Jewish services

From Academic Kids

Jewish services are the prayers recited as part of observance of Judaism. These prayers, often with instructions and commentary, are found in the siddur, the traditional Jewish prayer book.

The individual is required to pray three times daily -- more on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. While prayer alone is valid, praying with a minyan (quorum of ten adult males) is ideal. Many synagogues have a hazzan (cantor) who is a professional or lay-professional singer employed for the purpose of leading the congregation in prayer.

Daven is the originally exclusively Eastern Yiddish verb meaning "pray"; it is widely used by Ashkenazic Orthodox Jews. In Yinglish, this has become the Anglicised davening. The origin of the word is obscure, but is thought by some to have come from Middle French and by others to be derived from a Slavic word meaning 'give'. In Western Yiddish, the term for "pray" is oren, a word with clear roots in Romance languages — compare Spanish and Portuguese "orar" and Latin "Oratorium".


The prayers and their origins


There are three prayer services each day on weekdays. A fourth additional prayer service (called mussaf, "additional"), is added on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) and on major holidays. A fifth prayer (ne'ilah), is only recited on Yom Kippur.

According to the Talmud (tractate Taanit 2a), prayer is a Biblical command: "Your shall serve God with your whole heart (Deuteronomy 11:13) - What service is performed with the heart? This is prayer". The prayers are therefore referred to as Avodah sheba-Lev (service of the heart). Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer 1:1) likewise categorises prayer as a Biblical command, but states that the number of prayers or their times are not. This statement is relied upon by the authorities that hold that women, while being required to pray, only need to pray once a day (preferably in the morning), though they can, if they wish, pray all three daily prayers.

The Talmud (tractate Berachoth 26b) gives different reasons why there are three basic prayers.

  1. According to one sage, every one of the Patriarchs instituted one prayer: Abraham the morning, Isaac the afternoon and Jacob the evening prayers. This view is supported with Biblical quotes indicating that the Patriarchs prayed at the time mentioned.
  2. A second opinion states that each was instituted parallel to a sacrificial act in the Temple in Jerusalem: the morning Tamid offering in the morning for the morning, the afternoon Tamid for the afternoon prayers and the overnight burning of the leftovers for the evening prayers.

Additional Biblical references suggest that King David and the prophet Daniel prayed three times a day. In Psalms, David states: "Evening, morning and afternoon do I pray and cry, and He will hear my voice" (55:18). As in Daniel: "[...] his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he had done before" (6:11).

Text and language

Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer 1:4) relates that until the Babylonian exile, all Jews composed their own prayers. After the exile, however, the sages of the time found the ability of the people insufficient to continue the practice, and they composed the main portions of the siddur, such as the Amidah. The language of the prayers, while clearly being from the Second Temple period, often employs Biblical idiom, and according to some authorities it should not contain rabbinic or Mishnaic idiom apart from in the sections of Mishnah that are featured (see Baer).

Prayer is done almost exclusively in Hebrew, but Jewish law allows for prayers to be said in any language that the person praying understands. Ashkenazi Orthodox synagogues use almost exclusively Hebrew, and use the local language only for sermons and directions; Conservative synagogues use Hebrew for 75% to 100% of the service (depending on the local custom), and the rest is in the local language. Reform synagogues (usually called Temples) use anywhere from 10% to 50% Hebrew; most of the service is in the local language. Sephardic customs vary, but Ladino or Portuguese may be used in smaller or greater parts of the service even in the most traditional and Orthodox communities.


Main article: Minyan

Prayer alone is considered acceptable, but prayer with a quorum of ten adults (a minyan) is considered "prayer with the community", and this is the most highly recommended form of prayer. Judaism has traditionally counted only men in the minyan for formal prayer, on the basis that one does not count someone who is not obligated to participate. Many Conservative congregations have recently begun to count women in the minyan as well, although the determination of whether or not to do so is left to the individual congregation. Those Reform and Reconstructionist congregations that consider a minyan mandatory for communal prayer, count both men and women for a minyan.


