Letters to the Editor
Langer attributes the appropriation to the Christian population size, but the reason might also be a biblical one, since amen is mentioned 30 times in the Old Testament and a whopping 126 times in the New Testament.
In the process of co-opting the word, the New Testament stretched the term out of shape, using it as not only an affirmation but also as an expression of hope and as a worshipful term for Jesus. Revelation 3:14 exalted Jesus as the “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness.” Amen was further Christianized at the turn of the 20th century when popular Christian music spread the term to an even broader audience. “Gospel and Christian hymns played a huge role in mainstreaming amen,” says Sarna.
Amen may have strayed with abandon, but in the synagogues it still stands with a whip in hand, ready to enforce its many rules. Author Tamar Ansh, in her zany children’s book Let’s Say Amen!, warns against “snatched” amens, or amen chatufa, which occur when people answer amen before the last word of the prayer has been recited. She also advises against the slurred “cut” amens, or amen katufa, describing amens that are not fully pronounced, such as “amei.” To chop off the end of an amen is considered careless and disrespectful towards God.
Ansh cautions about the tricky tightrope of inciting a group to say amen. She says prayer-leaders should recite prayers loudly and clearly so that people will hear them and answer amen, lest their congregants fall victim to a “lonely” amen, an amen uttered without hearing the prayer. It’s important to note, though, that “if you think those around you won’t answer amen even if they do hear you, then it’s better to say your beracha in a low voice,” says Ansh.
Chances are you are falling short in your amen-uttering. If someone wishes you well, even with a folksy “Best of luck” or a detached “Get well soon,” you should answer amen, says Ansh, “since this is like a short prayer.” Indeed, if I were to tell my readers that I hope they come away from this article feeling more knowledgeable about this ancient term, there can be only one suitable response: Amen!—Rachel Ament