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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 3/10/06

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Dear Rachel,

This is in response to the column of January 13 that featured a letter from a Jewish male subway rider regarding girls/women davening on the train.

Some time ago, on a weekday morning, I met up with an old friend on the train. It was crowded and we stood schmoozing side by side – when she suddenly declared that it was getting late and she still needed to daven. To my utter dismay, right there she took three steps back and three steps forward, bowing (before the Ribono Shel Olam, I suppose – though it could have been to the passenger sitting directly in front of her) and began to daven Shemoneh Esrei, while holding onto the overhead bar. I was floored by this unseemly display of “piety.” Whom was she trying to impress – or implore, for that matter? In my humble opinion, she succeeded at neither.

Davening is certainly commendable, but there’s a right time and place for everything. I didn’t hang around long enough to see what would happen if the seated passenger needed to get off the train while the “weirdo” ahead of him was swaying and bowing. Would a polite “excuse me, ma’am” have elicited a side step by my friend (conceivably in the process of uttering the blessing of Atah chonen l’adam daas – You bestow wisdom upon man)? Would she have then murmured “uh, excuse me, G-d, I’ll be right back.”?

I was taught way back when that Shemoneh Esrei is an especially exalted tefillah that calls for absolute concentration and no interruption. In fact, one who is not praying (but is in proximity of one who is in the midst of the amidah prayer) is to keep it down to below a whisper in the presence of such sacred communication with G-d.

Rachel, you were right on (as usual) in your assessment. Mechanically recited prayers and half-baked pleas don’t carry much weight. Furthermore, women have more leeway time-wise – and can beseech Hashem in their own words at just about any time.

Like many frum girls, I too allot time for davening. But if I can’t manage to complete my morning prayers at home before leaving for work, I utilize my coffee break to do so.

Dear Female (and Male) Straphangers,

Last week’s column featured four letters, all from female readers, who took issue with the opinion of Unimpressed Male Onlooker and my response to his letter. (Male readers are mum on this one)

“Glad to be living in a land of Freedom of Religion” takes note of both “Jew and Gentile praying on buses and subways.” To be sure, “Unimpressed” made the point of stating that “reciting psalms in an unassuming manner is one thing – to set oneself up to be the center of unsolicited attention is quite another.” Dear readers, pray tell, how would you react if a member of the Muslim sect unrolled a rug in the aisle of a subway car and fell upon it – in full view of fellow riders – in a passionate fit of prayer? I venture to guess that the thought that would run through your mind as you make a dash for the nearest exit door would be, “Why doesn’t he go to his Mosque to pray?”

“The Subway’s fine for me” talked of our prayers “purifying the [subway] surroundings” Is she suggesting that we ask female riders of varied denominations to cover up their untznius’dik anatomy (in the summertime)? Does she propose muzzling the rowdy young riders whose yackety-yak is peppered with choice four-letter words? How would she deal with the pungent odor of a cheeseburger and fries being munched on by a fellow passenger? Would she tell him to bag it till she completes her prayers? One’s prayers can “purify” an open-air environment, or a hotel room/lobby/ auditorium that are, at minimum, clean of discernible impurity. Even in our own homes, we are not permitted to utter as much as a blessing where an open door leads to a lavatory facility.

“Dismayed” cites the well-known episode of Dovid Hamelech dancing before the “Holy Ark with great kavanah and emotion.” I am hard-pressed to decipher a correlation between the subway car and, l’havdil, the Holy Ark. As for the devotion and stature of King David, does our reader imply having reached the level of Dovid Hamelech’s lofty heights? Woe unto me . . . I confess that even in the confines of my own private quarters, I constantly struggle to keep extraneous mundane thoughts from invading my conscience as I attempt to focus upon the holy task at hand.

“Dismayed” ends her letter with, “So, what takes priority – the idle thoughts of man, or honoring Hashem?” Precisely the point

As for “A very upset reader” who expresses her disappointment in my view of women davening, perhaps I failed to clarify that there is nothing improper in saying tehillim or otherwise praying quietly to oneself, while not getting in anyone’s way – whereas making a show of praying with total abandon is not part of our repertoire and is certainly unbecoming of a Jewish girl/woman. As for the appropriateness of the environment and the concentration factor, the limited space allotted to this column precludes delving into detail of these essential elements as pertain to tefillah. I take the liberty of referring readers to a recently published book authored by Rabbi Heshy Kleinman entitled, Praying With Fire. This excellent guide to “Igniting the Power of Your Tefillah” is thoroughly researched and liberally documented with references.

In closing, I quote an excerpt from Rabbi Kleinman’s text. “If the right location can enhance prayer, it makes sense that, in equal measure, the wrong location can harm it. Thus, one should not pray in a place where concentration will be difficult” (Chapter 6:Strategy 12:page 217).

Thank you all for taking the time to share your views.

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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