Hebrew & Prayer

Prayer in Hebrew, even in when the language is unfamiliar, can have an emotional impact, which is deepened by an understanding of key concepts and words.

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All of this is on the most basic level of semantics. If it is true, as has been said, that reading a work in translation is like kissing through a veil, what shall we say about trying to pray through translation? Beyond the basic level, there is the level of emotion that only the Hebrew can properly achieve.

Even a Limited Amount of Learning Can be Valuable

What are we to do, therefore, when so many Jews do not understand the language? It is fatuous to say, "Learn it!" as desirable as that would be. But we can say, "Learn the vocabulary of prayer." It is possible to study enough about the prayers so that even if you do not understand every word, the main words and phrases will be familiar to you.

Glance at the translations as you pray to remind yourself of the meaning, but do not depend on them. For if all translations are interpretations, translations of prayers are even more likely to be explanations and to contain the theology and philosophy of the translator. If you have read about the prayers, you will know enough to assign whatever meaning you feel appropriate at the time you are saying them.

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Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer

Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer is a former President of the International Rabbinical Assembly, he is one of the founders of the Masorti Movement in Israel and is currently Head of the Masorti Beth Din in Israel.