Kavvanah (Concentration) for Prayer in the Mishnah and Talmud
Tzvee Zahavy, Ph.D.
Published in New Perspectives on Ancient Judaism, Lanham, 1987
Based on a paper delivered December 2, 1985
at the Bar Ilan University Talmud Department
Departmental Seminar, Ramat Gan, Israel
The common definition of the term kavvanah is "intention" or "concentration" during prayer or
another ritual.(1) A precise definition of this word has been elusive because it refers to an
intangible inner state of mind, an abstract concept of thought, and not a physical or tangible
action. In this study we analyze several sources in the Mishnah and the Talmud which use the
term kavvanah in reference to the recitation of the Prayer of Eighteen Blessings and the recitation
of the Shema`.
Obviously, the Talmud predates by centuries the development of the rich conceptual expressions
of the modern disciplines of social science, especially of psychology and sociology. Accordingly,
rabbinic texts use more indirect and primitive terminology and conceptualization to describe the
inner states of a person's mind and the social aspects of prayer and ritual.
Even though rabbinic idiom was constrained by a limited terminology, rabbinic sources express
sophisticated notions regarding inner states of consciousness. When we examine several rabbinic
texts and translate into more contemporary terms some concepts of the rabbinic rules and
interpretations regarding inner states of mind, we discover strikingly mature attitudes towards
those aspects of consciousness, intention or concentration during prayer, called in the texts,
"kavvanah for prayer."
In addition, an historical analysis of the concept of kavvanah in early rabbinic sources shows that
the idea does not remain static within rabbinic thought but evolves in the various documents. Let
us proceed to pursue these issues concurrently.
Although the Mishnah, Tosefta, Babli and Yerushalmi use the same term, one finds contrasts in
the usage and understanding of the term within the distinct compilations, according to the
preferences of each textual source, locale or historical context.
The earliest of our rabbinic texts, Mishnah, sets forth clear distinctions between the concepts of
kavvanah associated with the recitation of the Shema` and with the recitation of the Prayer of
Eighteen. These differences represent several separate substantive elements inherent in the
rabbinic concept of kavvanah.
The first of the major relevant sources in Mishnah offers several rules relating to aspects of the
disruption of kavvanah for the recitation of the Shema` and the Prayer of Eighteen. According to
Mishnah, one who engages in these rituals must have kavvanah. But Mishnah speaks of two
levels of kavvanah--a lower level, for one who recites the Shema`, and a more intense level for
one who engages in the recitation of the Prayer of Eighteen.
Mishnah Berakhot 2:1 says, "One who was reciting from the Torah [at Deuteronomy 6:4] and the
time for the recitation [of the Shema`] arrived, if he directed his attention [to the goal of fulfilling
the obligation of reciting the Shema`], he fulfilled his obligation."
Mishnah here uses the phrase "kvn 't lbw, directed his attention"--a clear reference to kavvanah.
This suggests that one may simply concentrate and change one's state of mind at will to reach the
desired level of thought and attention for the recitation of the Shema`.
In a text relating to the recitation of the Prayer of Eighteen, Mishnah presents a different picture
of what is required for kavvanah. At M. Berakhot 5:1 we find, "One may stand to recite the
Prayer [of Eighteen Blessings] only out of a solemn disposition. The early saints used to tarry for
a while and then recite the Prayer, so that they might direct their hearts [i.e. their thoughts] to
The choice of the words "sykwnw 't lbm, so that they might direct their hearts," implies that
kavvanah is essential for the recitation of the Prayer. The added requirement of a solemn
disposition(2) prior to such recitation presupposes that the framer of this Mishnah stipulated the
need for a higher level of concentration and attention for the Prayer Service than for the recitation
of the Shema` referred to in the text cited previously.
In the continuation of M. Ber. 2:1, Ushan Tannaim engage in a dispute regarding the ramifications
of various interruptions in one's concentration while reciting the Shema`. According to R. Meir, if
one encounters a fellow to whom he must show respect during the recitation of the Shema` he
may extend a greeting to him if he pauses in his recitation between the paragraphs of the Shema`
or return a greeting out of respect for him. But only if one encounters a figure of authority whom
one fears while in the middle of reciting one of the paragraphs, may a person interrupt to extend
or return a greeting. Meir stipulates that a more rigorous form of intention and concentration
must be maintained when one is in the midst of reciting of each paragraph of the liturgy.
