In school, many of us were reprimanded: “Sit still and pay attention!” In Judaism, however, the opposite concept exists.
Shuckeling, the Yiddish term for swaying during prayer and Torah study, has been a Jewish tradition for centuries. Some people sway back and forth. Others twist from side to side.
According to the Zohar, the seminal kabbalistic work, a swaying body is like a candle that “flickers and wavers in harmony with the spirit of the Torah” (commentary to Proverbs 20:27). The medieval Spanish rabbi Yehuda Halevi offers a more practical explanation: often, he said, many people would have to share a single book for prayer or study. They would alternately lean down, read a line, and bob up while somebody else was reading.
More than just reading words with one’s eyes or reciting with one’s lips, shuckeling involves the entire body in prayer…and makes it, quite literally, a moving experience.