No, I’m not saying you can’t pray for my welfare. (Be my guest — couldn’t hurt!) What I don’t want is for the prayer leader to do the praying for me.
It’s one thing to ask someone to pray for you…. it’s another to have someone do the praying in your stead.
Back in the old days (way back) a Jewish prayer leader might well have been the only one with a copy of the liturgy. Hence the practice of saying amen after someone recites a prayer, since amen essentially means “me too!” or rather, “I agree.”
Communal prayer is different now, and I would venture to say better. A lot better. At virtually every synagogue, everyone has access to a copy of the siddur (prayer book). I’ve been in churches where the hymnals not only have the words to the prayers, they have the music too.
The bottom line is that I’d rather not have someone do my praying for me. And while I’m at it, I don’t want my prayer leader standing far away from the congregation, safely ensconced behind a huge lectern, thus destroying any sense of community /communion between the leader and the congregation. It simply doesn’t make sense to me.
My daughter Sarah Jane is traveling in Europe this week, and probably visiting lots of gorgeous cathedrals. As I recall, these soaring buildings are designed to make the pray-er feel small. The prayer leader stands high above, sometimes on a small balcony, from which he can harangue the congregation. That’s not very Jewish (in my book, anyway) and it saddens me when synagogues have the same effect.