Judah agrees in principle with Meir but disputes with him on the details of the law. When one
pauses between paragraphs he may greet a fellow to whom he owes respect and may return the
greeting of any individual. When one is engaged in the middle of the recitation of a paragraph of
the Shema` he may extend a greeting to a figure of authority whom he fears, and he may respond
to greeting extended to him by a person to whom he owes some measure of respect, but not to
just anyone who comes along.(3)
The Tannaim argue here about the nature and significance of the social encounter for which one
may intentionally disrupt his concentration for the recitation of the liturgy. The views in Mishnah
exhibit some subtle differences in the understanding of the nature of concentration and
interruption in the recitation of the Shema`. Both masters agree though that if an individual
speaks to his fellow during the performance of the ritual, it does not invalidate the fulfillment of
the commandment to recite the Shema`.
Mishnah's rule regarding the interruption of one's recitation of the Prayer of Eighteen is
significantly different. Mishnah stipulates, "Even if a serpent were coiled to strike at his heel
[while he was standing and reciting the Prayer of Eighteen], he may not interrupt (M. Ber. 5:1)."
Clearly, as we proposed above, the rabbis envisioned the need for a more intense level of
concentration for the recitation of the Prayer of Eighteen.
Mishnah makes several other less explicit references to disruptions of a person's kavvanah.
According to M. Berakhot 2:4, a workman may recite the Shema` while atop a tree. A
householder may not. Moreover, fear of heights prevents a person from attaining the proper
concentration for the recitation of the Prayer of Eighteen. Even the craftsman who is used to
working high up must come down to recite the Prayer.(4)
Other emotions interfere with one's concentration during recitation. Mishnah elsewhere specifies,
"A bridegroom is exempt from the recitation of the Shema` from the first night [after the
wedding] until after the Sabbath, if he did not consummate the marriage (M. 2:5)." In this case,
M. intimates, the anticipation or apprehension of the occasion diverts one's attention and prevents
The sorrow of mourning also disturbs kavvanah according to another Mishnaic source. From the
time of the death of a relative until after the funeral, a mourner does not have the capacity to
concentrate sufficiently for the recitation of the Shema` or the Prayer of Eighteen: "He whose
deceased relative is lying before him [not yet buried], is exempt from the obligations to recite the
Shema` and to wear tefillin (M. 3:1)." According to a conventional rabbinic explanation, the
reason for the exemption is based on a general principle: one who is engaged in fulfilling a
commandment (in this case, burial of the dead), is free from the obligation to fulfill another
commandment (in this case, recitation of prayers). Nevertheless, we may add that the inner state
of mind of a grieving individual prevents him from attaining the concentration necessary to
properly recite the liturgy.(5)
To recapitulate, in Mishnah's rules for the recitation of the Prayer and the Shema`, we may
distinguish two levels of kavvanah (one for the Shema` and one for the Prayer of Eighteen) and
three different forms of disruption of kavvanah (the emotional states of fear, desire, grief).
Tosefta, a later rabbinic compilation which serves as a complicated appendix to Mishnah, adds the
notion that another form of intrusion disrupts one's concentration for prayer. In contrast to the
"solemn disposition" required in M. Berakhot 5:1 as a requisite before reciting the Prayer of
Eighteen, Tosefta says that lightheartedness disturbs one's ability to concentrate.(6) In Tosefta's
words (Berakhot 3:21), "They may not stand to pray after conversation, or after laughter, or after
lightheartedness [or after any idle matters], but only after [speaking] words of wisdom."
Tosefta offers here not a rigorous rule for recitation, but some sage guidance to a person as he
prepares to pray each day. In order to properly concentrate in prayer, immediately before prayer,
one must avoid moods and motivations which distract his attention.
