Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Rav on Ceremonialism in Prayer

Rav Soloveichik Z'T'L writes:

"An overflow of heartfulness and soulfulness, the sound of “out of distress I called”, “from the depths I have called you, Hashem”; this is the melodiousness of service of the heart, in which form drowns in content, prose in emotion, and outwardness in inwardness. Here the heart and truth react. I imagine to myself the awe of Yom Kippurim in the beit midrash of the Ba’al Shem Tov or the Ba’al haTanya, ob”m. There they certainly did not employ music, choirs and pomp. There were no platforms decorated with rugs, flowers and rabbis trained in linguistic expression and pleasant manners . . . Does a spring which gushes forth from the ground with mighty primordial power need any artificial form to grant it majesty and dignity? Does the lava which is spewn from a volcano need to flow according to the rules of hollow and empty decorum? Their beauty, the majesty of strength, is revealed precisely in their naturalness, originality and spontaneity. And is not man who supplicates his Creator a gushing spring or even a mountain spewing fire? It is clear that prayer is the antithesis of ceremony with regard to the relationship between content and form, heart and word. Thus all these aesthetic emendations in prayer, instead of deepening the experiences will rob it of its content and soul.


The other characteristics of ceremony are also exposed as [an inauthentic] hybrid with service of the heart. If genuine prayer is performed in the heart, there is no need for a master of ceremonies who will mediate between the congregation and the Creator . . . There is no need for the rabbi to stand on a platform, bedecked in “priestly vestments”, and conduct services. He and the simple Jew are of equal lineage before the Omnipresent and it is incumbent upon [both of] them to pray on the lower level of the synagogue without any distinction . . . "

“Tefillatam shel Yehudim,” Mayanot, vol. VIII, pp. 9-11.

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