Five Pillars Week: What Does Prayer Mean to You?

Monday, July 15, 2013


It's Five Pillars of Islam week on the Brian Lehrer Show. Every day this week, we're convening an interfaith conversation based around the Five Pillars: Shahadah (Faith), Salat (Prayer), Sawm (Ramadan), Zakat (Charity), and Hajj (Pilgrimage). Today: we open the phones to discuss prayer. How do you pray and what does prayer mean to your religion? Call 212-433-9692 or post here.

Comments [32]

______________Post 3 of 3_____________

(continued from previous post)
[1] Yom Kippur is the only fast that is commanded in the Torah itself. All of the other five are rabbinically ordained. Of these, Tisha b'Av is the most important and is /almost/-- but not quite-- as stringent as Yom Kippur with regard to how ill one must be in order to be exempt from fasting. The other four are considerably more lenient, with exemptions possible even for people who would merely be unduly /weakened/, but not /endangered/, by fasting. As always, any practical questions should be directed to a competent rabbi.

[2]Many people will say that halakhic nightfall occurs, "When the stars come-out", or even, "With the emergence of /three/-stars". The latter statement is indeed found in the Talmud, with the caveat that /medium/ stars are specified. While that may sound simple enough, there are a number of additional factors that complicate matters. For one thing, we find conflicting statements in the Talmud regarding just when the emergence of three medium stars occurs (i.e., how long after sunset). Additionally, subsequent authorities have ruled that we no longer possess the requisite expertise to visually identify, with /certainty/, what the Talmud defines as "medium" stars. As such, for those matters that demand greater stringency (such as determining the end of Shabbos and Yom Kippur, for example) we must wait for the appearance of three /small/ stars.

All of this has been the topic of much discussion and debate among the later commentators and halakhic authorities, through the centuries, all the way up until this day and there exist numerous, differing views.

The question of /dawn/ is much simpler but still not without its own complications and differing opinions ("Two Jews, /three/ opinions...").

For daily halakhic times ("zmanim") for anywhere in the world, see:

Jul. 24 2013 12:51 AM

______________Post 2 of 3________

(continued from previous)

"And we have four short fasts (sunrise to sunset): Fast of Gedaliah, Fast of 10th of Tevet, Fast of Esther (before Purim) and Fast of 17th of Tammuz."

You are correct in so far as enumerating the other rabbinically-ordained fasts [1] and noting that they are much shorter than Yom Kippur and Tisha b'Av.

However, I must correct the "sunrise to sunset" part. The actual duration of the "minor" fasts that you enumerated would be more accurately summed-up as "/dawn/ to /nightfall/". As to what constitutes "dawn" and "nightfall", in this context, there are differing opinions and, consequently, customs.[2]

Regarding (halakhic*) dawn, perhaps the most widely-held view (and the one that I follow) is that it occurs when the sun is 16.1 degrees below the earth's horizon. (Here in New York City, this occurs from as little as roughly eighty-one minutes, at the equinoxes, to as much as roughly 110 minutes, at the summer solstice, before sunrise.) That's the easy part...[2]

(*'halakhah' or 'halachah' is traditional Jewish law)

The question of halakhic "nightfall" is quite a bit more complicated.[2] For less stringent matters (such as the "minor" fasts"), there is a strong basis for relying-on a solar depression of 7 deg., 5' (in NYC, this occurs between roughly 34 to 41 minutes after sunset, depending on time of year). For more stringent matters (such as the end of Shabbos and Yom Kippur), I would strongly advise waiting /at least/ until a solar depression of 8.5 degrees (roughly: 41 minutes at the equinox, 51 at the summer solstice, 46 at the winter solstice) and preferably somewhat longer. There are many communities that, based on a specific statement found in the Talmud, wait no less than a full, fixed, seventy-two minutes after sunset year-round (despite the obvious problems, from an astronomical perspective, with any /fixed/, /static/ amount of time).[2]

(Notes to follow in a separate post)

Jul. 24 2013 12:49 AM

[Post 1 of 3]

The post from "Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn" dated Jul. 15 2013 10:58 AM, while informative and accurate for the most part, nonetheless contains some errors that I feel compelled to correct. There are also some other things in the post that, while not necessarily /errors/, per se, warrant some comment and further clarification.