This source extends the concept of kavvanah beyond the elementary stages set forth in M. M.
stipulated that certain emotional states disrupted kavvanah. Tosefta adds that swings of mood
also may interfere with an individual's state of kavvanah. Tosefta's shift in emphasis is slight but
Sources in the two Talmuds, postdating and sharing knowledge of Mishnah and Tosefta, build on
and extend this conceptualization. In the view of these later texts, other kinds of distracting
thoughts and moods, not of a deep and pervasive nature, may unsettle a person enough to prevent
him from attaining kavvanah for prayer.
In a pericope in the Yerushalmi, with a close parallel in Babli, the Talmud develops the proposal
that one may start to pray only after engaging in "words of wisdom." The source gives us the
[IV. A] R. Jeremiah said, "One should stand to pray only after [speaking of a] decision of the
[B] R. Jeremiah said, "He who is involved with communal needs is like one who is involved [in
the study of] words of Torah. [And he may pray immediately after he finishes serving a
communal need]" [Y. Berakhot, Chapter 5, Mishnah 1].
The passage opens with an apparent explanation and addition to the
Baraita in the Tosefta-passage cited which says that one may pray after
"words of wisdom." The Talmud extends this to
include the suggestion that one may pray after "a decision of the law"
or involvement with
communal needs." Yerushalmi then continues with specific examples of
rules that illustrate the
principle of praying after speaking of a rule of law:
[C] R. Huna said, "[Before praying one should speak of a law such as the following:] `A woman
who sees [a discharge of] a drop of blood the size of a mustard seed must sit and keep seven clean
days [where she sees no discharge, then immerse herself before resuming regular marital
relations].' [After reciting this law] then one may go and pray." [After reciting this stringent
decision one will be able to turn one's attention away from further deliberation on the laws of the
[D] Zeira bar R. Hinenah said, "[Before praying one should speak of a law such as the
following:] `One who lets blood from animals dedicated to the Temple [and uses the blood for
ordinary purposes] has misappropriated Temple property.' This too is one of the [stringent] fixed
laws [which one may recite to divert his thoughts from his studying before praying]."
[E] We learned: Bar Qappara said, "[Recite this stringent law before praying:] `The [minimum
number of] eleven days [which by law one must reckon] between one menstrual period and
another, is based on a tradition received by Moses at Sinai.'" [A woman who saw a flow in any of
the eleven days after the seven days of her menstrual period, must reckon that to be the flow of a
Zabah, subject to a stricter law of abstinence. S.H.](7)
[F] We learned: R. Hoshaia [said], "[Recite this lenient law before praying:] `A person may mix
his grain with stalks [before bringing it into his storehouse] as an artifice to free it from the tithing
requirement [since thereby it will resemble grain which has not been winnowed, which does not
become liable to tithes when brought into storage].'" [According to Hoshaia, reciting a lenient
law puts one in the proper frame of mind for prayer.](8)
The Babylonian Talmud has a slightly different version of this pericope:
[A] Our rabbis have taught:
[B] They may not stand to pray after judging [a case], or after [discussing] a matter of law, but
only after [speaking of] a decided law.(9)
[C] What is an example of a decided law [which one may speak of before reciting his prayer]?
[D] Said Abaye, "[It is a law] like that of R. Zira."
[E] R. Zira said, "The women of Israel imposed a stringency upon themselves. For if they
observe a [discharge of a] drop of blood [even as small] as a mustard seed, they sit and observe
seven clean days [during which no new discharges are observed before resuming marital
[F] Raba said, "[It is a law] like that of R. Hoshaia."
[G] For R. Hoshaia said, "A person may mix his grain with its chaff [before bringing it into his
storehouse] so that his animal may eat it(11) and so that it will be free from the tithing requirement
[since thereby it will resemble grain which has not been winnowed, and will not become liable to
tithes when brought into storage].'" [According to Hoshaia, reciting a lenient law puts one in the
proper frame of mind for prayer.](12)
[H] Or if you wish, an alternative [law which one may recite before rising to pray is one] like that
of R. Huna.
