Head To Head: Should Students Be Graded on Tefillah?
In light of the new Tefillah grading requirements, two students question whether they should be graded on their participation in Tefillah.
By: Riley Spitz (9th)
It is a common belief amongst orthodox Jews that davening is one of the most significant parts of one’s day. Many people take it upon themselves to daven first thing in the morning, or in our case, the first period every school day. Some students use this time to connect with God and enhance their spirituality. Others see this period as a time to recuperate from the previous night’s missing hours of sleep, despite this not being the intended purpose of having davening as the first period.
As students in a Jewish school, it is only fitting that there is a davening period. The objective is for each student to have the opportunity to ask God for anything. However, some use it as a time to catch up with their friends. It is extremely distracting when there is a growing whisper traveling throughout the room. This makes it very difficult for students to focus on their prayers.
With constant interruptions, many students find it hard to connect to God in the way they desire. Therefore, our teachers are observant and grade the students on their behavior to prevent these disruptions. When one person mumbles, it may distract those trying to focus. Researchers explain that the stress levels of a person increase with ambient noise. This stress caused by noise disruption, even just whispers, can be extremely disruptive to one’s kavanah while davening.
Furthermore, grades should reflect the person’s davening itself. If one is sitting quietly, not davening, they should be marked accordingly. Tefillah is a mandatory class, where davening is strongly encouraged. If one decides not to daven, their grade should reflect this because Tefillah is just like any other juadic class in the school. Lacking a siddur should be represented in one's grade because they are missing the supplies.
Tefillah should be treated with the same respect as every other class in school. There is a task, supplies, and an expectation for participation. You are penalized in other periods for not meeting requirements, so too, your Tefillah grade should portray these aspects of behavior and preparedness. In the end, the grades are used to influence the students and encourage them to daven.
By: Yona Groisman (9th)
As Jewish high schoolers, in a modern orthodox school, we are given the opportunity every morning to pray. Before we begin our stressful and long day, we are allocated a certain amount of time to take for ourselves. This time is meant to be used to pray.
Praying is a very personal thing. While looking through a Siddur you can see there are many points in the Shacharit and Mincha service, (such as during the Shemona Esrei) where one can ask Hashem for anything they may want or need in their lives. When saying that it is a personal thing, we need to acknowledge and realize that praying itself is something that every individual does differently.
This is why I believe that students should not be graded on their davening. Once you bring grades in, students will not pray or form a genuine spiritual connection with Hashem because all they will care about is getting the best grade. They may not choose the form of tefillah that suits them best; rather they pray in the conventional way that the school and teacher deem appropriate. After all, no one wants their GPA to be lowered because of davening.
Many people believe that when you are praying to Hashem, you don’t necessarily need a Siddur. People can decide for themselves how they want to connect with Hashem. Sometimes, teachers are misled and believe that a student is not praying because their Siddur is closed. But in reality, that student could have been in the middle of their own, personal, deep and meaningful prayer.
I think that if a student is not directly disrupting the class or disrespecting the teacher, they do not deserve a low grade. For example, if a teacher sees a student who is sitting for 45 minutes in their chair, with their arms crossed, with no open Siddur, they should receive a good grade, if any grade at all. This student is not interrupting the class, or anyone else’s personal prayers. This student is just taking time to themselves which can be used in other spiritual ways.
Davening is a very important law in Judaism. We are lucky to be in a religious school that allows us the time each day (or multiple times a day) to break from the stress of school and just talk to God. This time should be used in a way that is unique to you, whether it is praying for 45 minutes, or sitting quietly by yourself. Students should not be penalized for their personal time, just because they do not pray the “usual” way.