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The How & Why of Jewish Prayer, Reviewed by Rabbi Ari Enkin in TORAH MUSINGS, September 6, 2011

 The How & Why of Jewish Prayer

By: Israel Rubin
Arba Kanfot Press, 731 pp.
Reviewed by: Rabbi Ari N. Enkin

The only way to begin a review of such a Sefer is with one word: Wow! This is just an amazingly thorough and competent work. It might just be that the title is misleading. A better title might have been “The How, Why, When, Where, If, Theories, and Explanation of Jewish Prayer”.

 

The content is simply exhausting and all-encompassing. The author has left no stone unturned in explaining prayer, synagogue, and all matters relating to liturgy and the synagogue. The pearls, tidbits, factoids, and explanations are outstanding. He quotes writers and scholars from across the orthodox spectrum and from every possible source, including flyers, websites, and of course books. I think there might have even been one or two citations from lectures he heard.

 

To offer but a superficial glimpse into the Table of Contents and the topics that are covered: Introduction to prayer (including an extensive discussion on the development of prayer), routine of prayer, Kavanah, the siddur (development and structure), and the synagogue, a latecomer’s guide to catching up, and common postures and gestures. There are also separate chapters for each and every single section of the daily prayers making it a practical guide for everything from Modeh Ani in the morning to Kriyat Shema at night. There all also nine different appendices that deal in depth with issues such as: the different Berachot recited on various occasions, symbolism is prayer and rituals, lifecycle events, and more.

 

There is also an especially interesting chapter on the various names of God, their meanings and their usages. In one such discussion the author vigorously argues that the word “Jehovah” cannot possibly be a translation of the “Y-H-V-H” and hence there is nothing halachically problematic with referring to the religious group “Jehovah’s Witnesses” when appropriate. One of my favorite chapters was the one on “The Synagogue” complete with a section on “Advice for the Congregants” including: “Shul is not a carpentry workshop. Don’t bang seats and box lids”…”Gabbaim are not our slaves. Please put Siddurim, Chumashim, and other sefarim away properly”…”Shul is not an election rally. Don’t shout out yasher ko’ach.”…”The Netilat Yadayim room is not a club house for Kohanim and Levi’im” and others. Oh yeah, and don’t ever let the author catch you pacing during davening….this seems to be of one of his “yaharog v’al ya’avor”.

 

The sefer is similar to “A Guide to Jewish Prayer” by R. Adin Steinsaltz though it is written in a much more introductory style. The sefer is ideal for beginners and ba’alei teshuva and should be mandatory reading for those undergoing conversion. It is also somewhat reminiscent of “The Jewish Book of Why” by Rabbi Alfred Kolatch with the user friendly accessibility and explanations similar to the “Idiot’s Guide” series. Nevertheless, even the advanced davener will benefit from the author’s insights, philosophies, and explanations all culled from a variety of sources that can inspire and improve anyone’s prayers. We can all use a refresher from time to time.

 

The author’s background makes this very much a sefer “By the people, for the people” type of work drastically different than the mainstream rabbinic Halacha sefarim we are used to. It is written in a very informal and almost conversational manner as if the author is explaining the siddur and Jewish prayer while seated with his arm around your shoulder. However, the style and narration is sometimes over colloquial and ecclesiastical for my taste (e.g. “Grace After Meals”, “Worshippers”, “Benedictions” etc.) very reminiscent of the Halacha Sefarim of the Eighties. Indeed, the author has been working on this sefer for over fifteen years which certainly dates us back to the yesteryear of Halacha sefarim.  The author is a member of Rabbi Avishai David’s Beit Shemesh community who issued his Haskama to the sefer.

“The How & Why of Jewish Prayer” has certainly made its mark as a formidable and commanding contribution to the study of Jewish prayer and related matters. I am sure I will be referring to it time and time again.

 

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues and author of “The Dalet Amot Halacha Series” (4 Vol.). He welcomes books of a halachic nature for review on the Torah Musings website. rabbiari@hotmail.com

 

“A comprehensive, copious and rigorous work containing historical backdrops and short vignettes relating to a host of commentators and…

 

ARBAKANFOT.COM

 

The How & Why of Jewish Prayer, Reviewed by Jay Gerber, Kosher Bookworm, December 4, 2011.

The How &Why of Jewish Prayer -A Guidebook for Men and Women
by Israel Rubin Published by Arba Kanfot Press (731 pages)
 

For any newcomer to a synagogue, the experience of prayer surrounded by tallit-clad men or head-scarf-covered women may seem very daunting. He should worry nisht. Israel Rubin’s How and Why of Jewish Prayer will help him every step of the way, including the different greetings or salutations that might come his way, the proper attire for the synagogue, when to stand, sit or bow, and even what to do if his prayer book falls, or he comes late to shul. Israel Rubin holds the hand of the worshipper through the daily and holiday prayer services. Nothing is left out – from the exact way to don tefillin, the posture one should have during prayer, details for each specific prayer, what to do during an Aliya to the Torah, how to perform Hagba or Gelila (lifting and rolling up the Torah), and moreover how to conduct oneself at home from the moment he wakes up until he recites the Shema and is off to bed.
In a very readable user-friendly manner, this guidebook for Tefilla Novices covers every base possible to make the mechanics of prayer completely understandable. And although Israel Rubin says his aim is not to explain the spiritual or halachic aspect of prayer, his words do indeed deliver insight into the meaning of prayer and our relationship with the One Above.


