The Significance of Supplication

An ancient rabbinic dispute pitted eminent scholars against one another. The Taḥanun prayer is rooted in that story of public shame and private distress.

July 27, 2020 | Atar Hadari
About the author: Atar Hadari’s Songs from Bialik: Selected Poems of H. N. Bialik (Syracuse University Press) was a finalist for the American Literary Translators’ Association Award. His Lives of the Dead: Poems of Hanoch Levin earned a PEN Translates award and was released in 2019 by Arc Publications. He was ordained by Rabbi Daniel Landes and is completing a PhD on William Tyndale’s translation of Deuteronomy.

The entrance to the tomb of Rabbi Gamliel. Zev Radovan/BibleLandPictures.

Twice a day, when the Jew addresses his Maker, the highly choreographed movements of the prayer service pause for a moment, allowing for something older and rawer to raise its head—or, more precisely to lower it. This pause and the way the Talmud chooses to explain it tell us something significant about the power of speech and prayer. It also tells us something about how Jewish law itself operates and how the relationships between the individual and the community, on the one hand, and the individual and the Almighty on the other, operate in relation to the letter of the law.

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