The offering of petitionary prayers in the mood of entreaty. The attitude to supplication is summarized in a saying attributed to the second-century teacher, Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai, in Ethics of the Fathers (2. 13): ‘When you pray do not make your prayer a fixed form but supplications before God.’ Similarly, the earlier teacher, Rabbi Eliezer, is recorded in the Mishnah (Berakhot 4: 4) as saying: ‘He who makes his prayer a fixed task, his prayer is no supplication.’ In the Jewish literature of prayer there is a constant demand that prayer should be expressed from the heart and not as a mere fixed duty. The majority of the prayers of supplication in the traditional Prayer Book are in the plural: ‘Grant us’, ‘Help us’, and so forth. This form of request was evidently considered to be less self-serving than prayers for the individual solely on his own behalf. There is, of course, no objection to an individual offering up his own private supplications and the special prayer for protection against suffering known as Tahanun (‘Supplication’) consists entirely of individual supplications taken from the book of Psalms. In the Psalms it is often difficult to know whether the first person is used of the Psalmist or of the people as a whole conceived of as an individual person. A distinction is drawn in the Mishnah (Berakhot 2: 4) between the recital of the Shema and prayer. Workmen at the top of a tree or scaffolding may recite the Shema where they are but for their prayers they must descend. The Shema involves a bare recital, whereas prayer requires a supplicatory mood impossible to sustain while precariously balanced high up in the air. Some Jewish teachers say that in prayers of supplication a man should see himself as a beggar asking humbly for his needs out of the bitterness of his heart.
Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.