THE AMIDAH: Brought to you today by our partners at Microsoft!

High Prayer Mistress Sue, my worthy opponent in what she calls our "blog war"

I wrote last week about the offer from Prayables.com, an ecumenical for-profit prayer resources for women, to become a partner site, which may or may not have involved having “The Reform Shuckle” inserted into some pre-written prayer/poem thing. For women.

In my post, I wrote about how I didn’t like their website, mission or methods very much. I didn’t use the word “hate,” but in her response post, Grand Pray Poobah or whatever Sue said I hate them. Okay. You said it, not me, Sue.

From her post:

The word “schuckle” alone, brings to mind the warmest of memories. I came to formal worship late in life and learned the choreography of prayer sitting behind a righteous man, a good man; Howard Sinton, of blessed memory. Howard shuckled. He would sway back and forth when reciting the holy words and I would follow his movements, because I was learning and it seemed like the right thing to do.

There’s no grand point to be made about this lovely (using that word honestly here–no sarcasm intended), except to point out that there’s nothing that peeves me out more than adoption of prayer choreography without knowing what it’s about. That’s how we get people bowing at “va’anachnu/and we” instead of waiting for the next word “korim/bow,” where the bow belongs.

It’s also how we get Reform Jews mindlessly sitting down halfway through something called the Amidah, the Standing Prayer.

It’s how come someone recently asked me which way I bow first in Yihyu L’ratzon, left or right? I said neither. We bow left and then right at the end of the Amidah, to complete the throne room metaphor as we leave God’s presence. Yihyu happens to be at the end of the Amidah as well as a few other places. So now people associate the bowing with Yihyu rather than the end of the Amidah so that every time Yihyu crops up elsewhere, people are bowing.

And, most odiously, it is how we get high school students at Kutz rambling on all day about Reform maxims like “Choice through Knowledge” and then copying their bunkmates in rising to their tiptoes at the mention of each mother and father in Avot V’imahot, which has no basis in anything! I swear, that one’s like a perpetual motion machine, summer after summer for no reason other than the fact that someone is doing it…

But back to the Pray Commander’s post:

So, after I read a great post by blogger David Wilensky of The Reform Shuckle website, I added it to the Excel spreadsheet we keep of potential partners for Prayables. Here’s our process: Each day, Amanda, Ed, and I, reach out to five websites on the list to tell them about Prayables and offer to promote their website in exchange for a mention of Prayables on theirs. This isn’t a money proposition; it’s just a little guerilla marketing.

Well that’s cool. I keep track of my life in spreadsheets too. This may be guerilla marketing, and I get that no one was talking about money, but the very idea is distasteful. There’s nothing wrong with earning money from a product that is religious or spiritual in nature, but there is something intrinsically wrong with marketing directly on or in the product. Imagine what the title of this post suggests, a prayer leader announcing that today’s prayer are brought to you by…

I admit that this is an imperfect comparison. Again, no money changes hand and this is merely a cooperative cross-promotion by two entities with something in common, but still, in the prayer?

Randi, if you’re out there reading, I could use some backup on this front:

I’m on board with the notion that all women don’t fit into neat categories of same tastes and equivalent inclinations. And, I duly note David’s opinion that our poetry (prayers) suck, but with the caveat that Prayables are not written for him. Yet, I do believe that Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. We have different issues, emotions, and we typically we don’t express ourselves in the same way as men. I do believe that women of all faiths share the same values.

18 Responses to THE AMIDAH: Brought to you today by our partners at Microsoft!

  1. Todd July 20, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    I completely agree with you, David. We should not be promoting things–even religious things–WITHIN prayer. Its distracting from the prayer, and some might consider it disrespectful. This past year, I was religious chair at my university’s Hillel, and we changed the Friday night “tradition” (more of a habit, really) of giving announcements after the Aleinu to after tfillah was completely finished, before heading over to dinner.

    I find things like this (and rhyming “rachamim” with “sour cream” during the Birkat Hamazon) to be of bad taste, even in cases with the best of intentions, such as promoting another respectable entity. As my mother often tells me, “its not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it,” and I think this can also apply to how its presented.

    • David A.M. Wilensky July 20, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

      I actually like shtick in the midst of Birkat Hamazon, but that’s a personal preference with no real reason.

