, , ,

In my last post I have looked at the structure of the Christian prayer Pater Noster and tried to align it with the Amidah. In this post I am going to look at some of the language.

The language of the Amidah is Hebrew (like most Jewish prayers). There are many arguments for thinking that the Pater Noster was originally given by Jesus in Aramaic (the commonly used language at the time) or Hebrew (the language of prayer). But it has come down to us in the gospels in Greek. I don’t speak Greek, so I am basing myself on the English translation here.

Our Father in heaven
Often Christians cite this personal, intimate adressing of G-d as a crucial difference of their faith to Judaism. This isn’t quite correct. Of course there are lots of instances of "Lord, our G-d", or "G-d, king of the world" in Jewish prayer. But the concept of G-d as a father is present as well. A famous example that has inspired quite a few musicians is the prayer "Avinu Malkeynu" that is used for Rosh haShana (new year) and Yom Kipur (day of atonement). It literally translates to "our father, our king" and asks for forgiveness of our sins. But the Amidah contains the phrase as well, in blessing six (also in the context of forgiving our sins).

Hallowed be your name
Jewish tradition has always assigned a special meaning to G-d’s name. When G-d shows Himself to Moses in the burning bush, He reveals His name to him. During the time of the temple, G-d’s name was used only once a year, on Yom Kippur, by the high priest. The name was too holy to use in other circumstances, there paraphrases like "Adonay" ("Lord") or "Eloheynu" ("our G-d") were used. Today the holiness of G-d’s name has expanded even to these designations and orthodox Jews use them only in prayer. In everyday life "haShem" ("the name") is used to refer to G-d. Jewish liturgy is full of calls to sanctify G-d’s name. In the Amidah, blessing three has "You are holy and Your name is holy" and "we will sanctify Your name in the world", blessing eighteen has "for everything Your name may be praised and glorified". The well-known Kaddish prayer, that is also said in every service, starts with the words "May His great name be exalted and sanctified" (in Aramaic). These are only a few examples that underline the importance of G-d’s name in Jewish prayer.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, […] And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
All these lines could as well be part of any Jewish prayer. The Amidah prays for sustenance (blessing 9), forgiveness (blessing 6) and deliverance (personal in blessing 7, communal in blessing 15). Jews, similar to Christians, await the coming of the messiah when G-d will reign as king over all the earth. The Amidah talks about the coming of the messiah in blessing 15, and about the rebuilding of Jerusalem (which will also happen in the messianic era) in blessings 14 and 17.

As we also have forgiven our debtors.
You may have noticed that I left out this line in the above. I have written in my post about the structural similarities that the Amidah is no place for our promises. Still, it is implicitly understood in all pleas for forgiveness from G-d, that G-d can only forgive sins against G-d. Sins against another person must be forgiven by that person. So Jews do (must!) also forgive their debtors.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever.
This is a very common theme in many prayers, I’ll just give two examples where the language is very very similar. The first is from the Aleinu prayer which is said at the conclusion of every prayer service: "For the kingdom is Yours, and You will reign for all eternity in glory as it is written in your Torah: haShem shall reign for all eternity" (Wikipedia doesn’t have the second part, you have to take my word for it). The second quote is from 1 Chronicles 29 verse 11 which is recited when the Torah is removed from the ark at Shabat morning services: "Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine; Thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and Thou art exalted as head above all."

So, in conclusion, most lines of the Pater Noster would not be out of place in a Jewish prayer. Many sound really familiar to a Jew (if you translate them to Hebrew, that is). Does this mean that Jews should pray the Pater Noster? No, by its history it has become a Christian prayer, maybe even the quintessential Christian prayer. And Jews do not use prayers from other religions. But the text itself doesn’t have anything really objectionable from a Jewish point of view (in contrast to other prayers, e.g., the Credo, the Christian statement of faith).