Commentary

Theologies of Prayer: Dov Singer and Arthur Green in “Conversation”

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Steven Gotlib

 

“What a great wonder that we should be able to draw so near to God in prayer. How many walls are there between man and God! Even though God fills all the world, He is so very hidden! Yet a single word of prayer can topple all the walls and bring you close to God.”
-Rabbi Dov Ber (the Maggid) of Mezritch[1]

In a recent Lehrhaus article, Dr. Alan Jotkowitz wrote that the “ferocity and the intensity of the Covid pandemic have left many people feeling powerless and helpless in the face of the death and despair that has come in its wake… In addition, the scourge of systemic racism, racial injustice, and increasing economic inequality has caused many people, particularly the younger generation, to question traditional values and theologies.”[2] His observation resonates with my own experiences. I have spoken recently with many friends and peers who have expressed significant difficulty praying as a result of the newfound doubt about God and God’s ability to intervene in the world. Though I’m sure some of them harbored such doubts before, the pandemic brought them to the forefront. One good friend of mine in particular expressed that he could no longer make it through shaharit (the morning prayers) without asking how any God that Judaism believes in could allow for so much death and sickness to make its way into our world. These personal challenges are further augmented by the fact that, as recent conversations have demonstrated, “communal prayer is not an easy point of entry” into Jewish life anyway.[3]

This article is my attempt to aid those who are currently experiencing such challenges in the realm of prayer by placing the thought of two contemporary masters of tefillah in “conversation” with one another. It is my deepest hope that one or both of the models that I present will speak to readers and provide them with a ‘recipe’ they can apply to their own prayer experience and add holiness to their lives even in such a dark time.[4]

Setting the Stage

Rabbi Dov Singer grew up in Givatayim and attended Yeshivat Netiv Meir. He spent his teenage summers at Camp Moshava in Pennsylvania and some of college at Yeshiva University, in Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s shiur. While serving in the Israeli Defence Forces, Singer learned at Yeshivat Ha-Kotel, where he studied closely under Rabbi Shimon Gershon Rosenberg (Shagar) and did work for Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, whom he later succeeded as head of Gush Etzion’s Yeshivat Makor Chaim Religious Zionist High School. Throughout this time, Singer also learned under Tekoa’s Rabbi Menachem Froman.[5]

Rabbi Dr. Arthur Green grew up in Newark, New Jersey. He spent his summers at Camp Ramah and attended Brandeis University, where he was inspired by Rabbis Yitz Greenberg and Zalman Sachchter-Shalomi. He then began studying toward rabbinic ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, primarily under Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. After earning his ordination from JTS, Green pursued a Phd from Brandeis under Professor Alexander Altmann while co-founding congregation Havurat Shalom. He then served on the Religious Studies faculty at the University of Pennsylvania before serving as dean and later president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC). He ultimately became a professor of Jewish Thought at Brandeis and co-founded the rabbinical school at Boston’s Hebrew College, where he currently serves as Rector.[6]

At surface level, these two thinkers seem to have very little in common.[7] They are products of completely different environments and, as we shall see, live under entirely different sets of religious and theological assumptions. Though there is much that divides these two thinkers when it comes to their upbringings, formative learning environments, and personal approaches to religion, there are many striking similarities that present themselves. Most notably, both thinkers profess a neo-Hasidic approach to Judaism marked with an unmistakable postmodern and existential flavor inspired by and adapted from the thoughts of their respective Israeli and American mentors.[8]

The similarities between the approaches of these two thinkers in how they go about making Judaism in general and prayer in particular accessible to a postmodern, doubt-filled world is most evident when one examines Rabbis Singer and Green’s unique approaches to prayer and the role it plays in the lives of those who pray. The rest of this article will be dedicated to placing their respective perspectives on prayer into conversation with one another so that readers can understand what they say, why they say it, and how their words can speak to our own lives and help us face our own religious doubts at this moment in history and beyond.

