Foto: Matthias Friel
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What is the siddur, the Jewish prayer book? In order to answer this question our first task will be to understand the structure of this complex and richly textured book. Investigation of the literary and historical background of the various units will assist in our main goal of exploring the main themes of the distinct prayers. Finally, the question of the theology of the siddur, whether implicit or explicit, will naturally be raised with each unit as well as in our retrospective synthesis. Most of our attentiom will be devoted to the early and basic Rabbinic building blocks: Birkhot Hashachar (Morning Blessings), K’riat Shema (Recital of the Shema), and Amidah (in ancient sources Tefillah (the Prayer).
Jeremy Schonfield, Undercurrents of Jewish Prayer
The Siddur, various digital editions
Articles by leading scholars of liturgy, e.g., Uri Ehrlich, Reuven Kimelman, Ruth Langer, Dalia Marx, Stefan Reif, and Joseph Tabory.
The course will be taught in English. Primary texts will be available in Hebrew and English. This course is partially based on lectures and therefore (virtual) attendance and note taking is crucial. We will read primary sources (the Siddur) as well as secondary, scholarly texts. The text of the Siddur in Hebrew and English will be made available digitally. This feature will also ensure that we are on the same page, literally speaking (at least!). Students are expected to participate in class discussions based on the reading assignments. There will be some brief writing exercises and presentations. A five page final essay is to be submitted at the end of the course.
The course will introduce the student to the literary-critical, historical and theological approaches to this text. While the main elements of the siddur are found in the early sources of Rabbinic Judaism, the growth and development of the text reflects the subsequent history of Judaism. Examples for this point will be taken from medieval and kabbalistic prayer books, as well as from the new Israeli Reform Siddur, published in late 2020. The larger picture that emerges will therefore contribute to our understanding of the siddur as a cultural text.
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