Books of Interest: New Publications on Tefilla by Shlomo Brody
The Orthodox book market has been blessed with a few new important books on the history of Jewish prayer, each of which are worthy of study and further reflect larger questions for study.
Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber’s book, On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations (Urim Publications, 2010) is a thought-provoking work on the history and development of the text of Jewish liturgy. Prof. Sperber’s basic thesis is that a careful examination of tefilla reveals that the prayer text has evolved greatly over the centuries (including the post-Talmudic era), and that we therefore should be open to changes within our current text. (His specific agenda relates to feminist sensitivities, although his general analysis is interesting for other reasons as well). Sperber writes as an erudite scholar, with detailed footnotes, which are very stimulating, although at times the text becomes a little convoluted, with footnotes extending for many pages, and detailed bibliographical material sometimes included in the body of the text. I also found that on a few occasions, the sources cited did not necessarily lead to the broader conclusion that Rabbi Sperber wanted to draw from that given text. Nonetheless, it remains an important work worthy of serious study, and warrants a response from those who are against such liturgical changes.
Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel has penned a unique book on the history of Jewish prayer which combines his considerable skills as both a scholar and a pulpit rabbi. Why We Pray What We Pray (Urim Publications) is a scholarly historical analysis of six prayers (Shema, Nishmat, Birkat HaHodesh, Anim Zemirot, Aleinu and Kaddish) that is presented in an accessible manner to a lay audience. All major texts are provided with line-by-line English translations, and are presented in a clear format to allow for detailed, systematic analysis. Two important unique contributions are a) his use of the Heikhalot literature in analyzing the development of these prayers, and b) his ability to make this development interesting and significant to the average reader. The chapters are lengthy, and would have benefited from sub-section headings that would make the flow and thesis clearer. Yet the work remains accessible, and will help people better appreciate the meaning of these fascinating prayers.
Rabbi Prof. Michael Broyde’s Innovation in Jewish Law (Urim) is a monograph on the history of the prayer Havineinu, an abridged version of the daily prayer used in pressing situations. While the prayer itself is an interesting topic, Rabbi Broyde uses this study as a larger reflection on the power of chiddush (innovative textual interpretations) to cause changes in Jewish law, especially in the wake of technological and social changes. The analysis is sharp and clear, and provides a good example of a non-controversial topic which highlights a significant way in which Jewish law evolves.
Rabbi David Brofsky’s Hilchot Tefilla – A Guide to Daily Prayer (Ktav/OU Press) is a welcome addition to the library of English book on practical halakha. Originally composed as a series for the Virtual Beit Midrash website, Brofsky has crafted these short essays into a comprehensive book on daily prayer, covering everything from handwashing in the morning to Kriyat Shema before bed. His analysis, which begins with Talmudic texts and ultimately concludes with contemporary rulings, remains sufficiently comprehensive without becoming overly detailed or dense. I hope that Rabbi Brofsky will followup with a 2nd book detailing prayer laws relating to Shabbat and the festivals.
Readers will also be interested in a recent Hebrew work on Hilchot Tefilla (Bet El Library) by Rabbis Eli Taragin and Michael Rubinstein. Following the style of their teacher, Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon, the two authors provide a detailed presentation of the laws of tefilla. Yet unlike Brofsky’s work, which follows the order of the day, Rabbis Taragin and Rubinstein structure their work around a philosophical presentation of various concepts of tefilla. Volume 1 is intended for the lay reader, while volume 2 is written for those looking for more detailed scholarly analysis. An impressive work by two young rabbinic scholars.
- Shlomo BrodyPrint This Post