Prayer According to Singer and Green

In his introduction to ‘Prepare My Prayer: Recipes to Awaken the Soul,’ R. Singer writes: “Prayer is an expression of the conversation of existence, it brings together a person’s deepest desires and the desires concealed in all of existence, and gives words to the prayer of the world, the prayer of humankind.”[9]

For R. Singer, the ability to pray is what defines us as human, separating us from the animals. Rather than thinking of ourselves as Homo Sapiens (Thinking Beings), he therefore suggests thinking of ourselves as Homo Mitpalelot (Praying Beings). After all, he writes, “There is a constant call, a longing inside people, that whispers to them in waves of ebb and flow. Pleas, desires, requests, words of gratitude. Many times in a person’s life, consciously or not, we stand before. Asking for our lives, yearning, desiring.”[10]

On the other side of the world, and on the other side of the theological spectrum, R. Green reflected on the nature of prayer as a self-identified Monist in his most recent book, ‘Judaism for the World: Reflections on God, Life, and Love.’ His thoughts on the matter are profoundly interesting because he so firmly believes that God is a pure, wholly impersonal Oneness which underlies everything in existence, and he also believes that “our images and ideas of God are the creations of the human mind. The person on the throne, to paraphrase one surprisingly radical Hasidic statement, is there because we put Him there. No such God-figure would exist had we not created or projected it.”[11]

Despite that conviction, or perhaps because of it, Green writes that “theology is meaningful only if it is a reflection of one’s inner religious life. That life is developed and cultivated by prayer. Religion is born out of our need to pray, to express the full range of our hearts’ emotions as we come into God’s presence. Theology comes only later, as we reflect upon and try to articulate what we are doing in the course of our religious lives.”[12]

For Green, religion is ultimately “a set of tools for the purpose of cultivating interiority, the life of the spirit… all the external forms of the tradition – study, practice, prayer, poetry, music, celebration, rites marking the cycles of lives and the sacred year, and all the rest – are there in order to awaken a spirit that lies dormant within us, an inner self waiting to be called forth.”[13] In another work of his, Green writes that although “the entire religious life is pointed toward the goal of inner awareness, the greatest vehicle our tradition offers for opening the heart is prayer.[14] Prayer for Green, then, is a means toward the end of opening the human heart so that “we come to appreciate our place as Godly creatures and as centers of divine light.”[15] It is not, however, an end in and of itself. Humans craft religion based on their internal drive toward connecting to the big picture of universal Oneness, and prayer is one of the most powerful ways we are able to tap into and awaken that connection.

For Singer, on the other hand, prayer is itself “the service of the heart… the epicenter of all that happens and the way in which we serve God.[16] In the summarizing words of R. Levi Morrow, the designation of Homo Mitpalelot takes precedence over Homo Sapiens in Singer’s thought precisely because “prayer is the very essence of human nature” and “intellectual reflection [is] an obstacle to prayer, overriding man’s nature.”[17] Prayer for Singer is not a means toward opening the heart and coming into contact with our inner sense of divinity on particular occasions like it is for Green. It is not something that we choose to do when we feel it is appropriate, something we can turn on or off as fitting. For Singer, prayer is a constant reality. It is the language our hearts speak every second of every day, whether we want it to or not. It is not something to reflect on intellectually, but something to live practically. It simply is.

Despite these core differences in understanding, Singer and Green converge when it comes to understanding how prayer is done and why it’s important. Both thinkers provide models that those in doubt can find helpful, and it is those similarities that this essay will now focus on.[18]

How They Pray

Despite some key differences in what prayer is and the theological reality that underlies it, the actual approaches to and experiences of prayer of both Green and Singer end up in nearly identical places. The remarkable takeaway from this is that the ability to find meaning in this model of prayer does not depend on the state of one’s own theological understanding. The convergence of how prayer is to be experienced in the thought of Rabbis Singer and Green is perhaps most apparent in the following two paragraphs, taken from an essay entitled “How I Pray,” in which Green takes readers into his thought process during prayer to the impersonal Oneness that he identifies as God:

Lord of the Universe! I do not believe in You! You, our all good Maker and Master, You who watch and listen (do you taste, sniff, and touch us as well?), know everything and act for goodness always, You who “support the fallen, heal the sick, release the bound, and keep faith with those who lie in the dust.” I do not believe in You, I have seen and tasted too much dust. I read the daily headlines: war, destruction, typhoon, tzunami, earthquake. I have dared to love and watched my loved ones die. Those fool enough to love me will soon watch me die as well. Why? What should I believe? Koheleth said it all. In a world filled with both human evil and nature’s indifference to us, how am I supposed to believe in You?

