With our new podcast you can pray in your own time and place

PrayerFull offers a 10-minute experience to take up at home


A Google search for “prayer” brings up almost 800 million results, ranging from prayer quotes and meetings to podcasts and YouTube channels. Strikingly absent as I scroll through the first dozen pages of results is any reference to Jewish prayer.

Does this come as a surprise? Perhaps not. Jews require specialised infrastructure in order to pray. Structured liturgy, ideally a quorum, prayer leaders and sacred space. We pray often, for many three times a day, but our prayer is highly formalised and circumscribed. All of this militates against the proliferation of alternative prayer modes so readily identifiable in other faiths.

While contemporary Jewish prayer is indeed institutionalised, it wasn’t always so.

Maimonides describes prayer as an affirmative duty, a service of the heart, noting that the Torah doesn’t prescribe the number of prayers, their timing or their form. He sees prayer as an individual’s offering, reflecting intimate moods and needs, and shaped by idiosyncratic eloquence.

While Maimonides sets a broad rubric (prayer ought to include elements of praise, supplication and thanksgiving) the details are left to the individual worshipper.

Fixed prayer, as Maimonides sees it, came later, necessitated by the destruction of the Temple, and is a product of exile. This is how we developed a fixed text, times and structures for prayer.

The two modes of prayer, formal and spontaneous, continued to be practised in parallel. While formal prayer is well documented, spontaneous prayer, due to its very nature, remains less visible, but we get occasional glimpses.

The tekhines, Yiddish supplication prayers authored by women for women, popular in 17th-century Ashkenaz, are one example. They suggest moments for personal prayer choreographed into the yearly and life cycles. The eve of a new month, the baking of challah bread and the birth of a child would all be opportunities for offering up the gratitude and pleas particular to that moment.

Another example is that of hitbodedut, the practice of seeking seclusion in nature, in order to meditate and to develop individually inspired, unstructured prayer. This practice, associated with Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in particular, became popular in many Chasidic circles. For Chasidim, daily fixed prayer was a given, yet through hitbodedut, they sought to recapture the unique and essential element of spontaneous prayer.

Fixed prayer and spontaneous prayer are complementary modes intended to be practised in parallel. But in the process of mainstreaming prayer and embedding it into the daily rhythm of our lives, the unscripted and personal “service of the heart” often gets lost. In fact, even the most informal neo-Chasidic minyan has unwritten rules for the exact point during Kabbalat Shabbat when participants break into “spontaneous” dance.

Over the past months, the rhythm of conventional prayer has been forcibly paused. Limits on gathering and singing have pushed us to improvise;

We repurposed shul parking lots, home gardens and Zoom as our sanctuaries in an effort to maintain the rhythm of formal communal prayer.

This creative response is to be applauded. At the same time this pause presents a much needed opportunity to redevelop personal, unscripted prayer and to recover personal meaning within our scripted liturgy

This moment of upheaval, loss and uncertainty is precisely the time when our need for spiritual nourishment and anchoring is most acute.

To address this, I have teamed up with Rabbanit Leah Sarna, my chavruta (study partner) from Yeshivat Maharat rabbinical school, to create PrayerFull, a guided prayer podcast.

We lift liturgy out of its conventional framework and cluster it around themes such as routine, gratitude, and renewal. By weaving together song, kavanot (moments of meditation) and prayers we create an intentional, prayerful space and listening through earphones delivers a particularly intimate experience. These 10-minute episodes invite the listener to experience prayer at a time or place most conducive to their internal reflection.

Service of the heart is the ability to offer impromptu prayer, to navigate the entire spectrum of life’s moments from depression and desperation to exultation and euphoria.

In addition to bridging the gap left by the current restrictions on synagogue services and communal singing, we hope this personal and immersive invitation to prayer will offer solace, an individual anchoring and deepening of prayer practice that will in turn enhance our communal experience post-Covid.

PrayerFull is available on iTunes and other podcast apps

Rabba Brawer is recruitment director for Yeshivat Maharat and lectures at Tufts University, Boston


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