Siddur Ashkenaz, Weekday, Shacharit, Preparatory Prayers, Torah Study 4:

אֵלּוּ דְבָרִים שֶׁאָדָם אוכֵל פֵּרותֵיהֶם בָּעולָם הַזֶּה וְהַקֶּרֶן קַיֶּמֶת לו לָעולָם הַבָּא. וְאֵלּוּ הֵן...וְעִיּוּן תפילה.

My translation:

These are the items for which a person eats the fruits (of his labor) in this world, but the reward is established for him in the world to come ... study of prayer.

I have seen very few places emphasizing the study of prayers - the origin, history, reasoning of why prayers are said, meaning of the words, etc. I'm not stating that individuals may not do this, but when I was in yeshiva elementary and high school, there wasn't much emphasis on this topic. The same can be said about my children's school. I've taught in a few yeshivot, spent time learning in a few of them (kolel, etc.) attended various shuls - very few of them offer lectures (shiurim) on prayer study.

Even without the above adage, which is part of our prayers, many religious Jews are (or should be) aware of the importance of "kavanah" when reciting prayers. Part of "kavanah" means understanding what your saying. I would think that having some knowledge / history would only add to the concentration and appreciation of the prayers.

Why is "iyun tefillah" not a more commonly studied topic in yeshivot and synagogues? Why are there few "organized" shiurim / lectures on prayer?

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    There are lots of other things to study too. How much time do you expect them to spend on prayer? I don't think the current situation is out of proportion and you haven't shown that it is. – Double AA Apr 5 '16 at 17:27
  • I think a few words later might answer your question:וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֶֽגֶד כֻּלָּם ... As an aside, the fact that it's included on the list together with learning Torah seems to imply that ְעִיוּן תְּפִלָּה isn't the same as learning Torah. Many people seem to define it something along the lines of "concentration in prayer". – Salmononius2 Apr 6 '16 at 1:43
  • I'm not really sure the premise of the question is true. – Daniel Apr 6 '16 at 18:37
  • @Daniel My premise is based on my observation in several schools and shuls (about 30 combined) over about 40 years. Though this is a small sample of the many shuls and yeshivot in the U.S., I think that the number of yeshivot and shuls devoting time to this topic is still minimal. I have no problem being proven wrong. – DanF Apr 6 '16 at 19:07
  • I have far narrower exposure than that, but my experience tracks with his. @Miriam's answer below implies further corroboration. – crmdgn Apr 7 '16 at 13:58

There simply isn't enough time for everything in yeshivos, since today gemora study is considered the top priority. However, as you say, learning the meaning/ intentions of the prayers is very important and a person (men and women) should make time for this - just like they should make time for mussar, halacha, and other subjects.

By the way, my daughters had one period every week all through Beis Yaakov elementary school in Israel called "Biurei Tefilla" (explanations of the tefilla).

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  • "Biurei Tefilla" means "destruction of prayer" (like the blessing Al Biur Chametz). You probably mean "Beiurei Tefilla". – Double AA Apr 6 '16 at 18:59
  • ביאורי תפילה toralishma.org/… – Miriam Apr 6 '16 at 19:54
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    Miriam, You may be interested in beureihatefila.com. I frequently browse articles here, and I have used many of them to answer questions on Mi Yodeya. – DanF Apr 6 '16 at 20:39

Prayer is not studied by yeshivot because it is construed this would ruin their kavannah while praying.

I.e. since quintessentially Jewish prayer has to be unselfconcious and studying words imposes concious attention to transalation and grammar it would chill the prayer itself were it to be studied.

It would be akin to the following conversation.

Kid. Mummy, do you love me?

Mother. Well now, let us consider how we can define this emotion.

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  • This is one of the stranger answers that I have read in a while. What is the source for your answer / opinion. – DanF Apr 6 '16 at 19:02
  • I don't know if there is a source for what he is saying but it is a very common complaint. If davening is about connecting to Hashem then shouldn't it be personal, not a formal set of things that we repeat every day? And don't answer that prayer is about asking for out needs and the chachamim knew best. that's true also, but it's so self centered and temporary. Tefilah is so much more than that. It's about connecting to the Almighty. That's being said I disagree with his answer. – mroll Apr 7 '16 at 4:35
  • @mroll No, I wouldn't place the answer that Chachamim knew best, within this context. They may have known at that time how to textualize many of the prayers and standardize the Siddur, but much has changed over time, anyway. Prayer should be personal, agreed. But, there are also parts that MUST be said verbatim such as Shema. So, if we went to the the "base", how about people understanding just the Shema? That would be a start, no? I don't think that if everyone left tefillah to only their own wording w/o including much of what's in the Siddur, that would suffice, but it warrants asking, IMO. – DanF Apr 7 '16 at 14:29

In my experience this is not as true of chassidik schools and shuls. The historical reason for this is because jewish life took a very scholastic turn. A learner was good everything else was second class. Davening has nothing to do with learning but with connecting to Hashem. A simple unlearned person is capable of davening with kavanah (will/drive). Why this happened is complicated but has to do with the aftermath of Shabtai tzvi and anything spiritual was seen as dangerous. This degenerated to davening being seen as a waste of time (chayei o'lam vs chayei sha) taking away from learning time

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  • As I don't know much about this subject, I can't either favor or dispute this either way. A source to support this claim would interest me a lot. See if you can locate and edit this in. – DanF Apr 7 '16 at 14:23

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