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The Way into Jewish Prayer


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Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD, has served for more than three decades as professor of liturgy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. He is a world-renowned liturgist and holder of the Stephen and Barbara Friedman Chair in Liturgy, Worship and Ritual. His work combines research in Jewish ritual, worship and spirituality with a passion for the spiritual renewal of contemporary Judaism. His many books, written and edited, include seven volumes in the Prayers of Awe series: Who by Fire, Who by Water-Un'taneh Tokef; All These Vows-Kol Nidre; We Have Sinned: Sin and Confession in Judaism-Ashamnu and Al Chet; May God Remember: Memory and Memorializing in Judaism-Yizkor; All the World: Universalism, Particularism and the High Holy Days; Naming God: Avinu Malkeinu-Our Father, Our King; and Encountering God: El Rachum V'chanun-God Merciful and Gracious. Hoffman also edited the ten-volume series My People's Prayer Book: Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries, winner of the National Jewish Book Award; and coedited My People's Passover Haggadah: Traditional Texts, Modern Commentaries, a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award (all Jewish Lights). Rabbi Hoffman cofounded and developed Synagogue 2/3000, a transdenominational project to envision and implement the ideal synagogue of the spirit for the twenty-first century. In that capacity, he wrote Rethinking Synagogues: A New Vocabulary for Congregational Life (Jewish Lights).


This book continues Jewish Lights' The Way Into... series, each volume designed to provide a basic introduction to Judaism by exploring one crucial Judaic concept. The expertise of the contributors is typified by Hoffman, who is a scholar, theologian, rabbi, teacher, lecturer and writer specializing in questions of Jewish liturgy. While his book is a primer on prayer, Hoffman demonstrates the close linkage among other aspects of Judaism. He begins by examining Jewish ideas about God, which leads to an exploration of the pattern and place of prayer. Portions of this research descend into various digressions, as when Hoffman discourses at length on the history, form, art and architecture of synagogues. A somewhat smaller diversion from his basic theme follows as Hoffman describes the denominations of Judaism, emphasizing their differences in regard to prayer. He concludes with a consideration of prayer ideas and blessings, again moving beyond prayer as he discusses theology, anthropology, cosmology, eschatology and the Jewish calendar. He offers a rather strained delineation of anthropology that bears little resemblance to its conventional definition. Most of the book is written simply and clearly, although Hoffman is overly fond of complicated tangents and sometimes crosses the line from explaining the value of prayer to preaching about it. Despite these limitations, this book, on the whole, is a useful explication of prayer in Jewish life. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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