How, it is often asked, can a person pray if he or she does not understand Hebrew? What is the purpose of the prayer service if it is merely a sequence of hard to pronounce and unintelligible syllables?

While Hebrew prayer is the preferred language of Jewish worship, it is not mandatory to pray in Hebrew. A Jew who does not know Hebrew may certainly pray in the language in which he/she is most comfortable.

There are, however, several advantages to praying in Hebrew, and therefore one should strive to learn to read the prayers in the original.

First and foremost is that no matter how talented the translator, the precise meaning of the translated words can never be captured. From the conjugation of verbs to the placement of the subject, Hebrew structures itself in a manner completely unlike English (which we will assume is the vernacular of our readers). Hebrew words also always have additional meanings because they are built on 3-letter roots that relate to other words.

Another important aspect of Hebrew prayer is that, with the exception of a few minor alterations and some variations in tune and pronunciation, the core prayers are almost exactly the same around the world. One cannot emphasize enough how the homogeneity of Jewish prayer contributes to Jewish unity. Knowing that one can walk into a synagogue in London, Moscow, Hong Kong, or Los Angeles and the prayers will be virtually the same underscores that, despite our differences, we are truly one people.