[I] For said R. Huna, Said R. Zeira, "One who lets blood from animals dedicated to the Temple,
one may derive no personal benefit [from the blood and one who uses the blood for ordinary
purposes] has misappropriated Temple property."(13)
Putting aside the minor variations between the two versions,(14) the renditions in Babli and
Yerushalmi represent a common approach to kavvanah. That is, one should turn to ponder
certain legal rulings in order to reach a more intense level of concentration for the recitation of
We will be better able to analyze the theory inherent in this passage after we consider two
additional pericopae in Yerushalmi which deal with other aspects of kavvanah for prayer.
The passage cited above from chapter 5, Mishnah 1 [IV] of Yerushalmi Berakhot continues as
[Before he went to pray,] Abdan asked Rabbi, "How many levels of holy things are there?"
And he said to them, "Four."
"How many levels of Heave-offering are there?"
He said to him, "Three."
Then [after speaking of these straightforward facts of the law, Abdan] went and prayed.
A previous text in the tractate gives us a related tradition:
[VIII] Said R. Hiyya the great, "In all my days I never concentrated [properly on my Prayer.](15)
One time I wanted to concentrate [properly]. So I meditated. And I said to myself, `Who goes
up first before the king? The Arkafta [a high dignitary in Persia] (16) or the Exilarch?'" [He used this train of thought to help him concentrate on his Prayers. To induce the proper state of mind he thought about the Persian hierarchy.]
Samuel said, "I count birds [to help me induce the proper state of mind]."
R. Bun bar Hiyya said, "I count rows of bricks [in a wall to aid me in achieving the proper state of
mind]." [Y. Berakhot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 4.]
Ostensibly, Yerushalmi speaks here of various means to enhance one's concentration, to modify a
person's state of consciousness, perhaps to induce a special state of consciousness, close to what
we might call a simple form of trance.
In light of this latter passage in Yerushalmi Berakhot 2:4, we may explain more amply the
questions attributed to Abdan in the former text from Y. Berakhot 5:1. That brief exchange
between Abdan and rabbi regarding the number of levels of holy things and of heave-offering, also
served as an alternative means of focusing one's thoughts in preparation for prayer.
With the main texts now before us, the following additional explicit issues concerning the
Talmudic conception of kavvanah for prayer present themselves:
1. What is the connection between kavvanah and speaking or thinking of undisputed legal
2. Of what value is it for a person to think of a legal decision prior to praying?
3. There are surely many other undisputed legal rulings in rabbinic literature. Why does the
Talmud select the three or four specific rules cited in the passage?
4. What are the grounds for the dispute between Abaye, Raba, and the alternate opinion in Babli?
[In Yerushalmi: between Huna, Hoshaia, Bar Qappara and Zeira.]
5. Finally, what distinctions can we draw between the views of the Baraita in the Talmud [which
recommends attention be paid to undisputed laws prior to prayer] and the regulations of Mishnah
[which refers to "a solemn disposition"] and of Tosefta [which recommends praying after
speaking of "words of wisdom"]. Is there a conceptual difference between these viewpoints? Do
they in fact allude to the same idea using different means of expression? Can we trace some
strands of historical development in the rabbinic ideas regarding kavvanah?
Let us return to the first issue. The connection between kavvanah and the act of speaking about
an undisputed legal ruling makes sense within the context of rabbinic culture. The Talmud in
general addressed itself to the average "disciple of the sages." The ideal scholar within a rabbinic
circle of learning was expected to occupy himself throughout the day with the study of Torah.
This meant that his mind was expected to be constantly busy with the questions and answers, the
give and take of the Talmudic argument. No doubt, for this ideal rabbinic Jew it was a difficult
task to desist from the intricate deliberations of such study and to turns one's perspective to
thanksgiving and praise in prayer.
The remedy prescribed by the Talmud to divert one's thoughts from rabbinic debate and logical
analysis was the "undisputed legal ruling." A scholar could turn his thoughts to a ruling which led
him to contemplate to further debate, no questions and no answers, just a decided law. And
through reflection on that law one could suppress further deliberations of study and clear his mind
for kavvanah for prayer.
This then is the first basic concept in the main Talmudic passage which we have cited. To address
the remainder of our issues we must advance more deeply into the theory behind the Talmudic
dispute regarding which legal ruling one recites before he turns to prayer. Let us unpack the logic
of each succinct rabbinic statement in the pericope.
