Source: Yeshiva University
Jewish prayer may be conceived as a self-reflective conversation between the supplicant and the Divine, an anchor in moments of challenge or success, and a tool for clarifying values, meaning and purpose. Acquisition of tefilla (prayer) skills is an important goal during adolescence, and psychological and biological changes occurring during adolescence accentuate the relevance of positive tefilla experiences. Appropriate engagement of middle school and high school students by the Yeshiva school community can play a significant role in the development of an adolescent’s Jewish identity and lifelong commitment to prayer. The purpose of this study was to explore factors critical to student engagement in tefilla during adolescence, particularly those that may create a foundation for lifelong tefilla practice.
Key factors identified in this study include the quality of the teacher-student relationship, the student’s commitment and unique attribution of meaning/purpose to tefilla, the degree to which students experienced a sense of belonging to their peer community, environmental considerations (e.g. space and time), and responsiveness of the tefilla program to emerging aspects of normal adolescent development (e.g., the drive for autonomy and struggle to forge a unique identity). When these aspects are taken into consideration, students demonstrate a connection and appreciation for tefilla and incorporate tefilla into their Jewish identity. While this study did not explore connections to tefilla beyond 12th grade, the findings suggest that middle and high school tefilla experiences can provide a foundation for an enduring, lifelong commitment to tefilla. In summary, prayer is a central componentof daily Jewish ritual that requires closer scrutiny if it is to be taught effectively with the aim of securing the transmission of this sacred and ancient practice for future generations. This study hopefully provides foundational material for reaching this goal.