Sunday, December 2, 2007


Am I the only frum person who finds the idea of an Amen Group repellent?

Let me first explain a few things. I'm not really a religious skeptic. I strongly believe in the power of tefillah/prayer. If you are going to focus on improving one area of your life, pick tefillah. Tefillah is empowering. It creates connection to God, strengthens belief, helps relieve some of the pain that we all go through. I am a big believer in women davening every single solitary day. I don't buy this whole "I don't have time" excuse...if you have time to go to the bathroom, you have time to say one measly Shmonah Esrai. No one is that busy, and one Amidah is really the bare minimum of obligation for women. If we want to be treated like equal partners in religious observance, it's time we grew up and started acting the part.

My approach to tefillah, though, is not a "cause and effect" thing. Tefillah is not magic. It's a complicated service. If I daven today, it doesn't mean that crummy things won't happen to me today. There is no direct cause and effect with tefillah and it is childish (not to mention incredibly simplistic) to think that way.

So I watched this Amen video from the Chofetz Chaim Foundation. Who is this video geared for, people who just got off the frumkeit boat? This Rebbitzin on the video mentions the sources in the Talmud that refer to the "power" of saying Amen to a bracha (what about the power of just plain old tefillah!?!. No Talmudic sources for that?) She attributes magical properties to the word Amen. She winds up her shiur telling this story: a woman made a bracha at out loud at home and her husband said Amen with a tremendous amount of kavannah. At that precise moment, her son was in a horrible car accident and emerged without a scratch. Literally at that precise moment. Conclusion: making the bracha and saying Amen out loud with kavannah saved her son's life.

COME ON! Look, I am not in any way belittling the idea that her son not being hurt was not a miracle. It was! It was a terrible car accident and by all counts, he should have been horribly injured or killed. That he wasn't is undoubtedly a nes...he should bentsh gomel, and his parents should daven in tremendous gratitude for this gift that God has given them. The family should redouble their efforts in tefillah and appreciate their lives even more.

But to say that "Amen" saved the son's life? Give me a break! That's not Judaism; that's magic. That's losing sight of the forest for the trees. We can never know what it is in our lives that affects change in the world. (Read my post on Ripples.) Everything we do creates change. How does this woman know that it was that particular bracha and that particular Amen that saved her son's life? Maybe it was her Neilah Shmonah Esrai on Yom Kippur. Maybe it was a little bit of tzedakah she gave reluctantly when things were tight. Maybe it was the time she held herself back from badmouthing someone. Maybe it was a combination of all these things. But "Amen" having this sort of power? What are we, three years old? Do we really need to tell ourselves that every time we say Amen to a bracha, an angel is created? Has our observance become THAT simplistic?

I spoke to someone else at this Amen meeting briefly about my issue with this Amen thing. She said this whole Amen thing is really meant to be inspirational, and to move women who wouldn't ordinarily focus on tefillah to daven with kavannah at least once a month.

But has our religion become so weak-kneed that we need to dumb it down this much for the womenfolk? Have we lost faith in our intellects? Is our emunah level so pathetic that we need to bring magic into the picture in order to inspire and move ourselves to connect to God? Why don't we just focus on doing what we are supposed to be doing in the first place?

Amen to that.


smoo said...

You would be surprised to know that we are loaded with Avodah Zarah. We have apotropaic devices to induce fertility, ward off evil, bless our home, etc. If it was something done by goyim it would have been outlawed but since we do it, it's acceptable. The common folk aspect of our religion derives from what people have done time immemorial-believe that there are magical incantations, devices, actions etc that truly impact upon the universe. Our Torah wanted to abolish false idols so people just found other ways to express their belief or need for there to be some way to control events that are really out of their control. That is the real need- to make sense of the incomprehensible, to feel that they are not helpless, that they can effect change and that there are magical forces out there that can do it and somehow they have found the secret recipe. It's a psychological crutch but maybe the psyche needs it to deal with an otherwise hopeless situation.

WebGirl said...

The thing is, I don't feel like most (or any really) of our situations are hopeless ones, and I don't believe we are helpless. As a matter of fact, I believe that it is part of the mission of the Jewish people NOT to be helpless. I do very much believe in the power of tefillah. THAT is real. It's this other stuff that drives me crazy. I'm putting it in the same category as the segulah craziness. Drink some of the bride and groom wine and you'll get married. Wear a ruby and you'll have a baby. Bake a key in your challah right after Pesach and you'll have parnassah. Say Amen out loud and you'll have shemirah against terrible accidents. Abracadabra, presto chango.

What ever happened to good old fashioned tefillah and tzedakah? Prayer and charity is too boring, I guess.

Jessica said...

Interesting post. I agree that saying amen isn't some form of magic, but there has to be something to it... otherwise, why even say it at all? Don't get me wrong, I completely agree with you about the davening thing. The amidah does have an amazing power when your heart is in the right place, but who's to say that an amen doesn't also have the same power when your heart is in the right place?

WebGirl said...

I'm not saying that there isn't something to saying Amen, but you have to understand that we are a people who are becoming completely focused on segulahs instead of mitzvot. I'll bet that for every one place in the gemarrah that it talks about the power of saying Amen, there are at least five references to the power of Tefillah. To place such a heavy emphasis on saying Amen, when our collective davening is so weak, is missing the forest for the trees. We are dumbing-down our Yiddishkeit.