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Saturday, March 13, 2010

I was recently asked a question by a mother of a Bar Mitzvah student, on why Hebrew is required in a Bar Mitzvah service

I was recently asked a question by a mother of a Bar Mitzvah student, on why Hebrew is required for a Bar Mitzvah student. The student asked, "I want to do it in English so I can understand what I'm saying."

As I think that he's not the only student ever to ask this question, here's my response back to his mom:

I'm not sure I have a good answer, but here is my effort:

Hebrew is the language with which for thousands of years are people have prayed and pleaded, have mourned and rejoiced. So the very language itself, the sounds, the letters the utterances, are laden with the emotions of our people. When we pray in Hebrew it is not an intellectual exercise, It is a spiritual and emotional one. It's not about thinking about it, it's about feeling it.

Dissecting the prayers or the Torah for their literal meaning is helpful but not necessary while reciting them.

It's like dissecting a frog.

You have to kill it before you cut it open and look at the parts.

So too with prayer or Torah. If you are going for the intellectual, your going to kill it. Reading it in in English a good exercise, but not the one we are going for here.

Learning Hebrew is a tool of entry into a spiritual practice.

Like any spiritual practice it takes a lot of hard work. But ultimately, when you get it, it is a tool that you can use your whole life.

Hebrew is the language which unites Jews wherever we go. If you go to Italy you may not be able to ask the Italian Jews where the best wine store is, but you can pray the Amidah with them and you will be connected.

I hope that can help you figure out how to better explain why we need to do the prayers in Hebrew.

-- Rabbi Jamie Korngold, Adventure Rabbi
March 2010


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