The examples of undisputed laws given in the Talmudic passage are not chosen arbitrarily. Each
is carefully selected to illustrate a specific point. Abaye in the name of R. Zeira suggests that a
person ponder the stringent rule regarding a woman who discharges blood leaving a stain as small
as the size of a mustard seed. To interrupt thoughts of legal give and take, Abaye posits, one
must think about an especially strict rule. This breaks one's train of thought in learning and
enables a person to turn his attention to prayer out of a humble spirit.
Raba differs. He perhaps believed that one should not come to prayer out of humility triggered by
reflection over a stringency of rabbinic restrictions. Rather he recommended another avenue to
enhance kavvanah. He advised the sage to consider a significant lenient rule such as an artifice to
avoid tithes, a "tax loophole." Out of the delight associated with thinking of such a benefit, one
can more easily divert his thoughts from learning and turn to prayer.(17)
The third alternative of the Talmudic source provides us with another perspective on preparation
for prayer. Neither the excessive lowliness associated with contemplating a strict rule, nor the
abundant joy connected with cogitating about a lenient precept, prepares a person's mind for
prayer. Only meditating over an highly abstract principle of law such as the regulation that one is
not permitted to let blood from an animal of the Temple, brings a person to the proper state of
correct kavvanah for prayer.
Still, even if these interpretations of the views expressed in the Talmudic passage are correct, we
have yet to explain why those three specific legal rules appear in the text. There are numerous
stringent, lenient and abstract undisputed rules in the Talmud. By selecting these illustrations the
rabbis expressed additional elements of their conceptions of kavvanah for prayer.
Abaye and Raba apparently saw the disciple's personality segmented by the tensions of everyday
life. Ideally he lived in the world of Talmudic ideas and arguments in the study hall. In reality he
also lived in the world at large, confronted by its many distractions.
From Abaye's perspective, concern over the everyday relationships between men and women
constituted the primary distraction to concentration for prayer. To alleviate this one might turn
his thoughts to a stringent ruling that inhibits contact between the sexes, such as we have in
In Raba's view, mundane monetary worries were the chief sources of interference with a person's
kavvanah for prayer. The average person, scholar or householder, rich or poor, had some
measure of anxiety about money or taxes.(19) To mitigate this disquiet one could turn his thoughts
to a great leniency in the law, the notion that a person may free himself of the obligation to give
tithes, a burdensome fiduciary responsibility. After reflecting upon such a concept, one more
easily might turn his attention to prayer.
According to the third alternative opinion in the Talmud, another more complex realm of daily
interaction perturbed the individual and disrupted his kavvanah. This opinion proposed that the
confrontation between a person and sources of authority might have created situations of
frustration and helplessness and detracted from a person's ability to focus his thoughts for
kavvanah for prayer.
In our text, the Temple stood as a symbol of a source of authority, the priests represented all
bureaucracy, and the rule cited in the Talmud suggested the futility of trying to combat the
system. One who let blood from a Temple offering, did so in order to benefit the animal, not for
his own personal gain. Nevertheless, the Temple administrator saw only the minute requirements
of the law. Accordingly, he declared such an action forbidden, and condemned a person who
engages in it to be liable under the law.
According to this third view, out of pessimistic thoughts of despondence, one might more easily
turn his attention away from the distractions of the material world and its complex structures of
authority and look with kavvanah towards the more spiritual realms of prayer.
In the Mishnah (early third century) we found the distinction between two kinds of kavvanah, one
level designated for the recitation of the Shema`, and the other deeper form for the recitation of
the Prayer of Eighteen. We also observed that Mishnah describes several situations which disrupt
kavvanah, such as the states of mind associated with intense emotional experiences of fear, grief
and affection. Mishnah also dealt with the conditions under which one might interrupt the
recitation of the Shema`.
Tosefta expanded upon these basic ideas and added to them that everyday states of mind, such as
discussion, mirth, and levity may affect one's concentration.
In two sources, Yerushalmi turned to the other side of the issue. It gave conventional suggestions
for enhancing concentration, artificial means to aid in intensifying kavvanah.
