Detailed Syllabus

The Making Prayer Real Course

Module 1: Engaging Prayer

Pesukei d'Zimra (Verses of Song; Opening Prayers)

Lesson Plans

1. The Difficulty of Prayer

The MPR Course begins with a surprisingly honest evaluation of the obstacles to Jewish prayer.  Students are moved by the discovery that clergy “get it.”

 2. When Prayer "Works" and Mochin d'Gadlut

This critical lesson outlines a “spiritual dynamics” approach to learning prayer and facilitates the students’ setting of goals for the MPR Course.

3. Yearning: Psalms and the Stirrings of the Heart

We begin our studies by exploring the emotional sources of prayer. If gratitude prayers are a response to what is, yearning expresses a desire for what isn’t. We explore the nuances of yearning, appreciate the artistry of the Psalms, and ask, “How can prayer help us to channel desire into holy desire?”

4. The Life of Gratitude

Seeing the world as a cup “half full” is not a controversial idea. But the gap between knowledge and practice can be hard to bridge. In this session, we present the value and explore the means of cultivating a daily practice of gratitude.


The Difficulties with Prayer
The Goals of Jewish Prayer
Yearning: The Stirrings of the Heart
The Life of Gratitude


"Conversations" are shorter videos designed for general programming, and may be used at the discretion of the teacher in place of the longer MPR Course videos when teaching prayer.

Why Prayer is Difficult
The Goals of Jewish Prayer
Yearning: The Stirrings of the Heart
Gratitude and Prayer
The Heart of the Psalmist

Module 2:  Foundations

Birchot HaShachar (Morning Blessings)

Lesson Plans

1. Prayer as a Practice

Together with “When Prayer Works and Mochin d’Gadlut,” this session relates the MPR approach to learning prayer and explores appropriate mind-sets for the deepening one’s prayer life.

2. Bringing Our Bodies into PrayerThe Art of Blessing

Reflecting on current knowledge of the mind/body connection and the role of music in synagogue services, we learn the advantages of consciously involving our bodies in prayer, and new ways to do it.

3. The Art of Blessing

We learn the basics of blessings, beginning with the Baruch Ata formula and the role of blessings in Jewish liturgy. Using our spiritual dynamics approach, we ask, “What is the purpose of praying a blessing?”

4. Creating Sacred Space and Response Blessings

Unbeknownst to many, the vast majority of traditional blessings are said after an event and unconnected to ritual. We consider the value of “response” blessings, and following Martin Buber, explore the role of blessings in creating sacred space.


The Spiritual Dynamics of Blessings
The Art of Blessing
The Morning Blessings (Birchot HaShachar)
Response Blessings
Bringing Our Bodies into Prayer


Spontaneity and Fixed Prayer
The Art of Blessings
The Spiritual Dynamics of Blessings
Our Bodies Matter

Module 3: Listening Deeply

Pesukei d'Zimra (Verses of Song; Opening Prayers)

Lesson Plans

1.  Mindfulness: Listen Before You Speak

A wise person listens before they speak, says the old adage, but rarely do daveners take the time to do so. For good reason. Listening to our hearts and to the world around us—listening for God—is a skill that relatively few have devoted time to refining. We study mindfulness with leading teachers from the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, and we learn the basics of sacred, Hebrew chant with Rabbi Shefa Gold.

2. Tradition! The Benefits of Liturgical Prayer

We apply our spiritual dynamics approach to liturgical prayer.  How does communal, traditional prayer connect us to God and otherwise “work” in ways that other modalities do not? We learn how the MPR contributors work with liturgy through various interpretative techniques.

3. Shema 1: A Narrative Approach to Liturgy

Exploring Joel Grishaver’s narrative approach to the Siddur, we consider the stories behind our tradition’s prayers, particularly the Shema, and how they affect our praying.  We enter the Actor’s Studio to learn how we might be sacred actors in a sacred drama, speaking a holy script.

4. Shema 2: Meaning and Interpretation

Using simple literary techniques, we analyze the Shema and her blessings as a unit before considering the meanings of monotheism and the various intentions one might bring to praying the Shema.