Proper concentration (kavvanah) is considered essential for prayer. There are only certain portions that are invalid a posteriori if they were recited without the required awareness. These are the first line of Shema Yisrael and the first of the nineteen benedictions of the Amidah.

Weekday prayer services

Shacharit: morning prayers

Prayers said upon arising; donning tzitzit and the tallit; prayers for putting on tefillin. Next follows a section called the morning blessings, followed by blessings for the Torah and readings from Biblical and rabbinic writings. Next comes Shema Yisrael (first part only). In Orthodox services this is followed by a series of readings from Biblical and rabbinic writings recalling the offerings made in the Temple in Jerusalem. The section concludes with the Rabbi's Kaddish.

The next section of morning prayers is called Pesukei D'Zimrah, verses of praise, containing many psalms (100 and 145-150), and prayers made from a tapestry of biblical verses, followed by the Song at the Sea (Exodus, chapters 14 and 15).

Now begins Barechu, the formal public call to prayer, and an expanded series of prayers relating to the main recitation of Shema Yisrael. This is followed by the core of the prayer service, the Amidah or Shemoneh Esreh, a series of 19 prayers. The next part of the service, is Tachanun, supplications. Reform services usually omit tachanun entirely.

On Mondays and Thursdays a Torah reading service is inserted. Concluding prayers then follow.

Mincha: afternoon prayers

Sephardim and Italkim start the Mincha with Psalm 84 and Korbanot (Numbers 28:1-8), and usually continue with the Pittum hakketoret. The opening section is concluded with Malachi 3:4. Prayers then continue as follows. (Ashkenazim start here.) The Ashrei, containing verses of Psalms 84, 144, 115 and 141 and the entire Psalm 145, immediately followed by the Shemoneh Esreh (Amidah). This is followed by a shortened version of Tachanun, supplications, and then the full Kaddish. Sephardim insert Psalm 67 or 93, followed by the Mourner's Kaddish. After this follows, in most modern rites, the Aleinu. Ashkenazim then conclude with the Mourner's Kaddish.

Ma'ariv (or Arvit): evening prayers

This service begins with the Barechu, the formal public call to prayer, and an expanded series of prayers relating to the Shema Yisrael. This is followed by the Hashkiveinu ("Lay us down to sleep, Adonai, our God, in peace, raise us erect, our King, to life, and spread over us the shelter of Your peace.") (In the Ashkenazi ritual, a series of other blessings are added, which are made from a tapestry of biblical verses.) This is followed by the Half-Kaddish, and the Shemoneh Esreh (Amidah), bracketed with the full Kaddish. Sephardim then repeat the Barechu and say the Mourner's Kaddish before concluding with the Aleinu. Ashkenazim do not repeat the Barechu, but conclude with Aleinu followed by the Mourner's Kaddish.

In many congregations, the afternoon and evening prayers are recited back-to-back on a working day, to save people having attend synagogue twice. The Vilna Gaon discouraged this practice, and followers of his set of customs commonly wait until after nightfall to recite Ma'ariv.

Shabbat services

Friday night services

Shabbat services begin on Friday evening with the weekday Mincha (see above), followed in some communities by the Song of Songs, and then in most communities by the Kabbalat Shabbat, the mystical prelude to Shabbat services composed by 17th century Kabbalists. This Hebrew term literally means "Receiving the Sabbath".

It is, except for amongst many Italkim and Western Sephardim, composed of six psalms, 95 to 99, and 29, representing the six week-days. Next comes the poem Lekha Dodi. Composed by Solomon ha-Levi Alkabetz in the mid-1500s, it is based on the words of the Talmudic sage Hanina: "Come, let us go out to meet the Queen Sabbath" (Talmud Shabbat 119a). Many add a study section here, including Bameh Madlikin and Amar ribbi El'azar and the concluding Kaddish deRabbanan. Kabbalat Shabbat is concluded by Psalm 92 (the recital of which constitutes men's acceptance of the current Shabbat with all its obligations) and Psalm 93, and is then followed by the Maariv service.

