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God's Favorite Prayers Paperback – July 14, 2011
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This book made me think about me and how I personally communicate with god.
Highly recommend it.
An ordained Orthodox Rabbi and the son of a Rabbi, Prof. Zahavy studied with many of the great lights of Modern Jewish Scholarship (both religious and secular), as well as with traditional Rabbis, and this breadth of experience is the basis for his unique personal insights.
The book is an outgrowth of a course he as given, most recently at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Jews, Zahavy says, recite, sing and meditate prayers that derive from six distinct archetypes. He labels those six personalities: the performer, the mystic, the scribe, the priest, the meditator and the celebrity, and he goes on to define his terms and to give examples.
A prolific writer, Prof. Zahavy has written many academic articles and books. His readable English translation of the Talmud Tractate Hullin (mostly dealing with slaughtering of Kosher animals) is available on his blog [...].
The book will be of value to anyone trying to understand Jewish liturgy and prayer in general.
That is where Tzvee Zahavy's insightful "God's Favorite Prayers" comes in. The book provides an understanding of Jewish prayer by attuning us to six voices through which prayer speaks. He calls these the mystic, the priest, the scribe, the performer, the mediator and the celebrity. Each personality has a different focus and concern. Every prayer is an expression of one or more of these personalities. The prayers reflect these different concerns, some of which may not always be in complete harmony with the others. The multiplicity of voices means that our prayer services are not at all like a well constructed classical symphony, with a unifying key, themes, harmonies and movements, but a "Woodstock Festival of Jews at prayer" where a number of rock bands play pieces in various styles and different keys. The result may not be completely harmonious, but it is glorious nonetheless.
You might expect that a book penned by an author with both academic and rabbinic credentials would be a tad dry, but that is not the case here. This is not a pedant's book. It is very readable. Anyone familiar with the Siddur will find it easy to follow. Readability is also increased by the anecdotes and generous amount of personal history that the author has interspersed in the book.
Zahavy's writing style is warm, approachable, and light-hearted. Not only does he invite us to re-think our own journeys, but also to experience his. A personal tale of searching for the perfect synagogue complements a historically contextualized description of prayer. Through him, we see the futility in believing that a perfect source of spiritual inspiration, in the form of a brick and mortar edifice, could exist. Rather, "perfect" is the worshipper's informed and enchanted relationship with prayer, itself a complex system of idealized influences. Zahavy empowers the reader with the idea that he or she-- and not a hypothetical rabbi, building, congregation, or neighborhood-- is responsible for, and able to achieve, an appreciation for God's favorite prayers.