At AllFaith.com I share numerous studies into the world's religions based on my personal quest for Truth. Over the years this research has led me to embrace Judaism. That is now the main focus of the domain.
On my blogs I share many of these studies and invite your questions and comments.
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~ John of AllFaith
Friday, October 19, 2012
Why Do many Jews Sway As They Daven (Pray)?
Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai Echad
Hear, Israel, HaShem is our God
HaShem is One.
Our sages teach that one should pray not only with ones whole heart, mind and soul but with ones whole body as well. This is based on the Torah.
At Exodus 20:18, immediately following the giving of the Ten Commandments, the Torah says (JPS Version of 1917):
Exodus 20:18 (20:15) And all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off.
The KJV has this as:
Exodus 20:18 And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.
The word translated as trembled in the Jewish Publication Society version (JPS) and removed in the KJV is the Hebrew word noo'-ah. This word is:
A primitive root; meaning to waver, in a great variety of applications, literally and figuratively (as subjoined): - continually, fugitive, X make to [go] up and down, be gone away, (be) move (-able, -d), be promoted, reel, remove, scatter, set, shake, sift, stagger, to and fro, be vagabond, wag, (make) wander (up and down) -- Strongs H5128.
For this reason many Jews not only bob their heads but sway their whole bodies (or shucklen in Yiddish) when davening (praying), demonstrating their awe for He to Whom they pray.
According to the Bible, Daniel "kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously" (Daniel 6:11).Â Liturgical scholar Uri Ehrlich notes that Daniel’s bows would have been full prostrations, with almost his entire body thrust on the ground, as was standard in ancient Israel.
Today the standard bow is to bend ones knees and upper body. The Talmud says: "In reciting the Tefillah one should bow down at the appropriate places until all the vertebrae in the spinal column are loosened" (BT Berakhot 28b).
Many of the common bowing moments in prayer concern statements of blessing. Most notably the Barkhu prayer, which begins the morning and evening services, requires a bow, as do the first and last two blessings of the Amidah.
The full prostration on the ground, described in the Book of Daniel, has not been totally lost to Jewish practice. In Ashkenazic communities today, during Aleinu in the Mussaf service on High Holidays, some people bow all the way to the ground.
For more on this see My Jewish Learning Center.
Women as well as men sway while davening.