Monday, June 18, 2007

Videotaping the Amidah

While many faculty members around the country are finishing up the school year, Yeshiva Atlanta classes ended May 17 for seniors, May 31 for the rest of the school, which included a week off for Shavuot and Memorial Day and the the last day for faculty meetings was June 13. As a result, there was not much time to get our Tech grant proposals up and running. The most experimental and controversial portion of our grant was the videotaping of Student B saying the Shemoneh Esreh. The plan was for Student A to set up the camera in a private and quiet room and as soon as the camera was properly focused on the student being taped, Student A would leave the room. After the prayers were taped, working in chavruta, the two students would review the tape with a checklist to check if students knew the mechanics and they also would check for proper pronunciation. Then Student B would tape Student A. A faculty member would review the results with both students. The purpose was to assure the Judaic faculty and the students that our students knew this prayer. We planned to tape seniors and freshman this year; the rest of the student body next year and the freshman in subsequent years and retakes as needed for students that needed remedial work in prayer.

Because of the calendar, the seniors graduated by the time this project could be put in place. Having worked with video for many years and considering that prayer is very personal, I knew that this would be a sensitive area. When it was presented to the students, however, and participation was totally optional, there was major resistance. I had done a very good job educating my students (I taught an Introduction to Computers class) never to put anything on video or in writing, especially on the Internet, that they might not want someone to see at a later date and the students reminded me of those warnings. As a result of that discussion, I came up with a new format. I bought a few inexpensive 128MB SD cards (we used a Samsung camera and MPEG-4 format to tape), so that the student would have the video in their possession and the student would be the only one to view the tape. Still no 9th grade volunteers but we did get a female member of the junior class to participate.

I decided to tape myself and go through the experience and made an amazing discovery—the Shemoneh Esreh is silent! Yes, we all know that but except for the few students (any male student who wants to volunteer) in our school that get to be the baal koreh, very few students as well as adults have the opportunity to say the entire Shemoneh Esreh out loud. (For the past three years, our students have participated in a co-ed Orthodox service. Prior to that the girls had separate tefillah but the chazanit would not repeat any of the prayers.) While I felt all these years that I was “reading” the Amidah prayer fluently, I found myself stumbling over the words. I'm thinking that videotaping the Amidah prayer may not be the best choice in evaluating if our students know how to pray. And with the student resistance to the Shemoneh Esreh, we might get better results in taping the singing of Hallel as a group project (groups of 2, 3 or perhaps the whole grade by gender, which in our school is no more than 12 students).

Our Amidah checklist was prepared by our esteemed rebbe, Rabbi Daniel Estreicher. We have a significant number of students in our school that are of Sephardic background and I've asked the former rav of the Iranian minyan to review the checklist and note if there are any Sephardic minhagim in regards to the mechanics of the Amidah. The student who participated is Sephardic and as soon as I get the second checklist, I will be able to survey this student about her participation and will post results to the blog.


We decided the checklist was a useful tool and will post a copy in the Beit Midrash and/or give a copy to each student as well. Plans are made to try this project again in the fall with incoming freshmen.


Here is the checklist:

Checklist for the Weekday Amidah


1. Took three steps back (starting with the left foot). Yes / No

2. Took three steps forward (starting with the right foot). Yes / No

3. Said תהלתך יגיד ופי שפתי תפתח ‘ה in a soft voice. Yes / No

4. At the beginning of the first paragraph, bent knees at the word ברוך. Yes / No

5. Bowed at the word אתה. Yes / No

6. Straightened up and then said ה׳. Yes / No

7. At the end of the first paragraph, bent knees at the word ברוך. Yes / No

8. Bowed at the word אתה. Yes / No

9. Straightened up and then said ה׳. Yes / No

10. In the second paragraph, left out the phrase הגשם ומוריד הרוח משיב in the summer months. Yes / No (Some add the words הטל מוריד in the summer months.)

11. In the 6th blessing that begins with the words לנו סלח, hit your heart area with your right fist at the word חטאנו. Yes / No

12. Hit your heart area with your right fist at the word פשענו. Yes / No

13. In the 8th blessing that begins with the word רפאנו, if you added the רצון יהי for a sick person it was added after the words מכותינו לכל. Yes / No / Did Not Add At All

14. In the 9th blessing that begins with the words עלינו ברך, you inserted the words ברכה ותן in the summer months. Yes / No (or the correct paragraph for the summer if Sefardi)

15. In the 18th blessing that begins with the words לך אנחנו מודים, bowed at the word מודים. Yes / No

16. Straightened up and then said ה׳. Yes / No

17. At the end of the 18th blessing, bent knees at the word ברוך. Yes / No

18. Bowed at the word אתה. Yes / No

19. Straightened up and then said ה׳. Yes / No

20. Inserted the phrase of …פי אמרי לרצון יהיו before the paragraph of נצור אלקי. Yes/ No

(Some people do not have the custom to add this sentence.)

21. Inserted the verse that corresponds to the first and last letters of your name in the paragraph of נצור אלקי after you said the words וענני ימינך הושיעה. Yes / No

(Some people do not have the custom to add this verse.)

22. After the words וגאלי צורי ה׳, you bowed and took three steps back starting with your left foot. Yes / No

23. Bowed to the left while you said the words במרומיו שלום עשה. Yes / No

24. Bowed to the right while you said the words עלינו שלום יעשה הוא. Yes / No

25. Bowed forward while you said the words אמן ואמרו ישראל כל ועל. Yes / No

26. Concluded with the paragraph of . . .רצון יהי. Yes / No

27. Remained standing until the Chazzan gets to קדושה. Yes / No

(Only applies when davening with a minyan.)

28. Took three steps forward starting with the right foot. Yes / No




1 comment:

Elky Langer said...

This is a really interesting idea! Your checklist is fascinating and I think it would be extremely enlightening to run it past students in Junior High--you know, at the stage where they think they already know everything about tefillah--and demonstrate how the habitual tefillah they've grown used to saying over the years may not be correct.