Friday, March 2, 2012

Shortening Shabbat Davening - What Are We Praying For? (Second in a Short Series)

Continued from this post.

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg of the Boca Raton synagogue recently asked on his Twitter feed (which I follow via Facebook):
How would u shorten shabbos morning davening within halachik boundaries in an effort to make it more enjoyable and meaningful?
In my last post, I addressed the challenge of adehering to frum culture, which prevents us from making substantive changes to the format of davening, no matter how legitimate or critical they may be. In this post, I'd like to address the problem underlying the question. What's wrong with Shabbat davening, and why should we want to shorten it?
Of course, the real question isn't how to shorten Shabbat morning davening. Everyone knows how to do that. Just look at every hashkamah minyan in the world. If you cut out all the singing, every misheberach, and all the speeches, you can cut davening down to a nice and tidy hour and forty five minutes. It's not rocket science.
What I believe that Rabbi Goldberg means is: how can we change the main minyan so that it's shorter, without paring it down to a bare-bones minyan that lacks resonance for many people. Are people really looking for hashkamah at 9am instead of 7am? That's not that hard to supply. Many shuls already have an 8am "beis medrash" minyan. Yet, I suspect that they're looking for a "main minyan" feel, without it going on for three hours. That's harder. Where do you cut and still maintain a sense of community, majesty and meaning?
But before we can really cut anything, the issue of shortening davening on Shabbat raises a deeper, more perplexing question that goes to the heart of Orthodox communal prayer. On some deep level, Shabbat davening doesn't resonate with many of us. Sure, we say the words. But given the choice, would we pray for the things that Chazal tell us to pray for exclusively on Shabbat? Are we really yearning for the "eternal Shabbat" that we pray for so fervently? To me, the problem of Shabbat davening reflects a deeper problem we struggle with surrounding the content of Shabbat prayer as Chazal designed it.
I have long felt that the Shabbat davening isn't really the best venue for a truly meaningful communal prayer the way that most American Jews expect it. Most people want to come to shul to grapple with the issues that they're struggling with. They want to pray to God for a good job and the ability to support their family. They want to pray for safety and security for the people of Israel. They want to pray for health and well-being. All of those things exist in traditional prayer, but not on Shabbat. They're right in the Amidah - of the weekday.
Three times daily throughout the week we communicate with God, asking for that which we need to live more meaningful lives: wisdom, Torah, forgiveness, redemption, health, well-being, sustenance. You name it, it's in the Amidah.
Perhaps ironically, on Shabbat, we specifically do not pray for our daily needs. We don't really daven for health, sustenance, parnassah - all the things that concern us during the week. On Shabbat we're supposed to let go of our daily worries, and focus on the more eternal issues. Even when we add the misheberach for the sick, we conclude the prayer by saying, שבת היא מלזעוק, וישועה קרובה לבוא - "on Shabbat we are prohibited from crying out, and salvation is near to come." It's almost as if we say, "Really, we know that we're supposed to ask for health today, but we're all here, and so we're going to do it anyway."
If anything, a careful examination of the Shabbat morning davening reveals efforts to try and insert meaning into the davening "between the lines" - in the spaces between the established parts of davening set by Chazal. The Misheberachs (that everyone hates - until it's time for their Bar Mitzvah) cater to the personal needs and joys of the individual. The yearning and power of the first paragraph of birchat Hachodesh express all of the elements normally missing from the Shabbat davening, as we pray for God's blessings during the coming month. Finally, the addition prayers for the State of Israel, the IDF and the United States of America, all reflect efforts to add necessary meaning and depth to the established davening that we find lacking.
If I was designing the davening today to reflect the needs of the members of a Western-cultured Orthodox community, who by and large does not assemble on a daily basis for prayer but only assembles communally on Shabbat morning, highlighting these elements would have to play a major role in the davening.

In my last post on this issue, I'll (finally) make some suggestions, reflecting the needs and desires of the people who still attend the Shabbat morning main minyan.