Bad Timing

When prayer and life don’t get along

The world’s fastest speaker can read or speak at a rate of 637 words per minute (although the result is unintelligible to the unaided human ear). Auctioneers, famous for their ability to pump out a steady torrent of words, can process 250 wpm or more. Participants in the average English-language conversation will go through 110 to 150 wpm. (Statistics courtesy of Wikipedia.)

So how do we rank? Could there be observant Jews quietly living humble lives with the talent and energy to compete with the best in the world?


I once took the liberty of timing the davening at a nussach Ashkenaz shul and discovered some truly remarkable individuals. Let me share some of their accomplishments:

Pesukai d’zimra – which contains 2,378 words – was recited in eight minutes and ten seconds, which corresponds to 291 words-per-minute. That’s a sustained rate of nearly six words (or perhaps ten syllables) per second. And some hadn’t even had their first coffee of the morning. From Barchu until right before Shema (470 words) took 2:05 minutes (a modest 226 wpm).

It was a Thursday, so there was long tachanun (1508 words in total). The minyan itself was finished after 4:40 – which translates to 323 wpm, but more than a few participants were done after only 2:20. 1508 words in two-and-a-third minutes represents an eye-popping 656 wpm…at very nearly eleven words (or 25 syllables) per second – a world record performance!

With Ashrei/Uva l’tzion the pressure was beginning to wear them down. The 691 words took 2:13, a mere 311 wpm. And Alainu (214 words) stretched on endlessly for a full thirty-seven seconds (345 wpm).

Seriously. Just Who are we fooling?

When circumstances force me to keep up with an impossible pace, I follow the advice of the Shulchan Aruch and (where halachically applicable) skip:

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים א:ד
טוב מעט תחנונים בכוונה מהרבות בלא כוונה

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