Prayer: An open-source movement
Michael Dallen writes:
I just received a letter from a noahide lady in Sweden, who wants to make her prayers better - more holy, beautiful, clearer, purer, and - of course - more effective and pleasing to God.
This is not the first time this issue has come up. The lady asked about a noahide siddur - a prayerbook for b'nai noah. I told her that all the attempts to make a noahide liturgy that I had seen had serious problems. Many of the the prayers that had emerged lacked a genuine feel; they somehow seemed to be missing the point. Worst of all, they seemed presumptuous. Who can presume to tell noahides how to pray? It's not as if there were only one way to pray and worship God.
One of the most remarkable features of First Covenant religion is the tremendous freedom it gives people to decide for themselves how to worship God. Obviously, this includes what to say to Him in prayer. For any one person or even any group of people to try to impose prayers on people, saying "these are holy, adopt them" - one recoils even from the idea.
Israel's prayerbook developed over many centuries. It contains prayers that go back at least as far as Abraham. Moses contributed many prayers; so did David, and then other scribes and prophets. Quite a few prayers, songs and poems were adopted as recently as 500 years ago. The Hebrew liturgy was put together by master liturgists and poets, prophets, sages and judges, and the people of Israel sanctified those prayers by accepting, adopting and using them, generation after generation. But noahides today can't wait on such a process. They need to be able to pray to God, to praise Him, to petition Him, and to unite themselves together in prayer and song as noahide congregations and First Covenant communities now.
Barring the emergence of some tremendously charismatic individual, I believe that the only a true, pure noahide liturgy will develop - one way or the other, this will surely happen soon - is organically. Individuals will pray as individuals and others will join them. People will collect, correct, modify and adopt a liturgy - or rather, probably, many different liturgies, all over the world - over time. Noahides will not be dictated to; they will not have prayers imposed upon them. Still, beyond the fruits of individual inspiration, they need source material.
Noahides can draw on the Bible's Psalms (the original hymnbook of the people of Israel) generally and they can draw on the Hebrew prayerbook specifically. But the Hebrew prayers were made for b'nai Israel, not for b'nai No'ach, and they don't suit noahides as is. Further, noahides can draw on many other sources besides the Psalms and siddur. See Freedom to Worship.
Naturally, people can always invent prayers for themselves. Prayer is "the service of the heart," and everyone stands on a one-to-one basis with the Lord. The people of Israel constantly make up their own prayers, besides and in addition to the regular prayers in the siddur. Besides the formal, regular prayers of Tevya the Milkman in Fiddler on the Roof and other stories by Sholem Aleichem, think of his wonderfully creative personal heartfelt outpourings to God. The thing is, though, that Tevya did have a tremendous body of formal, regular prayers to guide him.
So B'nai No'ach need some help in this regard. What is needed, I believe, is an open source approach to liturgy - rather like the Linux operating system for computer programmers. We need a bulletin board, for people to use to post their favorite prayers, favorite services, sacred songs, etc., whether it's their own material or others', whether it's original, modified from ancient Hebrew sources, other sacred sources, or even derived from the world of pop (so long as it's not so closely derived that it amounts to stealing from a copyright owner). What's needed is a collection of postings from B'nai No'ach (as well as Jews) putting up their own ideas and prayers, for anyone to borrow, critique or improve upon.
No other approach strikes me as legitimate or in accord with the way the larger system - the whole Providential system - is supposed to work.
We were going to provide this service here, on this website. Fortunately, we have been able to make alternate arrangements. It just came online! Click here: Yahoo! Groups : Noahide_Prayer_Resource_Center
Incidentally, answering the lady from Sweden, I also told her about the small glossy pamphlet, the beginnings of a proposed noahide prayerbook, that Vendyl Jones Research Institutes (VJRI) began circulating early this spring. It's called Agudat ["Congregation"] B'nai Noach Siddur. The author is my old friend Adam L. Penrod. It's based on the English-language translations of the prayers in the Hebrew siddur, modified by Adam for use by noahides. He says he received some help in this effort from several rabbis. As I remember, they were Rabbi Yoel Schwartz and Rabbi Yechiel Sitzman, both of Yeshivot D'var Yerushalyim in Jerusalem, and Rabbi Michael Katz, who is a trustee of this foundation. These wise, learned, and widely revered rabbis have assisted the noahide cause for many years; all three of them worked extremely patiently and diligently with me while I was writing The Rainbow Covenant.
