Book Serialization Part 6: Six People You Meet in Synagogue

Book Serialization Part 6:  Six People You Meet in Synagogue
For 2013. We present our book in serial format on our blog - God's Favorite Prayers...

Timeless Prayers

nother thing I do not dwell on in this book is to tell you about the origins of the prayers. Why? First off, it’s difficult or impossible to tell when most prayers started and who started them. A real crucial characteristic of any prayer is to make it appear to you to be a timeless tradition, with no beginnings. And, anyhow, even if I tell you of some important cultural practice’s origins—for instance, that baseball was invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York in 1839—how does that help you understand the game?
And, as you may know, that simple, recent fact about the origin of the game of baseball is highly disputed. The Doubleday-origin story is thought by many to be part of the sport’s mythology. Jeff Idelson of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York has said about the sport’s origin, “Baseball wasn't really born anywhere.” He means to say that the game evolved over a long time, that baseball has no single, discoverable point of origin.
And so, returning to our main subject, it’s legitimate to ask: How can I speak with any certainty about the origins of Jewish prayers, events shrouded in much greater mystery than baseball and that occurred up to 2000 or more years ago? We know only that the practices of the synagogue evolved over a long period of time and that they were influenced by many competing forces of history, society and culture.
But, just as baseball historians continue to repeat the mythological origin account of the sport, I report the origin narratives of the various prayers in brief at the proper times later in the book. Don’t get all excited though. Here is a sample of what we have to offer.
Rabbi Jeremiah (fourth century) says (Yerushalmi Berakhot 4d) in reference to the origin of the Amidah prayer that “One-hundred-twenty elders, including about eighty prophets, instituted these prayers.” These one-hundred- twenty elders are taken to be the men of an obscure group called the Great Assembly.
Another source (Talmud Bavli Megillah 17b) has a parallel of Rabbi Jeremiah's teaching about the origin of the liturgy: “Rabbi Yohanan said that, according to some, a baraita taught that one-hundred-twenty elders, including some prophets, instituted the Shemoneh Esreh (i.e., the Amidah, the Eighteen Blessings).” Another rabbinic text links the beginnings of the Amidah to a later authority, Simeon Hapaqoli, who formulated the blessings under the supervision of Gamaliel, the patriarch at Yavneh in Israel in the second century.
These traditional origin accounts do not tell a vivid or dramatic story. Overall, there is not much origin-folklore for the classical Jewish prayers. Baseball fares a little better in that department.

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