I subscribe to this newsletter from http://www.torah.org about tefilah. This morning’s email is about the way a Jew should position his hands during the Shemoneh Esrei. I won’t get into the details of it, but if you’re interested you can check it out here.
I bring it up because one of the very practical things, yet also amusing aspects, of Judaism is the volume of opinions there are on any given subject. This variety of opinions serves the practical purpose of helping different Jewish communities to observe the Commandments in ways that work for them, and also for different people and their various states of health and ability. The humor comes in when reading the differing opinions, oftentimes in the same article or whatnot.
On to my point… I ran across this again in the aforementioned email. Rabbi Daniel Travis emphasizes the importance of proper hand placement during prayers to communicate a specific message to Hashem. He then goes on to say that these forms of non-verbal communication,
“are all meant to enhance one’s prayers. If such gestures are interfering with concentration, a person is better off taking a different position, such as putting his hands on the table in front of him or letting them hang by his sides. Everyone should recite Shemoneh Esrei in a way that is comfortable for conversing with Hashem, avoiding positions that feel awkward or disrespectful (Shulchan Aruch 95,3; Aruch Hashulchan 91,7).”
I can’t help but to get a chuckle out of this because it’s so Jewish and reminds me of a couple of jokes. The first being where there are two rabbis there are at least three opinions. The other one is: a man asks his Jewish friend, “Why do Jews ask so many questions?” His friend replies, “Why shouldn’t we?”
Judaism has a real knack for encouraging Jews to do thing a specific way without limiting the way a person or community should express himself/itself in the observance of the mitzvoth. It’s one of those quirky little things that I really love about being Jewish; it’s so adaptive.