Shuckling (also written as shokeling), from the Yiddish word meaning "to shake", is the ritual swaying of worshippers during Jewish prayer, usually forward and back but also from side to side. This practice can be traced back to at least the 8th century, and possibly as far back as Talmudic times. It was said of Rabbi Akiva that when he prayed by himself he would start in one corner and end up in another, because of all his kneeling and bowing. It is believed to increase concentration and emotional intensity (Eisenberg 2004:360). In Chassidic lore, shuckeling is seen as an expression of the soul's desire to abandon the body and reunite itself with its source, similar to a flame's shaking back and forth as if to free itself from the wick (Tanya chapter 19). Jiri Langer gives a vivid description of shokeling among Belz Chassidim in early 20th-century Europe.
The 12th-century Jewish philosopher and poet Yehuda Halevi wrote that the habit began as a result of a shortage of books, forcing people to hover over a single codex laid on the ground, each one bending in turn to read a passage (The Kuzari, part II, para. 80). By the 13th century, Jews in Europe were “known for their shokeling during prayer.” 19th-century Jewish religious reformers, however, argued for the non-Jewish custom in which “no one moves a limb”.
Dr. Simon Brainin thinks that the practice was historically done "to afford the body exercise during study and prayer, which took up a large portion of the time of a great number of Jews".
- Uriel Weinreich, Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary (New York: YIVO/McGraw-Hill, 1968), p. 399.
- J[udah] D[avid] E[isenstein], “Swaying the body,” Jewish Encyclopedia (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Co., 1905), vol. XI, p. 607
- Tosefta Berachot, Chap. 3.
- Louis Jacobs, "Swaying," in The Jewish Religion: A Companion (Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 506.
- Eliezer Segal, “Why Do Jews Sway When They Pray?”, in Why Didn’t I Learn This in Hebrew School? (New York: Jason Aronson, 1999), p. 11.
- Eliezer Segal, “Why Do Jews Sway When They Pray?”, in Why Didn’t I Learn This in Hebrew School? (New York: Jason Aronson, 1999), p. 12.
- Judah David Eisenstein. "Swaying the body". Retrieved December 7, 2011.
- Eisenberg, Ronald L. The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions. The Jewish Publication Society, 2004. ISBN 0-8276-0760-1
- Halevi, Yehuda. The Kuzari. ISBN 1-58330-438-X
- Segal, Eliezer, Why Didn’t I Learn This in Hebrew School? (New York: Jason Aronson, 1999) ISBN 978-0765760760