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Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
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The essence of Jewish prayer

More than to G^d, Jews talk about our Creat^r

Set Jewish Blessings

Besides spontaneous prayer, Judaism has a whole set of prayer formulas especially geared toward men: what we should want to say and strive for. So, in the Widdui, no confession of sins like: self-effacement, insisting on being insecure or weak, working too hard, etc. For women, there are no set obligatory Prayers. Some recent Prayers for women exist, but equality craze made most women pray the men’s Texts. So much for feminism.

Different from other languages, Hebrew for praying is a reflexive verb. G^d certainly hears us but it’s vital we hear ourselves and what we’re praying.

It seems that to pray the Jewish way is mostly to bear witness to Jews. Jews are fully forbidden to pray to anything and anyone but G^d Himself.

Muslims, when you listen to their Five-times-a-day Prayer, cry out: ‘G^d is the greatest.’ Again, witness-bearing. And no prayer via intermediaries.

Christians also don’t talk to G^d, I guess because it’s a hard thing to do. So, they pray to Jesus and Maria.

So, how do Jews pray?

Blessings

We make requests of G^d, only to end up making Blessings about Him. Jewish Prayer consists mainly of Blessings. What are Jewish Blessings?

Jewish Blessings are not praises or requests. They are Testimonies, I think.

1. Case in point is our central declaration of conviction, the Sh’ma’. It reads: “Jews, Listen! Our G^d is HaShem [the One with the Holiest Name]. There is One HaShem/HaShem is the First One [from before Creation].” In Hebrew, it’s nicely condensed to six words. The last letter of the first and the last word are double-sized in the Torah scroll and spell ‘Eid’: witness!

2. The core of our thrice-daily prayer, the First Blessing of the Standing Prayer, has not us saying to G^d that He is fantastic but just spelling out and declaring, privately and publicly, that He is. Again, we bear witness.

3. Another famous Prayer, the Kaddish, is said after each Prayer part or the parting of a close one. It doesn’t declare how fantastic our Maker is—that would be insensitive to mourners, Heaven forbid. Rather, it declares our hope and conviction that His Image will be perfect in the near future.

4. The Book of Psalms is the almost-last prominent prayer component. It is a mixture of statements about human emotions, His greatness, and our trust in Him. Again, an essential part is declaring what we believe in.

5. Often overlooked is the short Prayer of just one word: Amein. We have much Jewish Law about how, when, and when not to say it. It’s crucial to understand what it means. Depending on what we respond to, it can imply I agree, or I hope so too. Being active Jews, we must question and probe; yet, we should remember how to consent. Amein is crucial for breaking any tendency to be quarrelsome permanently. And best of all, this too is witness-bearing. When we say Amein, we are the second observer, making the first witness (who is saying a Blessing or Kaddish) a proper one too; compare: Numbers 35:30, Deuteronomy 17:6, and Deuteronomy 19:15. And so, Amein is not a private supplication. We openly declare our wish or belief. So, we must say Amein out loud and not slur it under our breath!

Close to G^d

Not talking to G^d directly in most Jewish Prayers, does it create distance with Him? Most Jews feel they pray directly to their Maker, without any mediator, Heaven forbid. There are two specific ways we stay close to G^d.

Outside of prayer, committed Jews talk to Him every free second. See the above clip from Fiddler on the Roof. And also, we don’t divide life between being with Him (in prayer) and ‘worldly affairs.’ All we do is done in His Presence, must be holy, and represent Him on Earth.

Watch What You Pray for

Now, what is our witnessing all about?

1. G^d is the Sole Real Superp^wer. No Dualism, misfortune/darkness gods, no Satan (our challenger faithful to Him), and no Trinity (which may work for Christians but is strictly forbidden to Jews and also Muslims).

2. G^d is both our loving, close, warm, dependable Parent and also our demanding, strict, absolute King. He’s near, and our relationship is personal. (For Gentiles, He’s so exalted they may need intermediaries.)

3. Most of our Prayers are not for I, me, and myself. In a prayer quorum, in unison, we pray for all of the Jewish People and all people in general. (It’s not good for humans to be alone [with G^d] – Genesis 2:18.)

In conclusion, prescribed Jewish Prayer is primarily together bearing witness of G^d and Heavenly Unity and striving for unity for humanity.

***

Some fine points on traditional-Jewish food Blessings

The variety in Blessings may be meant to make us consider foods’ origins

Our Tradition states that we make blessings, not merely say them.

Every food blessing begins with these words:

You are the Source of all Blessing, G^d, L^rd of us, Ruler of the World,

Then, let’s look at what can follow.

Who makes the staple of food come from the ground

This Blessing is made before consuming bread.

It’s a mystery to me how it also can be done before eating white-flour loaves as those can hardly be considered foods, let alone the staple of human food. This deprived stomach filler should no longer be seen as nutritious. Junk food is junk, not food. Jewish Law should follow updated medical science. Just like it no longer calls cigarettes innocent relaxants.

Who is the Creat^r of the ground fruits

This Blessing is made before consuming veggies.

So, for peas. But what about split-pea soup? It doesn’t have recognizable pieces of pea in it. Then it should receive a more general blessing (see below). Unless … when food has no recognizable pieces of its crop in it but the ingredients are specially grown for this food. Two examples: In Italy, Osem grows a special corn variety especially for making Bamba. And Yukon Gold and Russet are the best potato varieties to make mashed potatoes.

So, what are split peas? Are they regular peas halved artificially? Are they a special type of pea especially grown for pea soup? Or are they artificially created half spheres of powdered regular peas? Turns out, split peas are regular pies that have ripened a bit more (hardened), were peeled, and after that, two natural halves come apart. When you cook them into a smooth pea soup, the Blessing is still not a general one since this is one of the regular ways to eat peas. So, the blessing stays the one of the veggies.

