Praying with hands together is a posture with an origin that is
virtually unknown. Most people, including members of the Jewish and
Christian religions, do not know that the hands-in-prayer was a Jewish
"The book of Jewish Knowledge" by Nathan Ausubel (p. 351) states
?It has also been commonly assumed that folding the hands in prayer is
exclusively a Christian custom. This is not the historical fact at
all. As early as the post-Exilic period, when Jews prayed, they folded
their hands, and they observed this custom for several centuries even
after it had been adopted by Christians.?
The Talmud relates how the Babylonian Sage, Rabba (Abba ben
Joseph, C. 280-352), used to pray with his hands folded.
During the time of Jesus, the Jewish postures for prayer included
folding the hands. Being Jews, Jesus and his followers did so too.
The Jewish practice was discontinued by Jews in reaction against
their persecution under the Christian religion in the Holy Roman
Empire. Rabbis decreed that Jews cease folding their hands in prayer
because their oppressors used folded hands.
It was a deliberate disassociation according to Ausubel. And it
has been forgotten by almost everyone.
The praying-hands mystery leads to an amazing new theory (farther
down) about another forgotten prayer practice in the book of Genesis.
Genesis contains passages in which a male takes an oath by placing his
hand ?under the thigh? of the male to whom he is swearing. It has
sometimes been interpreted as swearing upon, or touching the
The Book of Genesis (Ch. 24, verse 2-4, and also see verse 9)
states ?And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that
ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh:
And I will make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God
of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the
daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell...? Abraham?s servant
swore that he (the man-servant) would not bring a wife for his son
(Abraham's son, Isaac) from the land of Canaan.
The Book of Genesis (Ch. 47, verse 29) states: ?And the time drew
nigh that Israel must die: and he called his son Joseph, and said unto
him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy
hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me; bury me not, I
pray thee, in Egypt...? Israel had his son Joseph swear that he would
bury him in the Holy Land and not in Egypt.
The Book of Genesis (Ch. 32, verse 25) appears to relate God
seizing Jacob in the same part of the anatomy.
The Talmud, an encyclopedia of Jewish life, contains numerous
stories of devoted slaves. A model of the devoted slave is the
biblical figure of Abraham's slave, Eliezer. Abraham found Eliezer
starving by the road to Damascus. Eliezer was a runaway slave. After
Abraham nursed him back to health, he told the runaway that he was
free to leave, but Eliezer, who was born to serve, vowed never to
leave Abraham, having finally found a worthy Master. When Abraham
asked Eliezer to swear loyalty, he told him to ?place your hand upon
The Hebrew word in some passages is ?yarek,? meaning ?thigh? in
the Old Testament. That ritual might derive from the belief that the
thigh is a center of power, probably because it's near the genitals.
Some interpreters argue that it is a swearing upon the genitals, with
"under the thigh" being a euphemism in Hebrew.
Dr. Lee Stone, in his book ?The Power of a Symbol,? said that the
?most ancient way of administering the oath was by placing the hand
between the thighs, on the genitals. These were regarded as the
Christian and the Jew regard the Bible, as being the most sacred of
tangible things? (10, pg. 45).
Dr. P. C. Remondino, in his book ?History of Circumcision from the
Earliest Times to the Present? said that ?It was partly this custom of
swearing, or of affirming, with the hand under the thigh, by the early
Israelites,? which led many to believe that their hand was being
placed on the testicles (11, pg. 35).
It is likely that the passages above inspired the popular claim
that ?testify? derived from ?testicle,? but the claim is disputed with
alternative derivations and interpretations. A popular claim also
alleges that Greeks and Romans would touch their own testicles while
swearing, however there is no evidence in support. The ?testicle?
theory argues that the testicles were used for oaths because they
represented virility, power, and represented the man?s future
generations, and the source of life.
The new theory asks whether the ?inner thigh? posture (the "yarek
oath" or "yarek prayer") acknowledged the man?s circumcision. In
Judaism the circumcision is the male?s covenant with God and is also
called the ?Covenant of Abraham,? because it began with the Patriarch
Abraham. Two references to the ?inner thigh? oath (above) refer to
Abraham, whose circumcision would have been new and revered. Abraham
would have circumcised his slaves, who later performed ?inner thigh?
oaths to Abraham.
The book of Genesis (at 16:1-3, 15-16, 17, 21:1-2) states: When
Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said
to him, "I am God Almighty;" walk before me, and be blameless. And I
will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you
exceedingly numerous." Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to
him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the
ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be
Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the
ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly
fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from
you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your
offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting
covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will
give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are
now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I
will be their God."
God said to Abraham, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you
and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my
covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring
after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall
circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the
covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male
among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including
the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from
any foreigner who is not of your offspring. Both the slave born in
your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So
shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any
uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin
shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."
Then Abraham took his son Ishmael and all the slaves born in his
house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's
house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day,
as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was
circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And his son Ishmael was
thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his
foreskin. That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised;
and all the men of his house, slaves born in the house and those
bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him. . . .
The book of Genesis does not state whether the covenant (or
contract) was reciprocal in regard to whether God became circumcised.
In an earlier example above, Abraham says to his servant ?Put, I
pray thee, thy hand under my thigh: And I will make thee swear by the
Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth.....? thereby making
the act also a prayer to God and a gesture to Abraham?s covenant with
God (Abraham?s circumcision).
The biblical references do not state the posture of any male who
placed his hand(s) on the ?inner thigh.? Did he kneel? It is
plausible that the servant/slave kneeled before his master Abraham
when swearing such an important oath. It is plausible that the son
Joseph kneeled before his father Israel. They kneeled in prayer to
God, in the same manner as a slave to his master, and a son to his
Was the oath-taker seated? If so, the oath-giver might kneel and
place his hands in the lap of the oath-taker. The word "yarek" is
sometimes interpreted as "lap."
Many religions, including Judaism, used (and some still use)
kneeling, bowing/prostration and genuflection as prayer postures.
Kneeling was abandoned in Judaism because of persecution under the
Christian religion during the Holy Roman Empire (the same reason that
folded hands were discontinued) according to ?The book of Jewish
Knowledge? by Nathan Ausubel (p. 351).
Although hands folded in prayer is no longer a part of modern
Judaism, there is still some kneeling. Some also bow in several
prayers, who used to kneel but discontinued the practice. Often,
kneeling is only performed during Aleinu prayer on Rosh Hashana and
Yom Kippur. Judaism certainly still uses terminology in its liturgy
that refers to kneeling. Three times on Yom Kippur there are moments
to kneel on saying the word "cor'im" which is a word meaning "to
kneel." Additionally, the word for a blessing or benediction,
"berachah" comes from the word "berech" which means knee.
The biblical references do not state the form of any male?s
hand(s) during the ?inner thigh? oaths. Were the hands folded in the
posture of kneeling to pray? Folded hands would enable an oath-giver
to put both hands upon both inner thighs of the oath-taker.
A new theory from the historian and journalist Rex Curry asks if
praying (kneeling with hands folded) is a symbolic re-enactment of
Abraham's ?inner thigh? or lap prayer, and/or if praying heavenward
symbolizes an oath upon God?s ?inner thigh? or lap as an
acknowledgment of God?s covenant with Abraham (or as an acknowledgment
of God?s own circumcision and covenant in reciprocity). For more
information see http://members.ij.net/rex/praying.html