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From: rhendel@mcs.drexel.edu (Russell Hendel) Date: Mon, 14 Apr 1997 21:05:32 -0400 Subject: Concentration in Prayer vs Learning The recent dialogue on how to treat an Alzheimer's patient who was disruptive during services suggests that we focus on what the goals and atmosphere of a prayer service are. A well known Midrash on the 11 spice ingredients in the Frankinsence (Exodus: Ki Tisah) notes that one of the 11 spices had a foul odor and nevertheless was a necessary ingredient in the "sweet smelling Frankinsence". 'From this law' continues the Talmud we learn that it is proper to include evil doers in any prayer group on a fast day. I would suggest by analogy that it is also proper or better to have Alzheimer's patients in a prayer service. Allow me to explain: Both Prayer and Learning require "concentration:"---but the concentration required is totally different for each. Learning requires a concentration atmosphere of "no distractions". Compare for example the law that you doN'T have to learn in a Succah during Succoth but can go into your house if the Succah environment is distracting (because otherwise learning can't take place) But...Prayer requires "awareness of man, before G-d, of man's helplessness". The reason we call this concentration is because normally I don't think of G-d or of my helplessness. Maybe a better term is directing one's thought. But prayer does NOT require the same concentration of learning---in one case we are only required to think of specific items (G-d, helplessness) while in the other case we need a broad mind that can learn/analyze/synthesize new material. Using the above analysis we can now reformulate or "translate" the question "Does hearing the disruptions of an Alzheimer's patient disturb the prayer service" into "Does hearing the disruptions of an Alzheimer's patient disturb my ability to be aware of man's helplessness and stand before G-d". I think we can clearly argue that the Alzheimer's patient helps me be aware of my helplessness since one day I may be like him and therefore I can come to G-d and truly ask for mercy. I conclude with an observation by Rabbi Soloveitchick: The Christian services use for music the mass with a focus on the emotions of grandeur. By contrast traditional Jewish services use music to focus on emotions of helplessness and petition. I hope this helps people both to pray and be tolerant of those less fortunate than ourselves. Russell Jay Hendel, Ph.d, ASA; rhendel @ mcs drexel edu