"We have two full day (27 hour) fasts: Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av."

Did you, perhaps, mean to write twenty-/six/ or even twenty-/five/ hours?

Both Yom Kippur as well as Tisha b'Av must begin no later than sunset and end no earlier than /the following/ "nightfall"[2]. In practice, this translates to a total duration, roughly, of between twenty-five and twenty-six hours. Exact customs differ from community to community. (See below and note [2] at the end.)

/Yom Kippur/, in addition to being more stringent than Tisha b'Av, also comes with a specific 'mitzvah' to /extend/ by adding to it from both the previous as well as the following days. Thus, the thought of being able to find at least /some/ exceptional individuals who observe Yom Kippur for as long as twenty-seven hours does not sound implausible.

But Tisha b'Av? Where there is neither the stringency of Yom Kippur, nor the mitzvah to extend, and where the weather is usually considerably less salubrious for fasting than on Yom Kippur? Difficult to imagine anyone fasting as long as /twenty-seven/ hours for Tisha b'Av.

"We are not permitted to wear leather shoes on either day." [Yom Kippur and Tish b'Av]



Jul. 24 2013 12:47 AM

"Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn" wrote (Jul. 15 2013 10:59 AM),

"Ed from Larchmont: Five identical posts in succession is an abuse of this space."

/Identical/ posts are almost always due to some /technical glitch/; almost no one (not under the influence or insane) /deliberately/ makes identical posts to the same thread.

(I did not see any identical posts from Ed in this thread but I realize that they may have existed and since been removed.)

Jul. 21 2013 06:15 PM

"jgarbuz" wrote (Jul. 15 2013 10:54 AM):

"However, Jews stand and rock back and forth."

There is also bowing at certain places in the (nearly) silent prayer recited while standing known as the "Shmoneh Esrai" or "Amidah" ("Nearly" silent because one is required to enunciate the words just loud enough so one can oneself say them.)

On Yom Kippur, full-kneeling is called for, briefly, at one point in the service.

"For orthodox Jews, prayer three times a day is mandatory, but there is a very long liturgy they have to follow and usually rush through as quickly as possible. By and large, and orthodox Jews end up praying roughly 2 hours a day if they are doing it right and following the prescribed order, and many more hours on Saturdays and holy days."

"if they are doing right" indeed; if the time spent on the three prayer periods combined would total two hours... Well, on an ordinary day at least, that would allow sufficient time for each word to be recited with the proper concentration.

You, are however, sadly correct that far too many people rush through as quickly as possible and this is truly a pity, for prayer can only reach its true and full potential when recited with concentration. Still, all is not lost, for we are taught that the mere act of /uttering/ holy words-- even without thought--confers at least /some/ benefit upon the person uttering them (though certainly nowhere that as great as when concentrates upon the meaning of the words).

(And, surely, one can appreciate that merely putting everything aside to pray three separate times, each and every day--for anywhere from fifteen minutes to as much as an hour or more (morning service)-- is no easy feat.)

But I can assure you, from personal experience, that there are still many Orthodox Jews who absolutely do pray, each and every day, with proper concentration and decorum. You can see this at just about any college-level yeshiva and a number of synagogues as well.

jgarbuz, assuming you are (actually/still/currently) in Queens, off-hand, I'd suggest dropping-in to the Chofetz Chayim yeshiva in Kew Gardens Hills sometime during prayers (davening).

Jul. 21 2013 05:15 PM

It would be interesting if you could ask your guest about Muhammad as a prophet. As a pacifist, it seems troubling to me that God would choose to put his last prophet in a position where he had to kill and enslave people in order to complete God's will. And unfortunately, that's exactly what Muhammad does in the Qur'an. This is compared to the pacifist examples of the Buddha, of the tirthankaras of Jainism, or of Jesus Christ.

Jul. 16 2013 10:42 AM
Arslan Aslam from Ridge wood NY

Prayer is an Order from god which we must follow, it is prescribed by Allah. We have to fit our daily routine for the prayers. It's a worship to god.

Jul. 16 2013 10:27 AM
Fatima from New York

As I'm fasting in the month of Ramadan, I pray five times a day. I even get up in the morning (dawn) to drink some water and pray. It's the best time to connect with God and be spiritual. I hope that after the end of this holy month, I will continue praying 5 times a day.

