Thursday, August 12, 2010

Introduction of Women in Prayer Series

The mitzvot (commandments) that God gave to us have one main purpose: to make us closer to God. Since Judaism has a lot of minute, involved laws, it’s easy to forget that the higher reason behind it all is to bring our hearts closer to the Creator. However, it is impossible to forget about closeness to God while keeping at least one of the mitzvot: prayer. Jews are obligated to pray three times every day: Shaharit in the morning, Minha in the afternoon, and Ma’ariv in the evening. The main prayer in all three is the same: Shemoneh Esrei.

The Shemoneh Esrei, aka the Amidah, is considered the most important prayer in Judaism. It is said three times a day and contains three main elements of prayer: shevah (praise), bakasha (request), and hoda’ah (gratitude). Its words were created by men, but the concept was created by a woman: Hannah. She was one of the wives of Elkanah. While she was barren, the other wife, Penina, had many children. Distraught at her childlessness, she went to the Temple and desperately prayed for a child. The only form of prayer at that time was spoken aloud with the rest of the congregation; instead, Hannah prayed only loud enough for herself to hear. The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) thought she was drunk and questioned her. When he realized she was sober, he assured her that she would be given a child. Her son was Samuel, the longtime leader of the Jewish people and the prophet who anointed Saul and David.

Prayer was codified by the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah (Great Assembly); there were no women involved. (The word anshei actually means men, literally Men of the Great Assembly.) As a result, traditional prayer has been criticized by feminists as being male-centric. They’re right; prayer is dominated by mentions of the Patriarchs and mitzvot that traditionally only apply to men. Prayers like Shemoneh Esrei, the Shema, and the infamous Sh’lo Asani Isha (the prayer that men say thanking God for not making them women) have been condemned by feminists of all religions. However, prayer can easily be reclaimed by women and turned into a feminist connection to God.


  1. I've been thinking about this topic for quite a while. You might find my "Hem u-n’sheihem (them and their wives)" . . . : A woman’s place—if any—in the siddur of interest, though I should caution you that my approach might not meet the approval of your local Orthodox rabbi.

  2. I should mention that the comments are at least as interesting as the post. Some of my Orthodox readers provided me with useful and helpful information.

  3. I don't think I meet the approval of your local Orthodox rabbi, so it's all good.