Prayer Gatherings

The person praying in the public space is rude to God

I suggest to the people of Rosh Yehudi to organize prayer gatherings here and in the future in halls that will be adapted as temporary synagogues. Prayer is not a protest. Excellent prayer is that which is said from a broken and contrite heart

(Photo: Itai Ron/Flash90)

The intention of the organizers of the Yom Kippur prayers in public spaces was good; to allow anyone interested to come and pray Kol Nidrei. However, the implementation contradicted Jewish law (Halacha). Therefore, instead of sanctifying God's name, we received desecration of God's name and desecration of the holy and awesome day. It's another struggle between religious and secular individuals that distances people from religion instead of bringing them closer.

The Zohar (Shlach 105) emphasized that the place of public prayer is in the synagogue. The street does not have sanctity. I suggest to the people of Rosh Yehudi to organize minyanim (prayer quorums) from here on in halls that will be arranged according to Jewish law for temporary synagogues. Prayer is not a demonstration. An excellent prayer is one that is said from a broken and humble heart. The designated place for this is the synagogue or the study hall.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 90:5) ruled regarding the appropriate place for communal prayer: One should not pray in an open area like a field. It is a commandment to pray in a modest place where one can pray with proper intention. The obligation of prayer is learned from the verse "And you shall serve Him with all your heart," which refers to the service of the heart – that is prayer. Hear our voices! This is prayer that comes from the depths of the Jewish heart to the Creator.

The superiority of praying in a synagogue is mentioned in the Torah (BaMidbar 24:5):

"מַה טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקֹב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל"

"How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel." (Sanhedrin 105:72) The Seforno explains that this refers to synagogues that are designated for God's name and for receiving the prayers of those who pray there. Prayer with intention must be in a modest place that does not distract one's focus. Your connection with your Creator should be without any barriers.

Rav Kahana said: "Cursed is the one who prays in a field" (Berakhot 34b). Rav Kahana means that in his view, anyone who prays in an open field or in a valley, an open place without partitions, is considered immodest. The Magen Avraham (4:6) suggests that the reason behind this is that someone who prays in the street may feel proud to say, "I am capable of directing my prayer to the Creator of the world without being distracted, even though passersby may pass by." This is an attitude of arrogance and impudence. Rashi explains that only someone who prays in a modest place avoids the reproof of the King, and their heart is broken. Tosafot suggests that passersby disrupt one's concentration and interfere with their prayer.

For the aforementioned reasons, during the time of the coronavirus, I closed the synagogues in Mazkeret Batya and preferred individual prayer in each person's home. I believed that one should not pray in courtyards and gardens because, for the simple reason, prayer without intention is like a body without a soul. The happiness and peace that arise from prayer are hidden within, not on the surface. They come from doubt, not from "my strength and ability". They come from mutual commitment, not from personal achievement. They come from overcoming the evil inclination, not from laxity. They come from faith in God, not from "my strength and ability". Our strength lies in our unity, and it is the guarantee of our security.

The ways of the Torah are pleasant, and all its paths are peace. Judaism is not missionary. The way of life according to the Torah will prove that we live by the way of light. A little light dispels much darkness. Each person has the choice to be righteous or wicked. If you see this villain (the evil inclination), draw him to the study hall, and reason will prevail over the inclination. Open your eyes. The decision is in your hands.

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Rabbi Efraim Zalmonovich is the rabbi of Mazkeret Batya, the head of the Institute for the People and the State, an author, and a philosopher

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