Finally we found in another source in Yerushalmi and its parallel in Babli a completely rabbinic
expression of ways to achieve correct kavvanah: thinking about or reciting undisputed legal
rulings. We suggested several levels of explanation for the content of this pericope and a larger
theory to account for the three-way dispute in the text.
Our analysis reveals that kavvanah cannot be reduced to a simple one-dimensional abstraction.
Rather we have described several of the stages in the development of the concept of kavvanah for
prayer from Mishnah through the Talmud, the formative ages in the history of Judaism. This idea
continues to expand through history as rabbinic thought encounters mysticism and philosophy in
the middle ages,(20) and as modern Jewish thought grapples with psychology and social science in
1. The term appears for instance several times in Mishnah referring not only to prayer but also to
the performance of other rituals, such as the slaughter of sacrifices in the Temple and the offerings
on the altar.
2. The term in Mishnah is kbd r's which suggests a form of deep concentration.
3. The text is as follows [M. Berakhot 2:1-2]:
[D] "At the breaks [between the paragraphs of the Shema`] one may extend a greeting [to his
fellow] out of respect, and respond [to a greeting extended to him].
[E] "And in the middle [of reciting a paragraph] one may extend a greeting out of fear and
respond," the words of R. Meir.
[F] R. Judah says, "In the middle [of a paragraph] one may extend a greeting out of fear and
respond out of respect.
[G] "At the breaks [between the paragraphs] one may extend a greeting out of respect and
respond to the greeting of any man."
[A] These are the breaks [in the Shema`]:
[B] Between the first blessing and the second [of those which precede the scriptural passages
of the Shema`].
[C] Between the second blessing and [the second paragraph which begins] "Hear O Israel"
[D] Between [the two sections which begin] "Hear O Israel" and "And it shall come to pass if
you shall hearken [Deut. 11:13-21]."
[E] Between [the two sections beginning] "And it shall come to pass" and "And God said to
Moses [Num. 15:37-41]."
[F] Between [the two sections] "And God said" and "True and upright" [the blessing which
follows the scriptural passages].
[G] R. Judah said, "Between [the two sections] `And God said' and `True and upright' one
may not interrupt."
4. The text reads: "Craftsmen may recite [the Shema`] from atop a tree or atop a
scaffold--something which they are not permitted to do for the [recitation of the] Prayer."
Tosefta adds: "[Workers may recite [the Shema`] from atop a tree,] and they may recite the
Prayer from atop an olive tree or from atop a fig tree. But from all other kinds of trees one must
come down to recite the Prayer below. And the householder must always come down and recite
the Prayer below [Tos. 2:8]." [Though craftsmen are accustomed to the height, they are not as
adept as fruit pickers who work in the trees and so may not recite the Shema` while up in a tree.]
5. The Mishnah indicates that others who directly share in the grief of the funeral are included in
the exemption from reciting: The [first set of] pallbearers, and the [next people] who replace
them, and the [next people] who replace their replacements--whether they go [in the procession to
the cemetery] before the bier, or they go behind the bier--
If they are needed to [carry] the bier, they are exempt [from reciting the Shema` and wearing
And if they are not needed to [carry] the bier, they are obligated [in the Shema` and tefillin].
Both are exempt from [reciting] the Prayer [of Eighteen blessings].
(3:2)Once they [the mourners] have buried the deceased and returned [from the grave site]--...
those who stand in line--the innermost [closest to the mourners] are exempt [from the
recitation of the Shema`] and the outermost are obligated [to recite].
6. The Hebrew terms highlight the contrast between these dispositions. For "solemn disposition"
is the phrase is kwbd r's (literally: heavy headedness) and for lightheartedness it is qlwt r's
(literally: light headedness).
7. Babli's version omits this rule. Mareh Hapenim suggests that it may be because in Babli Niddah
there is an explicit dispute over the rule between R. Yohanan and Resh Laqish. It therefore may
not be an appropriate rule on which to reflect to divert one's attention from the distractions of
study before turning to prayer.
8. In Babli's version, he may mix the grain together with its own husks. In that case the rule refers
to grain that has not been winnowed which is not liable yet to tithes. From Yerushalmi's version
here we may infer that the ruse to avoid tithes works even for grain that has been winnowed and
has become liable to tithes. Even in that case one may mix the grain with straw and bring it into
the house to avoid the obligation of tithes.
