Davening in the 21st Century with iT’filah

by Rabbi Dan Medwin

Prayer can be challenging.  But fortunately, we have some great tools as Jews to help us reach those moments of prayerfulness and connection to God.  We have our liturgy, passed down and refined over generations, with themes that speak to our human experiences.  In more recent history, thanks to a man named Gutenberg, we’re able to capture these inspirational words and put them in the hands of each member of the community in the form of a book.

iT'filah AppNow, it’s exciting to be able to launch a brand new tool at Biennial for engaging with our ancient liturgy.  iT’filah, the Mishkan T’filah App, is now available for the iPad with the full Friday night Shabbat service. (More services and platforms are on the way.)  You can search the Apple App store for “ccar” or “mishkan” or “it’filah” or get automatically forwarded from http://ccarnet.org/itfilah.  The app allows you to jump to any page, zoom in and make the text larger, even hear many of the prayers chanted or read aloud.  If you brought an iPad to Biennial, please join me in using it this Friday night during services for this historic first!

Launching this at Biennial is a dream come true for me.  As someone who has grown up in the movement, and has attended Biennial since childhood, it’s quite an honor to be able to give back this way and help us all take a step forward.  The most exciting part is that this app is really just the beginning and will grow and develop with everyone’s input and feedback.

It’s also exciting for me to get to share Visual T’filah with everyone here.  This is a labor of love, born out of the research of my rabbinic thesis and many years of experimentation and development.  Visual T’filah lets us see our prayers in new ways (literally 😉 and can provide a new lens through which to experience and understand the themes of our prayers.

I love exploring all of the possibilities that exist today with exciting new technologies and imagining ways to use them to enhance our knowledge, experience, and connection to Judaism and Jewish life.  If you share this excitement, have a question about Visual T’filah or iT’filah, or want to check out the CCAR Press’s great collection of new publications, please come visit us at the back of the hall, just past the URJ Books and Music section.

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2 Responses to “Davening in the 21st Century with iT’filah”

  1. avatar

    I have mixed feelings about both e-Siddurim and “Visual T’filah”. On the one hand, I think it’s great to be able to look up something from the Siddur right from a smartphone or other mobile device. That is useful for quick reference, and possibly actual devotional use. In addition, “visual t’filah” can be an inspiring experience sitting and watching it on YouTube, for example. For those whose imaginations won’t provide sufficient imagery while meditating on the meaning of the keva, and even for those with active imaginations, the images and creative graphic effects can be meaningful and enlightening. It was very interesting to see the visual t’filah sample for ma’ariv aravim–the celestial images were eerily similar to what has always gone through my mind while reading that prayer. It is one of my favorites for that reason–it is cosmic and mysterious.

    However, at this point I also have immense reservations about how appropriate any of this is in the Synagogue. I hate the idea of people jabbing away at the glowing screens of their smartphones and iPads during services, and on principle I am nauseated by the presence of a projector and screen in a Sanctuary. Worship, especially on Shabbat, is the one time when I want to be unplugged from the digital cacophony that plagues me during the “sheshet yamim”.

  2. avatar

    I use the siddur on my smartphone almost every day, for minchah and sometimes maariv. (Never on shabbat or yom tov)

    I understand what Jordan is saying, and a few people have approached me in various synagogues, asking me to put away my phone during tefilah, and focus on the siddur. When I show them that my phone IS my siddur, some are pleasantly surprised (and want to know where to download it). Others are clearly not comfortable with the whole concept, but no longer ask me to put away my phone.

    As I typed the above paragraph, I realize that these encounters happened a few years ago. No one has bothered me about praying from my phone in quite awhile; maybe because it has become so commonplace.

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