Jul. 15 2013 04:56 PM
Yvonne from Park Slope, Brooklyn

Though I do not idetntify as a Buddhist, I have taken vows in a path that is part of Tibetan Buddhism which focuses primarily on meditation and have been on that path since 1986.

I found your question impossible to wrap my head around, as presented, because it both invited Buddhists to respond but seemed to assume that all prayer is to god.

Buddhist do not believe in god but they do pray and, in the limited time frame alloted for this, it seemed impossible to both answer your question and give it a correct context. It put any Buddhist who would have liked to answer the question in the crazy position of either creating more confusion or imposing an adgenda that was not the topic.


Jul. 15 2013 03:18 PM
Nancy Taiani from Montclair, NJ

I am a Roman Catholic woman, married for 35 years to my Muslim, Egyptian husband. Prayer is very important to me and, in the past, when we visited Egypt, I loved being awakened by the dawn call reminding me to pray. Current misconceptions in the U.S. about Muslims, which perpetuate hostility, prompted me to write, illustrate and publish "A Night of Power: A Ramadan Story" a story for children, aged 7 to 10 of all religions highlighting the Islamic teachings of peace and charity—a theme common to all religions.
Peace be with you.

Jul. 15 2013 12:29 PM
henry from md

Prayer, if done well, is a form of contemplative meditation about an ultimate transcendental notion some call God and different faiths clothe in different shapes, forms and names. As long as it does not arrogantly proclaim supremacist ideas it is harmless and may even be helpful to some individuals.

But there are potential dangers in any form of absolute belief. Apropos the Muslim caller who proclaims that in his faith 'INTENTION' is the most determinative factor, does that not open the door to "the end justifies the means" - as long as the end is considered PURE -think Jihadism, or some other non-Islamic doctrines.

Jul. 15 2013 11:26 AM
hicoachrich from Murray Hill

I also endorse a week for those who do not rely on a religion of any sort to guide them in this world. I would LOVE to hear a conversation that examines if religion actually works--is effective---in influencing good, kind, generous, moral and ethical, and even crime-free living. We have example after example of those who practice religion doing evil---obviously we have killing every day of Muslim vs. Muslim---Shiite vs. Sunni --although they have many more similarities than differences---Catholic vs. Protestant in Northern Ireland, etc., but the more mundane as well---from the Enron CFO who gave $5 million to his synagogue, to the good, Christian Republicans who denied Food Stamps to our neediest right here in this country ---no helping these thy neighbors--and of course the very obvious moral bankruptcy of the priesthood in the Catholic church everywhere. And if you look at the Business Section of the NYT you may confuse it for a newly started Crime Section, beyond sexual indiscretions of politicians we have organized crime being perpetrated on the American consumer, investor, patient, and whatever...the examples are so obvious that maybe we have stopped noticing. I could go on of course, but suffice it to say---DOES RELIGION REALLY WORK AS A WAY TO INFLUENCE, GUIDE, CAUSE OR IMPROVE OUR BETTER SOCIETAL BEHAVIOR? OR IS IT SIMPLY A COMFORT AND EVEN SELFISH INSURANCE POLICY FOR ALREADY SELF-INTERESTED PEOPLE WHO WANT TO BELIEVE THEY WILL GO ON LIVING SOMEWHERE ELSE IN SOME FORM OF A DELIGHTFUL STATE IN THE PRESENCE OF THEIR gOD?
This I ask in addition to the examination of those who are more science based and believe in global warming and those who do not, but they do believe in virgin births and virgins awaiting them after death as a martyr.

Jul. 15 2013 11:17 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Meditation isn't prayer, but it can be a very good preparation for prayer.

Jul. 15 2013 11:10 AM

The only god at Christmas time is the dollar!

Jul. 15 2013 11:09 AM

I'm a Protestant Christian and I follow the tradition of centering prayer (I think some might call it contemplative prayer but I don't know if there is a difference). This is a meditation practice that consists of sitting two times daily for 20 minutes. This is the most 'real' type of prayer for me. I also pray for others' well-being, say prayers of thanks, and say the Lord's prayer and so on, but it's the centering prayer that is the essential part of praying for me.