The opposite is with Pringles. They are made to resemble potato slices, which would get the veggies’ Blessing. But Pringles are made from potato flour, and the milled potatoes were not especially grown for Pringles, so its Blessing is the general one (see below). Yet, if you’d use instant powder for mashed potatoes, you may assume that it’s made from special puree potatoes and bless the veggies Blessing. But, make the general Blessing if you made mashed potatoes from a random pile of left-over potatoes.

Who is the Creat^r of the tree fruits

The Belle de Boskoop is an apple variety specially grown for applesauce. Also, when you buy a tin with applesauce without additions (sugar), you may assume it’s made from specific cooking apples and make the Blessing over tree fruit, even if it’s wholly smooth. But, for applesauce sans pieces made from left-over random fruit, the Blessing would be the general one.

Another rule says you make a blessing on the essentials, not additions. So, chocolate chip cookies get the one over cookies. So, no second blessing for the air in Matzos and soda and the holes in bread rings and pretzels.

When a fruit is eaten in an unusual way, the Blessing goes one or two down. So, if you eat quince raw, while it’s typically cooked, these hard pears get a Blessing of ground produce (or maybe even the general Blessing). Yet, while we eat most fruits fresh, tutti-frutti is cooked fruit but also a normal way of eating, so over that we make a tree fruits’ Blessing.

Now, there is a Dutch saying: No prunes, not prune water. Apparently, the water in which the prunes are cooked is more delicious than the prunes themselves. You don’t want the latter, you don’t get the former. Still, I’d have trouble making a Blessing over the water as over tree fruits, and over the fruits as over water. After all, you don’t boil prunes just to get prune water. Though, you can buy bottled prune water. But I suspect that is only a leftover from producing cooked prunes.

Who develops everything by His Command

This Blessing is made before consuming things not covered by the more specific Blessings.

One reason for the different Blessings may be to help us realize from where everything comes (G^d) and via which way (land, trees, water). Being appreciative in general is not as strong as valuing many details.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, an almost daily blog contributor to the Times of Israel, and previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. He often makes his readers laugh, mad, or assume he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. He's proud that his analytical short comments are removed both from left-wing and right-wing news sites. * As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. He doesn't believe that people observe and think in a vacuum. He, therefore, wanted a broad bio that readers interested can track a bit about what (lack of) backgrounds, experiences, and education contribute to his visions. * If you don't know the Dutch, get an American peek behind the scenes here: https://youtu.be/QMPp6h6r72M * To find less-recent posts on subject XXX among his over 1600 archived ones, go to the right-top corner of a Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". One can find a second, wilder blog, to which one may subscribe, here: https://mmvanzuiden.wordpress.com/. * Like most of his readers, he believes in being friendly, respectful, and loyal. Yet, if you think those are his absolute top priorities, you might end up disappointed. His first loyalty is to the truth. He will try to stay within the limits of democratic and Jewish law, but he won't lie to support opinions or people who don't deserve that. He admits that he sometimes exaggerates to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * Sometimes he's misunderstood because his wide and diverse field of vision seldomly fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what some love about him. He has written a lot about Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (including basic statistics), Politics (Israel, the US, and the Netherlands, Activism), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA+, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust, and Jewish Liberation), the Climate Crisis, Ecology and Veganism, Affairs from the news, or the Torah Portion of the Week, or new insights that suddenly befell him. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim, Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * One of his rabbis calls him Mr. Innovation [Ish haChidushim]. Yet, his originalities seem to root deeply in traditional Judaism, though they may grow in unexpected directions. In fact, he claims he's modernizing nothing. Rather, mainly basing himself on the basic Hebrew Torah text, he tries to rediscover classical Jewish thought almost lost in thousands of years of stifling Gentile domination and Jewish assimilation. (He pleads for a close reading of the Torah instead of going by rough assumptions of what it would probably mean and before fleeing to Commentaries.) This, in all aspects of life, but prominently in the areas of Free Will, Activism, Homosexuality for men, and Redemption. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, and disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. He aims to bring a fresh perspective rather than harp on the obvious and familiar. He loves to write encyclopedic overviews. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds should be disputed. In short, his main political positions are among others: anti-Trumpism, anti-elitism, anti-bigotry and supremacy, for Zionism, Intersectionality, and non-violence, anti those who abuse democratic liberties, anti the fake ME peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, pro-Science, pro-Free Will, anti-blaming-the-victim, and for down-to-earth, classical optimism, and happiness. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (https://diethylstilbestrol.co.uk/studies/des-and-psychological-health/), born in 1953 to parents who were Dutch-Jewish Holocaust survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork. He grew up a humble listener. It took him decades to become a speaker too. Bullies and con artists almost instantaneously envy and hate him. * He holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam) – is half a doctor. He practices Re-evaluation Co-counseling since 1977, is not an official teacher anymore, and became a friendly, empowering therapist. He became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids non-violently. For a couple of years, he was active in hasbara to the Dutch-speaking public. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's being a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. He lives with his library in Jerusalem. Feel free to contact him. * His writing has been made possible by a (second-generation) Holocaust survivors' allowance from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having an original peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me. * His newest books you may find here: https://www.amazon.com/s?i=stripbooks&rh=p_27%3AMoshe-Mordechai%2FMaurits+van+Zuiden&s=relevancerank&text=Moshe-Mordechai%2FMaurits+van+Zuiden&ref=dp_byline_sr_book_1
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