This post is part of the seriesScientific Naturalism and Rationality Meets Judaism“.

Did you know?

Kipa at night. If you ever wondered, the only place religious hasidic Jews take off their kipas is in the shower and in the swimming pool. Yes, they sleep in their yarmulkes. I first realized it when I saw my roommate (I have two young hasids as roommates) sleeping with kipa on his head. If your connection to God is strong enough, the story goes, you’ll wake up, if the kipa falls of your head.

Prayer. Jews read around 150 pages of dense ancient Hebrew text DAILY out loud. In my Siddur (prayer book) the prayers that I am suppose to say out loud every single day take up more than half of the book, i.e. around 250 pages. But my Siddur contains the English translation alongside the Hebrew one. If you have ever seen Jews pray, they speak the ‘holy words’ very VERY fast – and for a reason. I couldn’t read all the required prayers in the required time in Hebrew even if my life depended on it. My speed of reading Hebrew is half a word per second. If I read them in English, I am only about 7 times slower than a “professional Jew”. So this is what I decided to do. Starting from today, I am reading as much prayer in English as I can during the allocated times and next time I will always continue from where I stopped last time. It is against the rules, because you are supposed to start from the beginning every day, but hey, it is also against the rules not to read everything, so give me a break. 😀 During the morning prayer only, to which 1 hour is allocated in the yeshiva (and this does NOT even include the waking-up blessing I talked about here nor some 20 pages of other blessings), I was capable of reading 19 out of 120 pages. I tried also to comprehend all the meaning and focus (which is also a halachic obligation by the way). Tomorrow I will continue. Praying makes me feel good. Maybe because most of the sentences are overly positive and majestic.

Carrying items on Shabbes. If you’re a Jew, you are not allowed to wear a watch on your wrist on Shabbat when walking outside of your house. An exception may be if you are a woman, and the wrist watch can be considered jewelry.

Wisdoms. Here is one Jewish wisdom that I like: If someone says, “I have worked hard, and I have not been successful”, don’t believe them. If someone says, “I have not worked hard, and I have been successful”, don’t believe them! If someone says, “I have worked hard, and I have been successful”, believe them!

This is hanging in the gym… 😀

Names of God. There are several names for God in Judaism one of which cannot be said in any circumstances. I was told that nobody even knows how is it supposed to be pronounced. When that word appears in prayers, it is replaced by one of the other God’s names. But even the other God’s names cannot be said “in vain”, so they can only be said during prayers and when studying Torah – and in the latter case only if the entire sentence in which the word appears is said. So what if you have to read only part of the sentence or talk about God at a dinner table? Then you either replace God’s name by “Hashem” which literally means “the name” or you replace one letter in an actual by different letter. Typically instead of “Eloihim”, you would say “Eloikim”. Psychologically I think that this is the “positive version” of the taboo associated with cursing. The more a curse word is “tabooed” the more power that word has, but that power is usually ‘negative’. With God it is hereby reversed. Sometimes even in English Jewish texts they write G-d instead of God, but I don’t think that that’s a rule.

Nagel wasser. Every morning Jews have to ritually wash their hands before they even rise. That’s why here in yeshiva we have hand-washing equipment next to our beds: a large bowl of water and a smaller cup. The cup is used to pour water with one hand onto the other. Also whenever bread is eaten, hands have to ritually washed in a similar way. Both washing hands and eating bread are accompanied by blessings. Between these two events one is not allowed to talk. I am now also ritually washing my hands every morning ✌️

4 replies
  1. Anssi
    Anssi says:

    I never tried reading prayers or meditative literature fast, but I often do it extremely slow. Like one word per five seconds or slower. And that is working well for me at least :). So one can give that a try too. Enjoy.

  2. Anssi
    Anssi says:

    …and if often leads to a total stillness of the mind where the “prayer” spontaniously stops completely. Sometimes in the middle of the word. In the there is letting go even of the prayer. Nothing matters but the present moment in inner silence.

  3. Anssi
    Anssi says:

    It may be interesting to compare the wisdom on working hard to the central idea in lutheric christianity that no amouth of hard work can earn you liberation, which can only be received by grace.

  4. Anssi
    Anssi says:

    Another comparison comes to mind by the teachings of Echart Tolle who puts it: “there is no such thing as a succesful life, only succesful present moment.”

    Now a few years ago I would most centainly have resonated more with the jewish hard work quote (possibly for misguided interpretations but still). I have always considered myself to be a very “hard worker” towards the things that inspire me. This spiritual journey, however, has forced me, often very much against my will, to accept that there is only so much one can DO to help oneself (onesoul?). Even during gym sessions I seldom feel like im working hard. Instead I just try to feel what my body wants to do next, i sort “let it be as hardly working as it feels at that moment”. But i try not to work out..hah ;).

    Nowdays, therefore, i seem to resonate much more with Echarts words and the lutherian principle.


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