But to whom can I bring the pain of my disbelief if not to You? To whom can I cry out to if not to You, the All, Foundation on whom my house is built, Rock upon whom I stand, Sea into whose oblivion I will fall when oblivion becomes my fate? Am I too weak to live without You, without a Someone into whose ear to scream, so that I have to invent You, O terrible plaything of my imagination? There are days when it feels like that. Or am I indeed, as I think on better days, wise enough to see the Truth of truths, the far shores of the chasm of great emptiness, to recover a truth beyond reality, beyond words. That Truth knows of something I can barely address as “You,” but surely cannot call “It.” Then I dare to open myself and turn to You, the hope and dream of that place, across the chasm that is none other than the hole in my broken heart… that gives me life, that allows me to go forward, day after day.[19]

Green goes on from this eloquent confessional statement to write that his relationship with God through the medium of prayer is saved because he does not believe in “believing” any more than he believes in God as a bearded man in the sky. Belief, for Green, is a mere intellectual proposition that cannot accurately describe a relationship with the One that fills and transcends all else. Rather, he writes that “You are on the other end of that spectrum of doubt, belief, and certainty. You are ‘above the line’ rather than ‘below,’ or vice versa. I do not believe in You; I know you… I know you as I know myself, since this little individual human self is so very obviously a part and a reflection of Universal Self, of the One that underlies and overlays and precedes and follows and surrounds and fills and laughs and cries within all that is/was/will be.”[20] Green is able to move past his deep theological issues with the idea of communing with God through prayer by removing the need to believe at all during prayer. There is no believing involved with Green’s prayers, only knowing. Godliness is something felt inside, and prayer is a way of tapping into that when the mood is right.

These paragraphs are especially fascinating when placed in conversation with Singer, who writes that the experience of prayer “encompasses our whole being: It peeks out at us from an obtuse day-to-day life at moments of crisis, when a crack appears in the sense of security that envelopes us. It smiles at us at moments of great joy. It whispers to us when we are stirred by the beauty of nature of the perfection of a passing moment.”[21] For Singer, the need to pray is one that comes with all experiences in life, drawing us toward it like a magnet. For Green, on the other hand, there is an internal want to connect with the Transcendental One, but prayer itself is only a facilitator as opposed to a drive in itself.

For both Green and Singer, though, prayer is fundamentally about experiencing and knowing the Divine reality on a deeper level than was possible before entering the prayer experience while at the same time being able to take in and give expression to all that happens to and around us. This sense of knowing is stronger than any belief or purely intellectual proposition.

This connection becomes all the more clear when Singer explains that his framing of human beings as Homo Mitpalelot as opposed to Homo Sapien is ultimately an attempt

…to free ourselves from the need to explain to ourselves what prayer is, who God is, or whether prayer helps or not. Many times the greatest block to prayer is a theological, intellectual block, which attempts to investigate and understand exactly how it all works. Prayer suggests bypassing these questions and letting them go for a while… allowing the naturalness of prayer to work on us, much like the way we breathe, even without understanding completely how the breathing mechanism works. The human being is not only a creature who yearns, but also one who prays. Hidden in us is the ability not only to be a vessel to receive the spontaneous call of prayer, but also to pray; meaning: to call the prayer to ourselves, to have a relationship with it, to turn it into a state of consciousness that is deliberate and perfected.[22]

I would argue that Green puts the above idea of Singer’s into action, as demonstrated by the selection shared above. Green’s experience of prayer removes the theological and intellectual blocks that he saw before him, allowing him to pray in much the way that Singer describes: one that is capable of bypassing any and all theological and intellectual mental blocks, allowing the pray-er to directly form a personal and deliberate relationship with the very experience of prayer itself.[23] Contemporary pray-ers, especially those struggling with doubt, have much to learn from the approach outlined by Singer and Green’s profound application thereof.