Besides Adam's proposed prayerbook - it is as large as half an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet folded over and stapled, and 74 pages long - VJRI has also issued another such pamphlet, Sabbath Day Celebration; a guide for the non-Jew (about 21 pages, this came out, I believe, in August 2004), and Purim, the Feast of Lots; a guide for celebration in the b'nai no'ach community (12 pages, but with very small type, this first came out in 1990).
For copies, contact VJRI at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 972/988-6666 (or fax: 972/660-5547), or write VJRI, P.O. Box 120366, Grand Prairie, Texas 75050-1626. For another booklet, including ideas for getting through the winter solstice, Nancy January distributes A Non-Jew's Guide to Celebrating Chanukah (about 40 pages, c. 2003).
Write her at 57527 S. 550 Rd., Rose, OK 74364; e-mail: nancy @ rainbows-ink.com. This is now available as a free ebook. Just send an email to email@example.com for an
autoresponder message with details about downloading.
One regards all these different pamphlets as food for thought - suggestions. We hope to see them used that way below: as suggestions, or proposals posted for use, critique, or comment.
See Worship services, holidays and rituals for a guide to First Covenant holidays. Also, generally, we need a clear sense of what Noahides should be praying. For instance:
a) Should they bless God before they take food and drink or receive unusual gifts from God, as Israel should? (Yes.)
b) Should they bless God in thanks after taking food and drink, as the Torah commands Israel to give thanks to God? (Yes.)
c) Should they bless God on waking, and before going to sleep, as Israel should? (Yes.)
d) Are they legally commanded to do any of these things, as Israel is legally commanded in the Torah? (No.) Should they do them anyway? (Yes.)
e) Should they try to keep their God and Maker in mind as much as Israel is commanded to keep God in mind? (Yes.)
Incidentally, as The Rainbow Covenant points out, no one should try to commune with God to worship Him while in an evil-smelling place, near an open latrine or sewer or in a place devoted to lewdness or evil. God deserves better. Neither should one pray to God with one's genitals exposed. One wouldn't dishonor a human king that way; one certainly shouldn't approach the King of Kings that way.
Now, keeping these things in mind, and just to help start things off, here are some prayers
Prayer upon awakening, before one gets up:
I gratefully thank You, O living and eternal King, for returning my soul to my body with compassion. You are very faithful.
Blessed be His Name: the glory of His kingdom is forever.
After washing up and getting dressed:
Blessed are You, HaShem (*do not say HaShem, which simply means The Name. Rather, say what Israel says, which is based on the title "my lord" or "my master." In the alternative, just say "my Lord" or "my Master." As a holy name, one writes it here only with periods between the letters: A.d.o.n.o.i. However, as one says it, one should meditate upon without even attempting to pronounce the Holy Name, the Tetragrammaton, the Y.H.V.H., and what the Name says to man: that God always is, always was, and always will be, that He is the God of history, faithfulness, mercy and love, and so on) our God, King (or Sovereign) of the universe, You are very great.
The beginning of wisdom is the fear of HaShem*.
My God, the soul that You placed within me is pure. You created it, You formed it, You breathed it into me, You safeguard it within me, and eventually You will remove it from me, and restore it to me in Time to Come. As long as the soul is within me, I gratefully thank you, HaShem*, my God, God of Israel, Master of all works, Lord of all souls. Blessed are You HaShem*, Who restores souls to dead bodies. (The last two words here refer not just to the resuscitation of the dead but also to the resuscitation of one's self from the unconscious - and therefore deathlike - state of sleep.)