  2. Sue D. July 20, 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    Nitpicking first: Please don’t associate Prayables with the word ecunemical. It has a Christian tone which Prayables is definitely not. The whole concept of interpretive poetic prayers is born from Mishkan T’Filah. And, about that “for profit” prayer site thing, I made a conscious decision not to model Prayables in a non-profit structure. After working as a fund-raiser in non-profit orgs I saw first-hand how inefficiently they can be run. I chose the new paradigm of a social entrepreneurial venture (Yunis) where profits are kept in the business to further growth. I can take advantage of the unprecedented online revenue opportunities and not have to beg donors for money. So, tsk tsk, David – stop being such a snob! :) Now to your point. You’re right on with the mindless choreography. I actually have learned the meaning behind the shuckling since I first started praying in synagogue some 20 years ago. But still there’s potatoes and potawtoes. (too obscure a refernece?) I split my davening time between my Reform congregation and my Modern Orthodox shul. Even with my frummier friends, some sit during Kaddish and some stand. Art Scroll even gives us choices during certain prayers. To Todd’s point, I think it’s both how you say it and what you say and sometimes it’s neither…it’s just that you DO say it.

    • David A.M. Wilensky July 20, 2010 at 2:26 pm #

      OK, what term should I use? Religiously pluralist?

      Don’t try to use the Mishy T to persuade me. Take a look around the blog and you’ll see that I can’t stand that siddur.

      Like I said, no beef with the for-profit aspect. Just don’t like the method.

      And get rid of ArtScroll. You need Koren Sacks!

  3. Randi July 20, 2010 at 4:44 pm #

    Replying in two parts–first:

    We have different issues, emotions, and we typically we don’t express ourselves in the same way as men.

    Coincidentally, I just returned from a lunch where I was encouraged to join my local Hadassah–by a Christian woman (speaking of pluralism!). She looked confused when I expressed my general discomfort with women’s groups. This is just the latest example why I think that this sentiment of an increased comfort level with a single gender group is quite common, and I don’t discount it. If a group of women finds it beneficial to have a gender-exclusive group, I’m not opposed…

    …as long as I don’t have to join. It would also be nice if it were recognized that one can express herself directly, strongly, and succinctly and still be fully feminine.

    One can’t deny that men and women have a somewhat different set of issues…but I also know that my issues are far different than those of many women that I know. And I have received great comfort from men for some of my most womanly troubles. (That sentence is not intended to sound sexual.)

    However, I don’t believe our emotions are so different, especially when it comes to contemplating God. I read the 3000 year-old poetry of David (Melech, that is) and Shlomo, and can utterly relate to their yearning for the divine, and the sorrow of its perceived absence. And I suspect that men can read about Hannah pouring her heart out in prayer and get that too….

  4. Randi July 20, 2010 at 5:02 pm #

    I do believe that women of all faiths share the same values.

    What values? Love your children, be good and kind to those in need, don’t be evil? Sure–but show me how these are any more universal among women than men.

    There is lots of evidence to the contrary: A Christian woman will value spreading the gospel and love of Christ, and the eternal salvation that brings.

    There are accounts of Muslim women freely choosing the hijab or abaya, because they feel that they are objectified by the mere exposure of their own hair or face.

    It is not evident at all that gender trumps belief and conviction and group identity with regards to values.

  5. Katherine July 21, 2010 at 12:03 am #

    I read Prayables and take great joy from the site. It’s a shame that you felt the need to rip it to shreds. Without having read any of your other posts, you sound like an angry and negative person. No wonder you don’t like Prayables, which is space for positivity and personal spirituality.

    • David A.M. Wilensky July 21, 2010 at 9:40 am #

      Since you dismiss me out of hand for being negative, I can’t tell what there is here that you really disagree with.

      When there’s something to be positive about, be positive about it. But when I find something distasteful and I have negative feelings about, there’s no sense in keeping them to myself when I think there’s a worthy conversation to be had about it.

      I’m trying to have a conversation. Luckily, Sue is willing to have it with me. So we’re having it. If you’re not interested because you don’t like negativity, don’t get involved.

      And don’t comment on who I am and what my tone is without having looked, as you admit you haven’t, at the rest of my blog. I poked around Prayables for a good while before I decided to write about it.

  6. Sue D. July 21, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    Back to my sharp-tongued new blog buddy DAVID: I do love the term pluralism, but not a lot of people know what it means. Hence…multi-faith. Next up: I seriously did not get that you don’t like Mishkan T at all, I thought you were only dissing the travel edition. I love MT (obviously) but there are some who agree with you. This morning at minyan someone called it the new “Gates of Confusion.” Corny, but it got a chuckle out of me.
    On to you RANDI: I’m a recovering women’s group non-joiner. When I was in the business world I couldn’t stand ’em. Also I avoid Hadassah, ORT and women’s auxilary of larger volunteer orgs like the plague. But, in the prayer world, I’m totally connecting. These women are amazing! Do me a favor? Check out the site prayables.com and give me YHO. Now for your examples of different values among faith groups; I urge you to take religious practices out of it and think only of prayer as a value that we share.

