Prayer is substantively different. From the outset, prayer constituted a portal through which one could address God whenever he desired, in times of distress and need as well as times of thanksgiving and gratitude. One's ability to recite his own personal prayer was never restricted.
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This is optional prayer, in which one pours out his heart before God in his own style and his own words. However, this was insufficient, and therefore, the greatest of the Sages throughout the generations established a set, defined, obligatory formula for prayer, to be recited at fixed times. The establishment of set times for prayer and a set formula common to all has the capacity to crystallize that barely perceptible feeling which exists in the heart of even the simplest person.
This is because, although religious feelings exist in the hearts of all people, these feelings are not easily expressed; not every individual is conscious of them, nor does he always understand them. Fixed prayer provides the desired expression, the coherent language for the person unable to appropriately articulate the feelings in his heart. Furthermore, the very fact that prayer is, in its essence, communal, makes the person an integral member of the community at large.
Each individual considers himself and is considered by those around him as belonging to a broad, all-encompassing world. True, there is concern that the fixed nature of prayer, in terms of both the formula and the times that it may be recited, is liable to compromise the natural connection with God and one's ability to express himself in prayer, and could ultimately become a meaningless verbal framework. Shema and prayer provide a general direction for integrating faith into daily life, with the eighteen blessings of the Amida prayer tying the fundamental tenets of faith that appear in Shema with all of the unique, specific problems that exist in the life of the Jewish people in general and in the life of each individual Jew in particular.
Blessings are an additional step in that direction. Tractate Berakhot discusses dozens of different types of blessings: Blessings in prayer, blessings of thanksgiving, blessings prior to the performance of mitzvot, blessings over food and delicacies, blessings as expressions of suffering and mourning, and blessings as expressions of joy and wonder.
Despite the differences in details, formulas and meaning, there is a common intent to all of the blessings: They are a way of creating a bond of meaning between an action, incident, or object and God. Life is full of directionless, meaningless, purposeless phenomena; the blessing rescues them from that purposelessness, renders them significant, and connects them to their origins and their destiny. The profusion of blessings is a result of the need for them; they draw a cloud of grace, sanctity, and meaning over the abundance of different phenomena in the world.
Uniformity of formula and of custom can also lead to a general attitude of purposelessness toward the world around us, but the great number of blessings provide each object with a unique character, a significance all its own. In addition to the halakhic portion of tractate Berakhot , there is also an aggadic portion. If, as mentioned above, the halakhic portion directed us from the abstract to the concrete, the direction provided by the aggadic section is from the concrete to the abstract.
As a result, all actions, including the seemingly insignificant details among them, whether from the Torah or from human life, become paradigmatic and teeming with significance and meaning.
- Introductions to the Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot, Introduction to Berakhot.
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Even matters that appear to be peripheral or of secondary importance are revealed in all their significance and centrality. Similarly, events that befell people in the distant past now become contemporary and extremely significant. In this way, personalities from the past are integrated in determining the character of the present. Even halakhic patterns — fixed, clearly defined templates — assume profundity and significance in the aggadic sections, in which they are tied to wide-ranging, sublime ideas, biblical verses, and the personalities of the great leaders throughout the generations.
The numerous aggadic sections in tractate Berakhot , as in all other tractates in the Talmud, are intermingled with the halakhic sections; they complement them and add additional perspective. After the replacement of ancient Hebrew as a spoken language by Aramaic and Greek, Spolsky shows how Jews became a multilingual people.
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Nonetheless, Hebrew has nearly always maintained its presence, even as the vernacular languages shifted. In an interesting twist, Spolsky concludes his book with the question of Israeli Hebrew, and its relationship to the ancient language from which it derives. There are occasions when the book fails in execution to befit its scope — in some sections, information is too sparse or conclusions feel overly reductive.
All books mentioned in this column may be borrowed from the library.
- Babylonian Talmud: Berakoth 9.
- Textual Knowledge: Teaching the Bible in Theory and in Practice (The Jewish Education Series Book 1).
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- La destinée du Roi Arthur (Casterman Poche) (French Edition).
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All books mentioned in his column may be borrowed from the library. Off the shelf Three books illuminate evolution of Jewish practices. Subscribe to our Newsletter. Log out of ReadCube. In his defense, he cites a passage in the Jerusalem Talmud that discusses the obliteration phenomenon. Following the trail of Jewish sayings on the importance of citation leads to a discussion of stealing ideas, i.
This detective work led to the discovery that Devek Tov was itself obliterated by incorporation into a later commentary on the Pentateuch. Volume 61 , Issue If you do not receive an email within 10 minutes, your email address may not be registered, and you may need to create a new Wiley Online Library account.
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Citation, obliteration, and plagiarism, as discussed in ancient Jewish sources
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