Notice I cropped out the name and avatar of the asker but not the compliment (cough, cough).
So the question at hand is: when someone says, “Pray for me,” and you’re Jewish… well, what does that actually mean? How do you actually do that? I’ll add my own question, just to stir the pot. What do you do with those group texts and Facebook posts to pray for people? Do you truly pray for them all? Do you forward them all as requested? How do handle all this in the digital age?
First things first. There are multiple “right” ways to pray in Judaism. All are predicated on obtaining the person’s Hebrew name. That formulation is [Hebrew name] + [ben (for male)/bat or bas (for female)] + [mother’s Hebrew name]. If any of these are unknown, just use the names you know, intending that God will understand who you mean.
That said, here are some options in terms of prayer, listed in order from “beginner” to “advanced”:
1. Say a short prayer in English in your own words, and when you mention the person’s name, use the formulation above.
2. Say a short formal prayer using the person’s Hebrew name as formulated above.
3. Say a chapter of Tehillim / Psalms (or more if so inclined) – which chapters to say are highlighted in the link – in either English or Hebrew (preferably in Hebrew, even if you don’t understand the words), and when you are done, do #1. Next step would be committing to saying a chapter each day for that person.
4. Do #3, but follow up with #2 instead of #1.
5. When praying the formal Amidah prayer, either at home or at synagogue, include the person’s Hebrew name in the paragraph about healing.
Now let’s talk about name management. Here’s what I do, personally.
I have a notepad app on my phone, and whenever I get a name to pray for I add it to my app. I also note who the person is and where I got the name from so I can follow up. Praying indefinitely for people I don’t know and am not being updated on is hard for me. I have learned to transfer the list to paper that I keep near my prayerbook because when I’m praying (as in #5) I don’t want my phone out to check the names.
Which names get added? People that have a connection to those I know personally, I add to my list. Other names, such as texts and Facebook posts, I say a quick prayer (see #2) or chapter of psalms (#3) for and move on. I don’t forward such requests unless I know the sick person myself. This may be wrong of me, but otherwise there’s no end.
How do you pray?
Why is using the Hebrew name important? What if you are praying for a non-Jew, do you "translate" the name into Hebrew and use the "son/daughter" formulation? Are Jews not supposed to pray for non-Jews? Can you pray for an entity, like a country or a community?
Jews in the Diaspora (Ashkenazic countries, I don't know about the Sefardic / Eastern communities) traditionally prayed for the welfare of the country they were living in and its rulers, who were certainly not Jewish. The formal way this was done was on Shabbat, in a prayer which started with the words "hanotein teshua lamelachim". I remember that was the practice in Modern Orthodox shuls when I lived in the US.
The Hebrew name is important as it describes the "essence of your soul" something we've mentioned here before. In G-d's eyes, a Jew's English name is of very little import and your last name even less. When praying for a non-Jew you'd just use their given name. Sure, you can pray for an entity too.
Historically, many Jews haven't had Hebrew names. Even some leading rabbis have had non-Hebrew names. In fact, some Yiddish names are corruptions of names from other languages (Shprintza comes from the Spanish Esperanza). Halachically speaking, a name that is never used may stop being the person's name, in which case the name used (in whatever language) is the person's name in God's eyes. (Sorry, Ruchi, you can't always agree with me.)
True 🙂 on both counts. I meant if a person has a Hebrew name and an English name, the English name is pretty meaningless in matters of spirituality.
Interestingly, when writing a ketubah, the Hebrew names are used exclusively. When writing a get, they use both the formal Hebrew names and the name commonly used for a person. They want to make sure that people know exactly who is referred to in the document. I remember the head of the bet din grilling us both on how our friends address us, how strangers address us, i.e. do I go by Miriam or Miriam Bat-tzion or Mia? My ex was Yitzchak ben Ploni on the ketubah, but Scott for the get.
Do Os not recognize as "truly married" Jewish couples married by a secular authority?
Interesting, Miriam…I know that in a ketubah it's also really important to have the city spelled out "correctly" in Hebrew letters even when it's an American city – I did not know that the name you are known as is significant in a Jewish religious document. Thanks for teaching me.
SBW… that's correct.
In a get they use every name that a person is known by. I heard of a case in which a person's real names were included, then "hamechuneh [nicknamed] Pudgy".
I think the idea is that a get is such a serious document, with consequences for getting it wrong so severe, that we use every mechanism in order not to get it wrong.
Wow, I'm not married in O eyes! That is interesting. What about non-Os, what defines them as married from an O perspective?
I'm wondering how Os get married in non-US countries where a civil ceremony is required, apart from any religious one (Germany and I think France, for instance). Do they skip the civil part, or do it second, or not at all?
