Exploring Prayer of the Secular

Exploring Prayer of the Secular

Prayer of the Secular

Words and music by Kobi Oz

℗&© Anana Ltd

Father, oh merciful FatherBe to me a trusted soul-mateCushion my heart in your faithLend to me awe at the sound of your name I never found myself a teacherand my laws are improvisedWhen I am in distress I take a pillI made great progress(descendant of monkeys)And for all my weaknessesmy parents are to blameAnd there’s no well-ploughed furrow,it’s a multi-lane highwayThat leads to the general mallAnd if a miracle happensit’s really no big dealDoesn’t happen because of me Father, oh merciful FatherBe to me a trusted soul-mateCushion my heart in your faithLend to me awe at the sound of your name That’s how I prayed at a Jewish minyanNext to me a Haredi trembleda volcano of fears(1)For the sake of G-d he is a systematic robotHugely sweaty,blessed with (many) children(2)Next to us a National Orthodoxwho worships dust(3)And for all his invasion of the pastHe praises battle-dress as if the battle’s wonAnd we all live by his swordAn immigrant and caretakerdecorated in a hunched backA reform Jew with a brand new cover,or a different book.(4)A traditional and his ladBar Mitzvah boyKuzaris without candies(5)And from behind there isa wild rustling and whisperingHeadscarves and wigs and hair-do’sFor on the other side of the dividelifts the sensuous soundThe feminine voiceOf the non-counted(6) Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai (7) wept from on high out of sadness, or maybe happinessAnd the rain fell or he shed a tearA sigh escaped my heartAll are thy students, Powerful Hammer, Candle of Israel, Right-hand Pillar.(8)Bless thy children of all kinds,both religious and also secular   Father, oh merciful FatherBe to me a trusted soul-mateCushion my heart in your faithLend to me awe at the sound of your name  אַבָּא הוֹי אָב הָרַחֲמָןהֱיֵה לִי יְדִיד נֶפֶשׁ נֶאֱמָןרַפֵּד לִבִּי בֶּאֱמוּנָתְךָתֵּן בִּי יִרְאָה לְמַשְׁמָע שִׁמְךָ  לֹא עָשִׂיתִי לִי רַב וחוּקוֹתַיי הֵן אִלְתּוּרכְּשֶׁאֲנִי בִּמְצוּקָה אֲנִי לוֹקֵחַ כַּדוּרמְאֹד הִתְקַדַּמְתִּי(מוֹצָאִי מִקּוֹפִים)וּבְכָל חוּלשוֹתַיי אֲשֵׁמִים הַהוֹרִים  וְאֵין אֵיזֶה תֶּלֶם יֵשׁ כְּבִישׁ מָהִיר רַב מַסְלוּלִיהַמּוֹבִיל אֶל הַקַּנְיוֹן הַכְּלָלִיוְאִם מִתְרַחֵשׁ נֵס זֶה לְגַמְרֵי לְגַמְרֵי סְתָמִילֹא קוֹרֶה בִּגְלָלִי   אַבָּא הוֹי אָב הָרַחֲמָןהֱיֵה לִי יְדִיד נֶפֶשׁ נֶאֱמָןרַפֵּד לִבִּי בֶּאֱמוּנָתְךָתֵּן בִּי יִרְאָה לְמַשְׁמָע שִׁמְךָ כָּךְ הִתְפַּלַּלְתִּי בְּמִנְיָן יְהוּדִיםלְצִדִּי חֲרֵדִי רָעַד גָּעַשׁ פְּחָדִיםכִּי לְמַעַן הַשֵם הוּא רוֹבּוֹט שִׁיטָתִימְיֻזָּע כַּמּוּתִי, מְכוֹנַת יְלָדִים   לְיָדֵנוּ דָּתִי לְאֻמִּי שֶׁסּוֹגֵד לָעָפָרוּמֵרֹב הִתְפַּלְּשׁוּת בְּעָבָרמִתְּהַלֵל הַחוֹגֵר כְּמַשִּׁיל חגוֹרוֹוְכֻלָּנוּ חַיִּים עַל חַרְבּוֹ עוֹלֶה וְשֶׁמֶשׁ מְעֻטָּר חֲטוֹטֶרֶתרֵפוֹרְמִי בְּשִׁנּוּי גְבֶרֶת אוֹ בְּשִׁנּוּי הָאַדֶּרֶת  מָסַרְתִי וְנַעֲרוֹחָתָן גִּיל הַמִצְווֹתכּוּזָרִים חֲשׁוּכֵי מַמְתָּקִים מֵאָחוֹר יֵשׁ רַחַשׁ וְלַחַשׁ חָפְשִׁימִטְפָּחוֹת וּפֵאוֹת וְעִצּוּב מִסְפָּרוֹתכִּי מֵעֵבֶר פַּרְגּוֹד רָם הַקּוֹל החוּשִיקָם הַקּוֹל הַנָּשִׁישֶׁל הֲלֹא נִסְפָּרוֹת.  רַבָּן יוֹחָנָן בֵּן זַכַּאי בָּכָה מִלְּמַעְלָה מִצַעַר, אוּלַי מִשִמְחָהוְהַגֶּשֶׁם יָרַד אוֹ דִמְעָה הוּא מָחָה.מִלִּבִּי נִפְלְטָה אֲנָחָה,כֻּלָּם תַּלְמִידֶיךָ פַּטִּישׁ הֶחָזָק, נֵר יִשְׂרָאֵל, עַמּוּד הַיְמָינִיבָּרֵךְ אֶת בָּנֶיךָ מִכָּל הַגְוָונִים גַּם דָּתִי גַּם חִלּוֹנִי.     אַבָּא הוֹי אָב הָרַחֲמָןהֱיֵה לִי יְדִיד נֶפֶשׁ נֶאֱמָןרַפֵּד לִבִּי בֶּאֱמוּנָתְךָתֵּן בִּי יִרְאָה לְמַשְׁמָע שִׁמְךָ  