The Shema section of the Friday night service varies in some details from the weekday services — mainly in the different ending of the Hashkivenu prayer and the omission of the Barukh A. le'olam prayer in those traditions where this section is otherwise recited. In the Italki tradition, there are also different versions of the Ma'ariv 'aravim prayer (beginning asher killah on Friday nights) and the Ahavat 'olam prayer.

The reading VeShameru (Ex. 30:16,17) is recited before the Amidah. The Amidah on Shabbat is abbreviated, and is read in full once. This is then followed by the hazzan's mini-repetition of the Amidah, Magen Avot, a digest of the seven benedictions. In some Ashkenazi Orthodox synagogues the second chapter of Mishnah tractate Shabbat, Bameh Madlikin, is read at this point, instead of earlier. The service then follows with the Aleinu. Kiddush is recited in the synagogue in Ashkenazi and a few Sephardi communities. Most Sephardi and many Ashkenazi synagogues end with the singing of Yigdal, a poetic adaptation of Maimonides' 13 principles of Jewish faith. Other Ashkenazi synagogues end with Adon 'olam instead.

Saturday morning: Shacharit

Shabbat morning prayers commence as on week-days. Of the hymns, Psalm 100 is omitted, its place being taken in the Ashkenazi tradition by Psalms 19, 34, 90, 91, 135, 136, 33, 92, 93. Sephardic Jews maintain a different order, add several psalms and two religious poems. The Nishmat prayer is recited at the end of the Pesukei D'Zimrah. The blessings before Shema are expanded, and include the hymn El Adon, which is often sung communally.

The fourth intermediary benediction of the Shaharit Amidah begins with Yismah Mosheh. The Torah scroll is taken out of the Ark, and the weekly portion is read, followed by the haftarah.

After the Torah reading, three prayers for the community are recited. Two prayers starting with Yekum Purkan, composed in Babylon in Aramaic, are similar to the subsequent Mi sheberakh, a blessing for the leaders and patrons of the synagogue. The Sephardim omit much of the Yekum Purkan. Prayers are then recited (in most communities) for the government of the country, the State of Israel, and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

Saturday morning additional service: Musaf

The Musaf service starts with the silent recitation of the Amidah. It is followed by a second public recitation that includes an additional reading known as the Kedushah. This is followed by the Tikanta Shabbat reading on the holiness of Shabbat, and then by a reading from the biblical Book of Numbers about the sacrifices that used to be performed in the Temple in Jerusalem. Next comes Yismechu, "They shall rejoice in Your sovereignty"; Eloheynu, "Our God and God of our Ancestors, may you be pleased with our rest"; Retzei, "Be favorable, our God, toward your people Israel and their prayer, and restore services to your Temple";

After the Amidah comes the full Kaddish, followed by Ein ke'eloheinu. In Orthodox Judaism this is followed by a reading from the Talmud on the sacrifices that used to be performed in the Temple in Jerusalem. These readings are usually omitted by Conservative Jews, and are always omitted by Reform Jews.

The Musaf service culminates with the Rabbi's Kaddish, the Aleinu, and then the Mourner's Kaddish. Some synagogues conclude with the reading of An'im Zemirot, "The Hymn of Glory".

American Reform Jews omit the entire Musaf service.

Saturday afternoon: Mincha

Mincha commences with Psalm 145 and the prayer U'va le-Tziyon, after which the first section of the next weekly portion is read from the Torah scroll. The Amidah follows the same pattern as the other Shabbat Amidah prayers, with the middle blessing starting Attah Echad.

After Mincha, during the winter Sabbaths (from Sukkot to Passover), Bareki Nafshi (Psalms 104, 120-134) is recited. During the summer Sabbaths (from Passover to Rosh Hashanah) chapters from the Avot, one every Sabbath in consecutive order, are recited instead of Barekhi Nafshi.

Saturday evening: Maariv

The week-day Maariv is recited on Sabbath evening, concluding with Vihi No'am, Ve-Yitten Leka, and Havdalah.

