The Jewish custom of rocking in prayer (shuckling): why don't Christians do it?

I also want to make sure I don’t distract others at Adoration or in church (like during Rosary) when I rock, so I try to keep it to a small rocking, not any big thrashing about. Of course if I’m at home I could rock more strenuously there, but to be honest I’m often just reclining or lying down when I pray at home (I believe prayer posture is best when comfortable, like I was having a conversation with my parents when they were alive) so I don’t need to be rocking like if I were sitting up in a hard wooden pew.

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You’re right, and I had forgotten that in the worst of my panic attack/depression years I found it to be somewhat comforting as an aid to dealing with the symptoms.

I addressed your statement and I hope you were able to read it before flag-happy people decided it was too off topic (even though it arose as a natural progression of conversation…).

Polyvagal Theory and the parasympathetic system mentioned are absolutely integral to this idea of stimming. The rocking (and similar behaviours) calms the viscera. Of course not everyone who rocks is doing so because of anxiety, boredom, or a need to self soothe. But the mind/body integration is such a fascinating phenomenon and we are only beginning to scratch the surface of the complexity of what it is to be human.

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I find myself davening when praying the Liturgy of the Hours alone; rocking forward and then back verse by verse of the psalms or canticles.  I find it slows me down and helps me to focus.

I didn’t really realize I was doing it for a long time. I’ve often wondered if that is where it came from in Jewish practice. Someday, in an Airport Chapel at sunrise or whenever I will maybe ask when we both finish our office.

Scientific explanation or not, there would have to be something soothing and satisfying about rocking back and forth, or else babies wouldn’t like it, and porch swings and rocking chairs would never have become a “thing”. Does that make sense?

I don’t think there are any hard-and-fast rules about when to use this body movement.

It doesn’t surprise me a bit that it’s a self comfort action. Watch anyone that has just been given news of a death of a loved one. Besides bursting into tears, we usually curl up and rock in our grief.

Rocking is extremely soothing. Doing it with prayers of comfort make perfect sense!

Good observation! I’ve done that several times in my life.

I also catch myself rocking while praying a Rosary or a rope of Jesus prayers.

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It just occured to me that the “liturgical dancing” of the Ethiopian Orthodox / Catholic tradition is more of a rhythmic sway and perhaps related to the Jewish tradition?

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I don’t know how wide spread the mystical meaning of shuckling in Judaism is, but I have asked a number of Jews (both ultra-orthodox and hasidic) about the purpose of shuckling and they had said that the practice doesn’t have any specific purpose other than an incorporation of the body into their prayer. They (one of which was a rabbi) said that it was the body keeping tempo for their sung prayers. The one rabbi, in fact, said that he used it as a gauge of his son’s prayer and would reprimand him if he shuckled too quickly, as the rabbi knew that his son was rushing through his prayers.

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It seems it is a practice developed by Jews well after the Incarnation of Christ (8th century, maybe earlier, became more widespread in 13th century). Christians don’t do it because it simply has no relevance or connection to the Christian tradition.

That being said, as others have mentioned, many people naturally sway a little when standing at prayer or singing hymns. I know I do a little.

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Honi the circle dancer is mentioned in Josephus. We assume he twirled whiled in prayer and reached trance levels while doing so. I’ve watched old Jewish men at weddings that also seem to go into trance like states while dancing…Jews do love to dance!


Some do so to see their tzitzit moving as they pray.

Deacon Christopher

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Question: I’ve often seen some doing a very profound shuckling… Do most Jewish people only rock slightly back and forth, or do most profound (like the ones you sometimes see on TV or by a few guys at a conservative synagogue)?

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I’ll let @meltzerboy2 answer but from my experience, it’s a mixture of both. I’ve seen some barely rocking at all and some that rock so hard I’m not sure how they avoid neck strain. On average, it’s in between…they rock enough to tell they’re rocking but nothing exaggerated.


I love the big, profound movement myself.

  • But I am also a fan of prominent use of sacramentals - why use an aspergillum when I have a perfectly good Slavic “mop” for dousing people with Holy Water?
  • Why make a little smudge on the forehead when a prominent four-inch cross is possible on Ash Wednesday?
  • And so forth and so on.

Deacon Christopher

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:joy::joy::joy:. Do you bring it down the bridge of their nose! :joy::joy::joy:

(I have visions of people avoiding your line for ashes!)

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Shuckling is a new word for me!

I love the idea of using one’s BODY in prayer.


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If the man is bald, I take liberal use of the additional square inches of palette.

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Ok, that wins the internet for today! I’m still giggling!

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