While Prayer Beginners will find this book fascinating and essential to their approach to prayer, every Jew who prays will find that this Guidebook makes his practice of prayer more meaningful, as well. 
And once the logistics and details of prayer are made understandable to all, a Jew can then concentrate on the real part of tefilla – connecting with “a real G-d, who hears the individual prayers of all mankind, rich and poor, powerful and weak…[a G-d who] answers those pleas.” 
Israel Rubin, who holds a Master’s Degree in Finance and Industrial Management from MIT, has worked with baalei teshuva (returnees to Judaism) for more than 20 years. A resident of Bet Shemesh, he has authored four other books on varied Jewish topics – historic, autobiographical, and on a wide variety of Jewish and national issues. The How and Why of Jewish Prayer was 15 years in the making, which is evident in the scope of the sefer. Not a detail of home or synagogue life, connected with prayer, is omitted. Even the appendices on psalms, the Jewish calendar, women’s prayer, life cycles and more, could have been their own book.


No review could do justice to Israel Rubin’s mammoth tome, A Guidebook for Men and Women – The How and Why of Jewish Prayer. You will simply be awed by the depth and the breadth of this guide to prayer. Exceptional!

 

The How & Why of Jewish Prayer -A Guidebook for Men and Women, Reviewed by Voices Magazine

by Israel Rubin   Published by Arba Kanfot Press (731 pages)

 

For any newcomer to a synagogue, the experience of prayer surrounded by tallit-clad men or head-scarf-covered women may seem very daunting.

He should worry nisht. Israel Rubin’s How and Why of Jewish Prayer will help him every step of the way, including the different greetings or salutations that might come his way, the proper attire for the synagogue, when to stand, sit or bow, and even what to do if his prayer book falls, or he comes late to shul.

Israel Rubin holds the hand of the worshipper through the daily and holiday prayer services. Nothing is left out – from the exact way to don tefillin, the posture one should have during prayer, details for each specific prayer, what to do during an Aliya to the Torah, how to perform Hagba or Gelila (lifting and rolling up the Torah), and moreover how to conduct oneself at home from the moment he wakes up until he recites the Shema and is off to bed.

In a very readable user-friendly manner, this guidebook for Tefilla Novices covers every base possible to make the mechanics of prayer completely understandable. And although Israel Rubin says his aim is not to explain the spiritual or halachic aspect of prayer, his words do indeed deliver insight into the meaning of prayer and our relationship with the One Above.

While Prayer Beginners will find this book fascinating and essential to their approach to prayer, every Jew who prays will find that this Guidebook makes his practice of prayer more meaningful, as well.

And once the logistics and details of prayer are made understandable to all, a Jew can then concentrate on the real part of tefilla – connecting with “a real G-d, who hears the individual prayers of all mankind, rich and poor, powerful and weak…[a G-d who] answers those pleas.”

Israel Rubin, who holds a Masters Degree in Finance and Industrial Management from MIT, has worked with baalei teshuva (returnees to Judaism) for more than 20 years. A resident of Bet Shemesh, he has authored four other books on varied Jewish topics – historic, autobiographical, and on a wide variety of Jewish and national issues. The How and Why of Jewish Prayer was 15 years in the making, which is evident in the scope of the sefer. Not a detail of home or synagogue life, connected with prayer, is omitted. Even the appendices on psalms, the Jewish calendar, women’s prayer, life cycles and more, could have been their own book.

No review could do justice to Israel Rubin’s mammoth tome, A Guidebook for Men and Women – The How and Why of Jewish Prayer. You will simply be awed by the depth and the breadth of this guide to prayer.

Exceptional!

 

The How & Why of Jewish Prayer, Reviewed by Rabbi Yosef Wolicki

Beit Shemesh, Israel

Educator & Lecturer

This book should more accurately be called “Everything you always wanted to know about Jewish prayer, but didn’t know who to ask”. While it offers the novice all the most basic information, it also provides such extensive and detailed information that even the regular “pray-er” will find informative and interesting. In addition, for anyone interested in pursuing more information on a particular topic, the meticulous references to sources are most helpful.

The detailed table of contents, numerous appendices on related topics, and several types of index all facilitate navigating through this book. They make this an excellent reference work if you want to zero in on a specific topic, or if you just want to browse and review a chapter of particular interest.

 

 
 
 
 

Reviews: “The How and Why of Jewish Prayer”