SBW, I can't answer from the O perspective, but I can answer from the French perspective: here you can't skip the civil part, and it has to come first. The priests, rabbis, imams etc. are legally required to make sure the couple is legally married before they perform religious weddings. People who wish for a religious ceremony just don't make a celebration out of the civil part – they go to town hall with two witnesses and simply sign the papers, and the decorum is reserved for the religious ceremony.
My guess is to avoid a situation that I know from Poland, for example, where couples get their religious wedding in order to be married in the eyes of God, but skip the civil part so that the mother can get state help – since she's officially single, and thus supposedly rising children alone.
Ruchi, a followup to SBW's question:
Do Os not recognize as "truly married" non-Jewish couples? Be they married by a secular authority or a priest/reverend/imam etc?
First of all "not truly married" is just in terms of halacha. Socially and respectability-wise of course it matters that there's a civil ceremony. And the halachic piece (being married=chuppah and the proper prayers and witnesses) only applies to two Jews marrying one another.
Is that entirely true, Ruchi? Because one of the 7 Noachide laws is a prohibition on adultery. And you can't have adultery unless you have a marriage. So perhaps there is a halachic definition of marriage for non-Jews? Could it be whatever that society deems to be a valid marriage?
As usual, Should Be Working has asked the questions that came to my mind…
Also, do you pray for each person from the list individually (each person gets a chapter/prayer), or collectively (all the beneficiaries on that given day are included in the same chapter/prayer)?
I pray collectively. I read the list of names and they are all included in the same chapter/prayer.
I just read this in an email from a friend: Rabbi Nachman Teaches,
Prayer originally began with each person pouring out his heart before God in his own words and language. This is explained by Rambam (Maimonides) in his Code of Torah Law (Prayer 1:4) , where he states that personal prayer was the main form of prayer prior to the institution of the set prayers by the Men of the Great Assembly.
According to the law, even today the original form of prayer remains primary. Besides following the order of prayers established by the Men of the Great Assembly, it is extremely beneficial to make a regular practice of offering your own prayers and requests from the depths of your heart in the language you understand best, asking God to help you serve Him truly. This is the essence of prayer, and this is the way all the Tzaddikim attained their high levels.
Sichot Haran #229
I recently created a booklet of tehillim for a very beloved member of our shul who was ill. As I'm sure you know, saying tehillim is no longer much practiced by the liberal movements. It was great to spend some time figuring out which psalms different groups recommend for healing and also working back and forth between the Hebrew and a somewhat poetic / loose English translation. Having spent some time on the book, I hope we can use it for the next person who falls ill (umm … our congregation is largely composed of people >70).
For myself, though, being familiar with the standard prayers and generally managing them at least 1X per day but having *zero* practice at saying tehillim, I usually opt for #5 (which includes #2).
Oh, interesting. I thought of #5 as being "most advanced" because it's by far the longest. I failed to take into account that there are members of the liberal movements who might be quite familiar with the Amidah, but not Tehillim. Thanks for pointing that out.
I daven for sick people as part of the "yehi ratzon" printed at the end of my Tehillim (I say tehillim according to the days of the week division printed in my book).
I keep a note taped into the cover of my Tehillim with the Jewish names of the people I daven for. I also write there the name of the person who gave me the name and check with them every Rosh Chodesh and update list accordingly.
Is making a money contribution to a good cause "as good as" praying for someone? Does it enhance the prayer?
Larger question: Is prayer more important than other things we do that are very good things to do?
There are three ways to avert a bad occurrence, spiritually: repentance, prayer, and tzedaka/charity. All three are equally important ingredients.
Why say Tehillim in Hebrew if you don't understand it and God knows all languages?
I can't find the source, but I remember learning somewhere along the way that Tehillim specifically carries a special degree of holiness in its original, more so than other prayers. I do not exactly why.
It is generally preferrable to pray in Hebrew, because something is always lost in translation. Also reciting a prayer in the original Hebrew connects you to the history and tradition of your people. You should understand what it is about though, so what I do if I have enough time is to read the translation and then pray the actual Hebrew (also because it is much more poetic and awe-inspiring for me).
See also: http://www.jewfaq.org/prayer.htm#Hebrew
I also find the Hebrew really poetic.
As always, I love your pragmatic and no-nonsense approach. I was taught to pray the Amidah but was unaware of the above hierarchy in regards to praying for others. (With so much to learn, no Rabbi can teach a beginner everything in two years!) This is very useful, thank you.
Ruchi, did you mean the hierarchy in terms of difficulty or in terms of which is best?
Easiest to hardest.