To download the full  pdf guide, click here.

To follow the guiding questions online, click here.

  1. Haredi – Ultra-Orthodox. The literal translation of ‘haredi’ would be ‘quaker’, or ‘trembler’.
  2. The phrase “blessed with children” is now, among other things, a political phrase. It recalls the fact that large families are eligible for significant government subsidies, far more per child than small families.
  3. Here the reference is to the religious settlers who value the land of the Bible. The continued settlement of Biblical lands on the West Bank is, in this song, blamed for Israel’s continuing wars with her neighbours.
  4. Here Kobi Oz raises a question as to whether Reform Judaism has reformed Judaism, or created an entirely different religion.
  5. The Khazar nation, that legend has it converted to Judaism after the persuasions of Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi in the Book of the Kuzari, was a blond nation. Sephardi legends have it that the Ashkenazim are descended from the Kuzaris. The tradition of throwing candies at a Bar Mitzvah is a Sephardi tradition. Hence if you are a descendent of the Kuzaris, you will be without candies…
  6. Jewish prayer quorum, a minyan, requires 10 people to pray together. In orthodox and ultra-orthodox Judaism, this number refers only to men: women are not counted.
  7. The story of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai that Kobi Oz draws on is from the Babylonian Talmud Gittin 55b-57a.  When the Romans were besieging Jerusalem, extremists were in control of the population of the Holy City. In order to hasten the coming of the messiah, these zealots even burned all the food stores of Jerusalem. It was at this point that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai decided to sneak out of the city. The Roman commander Vespasian came upon him, and Yochanan ben Zakkai cried out: “Greetings, Emperor of Rome!” Before Vespasian could explain to ben Zakkai that he was not the Emperor, a messenger from Rome arrived with the decree naming Vespasian Emperor. Vespasian was so impressed with ben Zakkai’s prophetic powers, he offered to grant the Rabbi’s any request. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai did not ask for Jerusalem to be saved, or for the Holy Temple to be spared destruction. Instead, he asked for “Yavneh and her sages” – the permission to establish a Jewish scholars’ academy in the city of Yavneh. In Yavneh, following the destruction of the Temple by the Romans, these scholars built the Jewish religion anew. This religion would have no centralizing Temple, nor would it be ruled by the hereditary Priestly caste: it would be, in Kobi Oz’ words, a privatized religion, interpreted differently in different places. The multi-denominational, multi-customed Judaism that we know today was set in motion – so Kobi would maintain – by the fateful decision of Yochanan ben Zakkai.
  8. Kobi Oz sees Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai as something of a ‘Patron Saint’ of Pluralism. He is so pluralist, suggests Kobi, that he even has three names! These three names are given to R Yochanan Ben Zakkai on his deathbed, by his distraught students, when asking him to bless them as he weeps. (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 28b)

Guiding questions for Prayer of the Secular

  • In what way is this a personal prayer, in your opinion?
  • In what way is this a collective prayer, in your opinion?
  • Do you see the first verse as being critical of this non-religious approach to life?

Kobi Oz sees Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai as something of a ‘Patron Saint’ of Pluralism. He is so pluralist, suggests Kobi, that he even has three names!

As such, this song offers a vision of pluralism in action. In the song/prayer’s minyan, the protagonist prays alongside those with whom he strongly disagrees and even dislikes.

  • Do you accept this as an ideal vision of pluralism and tolerance?
  • Do current political issues find their way into your prayers?
  • Is Jewish communal prayer the place for thinking about ‘tough stuff’?

Maybe this is another unexpected consequence of the lack of separation between Religion and State in Israel – not only does religion insert itself into politics, but politics also inserts itself into religion!

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