9. Rashi explains that if one deals with an undisputed law he will not be distracted to delve into it
or ponder over it during his recitation of prayer.
10. They observed the more stringent law as required for a zabah who had seen discharges of
blood on three consecutive days during the eleven day period between one menstrual cycle and
another. See B. Niddah 66a, B. Meg. 28b.
11. According to R. Ephraim in the commentary of Tosafot to B. Menahot 67b, s.v. kdy, this is
the language the householder uses for the artifice, even though he intends to use the grain for
12. The obligation to tithe produce begins when one brings the grain into storage after it has been
winnowed. See B. Pesahim 9a, B. Menahot 67b, B. Niddah 15b.
13. See B. Me`ilah 12b.
14. Notably, Babli omits Bar Qappara's view. His opinion in Y. [E] is similar to Huna's statement
in Y. [C]. Both refer to strict laws regulating sexual relations. It appears that rather than to
duplicate the point, Babli's editor simply omitted Bar Qappara's lemma.
15. The traditional commentators naturally mitigate this statement. Pene Moshe explains that he
was involved deeply in his study. Sefer Haharedim observes that it is unthinkable that such holy
masters did not properly concentrate on their prayer. This must refer to instances of unavoidable
disruptions of concentration.
16. See M. Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Babli, Yerushalmi, and Midrashic
Literature, N.Y., 1967, p. 73.
17. Another form of happiness is associated elsewhere with preparation for prayer. A baraita says,
"One stands to pray . . . only out of the joy of [fulfilling] a commandment."
18. The same may be said of Bar Qappara's view in Y.
19. Maimonides (in the Guide for the Perplexed, part 3, chapter 51) expresses this point directly:
"Do not pray moving your lips with your face to the wall [as if you are engaged deeply in prayer]
and all the while you are thinking of your business transactions. . . Do not think you have
achieved anything [by doing these things]."
20. In rabbinic thought, especially as developed in the works of the medieval authorities, kavvanah
was essentially understood to be an issue of turning one's thoughts towards a specified objective.
This notion often took on strongly spiritual and even mystical connotations.
More recently the Israeli theologian Rav Kook expressed an acute formulation of the mystical
notion of kavvanah. As he put it, people are always in a state of kavvanah. The problem a person
faces is how to remove that substance which obscures the essence of concentration, how one may
overcome that which infects the mind and diverts a person from true kavvanah.
This last point is cited by Rabbi Norman Lamm in his essay, "Nowadays we do not repeat [prayer]
because of a lack of kavvanah." Rabbi Lamm suggests that the concept may also be found in
medieval Jewish thought in the writings of Judah Halevi and others. See Sepher Yevul
Hayovloth, New York, 1986, p. 241.
21. Examples of recent works include Paul Bindler's two studies, "A Psychological Analysis of
Kavvanah in Prayer," in Proceedings of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists, ed. Fred
Rosner, 3/4, Jerusalem, 1976, pp. 133-143, and "Meditative Prayer and Rabbinic Perspectives on
the Psychology of Consciousness: Environmental, Physiological and Attentional Variables," in
Journal of Psychology and Judaism, 4/4, Summer, 1980, pp. 228-248.
Also of interest are M.H. Spero, "Dream Psychology in Talmudic Thought," in Proceedings of
the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists, ed. Fred Rosner, 3/4, Jerusalem, 1976, pp. 123-132; R. Schatz, "Contemplative Prayer in Hasidism," in Studies in Mysticism and Religion
Presented to Gerschom Scholem, Jerusalem, 1967, pp. 209-226; H.G. Enelow, "Kawwana(!): the
Struggle for Inwardness in Judaism," in Phillipson, Newmark and Morgenstern, eds., Studies in
Jewish Literature in Honor of Kaufman Kohler, N.Y., 1980, pp. 82-107; Riv-Ellen Prell-Foldes,
"The Reinvention of Reflexivity in Jewish Prayer; the Self and the Community in Modernity," in
Semiotica, 30, 1/2, pp. 73-96.