cover image Why We Pray what We Pray: The Remarkable History of Jewish Prayer

Why We Pray what We Pray: The Remarkable History of Jewish Prayer

Barry Freundel, Urim, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-965-524-034-4

In this thoughtful and informative treatise, Freundel, a pulpit rabbi and professor of law and religion, delves into the background and formulation of six essential Jewish prayers, including the Shema and Kaddish, that observant Jews recite regularly. Exploring the historical context, rabbinic discourse, and linguistic processes through which these prayers emerged, Freundel offers fresh opinions on their creation and evolution. He presents fascinating context clues, including the Jewish belief that Simon Peter, the first pope, was a secret Jew who authored Nishmat and reminds readers that Jewish tragedy, most notably the Crusades, and religious pride were primary sources of theological inspiration and creativity in medieval times. Throughout, he emphasizes that the origins of many prayers are obscure and that the finished product many Jews recognize today in the prayer book underwent considerable scrutiny and transformation through the centuries. While Freundel at times lapses into too much detail, readers interested in Jewish prayer will be gratified by his breadth of knowledge and intelligent analysis of a subject often taken for granted. (Nov.)