Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Religious Studies

First Advisor

Elias Sacks

Second Advisor

David Shneer

Third Advisor

Holly Gayley


In recent decades, the study of ritual has become a rapidly growing field within the academic study of religion, with prayer constituting one particularly productive area of focus. Moreover, prayer figures prominently not only in the academic study of religion as a whole, but also in the study of American Judaism. Nevertheless, few academic works take the way prayer is treated in American Jewish thought—what I will refer to as “American Jewish theories of prayer”—as a central object of analysis. My thesis will address this gap in current scholarship by examining the treatment of prayer in the work of two rabbis influential in postwar American Jewish life: Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Elie Kaunfer. I argue that for both Kaunfer and Soloveitchik, prayer is implicated in, and in fact crucial to, processes of subject formation seen to be necessary given perceived problems with contemporary life. More specifically, I argue that both Soloveitchik and Kaunfer understand prayer as a way to help form the worshiper into what we can call an ideal subject—that is, a particular type of individual in possession of certain skills, habits, and commitments—who is seen to be necessary given the specific problems each identifies with contemporary life. Taking seriously the way these thinkers understand prayer can raise important questions for the study of American Judaism in addition to ongoing conversations in the academic study of religion more generally.