Judaism does not maintain that one’s lease on life depends on how hard you pray. Your Editorial, “Tragic Rescue” (Sept. 2), makes that primitive claim, though. You cite “the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, a moving part of the liturgy that asserts that one’s prayers during the Days of Repentance determine who will live and who will die…”
The prayer actually says that such judgment is in the hands of God. And the fact is that we mortals don’t understand the basis on which God metes out life and death.
So what does the level of a person’s praying have to do with all this? Unetaneh Tokef says that prayer — along with introspection and righteousness — lessen the severity of any Divine decrees against us. In other words, in classical Judaism God determines when we shall die. But we decide how we shall live. Unetaneh Tokef tells us that the triumvirate of personal virtues (tefillah, teshuvah and tzedakah) makes life worth living and thereby makes death less brutal.
Congregation Beth-El Massapequa, L.I.