Ask A Jew: How come Jews pound their chest when they pray? Part 2

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By Hyphen Parent

How come sometimes when Jews pray (like during Yom Kippur services) they pound their chest with their fist?

Read part one of this post here.

During Yom Kippur we recite prayers where we hit our chest as we recite each transgression. My kids started referring to Viddui as “The Dobby prayer” when they were younger. In Harry Potter, Dobby the house elf punishes himself physically whenever he makes a mistake. Prayer on Yom Kippur can look vaguely similar. 

When we strike our chests during Viddui, it’s a physical representation of guilt. We not only admit to our guilt with our words, but also with our actions. One explanation I’ve been taught is that we can use our desires (heart) and our actions (hands) combined to hurt others and ourselves. So by using our mouths to recite the words and our hands to strike our hearts, we are using those which can hurt to admit our wrong doings and then we can commit to use those to do better. 

Jewish prayer is not still. We bow at certain times in certain prayers. We cover our eyes at certain lines of certain prayers. We bounce on the balls of our feet as we recite certain lines certain lines. The physical movement in prayer helps keep us focused and gives us a physical representation of what we’re saying. Judaism is never just about saying. It’s very much about doing.  When we recite the Viddui prayer, we strike our chests as a reminder that we have done wrong and that we have the power to do better in the coming year. 

About Hyphen Parent

Dorothy-Ann Parent (better known as Hyphen) is a writer, a traditional Jew, a seeker of justice, a lover of stories, the self-proclaimed Jewish Molly Weasley, hobbit-sized, and best not left unattended in a bookshop or animal shelter.

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