Prayer as the Language of the Heart

Before addressing how prayer is meant to affect the pray-er and their world, we must first determine what prayer is meant to articulate in the first place for these thinkers. Each thinker, in their own way, explains that prayer is how our inner self comes to the forefront, effectively serving as a voice for the pray-er’s very essence. It is how our heart can speak through us to our Source. But what is our heart really trying to say? In another “recipe,” Singer explains:

When praying we want to truly speak/ To merit speech that opens hearts. Speech that creates a reality. Speech that forms worlds. The world was created with speech. Therefore, one who becomes accustomed to speaking with the Creator/ Can reach a place where new words are born, Words that go beyond my limited and regular self, Remaining open to discover… We let the words of prayer work on us. We allow the heart’s intent, hidden in words, to awaken us. We sense the invisible bridge/ Drawn between ancient words/ And our time, into our lives.[24]

Singer’s description makes it clear that the power of prayer is not entirely dependent on He who listens, but rather they who pray.[25] The very act of articulating prayer is a way to allow the heart to speak and awaken the pray-er, leading them to transcend themselves and bringing them to discover that which is greater than them deep within themselves.[26]

Green takes a very similar stance when reflecting on the need for prayer to be expressed in language. After all, any literalist conception of God would already know all that is contained in our hearts, and an impersonal Grand Oneness wouldn’t particularly care whether or not prayer is verbally articulated. What difference does it make that prayer is expressed in language? Green answers:

For prayer to be ours, to be a vehicle for the soul or the divine within to communicate with us, it has to be in our language. Not because God needs words, but because we do. It also has to be the sort of language that touches us most deeply. As the innermost self, really the Self of God within us, makes itself manifest in us, it needs to reach and “travel” through all our most vulnerable and wounded places. It needs the language that can reach us where we hurt and where we feel true joy. We put it into words so that we, our conscious selves, can be part of it, not because God needs those words in order to hear what is in our heart.[27]

Once again, Singer and Green converge. Prayer for both is about putting the soul’s expressions into words and allowing those words to change us and push us forward into better versions of ourselves, regardless of whether prayer is also meant to literally communicate with a Being bigger than us. [28]

When we pray, we are to put our entire beings into it, allowing our deepest, most inner selves to find words. As much as prayer is about finding God, it is also about finding and transcending ourselves.

How is this experienced from the perspective of the one who is praying? In one of his recipes, R. Singer writes that it is an opening of one’s consciousness to all that is around and inside the pray-er:

Prayer/[29] Even before it is a request, Even before it is an expression of gratitude, Even before it is praise, Is an encounter. Standing in the presence, Before the Shekhina, God’s indwelling presence. Therefore, the first step we take as we enter into prayer/ Is the opening of consciousness to presence, to the sense that God is here/ Above me, in front of me, around me, inside of me. To the knowledge that all things I see around me are not only inanimate objects, Rather they hold within them deep desire and yearning. To the sense that each and every person around me truly exists, Present and full of longing. And the Source of Life is also here, Reachable, close, touching.[30]

For Singer, although prayer is largely about connecting with God’s presence and thus giving the heart’s language an outlet, one must first open themselves up to be able to sense that presence all around them.

For Green, prayer “is not simply a conversation with God, one in which you, the pray-er, are on one side of the conversation and doing the speaking, while God is ‘somewhere else,’ and is either listening or not.”[31] This sounds very different from Singer’s approach, which is designed to open oneself to a real presence that one encounters and that listens to prayer. However, Singer’s language and fundamental framing is quite similar to what we will now see from Green. Green explains the concept by telling the story of a hasid stuck at Grand Central Station with the latest time to say the afternoon prayers fast approaching. What does this self-conscious hasid do? He pulls out his phone and stands still, davening into it so as not to look too odd. Green then asks,

Where is God as our friend begins his prayers with the telephone receiver in his hand? All around him, of course, filling that vast hall just as intensely as the ancient tabernacle was filled… and God is in our hasid’s heart, just as God is in the hearts of all those other folks on their phones, those talking to sick children at home, those listening to the latest stock quotations, and those cursing out their travel agents for messing up the tickets. If we could only see and hear that busy room from the divine point of view, we would be witnessing a New York City afternoon version of the great symphony, a true chorus of angels! In fact, the only difference between the hasid and all those around him is that he has stopped to listen. He has taken the time to acknowledge that he dwells in God’s house. God is present in his saying those words. Hopefully, if he is paying attention to the moment, he is present as well.[32]

This lonely man of faith davening minhah in the middle of Grand Central Station could very easily be Singer or anyone who has read the above recipe with kavvanah.[33] The experience of the Hasidic character Green introduced his readers to is one who fulfills exactly what Singer described above. For both Singer and Green, the knowledge and sense of God’s being ‘here, there, and everywhere’ is essential to the experience of prayer and a necessary realization on the part of the ‘pray-er.’ To be open to prayer is to be open to all of that which surrounds us, to see the Godliness in everyone and everything we pass. This is yet another lesson for us to learn from these masters.

