That old joke needed Yiddish,  but prayer doesn’t need Hebrew?

That old joke needed Yiddish, but prayer doesn’t need Hebrew?

Did this ever happen to you as a kid? It happened to me more than once. The Rebbi of the class begins to tell us a funny story, or an old classic joke from “Poiland.” Then—right before the punchline—he stops abruptly and offers the following disclaimer:

“I have to say the punchline in Yiddish; it just sounds much funnier in Yiddish. In fact, if you don’t understand the original Yiddish, you’re really missing the flavor of the whole joke.”

He then delivers the Yiddish punchline. (Which to me sounds something like: “Gehalten medochen m’daf klappen zayn.”) One or two kids in the class who understand Yiddish give a hearty laugh along with the Rebbi, who then repeats the punchline to the rest of us in English.

When I think of this story as an adult I wonder out loud: does the Rebbi’s logic not also apply just as equally to the Hebrew of the siddur? Each language has its own internal flavor that gets lost in translation, just like Yiddish for those old jokes. The siddur is written in Hebrew. Therefore, if a child does not understand Hebrew, perhaps the whole message is going right over his head? (Or worse, maybe he will hate praying.)

For example: הָרֹפֵא לִשְׁבוּרֵי לֵב וּמְחַבֵּשׁ לְעַצְּבוֹתָם (Does your son know what this means?)

How about: הוֹדוּ לַה’ קִרְאוּ בִשְׁמוֹ, הוֹדִיעוּ בָעַמִּים עֲלִילֹתָיו (Ask your child to translate that.)

My newly released book, “The Frum Revolution,” identifies the key pitfalls inherent in Yeshiva education which may turn children off Judaism. One of these pitfalls is teaching children to “pray” without understanding the words. The solution is simple: give children independent access to the text by teaching them the essential Hebrew root-words and prefixes/suffixes.

The bottom-line: surely we should treat prayer just as seriously as we do our Yiddish jokes.

Praise for “The Frum Revolution” from Rabbi Akiva Tatz

Praise for The Frum Revolution:

“This book by Eli Rietti accurately diagnoses some of the most important causes of the malaise presently affecting many young people in the Orthodox world, particularly in the area of their Torah learning. He has written a gripping account through the eyes of a young man who has experienced this issue first-hand, presenting his case in dramatic form. But he has gone further: he shows the direction a solution must take, laying out a program of teaching based on an extremely effective method developed by his father, Rabbi Jonathan Rietti. Educators who take this book seriously could change the course of the next generation’s learning experience, converting boredom and detachment into engagement and enthusiasm.”

—Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz, author of The Thinking Jewish Teenager’s Guide to Life

For more info about the book click here.