The book of Sirach is not in the Jewish Bible, but the Jewish Publication Society has a three-volume set entitled “Outside the Bible” (from their perspective). It’s translation is exactly as you indicate above. The RSV-2CE says [do not] repeat yourself in prayer.
In the extreme, it would be impossible for us to pray without ever repeating ourselves; for one, we can’t remember everything we ever said in prayer and we could stumble in self-condemnation very easily.
The existence of inspired prayers in the Bible, like the Psalms and the Lord’s prayer, gives us assurance that it is not absolutely wrong to repeat prayers.
The entire verse goes like this: ** Do not prattle in the assembly of the elders, and do not repeat yourself in your prayer. ** The clue may lie in the words “in the assembly of the elders” by which the meaning of the second part of the verse becomes clear – do not repeat yourself in public prayer in the assembly. “Move on” so to speak.
In general, the interpretation of meaning of scripture is often dependent on the context, as is the case here, and an overriding goal is the harmonization with all scripture, both of which points I have used in my analysis above.
We have to take into considering both text and content… what is this passage engaging?:
[FONT=“Garamond”][size=]14 Do not make long-winded speeches in the gathering of elders, and do not repeat yourself at your prayers.
15 Be not full of words in a multitude of ancients, and repeat not the word in thy prayer. (Sirach-Ecclesiasticus 7:15–DR)
…all of these versions are speaking to “order.”
When in an important assembly, a Believer cannot just sound off or rant or engage in pretentious empty oratories.
What more important assembly exists than an audience with Yahweh God: prayer?
…incessant praises, empty vows, boastful speeches/monologues, repetitious pleas and woes… all these are unwarranted and unwanted by God.
…consider the cultural practice of boasting about abilities, needs, and experiences (good/bad) and the practice of repeating things and of raising one’s voice… these are all empty practices for the sole benefit of placing the attention square on the agent/speaker…
Since God cannot be fooled/tricked or coerced all of those tricks will fail.
…repetitious prayer… does that mean that the Rosary is wrong?
…would Celebrating Mass not be wrong also?
…would Jesus not be wrong since He Instituted the Church and Commanded that she Celebrate His Supper till the end of times?
…and talk about repetitious… should we not create a new “bible” every six to nine months or so… we have been Preaching and Citing the same Scriptures, on a daily basis, for over two-thousand years!
…and while we are on “misunderstandings,” what do you say to ceasing Christian gatherings since sere repetitious in nature and they are anti-Scriptures:
6 But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
(St. Matthew 6:6)
Clearly, it is Jesus’ Himself that Christians are defying, isn’t if?
…or are we misunderstanding the passage?:
5 ‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them
; I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. (St. Matthew 6:5)
…and where the Apostles countermanding Jesus when they adopted the life of prayer?:
17 pray constantly;
(1 Thessalonians 5:17)
…how can a Christian pray constantly without leaving his closet/inner room?
Clearly, there are specific reasons why certain things have been Taught by Christ… if we interpret them through our subjective reasoning we are not engaged in exegesis but in eisegesis!
As Mary and Dorthy have pointed out, this refers specifically to mindless prayer and babbling. You have to understand the nature of Pagan prayer in this time. They didn’t pray to their gods in the same sense that we pray to God. Rather than a personal, direct communication, Pagan prayer is was more of an effort to get the god’s attention, and frequently they would just talk ad nauseum at their god rather than to them. It’s a minor but very important distinction.
I’ve read several analyses of this passage that conclude that it’s about mindless, as opposed to thoughtful, repetitions of prayers and also said it was referring to something like the pagan prayers to Ba’al. I further note that when we pray the Rosary, or other counted prayer chaplet, it’s not with the goal of repeating a single prayer X number of times to make it “work”. The prayer repetitions are providing a background for us to meditate thoughtfully on something such as sacred mysteries, the holy face of Christ, Mary’s 7 sorrows, etc.
Our Lord seems to allude to the Sirach passage in Matt. 6:7-8 where he says:
And when you are praying, speak not much, as the heathens. For they think that in their much speaking they may be heard. Be not you therefore like to them, for your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask him.
Concerning these words, the Church Fathers comment:
Hereby He dissuades from empty speaking in prayer; as, for example, when we ask of God things improper, as dominions, fame, overcoming of our enemies, or abundance of wealth.
And truly all superfluity of discourse has come from the Gentiles, who labour rather to practise their tongues than to cleanse their hearts, and introduce this art of rhetoric into that wherein they need to persuade God. … For we use many words then when we have to instruct one who is in ignorance…
Or this there starts up a heresy of certain Philosophers [Epicureans] who taught … that if God knows for what we shall pray … our prayer is needlessly made to one who has such knowledge. To such we shortly reply, That in our prayers we do not instruct, but entreat…
(From St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, trans. by John Henry Parker and J. Rivington; London, 1842)