The Power of Prayer on the Pray-er’s World

In addition to the effect that articulating prayer could have on the pray-er’s internal experience, Singer and Green also converge when writing about the effect prayer can have on the world via its impact on the pray-er.

Green writes that the power of prayer

…is its power to call on me, to demand a response from me, to make me shape myself into a vessel for God’s service. What is that service? Now as in all times, it is first and foremost serving God through loving and serving God’s creatures. It is not the God of transcendent mystery who needs us; it is the God present in every life-form who cries out and says: “See Me! Hear Me! Know Me! Help Me!” Be aware and be present to the infinite faces of the One that exist in all people, each a unique divine image. But in our day, it cries out to me even more loudly to work at protecting this magnificent planet itself, the earthly home of so many richly garbed and varied divine presence. This is the work, the service, the worship to which I need to be devoted, that which will call upon me to proclaim with full-throated joy: ana ‘avda de-kudsha brikh hu, “I am the servant of the blessed Holy One.”[34]

Compare the above statement to that of R. Singer, when he writes as follows:

Prayer’s great message is the very belief in the power of the desires and the yearnings that beat within us to influence our lives. The power of words, which are the tools with which we express our desire, can change reality. Many people walk about the world believing reality is closed and stuck, and almost impossible to change. Some believe in the power of deeds to fix the world, others choose to look at reality and complain. The one who prays believes in the power of prayer, of words, to soften reality and to forge openings in it. People who pray are like viewers standing in front of a television screen seeing reality through it, when suddenly they discover that the screen is a touch screen, and it is possible to influence what they are watching. One who has experienced reality in this way changes from a guest or an observer to a household member, a partner. Through words it is possible to give freedom to thoughts, to desires and yearnings, and these words penetrate through the screen to their destination.[35]

Again we reach a point of convergence. Both Green and Singer see prayer as a call to the pray-er to be empowered and to act in a way that is consistent with the call of his or her soul as expressed within the act of prayer. The pray-er must ultimately use their prayer as empowerment to change their relationship with their peers, their planet, and the very reality in which they live for the better. This is yet another powerful lesson for us to learn from these two thinkers: it is through prayer that thoughts become words and words become actions.[36]

The ritual of prayer allows us to transform internal drive into external activity, allowing us to transform the world we see into the world as it should be. It is through prayer that our bodies and souls finally learn to be in sync with one another, and it is through that synchronicity that we become more motivated individuals and that the world around us becomes the place our religion says it is capable of being.

Conclusion

Though approaching prayer and He who hears it from two completely different vantage points, both Green and Singer have developed remarkably similar methods for connecting to and fundamentally understanding this particular mode of worship. Both rabbis allow for the experiential power of prayer to take precedence over potential theological and philosophical stumbling blocks. This allows prayer to change how the pray-er views themselves in relation to the Source of All, and it not only impacts the world around the pray-er in the process, but it also gives voice to a language previously found only in the depths of the heart.

This all comes together to paint a unified picture of prayer that is able to transcend ideological, theological, and denominational lines. Regardless of where one comes from, they should be able to pray with a true sense of meaning and connection to a Being that can be thought of, in Green’s words, as “a God that can call me, can call upon me to transcend myself, demand of me a deeper reach, a higher purpose.”[37] After all, it is precisely the individual self identity “which I need to transcend if I am to touch upon this deeper reality”[38] of Oneness. Or, in Singer’s words, “The call to prayer is a call to life, a call to open to the deep, primal voice that stirs within us and in all of reality in every moment.”[39] To connect to that which is greater than ourselves and bring it into the world in which we live is the ultimate goal of prayer to both of these thinkers, and it is accessible to all who want it no matter what presuppositions they enter the prayer experience with.

This is what we must all strive for, especially in times of deeply personal doubt, struggle, and worry. We must remember that prayer is not only about speaking to God, but also about giving a voice to our innermost selves: to the parts of ourselves that can make the world in which we live a better place as soon as they are fully brought into it.

The author would like to thank R. David Fried, R. Levi Morrow, R. Shlomo Zuckier, Dr. Alan Brill, Ashley Stern-Mintz, Avi Hoffman, Noah Marlowe, Dan Jutan, Max DuBoff, Jeremy Tibbetts, and Yehuda Fogel for offering invaluable insight throughout the writing process.


