Under­cur­rents of Jew­ish Prayer

Jere­my Schonfield
  • Review
By – November 11, 2011

Jere­my Schon­field, the son and grand­son of famous Lon­don rab­bis, has noticed a strik­ing anom­aly. A two thou­sand year his­to­ry of close read­ing and intense exe­ge­sis has been the inher­i­tance of the rab­binic tra­di­tion. The vers­es, words, and even let­ters of every Bib­li­cal phrase has been ana­lyzed; the course of every legal argu­ment of the Tal­mud has been dis­sect­ed. Yet, despite the fact that sig­nif­i­cant por­tions of the Sid­dur are read by every obser­vant Jew at least three times a day, there is almost no study per­formed on its pages. Deter­min­ing the rea­son for this gap is the pur­pose of Under­cur­rents of Jew­ish Prayer, and the result is a cap­ti­vat­ing analysis. 

Schonfield’s method is to intro­duce rab­binic crit­i­cal tech­nique to the rel­a­tive­ly neglect­ed text of the Sid­dur. Start­ing with the clear evi­dence that the con­tent of the prayer­book is a dizzy­ing mélange of quotes from through­out Holy Writ, he sub­jects the ear­ly parts of the morn­ing ser­vice to a read­ing intend­ed to draw out lay­ered allu­sions. From this, he con­structs a hypoth­e­sis that the rea­son that the text is so lit­tle stud­ied is because of the con­tra­dic­tions that inhere when mor­tal man stands to address the Omnipo­tent. Does God lis­ten? Does Man dare address Him? And can the answers to these ques­tions be ones per­mit­ted to be pondered? 

What­ev­er one makes of the author’s con­clu­sions, the jour­ney well repays the trav­el­er. And for the reg­u­lar shul­go­er, read­ing Schon­field will ensure that the Sid­dur is nev­er read cur­so­ri­ly again. Appen­dix, bib­li­og­ra­phy, indices, photos.

Jeff Bogursky reads a lot, writes a lit­tle and talks quite a bit. He is a media exec­u­tive and expert in dig­i­tal media.

Discussion Questions