    • Ben Sternman July 21, 2010 at 6:04 pm #

      I positively hate (does that count as being positive or negative?) when people say we all share the same values and it’s all good. Let me explain further.

      You say to take out the practices. Should we also take out the theology? A Muslim might pray in submission to God’s will. A Christian for salvation from sin. A Jew for relationship with God. A Hindu for unity with God. An atheist to fit in and keep peace in the family. These are not shared values because the intention matters. The theology, or lack thereof, matters.

      We all have differences. It’s kind of why we’re called ‘individuals’ and not ‘clones’. It seems willfully blind to ignore those differences. The important thing to remember is that ‘different’ is not equal to ‘better’ or ‘worse’. It’s just different. I might have a very different path from you, but the fact that it’s a different path doesn’t in and of itself make it better or worse.

      • Sue D. July 21, 2010 at 8:38 pm #

        Thanks Ben and Randi for adding YHO. I stand with my premise; take theology and religious practice out of prayer FOR THIS ONE PURPOSE only: to be able to connect more people to God. When I pray, I’m in conversation with God. I’m usually not having a theology discussion, nor am I typically consulting God about whether cheese is kosher. Thanks to Davee Boy’s gang for caring enough to comment. Time to get back to work :) B’Shalom

        • David A.M. Wilensky July 22, 2010 at 12:32 pm #

          When I pray, I’m a member of a community because I only pray as a Jew, rather than as an individual. And I would go so far as to say that it is on the far fringes of Judaism to even have a personal relationship with God. We have a communal relationship and that’s it. And I don’t know how to set aside, nor do I want to set aside, my Jewish nature to speak to God individually.

          And who consults God on kashrut? You consult a rabbi!

          • Ben Sternman July 22, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

            “We have a communal relationship and that’s it.”

            I disagree that Judaism is about a communal relationship to God exclusively. The matriarchs and patriarchs all had personal relationships with God. Look at 1 Samuel in which Hannah has a deeply personal relationship with God. Many of King David’s psalms are deeply personal.

            Where I would agree with you is saying that Judaism *must* include a communal relationship to God in addition to the personal relationship. That is, you can’t be Jewish in isolation. But that doesn’t *exclude* having a personal relationship in addition to a communal relationship.

            • David A.M. Wilensky July 23, 2010 at 7:06 am #

              Fair enough. Though I’d point out that none of your examples are Jews. Israelites and Hebrews, yes.

              We come from them, but we’re also distinct from them.

        • Diplogeek August 30, 2010 at 12:47 am #

          I have no idea whether it’s your intention to come off as insufferably condescending or not, but that’s the overwhelming impression I’ve taken away from your posts (both those directed specifically toward David and the replies you’ve aimed at others). It’s sufficiently off-putting to me that I wouldn’t give your website a second look regardless of how fabulous the prayers are. And lest I be scolded that the site isn’t “for me,” anyway, let me say up front that I’m a woman and find this odd melding of prayer and marketing that you seem to have going on to be as distasteful as David and others here have. The tone and content of your responses to his (justified, IMHO) criticisms have been enough to dissuade me from investigating Prayables further.

    • Randi July 21, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

      Sue–

      Taking religious practices out of prayer is akin to taking language out of speech, IMHO.

      Or, in other words, what Ben said.

      I wish you well on your endeavor with the women’s prayer-site and all, and I have skimmed it, but it’s not quite my thing. While there are some poems I would consider Amen-ing, they are few and far between.

      • David A.M. Wilensky July 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm #

        re: language, WORD.

        I don’t talk to a dog as a human because I’m not interested in disregarding the dog’s nature. Similarly, I can’t talk to God without considering theology. Theology is how we conceive of God’s nature. So how can I communicate with God while disregarding God’s nature?

  7. Sue D. August 30, 2010 at 8:36 am #

    It’s been a while since there’s been fresh comments on the topic of marketing to encourage more women to add prayer to their lives. Diplogeek, finds me “insufferably condescending.” Had to look that one up to be absolutely sure; but I knew it was insulting. Condescending = displaying a patronizingly superior attitude. Diplogeek has sworn not to give http://www.prayables.com “a second look” because the way I comment, is “off-putting.” Too bad for you Diplogeek. You’ll miss out on discussing the merits (or not) of creative outreach to bring prayer a little closer to more people. Oops, I’m being condescending again. Maybe this is better: F-you Diplogeek. When you’re ready to connect to one million women a month and share prayer- build your own website and DO NOT MARKET!!!
    ahhhhhhh, much better, it feels good to be direct.