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View Full Version : Why do some Jews rock back and forth during prayer?


Fear Itself
08-15-2005, 01:55 PM
I have seen some news stories that showed Jews in prayer, and they are rocking back and forth, some quite rapidly. Is there a religious reason for this? Do other religions practice this, and why?

cmkeller
08-15-2005, 02:06 PM
It's just a matter of comfort and bodily rhythms. You try standing stick-straight at attention for en extended period of time. For many, it takes more concentration away from the prayers themselves to not move at all than it does to let one's body sway in a rhythmic manner.

Sal Ammoniac
08-15-2005, 03:34 PM
I've got nothing more to add than that this movement has a name: davening.

cmkeller
08-15-2005, 03:45 PM
No, davening is the word that means prayer. The word for swaying during davening is "shuckeling."

ouryL
08-15-2005, 03:46 PM
I have seen some news stories that showed Jews in prayer, and they are rocking back and forth, some quite rapidly. Is there a religious reason for this? Do other religions practice this, and why?

Buddhists monk do something similar.

Fear Itself
08-15-2005, 03:46 PM
You try standing stick-straight at attention for en extended period of time.You don't know many Lutherans, do you?

Anne Neville
08-15-2005, 04:02 PM
Is there a religious reason for this?

Several have been proposed, but there isn't an official religious reason.

I do it because I can. I don't like standing still, and it's acceptable to sway, so I do.

Sal Ammoniac
08-15-2005, 09:17 PM
No, davening is the word that means prayer. The word for swaying during davening is "shuckeling."

Cmkeller, you have just lessened the sum total of ignorance in the world. Thanks for putting me right.

Fear Itself
08-15-2005, 10:17 PM
No, davening is the word that means prayer. The word for swaying during davening is "shuckeling."Thank you, cmkeller. Armed with the correct word, I was able to locate this explanation (http://www.torahlearningcenter.com/jhq/question198.html):Question: Why is it when we pray to G-d, many people “shuckle” back and forth while others do not? Isn’t it disrespectful to sway back and forth when we are “talking” in our own way to G-d? Please explain this “custom.” Is it truly disrespectful or is it something else?

Answer: ‘Shuckling’ - swaying back and forth during prayer and Torah study - is a legitimate custom. Several reasons are offered for this custom:

The soul is akin to a flame. Just as a flame always flickers and strives upward, so too the soul is never still, constantly moving and striving to reach upward towards G-d.

Shaking allows you to pray with your whole body, as King David said “Let all my bones exclaim ‘G-d, who is like You!’” When we stand before G-d in prayer, we tremble in awe of the King of Kings.

The book of the Kuzari gives a historical explanation for ‘shuckling.’ He explains that shuckling originated during a period when there was a book shortage, and several people needed to study from the same book at the same time. To allow as many people as possible to study from one book, they would sway alternately back and forth. This allowed each person to look into the book and read a little bit, and when he swayed back, another person could sway forward and look into the book.

A valid alternative to shuckling is to stand completely still, like a soldier standing at attention in front of the king.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zatzal/ of blessed memory, one of the foremost halachic authorities of our generation, was known to stand stock still during the silent prayer. He explained that, while living in Russia, he was once arrested for teaching Torah. One form of torture he experienced during his imprisonment was being forced to stand completely still facing a wall. The threat was that if he were to move he would be shot. It was on one of these occasions that Rabbi Feinstein was struck with the realization that if he could stand with such intense concentration for the sake of his captors, then he should afford at least the same respect when standing in front of G-d.

Deciding whether to ‘shuckle’ or stand still depends on which one helps you concentrate better. In any case, a person shouldn’t move his body or contort his face in any way that will make him look weird.

Sources: Mishna Berurah 95:5,7

Askance
08-16-2005, 03:20 AM
I have seen some news stories that showed Jews in prayer, and they are rocking back and forth, some quite rapidly. Is there a religious reason for this? Do other religions practice this, and why?
I saw some film recently of a mosque full of Muslims rocking exactly like this as they chanted the Koran. My feeling was that it helped to set a rhythm to memorise the text to.

C K Dexter Haven
08-16-2005, 06:49 AM
I find that I'm praying with a certan sing-song rhythm, and the swaying puts my body and my mind in the same mode -- kind of like swaying to certain songs. It should be noted to those unaware: traditional Jewish prayer is not like Christian prayer. It is a recitation of a set order of prayers, most of them very ancient, in Hebrew. Thus, when you say the same prayer repeated over many days and weeks, you develop a sort of melodic rhythm that becomes ingrained.

