- On the Origins of the ʿAmidah:Response to Ruth Langer
I am grateful to Dr. Langer for her discussion (vol. 19, no. 2) of my ideas concerning the nature and development of obligatory Jewish prayer. Since 1990 I have devoted a series of detailed articles to a critique of the received wisdom on this subject and to the presentation of an alternative thesis. I am gratified that Dr. Langer, despite her obvious doubts and reservations, has presented English readers with substantial components of this argument. She has done this, moreover, with depth and fairness, qualities not always in evidence when scholars take issue with one another's work. She deserves not only my gratitude but that of the readers of this journal as well.
In the few remarks that follow, I refrain from offering a detailed response to all the issues raised by Dr. Langer. I have laid these out at length in a private communication to her, and there is no need to rehearse them for the general reader, who I'm sure will take me at my word when I say that I have a response to each of the points raised by Dr. Langer, as I'm sure she has to mine. Instead I would like to present the overall principles of my approach, even if only in schematic outline. In Dr. Langer's exposition, these principle were presented-perhaps unavoidably-in a truncated manner that took them out of order and placed emphases in inappropriate places. The result was an inevitable diminishment of the coherence and integrity of my argument. Because my articles appeared only in Hebrew, it is therefore important to me to give the reader who is unlikely to read my work in the original a chance to have a clear perception of it.
I wish to begin by emphasizing the fact that the difference between my approach and the conventional view does not lie, as Dr. Langer claims it does, in the way the few direct talmudic passages describing the emergence of the ʿamidah [End Page 380] are interpreted. These sources, as Dr. Langer correctly observes, are elusive and can sustain contradictory interpretations. The distinction of my approach lies rather in its taking into account blocs of sources and chronological parameters that were ignored by others. It attempts to explain the phenomenon in question within its real historical context.
Both positions agree that it was the sages of Yavneh who promulgated the requirement that all Jews pray three times a day, either privately or communally, and that they recite on this occasion a prayer of eighteen blessings, i.e., the ʿamidah. Yet standard scholarship assumes that they did not fix the text of this compulsory prayer, considering, as Dr. Langer puts it, that the people had already "developed linguistic registers for appropriate prayer to God . . . and were capable of composing, and expected to compose, their own prayer in it" (190). Implied in this argument is the assumption that long before the Yavnean period, necessarily during the period of the Second Temple, people were already accustomed to reciting prayers that resembled in character the ʿamidah that the Yavneh sages sought to institutionalize.
I have demonstrated in my published articles that this assumption is mistaken. Examination of the large corpus of literary and other evidence that reflects the realities of life in Erets Israel at the end of the Second Temple period (the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Philo, the New Testament, and more) proves that there existed at this time no sort of verbal worship that resembled the liturgy that was established at Yavneh. To be sure, Erets Israel was filled with synagogues during the Second Temple period; however, these were not houses of prayer but rather places where people gathered to hear the Torah read and expounded, never to pray. Jews in those times would pray individually, each in his own way and language, and at times or places they desired. Prayer was considered neither an obligatory nor a communal endeavor. As with prayer from time immemorial, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, it was man's intimate and personal communication with God.
Close inspection of the characteristic structures and themes of the...