Shuckling

By Deane Barker

Shuckling refers to the ritualistic rocking motion made by Jews during prayer.

(Note that this isn’t a situation where I found a word and looked it up. Rather, I observed something and assumed it had a name, so I went looking for it.)

This page has a lot of explanations for it, such as:

  • being so moved by prayer that your entire body becomes involved
  • the need for exercise during long periods of prayer
  • when multiple people prayed from a single Torah, they would constantly stand up and bend down, leading over time to the ritualistic swaying

I gather it’s one of those things just passed on by custom, and everyone might have a different reason for it. Over time, it likely has just become a communal norm – you do it because everyone else does it, and it becomes a rite of passage or membership.

Why I Looked It Up

I first saw this during the 80s or 90s during a news segment about a prayer space in Yankee Stadium. Being a sheltered Protestant kid, I was expecting silent or spoken prayer, and wasn’t prepared to see Jewish prayer. I was a little unnerved by it.

I encountered it again over the years, notably in a Netflix series called Rough Gems about an Orthodox Jewish community in Belgium.

Then, while watching this series, I saw a woman shuckling while praying in an airport (in real life, not on the show), and I was finally prompted to look it up.

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