Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer

Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer tackles the problem of קבע וכוונה ("Rote Versus Meaning in Jewish Prayer") from four different perspectives: (a) Halakhah, (b) Jewish Thought, (c) the History of the Siddur, and (d) the realities of synagogue life. The book is an exhaustive, in-depth study of a wealth of traditional Jewish sources.

General Table of Contents | Detailed Table of Contents



Buy the Book

"A Balanced Approach to Jewish Prayer"

"A Balanced Approach to Jewish Prayer" is a tight, one-page statement of my methodology for studying Jewish prayer. It was written as an epilogue after my Kavvana book was already published. Download this short essay in English or Hebrew:

A Balanced Approach to Jewish Prayer

גישה מאוזנת לתפילה היהודית

Source Sheets for Study and Teaching

My intention is to make the full range of sources used in the book (plus some new ones) available as edited and formatted digital text. Some incomplete and not-yet-fully-edited digital source texts are currently available (very significant progress has been made and there a lot of good material there, but quite a lot is still missing). Note that the following files are "embedded PDF", which means that the PDF files can be opened not only in static form for reading, but also contain fully editable text that can be opened using LibreOffice:

  • Part I: Kavvanah for Prayer in Jewish Law: PDF/ODT (very full, well-organized and edited, and nearly complete).

  • Part II: Kavvanah for Prayer in Jewish Thought: PDF/ODT (a lot of sources on prayer in biblical and rabbinic thought, but medieval and modern Jewish thought are still mostly missing).

  • Part III: Kavvanah and the Siddur (i.e. prayer as a fixed text): PDF/ODT (lots of edited sources but not finished yet).

  • Part IV: Kavvanah in Practice: PDF/ODT (many of the most important texts are done but much material is still missing).

  • Additional readings on Prayer: PDF/ODT (so far only Albo is complete while most of the rest is entirely missing).

  • Other miscellaneous sources that I haven't yet organized may be found here.

  • Full-length texts on prayer from the classical works of Jewish Philosophy (which were published in English translation as supplements at the end of the book). An initial stub of this may be found here in Hebrew.

  • A few unedited sources in English may be found here.

If people are interested, it is possible to add to and improve these digital texts collaboratively online. Drop me an e-mail if you would like to help. These collections of mekorot are free to copy, use and modify under a copy-left license, so any help you give is also a contribution to the public.

Old source sheets are also available. This material is being graciously hosted by Lookstein Center for Jewish Education, Bar-Ilan University, and may be downloaded here. These are scanned images (PDF) of all the old "cut-and-paste" source-sheets that I created early on, when I first began to study and teach the topic. This collection of sources eventually became the basis for my book.

Other Resources:

  • "Each River and its Channel": Halakhic Attitudes Towards Liturgy. An extensive essay on the legitimacy and importance of innovation in prayer that appeared at the Hirhurim website (October 30, 2011) and was the basis for a wide-ranging and informative discussion by many commentators. When the essay itself is combined with the discussion on it, together they form an excellent restatement of Part III of my book (which is the most halakhically complicated part). However, it does not deal with the Heineman-Fleischer debate on the historical origins of the prayer text (and my more recent thoughts about it). Nor does it deal much with the kabbalistic influence on the halakhic discussion.

  • Author Interview: Jason Aronson (the publishers) advertised Kavvana as Book of the Month in their Jewish Book News (Summer 1997). They included an interview with me about why I wrote the book, which you can read here in English (a slightly modified version of the published interview) or in Hebrew translation.

  • Book Review: My review of The World of Prayer (the classic by Elie Munk) and The Godfile (by Rabbi Aryeh Ben David) appeared in The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education, Bookjed 57, December 2007 (link to copy). The Godfile is a very down-to-earth tool to learn about a variety of approaches to prayer in Jewish thought, and my summary of it in the review also captures some of the material in Part II of my book.

Other Texts for Teaching and Study:

Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer was published by Jason Aronson in the summer of 5757 (1997), 604 pages. Jason Aronson is now an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

P.S. I never expected this to be published and certainly not to earn anything from its publication (and it has earned very little). So I advertise here not to make a profit, but for the book to help make a difference in people's avodat Hashem. If I were to do it again today I would simply publish it on the internet under an Open Source license.

Future Plans

  • If I were to write the book today there are places I would heavily revise and update, and make a great many corrections. I am also better equipped today to take in up-to-date scholarship on the philosophy and history of Jewish prayer (I have done some academic work on the philosophical aspect in the meantime, while the history of rabbinic prayer is a huge, creative field in and of itself). Also, becoming familiar with the vast richness of ethnic synagogues in Israel (as opposed to the Ashkenazic monotony of North American synagogue life) has made me think differently about a number of issues. Maybe someday I'll find a way to accomplish this.

  • A Hebrew edition of the book adapted to an Israeli audience (and taking into account the richness of prayer in the Israeli synagogue world) would be wonderful. Could be online. Maybe someday.

  • A popular summation of the issues in the book would also be wonderful. Maybe someday. Or maybe others will do it in creative new ways. For example, see my review of The Godfile (described above).



  • Al ha-Nissim for Israel Independence Day (Hebrew). Easy-to-edit digital versions of a dozen different versions (with links to their sources). Ongoing editing and improvement to the file, and when I find new ones I add them.

  • Nahem for Tisha be-Av (modern versions). See below.


  • English speakers may benefit from Siddur Ani Tefilla, published by Koren, which is a great implementation of many of the ideas discussed here. Its translation is by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and the commentary is by Rabbi Dr. Jay GoldmintzThere is a volume for weekdays (online sample) and a volume for Shabbat (online sample).

Attached files for download

  • Please note that all the PDF files available for download at the bottom of this webpage are "embedded PDF", which means that they can be opened not only in static form for reading, but also contain fully editable text that can be opened using LibreOffice.

Open Content License

CC BY-SA 3.0

All material on this webpage is copyright © 5772 (2012) by Seth (Avi) Kadish.

Except for distribution of the book itself (to which the publisher holds the rights),

all other contents available here may be copied and modified freely

according to the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.