Why can’t Jews and non-Jews paray together?

March 23, 2022 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the rabbi.

Rabbi Raymond Apple


Q. Why can’t Jews and non-Jews pray together?

A. The prophet Isaiah foresees the day when “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isa. 56:7).

If this means that all peoples will share a common liturgy and theology it is not something of this pre-messianic world. In the world of history we are divided by concepts, conscience and commitments that make joint prayer impossible.

There is a conventional argument, “But surely we all believe in the same God?”

The fact is that though God is central to the beliefs and prayers of all monotheistic faiths, we have different ways of understanding His nature and His will.

When a Jew says “HaShem echad” – “The Lord is One”, his words have their own connotation. When he says, “S’lach lanu Avinu ki chatanu” – “Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned”, his concept of sin and forgiveness is distinctive.

When he says, “Ana HaShem hoshi’ah na” – “We pray, O Lord, grant salvation”, he means “salvation” in a particular sense.

A Jew can join in a prayer such as “Lord and Giver of all good, we praise Thee for our daily food”… but even then he would quietly or otherwise add his own Jewish b’rachah.


Q. A relative lives in the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiot. What does this name mean?

A. The geography is important as well as the name. Talpiot is close to the Old City and the Kotel is walkable from there.

In Jewish tradition, it is a name for the Temple. In Shir HaShirim 4:4 the shepherd tells his maiden, “Your neck is like the Tower of David, ‘banu’i l’talpi’ot’, builded with turrets”.

To say she had an impressive neck we understand: compare Shir HaShirim 7:5, “Your neck is like a tower of ivory”. But the turrets?

One possibility is that the girl’s neck was built for jewellery, which would certainly be highly regarded in ancient times.

Rabbinic exegesis, seeing the book as an allegory of the love between God and Israel, thought “Talpiot” was from a root (“a-l-t”) that meant “to teach”, indicating that the Torah was the highest source of knowledge.

Another view divided the word into two, “tel piyyot”, “the hill to which people’s mouths turn”, i.e. the Temple.


“Don’t remind me!” I said the other day to someone who told me, “Pesach is just around the corner!”

At the same time, the Pesach spring cleaning has been underway in some houses since before Purim, and the shopping expeditions are not far off.

Actually, I was wrong to respond as I did. There is an important tradition that thirty days before the festival people should already be asking questions about the theory and practice of Pesach.

Of course the bookshops are busy arranging their displays of Haggadot and Pesach plates, and the publishers have probably produced new editions of the Haggadah in the hope of attracting those who are looking for a new format and new ideas.

So are these comments merely journalistic reportage describing the onset of the increasingly frantic activity of the coming month?

Not entirely; symbolically they are a reminder that any important moment in life needs to be prepared for. Marriage is top of the list; it is nothing short of amazing how many couples go into marriage without adequate preparation.

Every life-cycle event likewise, even the end of life. “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel”, says the prophet (Amos 4:12). If this applies to death, it also applies to life.

There are two views as to how a human has a God-experience. One is that it bursts upon you when you least expect it, the other that you can make yourself receptive in advance and can, as it were, set up the shidduch. Both views have validity.

On the Amos principle, a person can go seeking God and find Him nearer than they thought.

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