The real reason, of course, is that my father shuckled, and so when I went with him to the synagogue and stood beside him, I did too.

GaryM
08-16-2005, 08:10 AM
I just have to say that I've learned a lot of interesting things since joining the 'dope.

This is a great place! :)

yBeayf
08-16-2005, 10:38 AM
I saw some film recently of a mosque full of Muslims rocking exactly like this as they chanted the Koran. My feeling was that it helped to set a rhythm to memorise the text to.
While praying the fixed prayers in congregation, one really isn't supposed to be swaying, so a lot of Muslims will stand still for that, but while reading Qur'an it's really common to see swaying going on. And I know at least one priest who will sway back and forth while serving a Divine Liturgy.

lno
08-16-2005, 01:08 PM
It should be noted to those unaware: traditional Jewish prayer is not like Christian prayer. It is a recitation of a set order of prayers, most of them very ancient, in Hebrew. Thus, when you say the same prayer repeated over many days and weeks, you develop a sort of melodic rhythm that becomes ingrained.Perhaps this is just an exception to the above statement, but what about praying a Rosary? Is that not also a recitation of a set order of prayers, or does it differ in some manner from traditional Jewish prayer?

(Other than not being in Hebrew, of course...)

yBeayf
08-16-2005, 03:32 PM
Perhaps this is just an exception to the above statement, but what about praying a Rosary? Is that not also a recitation of a set order of prayers, or does it differ in some manner from traditional Jewish prayer?

(Other than not being in Hebrew, of course...)
There's also the Divine Office, which while not prayed so much by laypeople still bears similarities to Jewish prayer.

Bricker
08-16-2005, 04:02 PM
Perhaps this is just an exception to the above statement, but what about praying a Rosary? Is that not also a recitation of a set order of prayers, or does it differ in some manner from traditional Jewish prayer?

(Other than not being in Hebrew, of course...)

Can't speak for others, but when I say the rosary, as I try to do every day, it develops a certain rhythmic repetition to it. No swaying, I admit, but there's a semi-chant to it.

rocking chair
08-16-2005, 07:07 PM
i'm a swayer. most prayers in the orthodox church are done in a tone. i really can't think of one that would just be "said", even if there isn't a specified tone it is done in a sing song, usually a greek chant that has ups and downs.

i'm not in extreme motion but def. a sway, i have to have a bit of room around me in the choir.

thank you for the correct term, mr keller, now i'll be able to pass it on.

Cunctator
08-16-2005, 07:15 PM
Perhaps this is just an exception to the above statement, but what about praying a Rosary?I agree with Bricker about the Rosary. It develops a certain "oral sway". And if you're reciting it with a congregation in church, you're usually kneeling in pews, so there's not a lot of room for any physical swaying.

There's also the Divine Office, which while not prayed so much by laypeople still bears similarities to Jewish prayer.I often sing the office in choir. There's never any swaying, but there's quite a lot of sitting, standing and kneeling.

spingears
08-16-2005, 07:43 PM
I saw some film recently of a mosque full of Muslims rocking exactly like this as they chanted the Koran. My feeling was that it helped to set a rhythm to memorise the text to.
Films of school boy children learning the Quran by rote show them sitting but bending forward in a rocking motion as they recite the text.
Endless repetition implants the text in memory and the rythmic rocking tamps it in place.

Lynwood Slim
08-16-2005, 10:55 PM
Just to add to the mix:

Davven, a European Jewish (i.e., Yiddish) word to connote recitation of the traditional liturgy, seems to have its root in the Latin "divine" or "divine service".

The Hebrew word is "avodah" which means both "work" and "divine service", the latter ranging from the offering of sacrifices in the biblical period, to the recitation of liturgical prayers.

Beware of Doug
08-16-2005, 11:51 PM
FWIW: Endless repetition and rocking back and forth are also associated with autism. Anybody want to run with that?

BarnOwl
08-17-2005, 10:39 AM
I just have to say that I've learned a lot of interesting things since joining the 'dope.

This is a great place! :)

It took 5 years for your epiphany to lock in? :D :D :D :D :D

yBeayf
08-17-2005, 10:45 AM
I often sing the office in choir. There's never any swaying, but there's quite a lot of sitting, standing and kneeling.
True, but I was referring more to it being a largely fixed set of prayers, with changeable elements, much as Jewish prayer is.