Swaying in Prayer

The history of body movements in prayer and Torah study.

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'Gesticulating wildly, and throwing their whole bodies about, they shout out the words of the Psalms. They knock into each other unconcernedly, for all their cares have been set aside, everything has ceased to exist for them. They are seized by an indescribable ecstasy... The old man throws himself about as though seized by convulsions. Each shudder of his powerful body, each contraction of his muscles is permeated with the glory of the Most High. Every so often he claps the palms of his hands together symbolically.'

From the Present

This kind of swaying and violent movement can still be observed in many a Hasidic conventicle, though there are also tales of Hasidic masters who remained completely immobile during their prayers, in awe of the Creator.

Reform Judaism generally frowns on swaying in prayer as falling short of Western standards of decorum and this attitude is often shared by the Orthodox in Western lands. But at least a gentle swaying is often the norm among many non-Hasidic Jews when praying or when studying the Torah.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.