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Prayers of the Heart: A Review of Rabbi Dov Singer’s Prepare My Prayer

An encyclopedia of archetypical prayers combined with inspirational readings and spiritual practices

For those who are alienated from prayer, there’s only one path back: pray. Only one way back for the wounded, the disaffected, the bored, the exhausted. Pray, pray, pray. It’s the impossible but inevitable way back to prayer. Impossible because at the very moment that prayer flees, so does the desire to chase it.

With Prepare My Prayer: Recipes to Awaken the Soul (Maggid Books, 2020), Rabbi Dov Singer has created a doorway back to personal prayer for the disenfranchised. He’s also created a tool to deepen an already vital prayer life and an invitation to bring fresh eyes to the siddur, the Jewish prayer book.

The book is structured into 11 chapters, each taking on a core aspect of prayer, such as the body, communal prayer, private prayer and disturbances in prayer. Each chapter begins with an introduction, then is further broken down into concise, accessible subsections, examining different facets of each of these core aspects of prayer.

Each of the short subsections, ranging from two to four pages, is chock full of wisdom and practical applications. They follow a consistent overall pattern, opening with classic Jewish texts, ranging from Tanach and Talmud to rabbinic commentary and wisdom from the hasidic masters. Next comes Rabbi Singer’s own meditation on the topic, which leads into a set of practices to strengthen that particular area of one’s prayer life. These practices are what he calls the “recipes” in the book.

The result is an encyclopedia of archetypical prayers combined with inspirational readings and spiritual practices and techniques to deepen the experience of each archetype.

In “Calling by Name,” a subsection of the “Know Before Whom You Stand” chapter, the reader is invited to think of all of the names for God, then to select and use the one that is truest for that individual in that moment. In “Praise,” a subsection of the “Soul Movements in Prayer” chapter, Rabbi Singer suggests that the introductory phrase from the prayer Baruch She’amar, “Blessed is the One who…” can be used as a prompt to riff one’s own set of prayers. Simply add your own endings to the phrase, to create your own set of praises.

The book feels like a classic daily reader that allows you to try out new topics and related exercises each day. Alternatively, you can stick with one topic and set of exercises for as long as necessary to deepen that aspect of personal prayer.

The cover design and calligraphy are lovely, and the use of spot color throughout helps the reader navigate the components of each section. The book – published under the Maggid Books imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem – benefits in presentation by the use of the Koren family of fonts. The volume is a handy size and weight, creating a nice feel for those who still relish in the details of a well-crafted book.

There is one major omission: the near absence of women in the book. The subsection “Prayers of Our Forefathers” has subsections for each of the three patriarchs, based on the Talmudic discussion of their influence on the creation of three daily prayer services (Berachot 26b). There’s no corresponding “Prayers of our Foremothers” section, and Rabbi Singer missed an opportunity to show how our female biblical ancestors can influence our prayers. For example, the Talmud talks about the special way in which Leah praised God (Berachot 7b). The Talmud has an elaborate conversation about the prayer of Hannah (1 Samuel 1:13) and what can be learned from it, but only a phrase from that biblical passage appears in the book, with no other reference to her.

Still, Prepare My Prayer holds many surprises, like the suggestion of a wordless Amidah, imagining feeling God’s gaze upon us, and using the five-word prayer of Moses for Miriam’s healing as a template for our own prayers.

Prepare My Prayer is deceptively simple and profoundly powerful. It will become a source of ideas and inspiration for my own teaching and – when needed – my own prayer life.

Alden Solovy is the Liturgist-in-Residence at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. A liturgist, poet, and educator, his teaching spans from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem to Limmud UK and synagogues throughout North America. He’s the author of “This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day” and has written more than 750 pieces of new liturgy. His new book, “This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings,” was published in 2019. He made aliyah in 2012. Read his work at www.ToBendLight.com.

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