[1]Liqutim Yeqarim 2b, translated in Arthur Green, Barry W. Holtz, and Ariel Mayse, Your Word is Fire: The Hasidic Masters on Contemplative Prayer (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2002), 20.

[2] https://thelehrhaus.com/coronavirus/pandemic-partnership-and-progress-a-vision-for-a-post-covid-modern-orthodoxy/.

[3] https://thelehrhaus.com/coronavirus/after-covid-reimagine-synagogue-life-dont-just-tweak-it-a-response-to-judah-kerbel/.

[4] It should be noted from the outset that this essay is addressed primarily to those who are already experiencing such doubts or know such people. This article should absolutely NOT be seen as a call to replace the traditional theology that so much of the prayer experience ordinarily relies on.

[5] Biographical information was provided by Rabbi Alan Brill in addition to this article: https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/dov-singer-knocking-on-heavens-door/?fbclid=IwAR2_QEXQKI2UQSKDfXkAeoS6e0jHXAgk0X98trNqQHf5Y86JBU9xrPGS7qg.

[6] Green reflects on many of his experiences and his formative Jewish education throughout his newest book, Judaism for the World: Reflections on God, Life, and Love (Yale University Press, 2020).

[7] It was related to me, however, that the two are, in fact, aware of each other’s thought. Yehuda Fogel pointed out to me that R. Green visited R. Singer at Makor Chaim during his most recent trip to Israel. Additionally, Alan Brill pointed out that R. Green did editorial work for R. Steinsaltz in addition to contributing to the latter’s Sefah Quarterly. Furthermore, both Rav Shagar and R. Singer were known to have read the Hebrew Translation of Tormented Master, Green’s biography of Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav.

[8] These similarities are even apparent in the independent descriptions of their respective students. Rabbi Elhanan Nir has described Singer as “the first student of a trio of rabbis who heralded the Hasidic revival in Israel’s National-Religious community in the late twentieth century… like his rabbis, he did not content himself with engaging with Hasidic content; he found ways to work with form and to build a contemporary, concrete toolbox whose purpose is to bring about this inner space of searching and dialogue” (https://thelehrhaus.com/commentary/a-journey-to-the-land-of-prayer/). In a similar vein, R. Ariel Mayse has written that Green “draws particular inspiration from the textual sources of early Hasidism, but feels free to engage with those teachings somewhat selectively… Green understands [certain] aspects of Jewish mysticism as reflecting the historical contexts in which these texts were written, and insists that the modern seeker need not accept them whole cloth. This selective reading allows for the possibility of rediscovering the beauty and potential contemporary relevance of the sources” (https://thelehrhaus.com/scholarship/the-development-of-neo-hasidism-echoes-and-repercussions-part-iv-arthur-green-and-conclusion/).

[9] Dov Singer, Prepare My Prayer: Recipes to Awaken the Soul (Maggid Books, 2020), xxx – xxxi.

[10] Idem, xxx.

[11] Arthur Green, Judaism for the World, 19.

[12] Idem, 36.

[13] Idem, x.

[14] Arthur Green, Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2004), 153.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Singer, xxvii.

[17]https://levimorrow.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/on-the-idea-of-prayer-as-human-nature-in-contemporary-israeli-neo-hasidut/.

[18] An earlier draft of this article also sought to demonstrate how both Green and Singer’s thought on the subject can be traced back to R. Abraham Isaac Kook and R. Abraham Joshua Heschel respectively, and that both approaches had precedents from early Hasidic masters including R. Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl. That section has been removed due to space considerations.

[19] Arthur Green, Judaism for the World, 38-39.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Singer, xxvii.

[22] Idem, xxxi.

[23] It is clear that prayer does not come as naturally for Green as it seems to for Singer. Green’s internal experience appears to necessitate an internal dialogue that seeks to explain to himself why praying still makes sense before even beginning to approach the process. Though it is a vehicle toward connecting to the Universal Oneness that he identifies as divine, we mentioned above that this is only a means toward that end. While connecting to a sense of an underlying and unifying Oneness comes naturally to Green, the ability to pray seems to be a bit harder even when he acknowledges that it is our greatest aid in that connection. For Singer, on the other hand, prayer is seen as not only a means, but as an end in itself. It is natural and automatically occurring within human beings at all times. As he writes, “Just as the ability to cook and eat is a natural ability and basic human need, so too prayer is natural, and every person knows deep inside what prayer is” (xxxii). There is an internal need for prayer itself, and its ease seems to be a given for Singer while Green may very well have to work harder to achieve his own personally meaningful state of prayer.

