By Judy Batalion
Not long ago, I developed insomnia. Having completed some projects in England, I was unsure whether I should return west. My friends and family overflowed with advice; I could barely have a two-second encounter without someone offering their take or interrogating me about where I would go. At first I attributed my sleeplessness to the anxiety of the unknown and the psychic workout of decision-making. But, with time, I came to realize that I actually enjoyed the calm of the night. I wanted some escape from the bombardment of everyone’s “two cents.” I cherished the zone of non-talk, the space between words where I could nonverbally feel out my desires and relocate my drive, some silence in which to just be.
Daily life, I realized, is noisy; quietude can be a reprieve. Hindus practice yoga. Buddhism is centered on meditation without speech. Sufism, tied to Islam, emphasizes wordless worship. The muteness of monks and hermits is the highest form of Christian observance. A Quaker service can rest silent for an hour.
But where, I wondered, was Jewish silence in all this? Does it exist apart from trauma and pain? There are stories of rabbis running off to caves and kabbalist trance pursuits. There does exist a Jewish practice known as taanit hadibur, a fast of words; however, none of the rabbis I interviewed knew anything more about it, nor did they know anyone who had ever done it (Picture how many frantic messages a Jewish daughter would receive if she didn’t call her mother back!). But when, and how, aside from these rare examples, does silence — as a positive pursuit — appear in the rituals of Jewish life? [From “Sha Shtil!,” Guilt and Pleasure, Issue 6, Fall 2007]
How do you create moments of silence during the day?
Judy Batalion is a writer and performer.