Keep Your Swaying To Yourself

By | Tagged: Israel, Practices

You know that moment during havdalah at basically any Jewish communal event? The moment when everyone puts their arms around the people next to them and begins swaying slowly, usually accompanied by the dreaded Debbie Friedman tune for the blessings of havdalah? I hate that moment. Here is a partial list of things I’d rather do than put my arms around someone and sway:
1)    my taxes
2)    100 stomach crunches
3)    attend a lecture about Swedish topology, given in Swedish
4)    listen to my ex-boyfriend talk about how his boss doesn’t appreciate him
5)    wait for a train to come in a 103F subway station
6)    read The Shidduch Crisis
7)    eat a big piece of jarred gefilte fish

As far as I can tell, I am in the minority. Most people love swaying. And I will admit that when I’m davening by myself, I have a tendency to shuckle with the best of them. But it’s independent shuckeling, which, I maintain, is completely different from communal swaying.

Anyway, I know that I have this anti-swaying bias, which is why I was interested to read my friend Dan’s take on swaying on his new(ish) blog, Tusseling With Tefillah. After attending a Kabbalat Shabbat service in which there was a lot of dancing he wrote:

It felt almost as if putting down our siddurim and joining in a lumpy, rhythmically challenged circle released some sort of euphoric energy that permeated the prayer space for the remainder of the evening. I can only explain it by saying that the siddur banging, and shuckeling (swaying) that was occurring before the dancing was similar to building up the pressure in a carbonated beverage. Obviously, when this bottle was opened we weren’t all spritzed, but that’s not the point.

So, I’m not sure exactly where to go with this from here, except to point out that in the case of last Friday, movement lifted the spiritual, physical, and emotional levels of the evening. I’m equally unsure of how appropriate it would be in all contexts, and what a “dancing/movement model” would look like while still retaining respect and reverence for prayer and the prayer space.

Dan seems to have enjoyed the dancing, but notes that it’s hard to figure out a “dancing/movement model” that still feels (to him and to me, at least) like serious prayer and not some kind of cutesy performance.

Posted on August 18, 2010

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