Services on Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot

The services for the three festivals of Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Feast of Tabenacles) are alike, except for interpolated references and readings for each individual festival. The preliminaries and conclusions of the prayers are the same as on Sabbath. The Amidah on these festivals only contains seven benedictions, with Attah Bechartanu as the main one.

The Musaf service includes Mi-Pene Hata'enu, with reference to the special festival and Temple sacrifices on the occasion. A blessing on the pulpit ("Dukan") is pronounced by the "kohanim" (Jewish priests) during the Amidah (this occurs daily in Israel, but only on Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur in the diaspora). On week-days and Sabbath the priestly blessing is recited by the hazzan after the Modim ("Thanksgiving") prayer. (American Reform Jews omit the Musaf service.)

Related customs

Many Jews sway their body back and forth during prayer. This practice (referred to as shokeling in Yiddish) is not mandatory, and in fact the kabbalist Isaac Luria felt that it should not be done. In contrast, the German Medieval authority Maharil (Rabbi Jacob Molin) linked the practice to a statement in the Talmud that the Mishnaic sage Rabbi Akiva would sway so forcefully that he ended up at the other side of the room when praying (Talmud tractate Berachot).

Money for tzedakah (charity) is given during the weekday morning and afternoon services in many communities.

Guide on etiquette for visitors

In most synagogues or temples, it is considered a sign of respect for all male attendees to wear a head covering, usually a dress hat or yarmulke (kipa); the latter are usually provided near the front door.

Orthodox and Conservative (also called Masorti) synagogues require all male attendees to cover their heads out of respect for God. Most Reform (or Progressive) temples do not require people to cover their heads, although some Reform Jews may choose to.

As might be expected, there are some things that a non-Jewish visitor should do during a Jewish religious service, and there are some things widely considered inappropriate:

  • Seating - Orthodox synagogues will have separate seating by gender. Be certain to sit in the appropriate section. To avoid sitting in someone's "accustomed spot", depending on the congregation especially, it is best to call ahead and have someone, probably the gabbai, meet you beforehand.
  • Prayer - A person who is not Jewish should not recite any of the blessings that deal with commandments given to, or blessings bestowed upon, Jews exclusively, such as the blessings recited by an oleh (the person who has an aliyah--see below), dealing with the distinction between Jews and non-Jews, and praising God for giving the Torah to Jews.
  • Standing - Parts of the services are recited standing; visitors are expected to stand together with the congregation.
  • Bowing - At certain points in the service, congregants bow; visitors who are following along and wish to bow should feel free to do so as well.
  • Tallit (prayer shawl) - non-Jewish visitors should not don a tallit.
  • Tzeniut (modesty) - Appropriate dress for a house of worship is expected. When attending Orthodox synagogues, women will likely be expected to wear long sleeves (past the elbows), long skirts (past the knees), a high neckline (to the collar bone), and if married, to cover their hair. Men are expected to dress respectfully, short pants or sleeveless shirts are generally regarded as inappropriate. In some congregations, however, these expectations are more lax. The best course of action is for a visitor to inquire about dresscode expectations beforehand.
  • Aliyah - If a non-Jewish visitor is offered the honor of reading from the Torah, or to recite the blessings for the readings (called an ‘aliyah, a person so-honored is called an ‘oleh), they should (as discreetly and politely as decorum permits) inform the person inviting them for the honor, that they are not Jewish. In some Reform congregations, non-Jews may be permitted to receive this honor, but no assumption on the matter should be made. Inform the inviter, and let them determine whether or not the invitation stands.

See also


  • To Pray As a Jew, Hayim Halevy Donin, Basic Books (ISBN 0465086330)
  • Entering Jewish Prayer, Reuven Hammer (ISBN 0805210229)
  • Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer, Seth Kadish, Jason Aronson Inc. 1997.
  • Or Hadash: A Commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, Reuven Hammer, The Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
  • Rabbi S. Baer. Siddur Avodath Yisrael (newly researched text with commentary Yachin Lashon), 19th century.
  • A Guide to Jewish Prayer, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Shocken Books (ISBN 0805241744)

External links



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