy replied, "The Holy One, blessed be He, knows my heart. I give Him all the letters, and He puts the words together!"

And so it might be for you, my reader, who have just learned the Hebrew Aleph-Bet yet fumfer as you attempt to articulate the Hebrew words.  Carry on! As you pray to G-d, ask Him to take the efforts of your heart to become "groanings of the Spirit" - true praise and prayer performed in Spirit and in Truth.

Corporate Prayer
Most Hebrew prayers are expressed in the first person plural, recited on behalf of all of the Jewish people. We are not alone, nor are we lone-ranger type Christians. The Lord Jesus taught us to pray in the same manner: "Our Father, who art in Heaven, blessed be Thy Name."

Note: In Jewish tradition, a prayer service cannot be conducted without a group of at least 10 bar-mitzvah Jewish men, called a minyan.

Prayer Links

  1. The Synagogue
  2. Jewish Prayer Services
  3. The Siddur
  4. The Shema
  5. The Shemoneh Esrei (Amidah)
  6. The Lord's Prayer

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Hebrew for Christians
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