Istan­bul sky­line, image by Mike McBey

For the past cou­ple of years, I’ve been work­ing on a cycle of for­mal poems about the effect our con­stant use of screens has on our souls. The extent to which our phones are affect­ing our brains is well-trod­den ter­ri­to­ry — but how are they deplet­ing us spir­i­tu­al­ly? In the begin­ning these were most­ly stan­dard west­ern poet­ic forms — son­nets, vil­lanelles, pan­toums, ses­ti­nas. But I felt like the project need­ed some fresh­er, less com­mon forms too. As I was branch­ing out I found that just try­ing to put our mod­ern predica­ments into the form of prayers helped make the project feel fuller.

So these are two very dif­fer­ent forms of Jew­ish prayers that felt like they worked. The first is of course the tra­di­tion­al barucha we know well, the baruch-ata-adon­ai, blessed-art-thou-God-ruler-of-the-uni­verse prayer form. The sec­ond comes from the eso­teric mys­ti­cal sect known as the Dön­me, the only Jew­ish-Islam­ic sect in West­ern reli­gions. I’ve been research­ing the sect for a nov­el I’m at work on; they are fol­low­ers of the sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry false mes­si­ah Sab­batai Tzvi. After much of the West­ern world believed him to be the mes­si­ah for a peri­od, in 1666 Tzvi marched with his fol­low­ers on Istan­bul and was prompt­ly forced to take the tur­ban, and those who con­tin­ued to fol­low him lived out­ward­ly as Mus­lims, while con­tin­u­ing to prac­tice Kab­bal­is­tic Judaism in pri­vate. Thou­sands of Dön­me still live and prac­tice in Istan­bul, though they increas­ing­ly prac­tice in secret. Their prayers, main­ly writ­ten in Ladi­no, trans­late into a form with con­sis­tent lan­guage appeal­ing to the Lord that I think lends itself to updat­ing quite nice­ly. So, here they are — some prayers for our mod­ern screen-obsessed souls.

Prayer for an End of Fake News

Blessed art thou, Lord our God, ruler of the universe,

Who in all your glo­ry respond to the most

Pre­cise amongst us with grace, allow­ing the sound

Of song to res­onate clear­est and loudest,

Reflect­ing faces accu­rate­ly in the stillest waters.

Let the world return to agree­ment on the most

Basic facts, and allow the sophists solipsists

And pro­pa­gan­dists to spend their

Eter­ni­ties alone togeth­er. Alone. Amen.

Dön­me-style Prayer for the New York Times

I believe with per­fect faith in the per­fect vision of the paper of record. I believe in

the fal­li­bil­i­ty of report­ing any giv­en fact, per­son, or reporter and the per­fect mis­sion of seek­ing sto­ries, facts and nar­ra­tives in the world.

I believe with per­fect faith in the per­fect idea of send­ing trained reporters to talk with

oth­er laic humans and experts in the inter­est of telling read­ers what is hap­pen­ing in their coun­try and beyond. I believe with per­fect faith in Sulzberg­ers, in Krug­men and even from time to time Dowds, Brook­ses and Douthats — and in years past the truths of Tale­ses, John Leonards, Dan­ners and Isherwoods.

I believe with per­fect faith in the per­fect fact that the best way to uphold trust is to attempt scrupu­lous­ly not to make mis­takes, but also to accept that mis­takes are an inevitabil­i­ty and then to append, cor­rect and fur­ther cor­rect, often to humor­ous effect, any errors com­mit­ted. I believe with per­fect faith that when a Jason Blair, or a Judith Miller error, is dis­cov­ered it will be dealt with swift­ly pub­licly open­ly and in good per­fect faith.

May it be pleas­ing before Thee, God of truth, God of Israel and the Five Bor­oughs and even the Sixth Bor­ough of Philadel­phia, who dwells in the Glo­ry of Israel, in the strands of ideas and facts which will guide us from moments and epochs of dras­tic trag­ic nation­al error. Amen.

This piece is a part of the Berru Poet­ry Series, which sup­ports Jew­ish poet­ry and poets on PB Dai­ly. JBC also awards the Berru Poet­ry Award in mem­o­ry of Ruth and Bernie Wein­flash as a part of the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awards. Click here to see the 2019 win­ner of the prize. If you’re inter­est­ed in par­tic­i­pat­ing in the series, please check out the guide­lines here.

Daniel Tor­day is the author of The 12th Com­mand­mentThe Last Flight of Poxl West, and Boomer1. A two-time win­ner of the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award for fic­tion and the Sami Rohr Choice Prize, Torday’s sto­ries and essays have appeared in Tin House, The Paris Review, The Keny­on Review, and n+1, and have been hon­ored by the Best Amer­i­can Short Sto­ries and Best Amer­i­can Essays series. Tor­day is a Pro­fes­sor of Cre­ative Writ­ing at Bryn Mawr College.