Jul. 15 2013 11:07 AM
pilar from Brooklyn

Raised a Shambhala Buddhist, we chanted:

Jul. 15 2013 11:02 AM

So people pray to ask to be a better person. a rational person knows this is 100 percent up to him.

Jul. 15 2013 11:00 AM
Robert from NYC

Gee folks you should work to improve your life and the lives of others in relationships and friendships, health, peace by working for these instead of praying for it to happen. Prayer seems to be the cheap way out of getting things done. And if there is a god I'm sure s/he's disappointed in your approach to living your life!

Jul. 15 2013 10:59 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Ed from Larchmont: Five identical posts in succession is an abuse of this space.

Jul. 15 2013 10:59 AM

I am recovering in a 12 step program and am encouraged to connect to a Higher Power as part of my recovery. I am an atheist leaning agnostic and have a lot of trouble hearing from very religious people, yet I am constantly praying for sobriety, the courage to be truthful and helpful in any way that I can. I don't think anyone getting sober can do so without a God of his or her understanding. (As following the traditions of the program, I am using a pseudonym so as to protect my anonymity.)

Jul. 15 2013 10:59 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Emily is incorrect re the number of fasts. We have two full day (27 hour) fasts: Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av. We are not permitted to wear leather shoes on either day. And we have four short fasts (sunrise to sunset): Fast of Gedaliah, Fast of 10th of Tevet, Fast of Esther (before Purim) and Fast of 17th of Tammuz.

Among other things, the fasts are basically to focus one's attention on the spiritual rather than the physical. We are not permitted to have intimate relations on fast days, because that, also, would be physical as opposed to spiritual.

Jul. 15 2013 10:58 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Can we have a program on Catholic prayer around Christmas time?

Jul. 15 2013 10:57 AM
jonn knoxx

"Prayer is simply conversation with God" ---No, it is you talking to yourself. No other being is actually there listening to your wishes and fantasies.

Jul. 15 2013 10:57 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Brian is not an orthodox Jew and has no clue as to what religious Judaism requires, or how much effort and time it takes to live according to Jewish Law. Like most liberal Jews, they prefer to spend their time in the theater, not in the Temple, and promoting their liberal causes to "save the world" in a more Marxist way rather than in a Mosaic way.

Jul. 15 2013 10:57 AM
Joe from Grounded on Earth

Hey, hjs11211, thanks for your comment. Consider this another vote for a rational thinker segment. Or, conversely, how about a segment on elves, fairies and unicorns?

Jul. 15 2013 10:55 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Prayer is part of the first commandment.

Jul. 15 2013 10:54 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

It's interesting how the three different "Abrahamic faiths" approach the duty of praying. For one thing, Muslims bow low, all the way down to the ground. Christians, or at least Catholics, kneel. However, Jews stand and rock back and forth.

For orthodox Jews, prayer three times a day is mandatory, but there is a very long liturgy they have to follow and usually rush through as quickly as possible. By and large, and orthodox Jews end up praying roughly 2 hours a day if they are doing it right and following the prescribed order, and many more hours on Saturdays and holy days.

Jul. 15 2013 10:54 AM
Mike from Islip, NY

I am Jewish. and in our home we try to be maximum quick to say a prayer. My grandfather told me that when we pray, we talk to God, and should not detain him. However when we learn that God speaks to us, and we should not hurry and listen to it carefully.

Jul. 15 2013 10:52 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Prayer is simply conversation with God. As one would converse with a friend. It takes many forms: praise, adoration, thanks, petition, etc., all valid.

The greatest prayer on earth is the Catholic Mass because in the Mass we aren't just praying our prayer, but we are caught up in the prayer of Jesus to his Father, the greatest act of prayer.

A routine of prayer is necessary.

Meditation by itself is not prayer.

Jul. 15 2013 10:50 AM

Bl. Are u going have a rational thinkers week also?

Jul. 15 2013 10:47 AM

calls from "inter-faith" callers???

what if you have no faith? and I am not talking about agnostics...

Jul. 15 2013 10:47 AM

I pray nobody will kill in the name of a deity or religion. Period. The details of their particular rituals are tmi unless it relates to my personal safety.

Jul. 15 2013 09:52 AM

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