The story is told of a woman who returns from a journey of several weeks only to find her father still reading the same page of the Talmud that he was reading when she left.
“Father,” she exclaims, “even a beginner can learn more than one page of Talmud in a few days. I’ve been away for six weeks and you’re still on the same page! Why don’t you turn to a different page?”
“Because,” says the father, “I like this page.”
Sometimes the recitation of our prayers seems so rapid that many of us cannot turn the pages fast enough to keep up with the leader, let alone actually read the prayer. This can be frustrating.
At BEKI, Moishe and I usually announce the page number only when we turn to a different part of the siddur or when we need to read something together. Otherwise, each worshipper is left on their own. When we are trying to offer praise and petition to God we try to minimize distractions. Imagine a conductor interrupting a symphony performance by calling out to the musicians, “Second movement,” or a director announcing to the performers “Act II, Scene I.”
Usually it is not important that each worshipper be on the same page as the reader. Rather, you may wish to slowly recite and meditate on just one prayer, regardless of what the congregation is doing, or you may wish to read at your own pace through the service. Sometime you may even wish to review the informative articles at the beginning of our siddur or preview the Torah portion. By tradition we need to be together in prayer only for reciting the Shema and the Qedusha, although togetherness helps when we are praying responsively.
For those who want to be on the same page as the leader, it is best to sit next to someone who is following the service and to glance at their book. Thus, one usually does not need to know “what page we’re on,” because every page is the right page.
© Jon-Jay Tilsen