Teaching Tefillah

If you have strategies for teaching tefillah that you'd like to share, email BAS Education Director Abby Reiken.


...when God was ready to give Moses the Torah on Mount Sinai, God said, "Come up to Me on the mountain and be there." (Exodus 24:12) Rabbi Menachem Mendl asked: '"If God told Moses to come upon the mountain, then why did God also say, 'be there'? Where else would he be?" The answer, suggests Kotzker, is that not only did God want Moses to be up on the mountain, God wanted him to pay close attention; otherwise he would not really be there. Often people are physically in a place but, because they are not paying attention, they might as well be somewhere else. --The Book of Miracles: A Young Person's Guide to Jewish Spirituality by Lawrence Kushner 

How can we help our students "be there" during tefillah?  How can we guide them in praying with kavanah (intention)?

Not only do we want students to learn the Hebrew and tefillah skills to be able to pray, but we also want them to experience meaningful moments of tefillah. Through authentic, personal tefillah, students will feel comfortable and inspired to engage in tefillah both independently and with their Jewish community.

Think about ways to create a sacred time and space for tefillah.  You can mark the transition time to tefillah by doing breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or reflections on their week (chesed v'nachas).   You can create a sacred space by moving the chairs in a circle, facing east towards the mizrach in your class, having your madrichim hold up a tallit over the students, or sitting by a window to observe nature. 

Have students take turns leading the prayers.  Add ruach (spirit) to your tefillah by adding hand motions, clapping, stomping, and musical instruments.

Teach Hitbodedut: This technique of individualized prayer and meditation from Reb Nachman of Breslav involves communicating with God in a private space in your own words and in your native tongue. You can talk to God like you would to a close friend, sharing whatever is in on your mind at that time. 

Mindfulness strategies to adapt to preparing for tefillah

Relaxation Breathing exercise before starting tefillah

Review Tefillah with "Name That Tune": sing a phrase from a prayer and the class has to guess which prayer--can do in small groups with small groups singing the prayer and other groups guessing...   

Spritual Tefillah Workshop by Danny Mishkin and Lynn Lancastar:

  • Through tefillah we can build connections to nature, to self (through self-reflection), and to others by sharing ideas
  • Amidah Mantras 
  • Whatever space you are in: ask the students to recognize the holiness around us.  Before or during tefillah, ask students to find something that feels holy in the space you are in, then share their ideas. For ex. a recycling bin can be holy as it reminds us to care for the earth.

Engaging Souls: Bringing Elementary Tefillah to Life by Eric Golombek, The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education

Expressing Gratitude through the Senses: Ask students to think of one they thing they appreciated seeing today or recently.  Ask students to share with someone next to them.  Then ask students to share what their partner said to encourage listening.  Then have them think of something they smelled, tasted, touched, heard.  Using the 5 senses will help the students reflect on and express gratitude.  You could have the students illustrate any or all of the things they are grateful for and hang up in the room.  Then sing the Modeh/Modah Ani or Birkhot Hashachar to express appreciation. Idea apapted from The Bible Players.

Prayer or Tefillah acrostics: After a discussion of the meaning of tefillah, have students create an acrostic using the word prayer or tefillah.  Click here for students' examples from Ellen Dreskin's work with her students.

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