Prayer Network in Tzfat
Power of Prayer
Several years ago, research began to emerge from major health-care foundations which indicated that people who prayed for their own healing had a better chance of surviving a serious illness than those who didn't pray.
Even more astounding, the research, whose interpretation is controversial, seemed to indicate that people WHO WERE PRAYED FOR recovered from illness at a higher percentage than others.
This was an astounding finding, and was widely reported worldwide. Religious people of all persuasions, however, were not surprised in the least. Their beliefs had always included the understanding that God listens to our prayers, and answers them. He doesn't always answer "yes", but prayers often tip the scale to influence His intercession for a good verdict.
Praying for others has always held a central part in Jewish prayer. The Jewish prayerbook, the siddur, includes several prayers for the health of those who are ill, and there are set times during the prayer service when these prayers are recited. In addition, Psalms are traditionally recited on behalf of ill people, and certain Psalms are suggested for different people, depending on their situation.
In the past, requests for prayers to be said on the behalf of certain individuals were made publicly, usually in the synagogue during prayers. However, today, the Jewish prayer network has gone high-tech, and in Tzfat, although the town has a reputation as old-fashioned and slow, prayers have gone into digital cyberspace.
High-Tech Prayer Network
There are two listserves for English-speakers in Tzfat, one a yahoogroup and the second a newsletter. Both frequently post requests for people to "daven", or pray, for certain individuals. Jewish tradition refers to individuals, while alive, by their hebrew name together with their mother's Hebrew name, so the request will generally be worded something like "Please say Tehillim (Psalm) number 45 for Ruth Hadassah Bat (daughter of) Miriam Shaindel. She is having a biopsy this week to ascertain whether a lump is something serious. Please daven for a good outcome".
An email list devoted solely to prayers is also sent out several times weekly. This list is organized so that anybody posting a name agrees to be the "sponsor" of the person whose name they are submitting. As a sponsor, they agree to pray daily for all the people on the list, name by name. There are upwards of 30 people on the list at any one time, so this is a serious time commitment, but many people feel that the power of having so many people praying for each individual multiplies the chances for healing.
A third list that circulates throughout the city is the "Shmirat HaLashon" (Guard your Tongue) list, kept up by a group of women who have agreed, on behalf of the ill people listed (the list is updated bi-weekly) to be extra diligent to refrain from gossip. Each woman has a 2-hour time frame daily when she is "on duty" -- committed to hyper-vigilance in refraining from gossip. Once again, the united prayers of the participating women are believed to be even more powerful.
No amount of research will ever satisfy everyone as to whether prayer really does influence healing. However, in Tzfat at least, almost everyone is connected to a prayer-list in one way or another. There are very few people in the town who would be prepared to refuse to pray for someone, or ask people to pray for them. Tzfat is, on the whole, a fairly healthy town. So who knows?