[24] Singer, 119.

[25] Underlying Singer’s words above are those of one of his primary teachers, Rav Shagar. On the subject of prayer, Shagar writes as follows:

I pray, but am I certain that I will be answered? No, I am not certain. I am also not certain that I will not, but the prayer does something. Someone hears. Who is this someone? We say “God,” but this word lacks any independent meaning. It is enough for me that “I” hear, but who is the “I” that hears? I believe in the deep “I”, an “I” with a transcendental horizon. This is what the Hasidim called the root of the soul. Where there is an “I” like this, there is God. (Shimon Gershon Rosenberg, Shearit Ha-Emunah, [Resling Publishing, 2014], 44. English translation available at https://kavvanah.blog/2017/10/17/prayer-without-hoping-rav-shagar/ ).

[26] This perspective is also taken seriously and summarized quite well by Rabbi Shai Held, a student of Heschel’s thought whose theology is quite distant from Green’s. Held writes that vocalizing prayer “is not about informing God of something God does not yet know. It is, rather, about inviting God in, of allowing words to create the possibility of a real relationship with God. Speaking is the bridge leading out of my otherwise self-enclosed universe” (Shai Held, The Heart of Torah: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2017], 112).

[27] Arthur Green, Judaism for the World, 46.

[28] As Professor Avi Sagi, of Bar-Ilan University, writes: “Prayer as an act of the subject is not necessarily conditioned by a positive response to the question of whether the prayer has an addressee. Prayer is an ontological characteristic of the individual and does not derive from any kind of metaphysics or theology. The believer addresses the prayer to God, and the nonbeliever does not necessarily address anyone in particular; but, through their prayers, both epitomise humans as beings who transcend their factual givenness. . . . This religiosity . . . conveys the human passion for transcendence.” (Avi Sagi and Dov Schwartz, Faith: Jewish Perspectives (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2013), 400-401.

[29] “/” signifies a line break in the original.

[30] Singer, 27.

[31] Arthur Green, Judaism for the World, 44-45.

[32] Arthur Green, Judaism for the World, 45.

[33] It’s quite possible, however, that Green really had an image of his teacher Heschel in mind when he came up with this story. After all, in Heschel’s words: “We do not step out of the world when we pray; we merely see the world in a different setting. The self is not the hub, but the spoke of the revolving wheel. In prayer, we shift the center of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender. God is the center towards which all forces tend. He is the source, and we are the flowing of his force, the ebb and flow of his tide.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man’s Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism (New York: Scribner Press, 1954), 7.

[34] Arthur Green, Judaism for the World, 42.

[35] Singer, xxviii.

[36] This is perhaps articulated best by the late Dr. Neil Gillman. For Gillman, religion is a myth in the technical sense, provided by Rollo May, of being “a way of making sense in a senseless world… like the beams in a house; not exposed to outside view, they are the structure which holds the house together so people can live in it.” Gillman then explains that, through the act of religious ritual accompanied by liturgical prayer, the worlds of behavior and speech “are woven together to convey one set of meanings. At these moments, the mythic world and the real world of real people fuse and become one. It is ritual, then, that brings the mythic system into the life of the believer so that it can accomplish its function of ordering the world” (Neil Gillman, Doing Jewish Theology: God, Torah, and Israel in Modern Judaism. [Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2008], 35-36).

[37] Ibid, 55.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Singer, xxvii.

Steven Gotlib
Steven Gotlib is a fourth-year semikha student at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), rabbinic intern at Congregation Beth Abraham-Jacob in Albany, New York, and webmaster/social media manager for The Lehrhaus. He previously served as Rabbinic Intern at the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought of Yeshiva University and as Beit Midrash Coordinator at Congregation Shearith Israel: The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. Steven holds a BA in communication and Jewish studies from Rutgers University, a certificate in mental health counseling from RIETS in partnership with the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, and a certificate in spiritual entrepreneurship from the Glean Network in partnership with Columbia Business School. He and his wife, Ruth Malkah Rohde, live in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.