An Introduction to Hebrew Chant with Rabbi Shefa Gold
Ozi v’Zimrat Yah: A Demonstration of Hebrew Chant with Rabbi Shefa Gold
Why a Liturgy?
Interpreting the Siddur
Understanding the Shema
Kavanot for Saying the Shema


Mindfulness and Prayer
Tradition! Why We Pray a Liturgy
How to Interpret a Line of Liturgy
Oneness: The Meaning of the Shema
Kavanot for Saying the Shema

Module 4: Personal Prayer

Teshuvah and Introspection

Lesson Plans

1. The Challenge of Personal Prayer

Unscripted prayer raises obstacles, from simple unfamiliarity to the serious questions about theology that can no long be avoided when composing one’s own prayers. We explore the obstacles to personal prayer, and offer strategies to overcome them.

2. Cultivating Your Personal Prayer Voice

We offer several modalities for students to discover or deepen the experience of personal, unscripted prayer.

3. Teshuvah: Introspection for Change

Throughout the MPR Course we have been exploring the effects of prayer.  Now we zero in on what many consider the key questions. How does prayer change us? What are the characteristics of life-changing prayer?

4. Discerning Divinity: Listening for a Response to Prayer

The elephant in the room, the issue of God’s response to prayer is often circumvented in liberal circles. The MPR contributor’s share their experience and their thinking. You might be surprised.


The Challenge of Personal Prayer
Personal Prayer to an Impersonal God
Rabbi Nachman’s Hitbodedut
Teshuvah and Prayer
Discerning Divinity: Listening for a Response to Prayer


I Don’t Believe in God.  Can I pray?
A Personal Relationship with Impersonal God.
Does God Respond to Prayer?
Teshuvah: Turning to God
Can Prayer Change Us?

Module 5: Growing and Healing Through Prayer

Pesukei d'Zimra (Verses of Song; Opening Prayers)

Lesson Plans

1. Exploring the Amidah

We learn and investigate the structure of the Amidah, focusing on the first three and the last three blessings in the rabbinic and mystical traditions. Then we explore our own interpretations.

2. The Amidah and Me

After studying the weekday intermediate blessings and learning the historical background, we return to the way people prayed in Talmudic times. Ending each blessing with the traditional formula, students create a personal Amidah.

3. Coping with Illness and Loss

Does prayer heal? The MPR contributors speak from the heart, and we offer prayer practices for healing.

4. Mourning and Kaddish

Rabbi Anne Brener explores the nuances of grief, and how prayer might catalyze the process.  The MPR contributors speak about Kaddish and mourning.


The Amidah: The First Three Blessings
The Amidah: The Last Three Blessings
The Amidah: History and Halacha
Ways into the Amidah
Coping with Loss and Healing
Mourning and Kaddish


Understanding the Amidah
Ways into the Amidah
Does Prayer Heal?

MPR Video Contributors

Rabbi Rachel Adler, PhD • Merri Lovinger Arian • Rabbi Bradley Artson, PhD • Rabbi Phyllis Berman • Rabbi Anne Brener, LCSW • Rabbi Stephen Cohen • Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove, PhD • Rabbi Getzel Davis • Rabbi Lavey Derby • Rabbi Elliot Dorff, PhD • Cantor Ellen Dreskin • Reb Mimi Feigelson • Rabbi Nancy Flam • Rabbi Karen Fox, DD • Tamar Frankiel, PhD •  Rabbi Laura Geller • Rabbi Shefa Gold • Rabbi Arthur Green, PhD • Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD • Melila Hellner, PhD •  Rabbi Yoel Klein • Rabbi Myriam Klotz • Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell • Rabbi Richard N. Levy, DD • Rabbi Yael Levy • Rabbi Ebn Leader, PhD  •  Rabbi Natan Margalit, PhD • Jay Michaelson, PhD • Rabbi Rex Perlmeter • Rabbi Marcia Prager • Rabbi Or Rose, PhD • Rabbi Rami Shapiro • Rabbi Jonathan P. Slater • Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz • Rabbi Margot Stein • Linda Thal, PhD • Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg • Rabbi Dvora Weisberg, PhD • Rabbi David J. Wolpe

Learn More

The Syllabus and Sample Videos page contains the MPR Course outline and examples of the MPR Videos.

See the Course Modules page for information on the session subjects, video topics and video contributors.

Rabbi Mike Comins shares the history of the project and explains the logistics of teaching the course on the MPR Story and FAQs page.

Learn about the Teacher Training Seminar and the Virtual Classroom.

Connect with colleagues who have taught the MPR Course Curriculum on the  Teachers’ Report and References page.