Synagogues, as an institution of prayer, aren’t an authentic part of Judaism. Before the Temple was destroyed, there was no institutionalized prayer; no set language, no time constraints, no need for a quorum. A person got up in the morning, saw the rising sun, felt the falling rain and burst into a spontaneous prayer of thanks, praise or request. Prayer was the most direct and personal way for a Jew to express his relationship with God.
So how did we get to what someone defined for me as: “Why do I pray to a God I can’t see in a language I don’t understand for things I don’t need?”
When the 2nd temple was destroyed that included the cancellation of the “Tamid” (“always”) sacrifices; the twice brought daily sacrifice was an expression of devotion by the entire nation which, naturally, was performed by their representatives- the priests- in the communal place of devotion- the temple.
When it was destroyed, so was the peoples’ ability – as a community – to express and manifest their relationship with God.
This is when prayer- as we know it today- was instituted. That is why we do it as a community. That is why the heart of prayer – Amida, the silent prayer – is worded in the plural and the requests are for communal needs.
So, there are 2 distinct concepts of prayer in Judaism:
1. Personal expression of one’s relationship with Hashem
2. Representing the communal needs of the Jewish people
Over time, people have completely substituted the first with the second and have lost the ability, and possibly the inclination, of having a relationship with God as individuals and not exclusively through their association with the congregation.
Of course institutionalized prayer is still very important, just don’t let it rob you of of speaking to God whenever, wherever and however you want. Think of it this way – instead of using “thank God” in conversation with other people – try it in a conversation with Him. You may be surprised with the results. (250+)