A Guide to Jewish Prayer

A Guide to Jewish Prayer


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A Guide to Jewish Prayer by Adin Steinsaltz

For both the novice and for those who have been engaged in prayer for years, here is the one guide needed to practice Jewish prayer and understand the prayer book, from one of the world's most famous and respected rabbis.

From the origins and meaning of worship to a step-by-step explanation of the daily prayers to the reason you're not supposed to chat with your friends during services, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz answers many of the questions likely to arise about Jewish prayer. Here are chapters on daily prayer; Sabbath prayer; prayer services for the holidays; the yearly cycle of synagogue Bible readings; the history and makeup of the synagogue; the different prayer rites for Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Yemenites, and other cultural/geographic groupings; the role of the rabbi and the cantor in the synagogue; and the role of music in the service.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780805211474
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/28/2002
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 319,181
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

RABBI ADIN STEINSALTZ is the author of a landmark commentary on the Talmud, as well as many books of Jewish thought. He lives in Israel.

Read an Excerpt

The Essence of Prayer
Prayer is the salient expression of religious emotion in man and of his relationship with his Creator. There are, of course, many other forms by which people may express their religious feelings—from those fixed ceremonial rites that in themselves constitute a religious ritual, to those acts which man performs in order to obey the will of God, or from which he may refrain because they negate the Creator’s will and command.
While these aspects are to be found in every person possessing religious feeling, they are to be found even more so in the Jew, whose life is filled with positive and negative commandments, traditions and customs, and Jewish ways of expression and thought.
Yet there are various influences that are prone to obscure or conceal the inherent purpose of those acts that a person might perform in order to express a relationship with God. Habit and routine may cause a person to cease being aware of the reason for the performance of a given action. It often happens that a person living in a society that shares his faith and behaves in a similar fashion will perform these acts because they seem the normal mode of behavior, without attention to their actual content.
Even when a person performs a ritual ceremony, there is no assurance that the meaning of this performance will be fully realized, as every act involves an external, technical aspect. By punctilious insistence upon performing it in a precise and particular manner, and in assuring that all the objects required are in proper condition, a person is liable to forget its main purpose.
By contrast, prayer is a direct and unequivocal act of relating to God. In whatever way it is performed, and in whatever manner it is uttered, prayer is essentially one thing: an explicit addressing by the human “I” to the Divine “Thou.” In the most essential sense, prayer is direct speech, in which man confronts and addresses his Creator.
Such speech may be of many kinds: request, supplication, thanksgiving, complaint, or even simple conversation. All these can be found in prayer, and each one of them can be expressed by personal, individual prayer. The prayers that may be found in the books of the Bible—particularly in the Book of Psalms, which is basically a compendium of individual and public prayers—represent all of the kinds and varieties of prayer with which the individual or public may address God the Creator. The wide range of prayers and benedictions found in the Siddur likewise include the entire spectrum of ways in which a man may address his Maker.
Many prayers are requests or pleas in which man addresses God and asks for something—be it life, health, or success, deliverance from disaster or from poverty. Man may appeal on behalf of himself or for others, whether near and dear or distant acquaintances. On the other hand, there may be requests of an entirely different sort, in which a person asks God to consider the shame he had suffered, or voices his desire to be avenged, to have his enemies punished.
There are still other prayers that are a way of saying “Thank you,” whether in general—for all the good things in life, or for the existence of something beautiful or pleasurable—or for some personal, private matter—recovery from illness, deliverance from danger, or in acknowledgement of some special event.
On the other hand, there may be prayer that is an expression of questioning, of wonder, or even of complaint, such as the bold words of criticism uttered by Abraham: “Far be it from You to do so, to slay the righteous with the wicked. . . . Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25); or the complaint that also indicated supplication and submission: “Righteous are You, O Lord, when I complain to You; yet I would plead my case before You. Wherefore does the way of the wicked prosper?” (Jeremiah 12:1).
There are yet other prayers that have no clear, definite form of address, but are merely a kind of conversation or outpouring of the heart before God. At times, this confession is a declaration of love and yearning such as “My soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You” (Psalm 63:1); at others, it expresses a sense of distance in which the person bares his heart before God, asking nothing, yet expressing his grief at his material or spiritual loss.
On yet other occasions, a person may wish to “tell” God about his good deeds, and to say with a sense of satisfaction, “Remember this, O my Lord, for my good” (Nehemiah 5:19), or may wish to confess his sins, both overt and covert. All these types, and many others, may be expressed in personal prayer, and are thus to be found in the Siddur, formulated as it is or both personal and public use.
This aspect of prayer—of direct speech addressed to God—is essentially very intimate in character. Not only when a person is alone in the darkness of night, pouring out heart and soul, but even when standing in the midst of a large congregation, with everyone reciting the same words aloud, a close, intimate relationship with God is being expressed. This address in the form of conversation, of direct speech of the human “I” to the Divine “Thou,” even when expressed by the entire congregation, is based on the simple assumption that such dialogue is possible.
But whether plea or praise, prayer is always speech addressed to God, and such speech is only possible when a person knows that “Verily God has heard me and attended to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19). This realization that “You hear the prayer of every mouth” is what directs man to pray and to confide in God all those secret, personal matters—needs, anxieties, requests, and heartfelt desires.
But in order to pray in this manner, to “pour out his complaint before the Lord” (Psalm 102:1), one needs to feel a sense of intimate closeness to God, as “Our Merciful Father.” The child standing before his father feels he can tell him everything in his heart: to plead, to complain, to thank, or to simply tell him about things.
At every such moment of baring the heart, in times of distress or joy, prayer takes place with the same feeling of affinity as that reflected in one of the Piyyutim recited during the Days of Awe, “For we are Your sons, and you are our Father” or, in a more profound and even mystical manner, “We are Your beloved and You our Lover.”
But in contrast to this approach to prayer, there is another aspect, deriving from a totally different point of view. There is a different mode of relationship to God—that expressed by the prophet: “For who is this that has ventured to approach Me, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 30:21); or, expressed differently, “For I am a great King, says the Lord of Hosts, and My Name is awesome before the nations” Malachi 1:14).
This sense of awed reverence, of standing before the exalted Divinity, is rooted in the recognition of the distance separating Man from God, As Maimonides says, “When he [i.e. man] considers such matters as they really are, he immediately retreats in fear, knowing he is a small, lowly creature standing light-mindedly before the Omniscient God.”
Once a person adopts such a point of view, intimate conversation is impossible, and prayer acquires an entirely different character. Confronted by “the Great King,” one can only offer the rituals of sacred service. That is, given such a conception, prayer itself is no longer a spontaneous form of speech, but becomes a kind of ritual sacrificial act. When prayer assumes this aspect of holy service, each part fulfills a particular function in the ritual, and every word fits into its context in a precise and specified manner. This ritual requires that one wear special clothing, and every movement of the body has its own meaning and significance. Prayer then becomes a kind of royal audience, composed entirely of ceremonial grandeur, each word and phrase having its specific place within the ceremony.
Such a ceremony may be held in the “Royal Temple,” a site symbolizing the dwelling place of the King of the Universe. Yet by the same token it may be held anywhere, as there is no single “place” for the Omnipresent God, and hence no need for any special building. Unlike prayer, the “temple” or “palace” has a physical reality—but in essence entry to them is identical. When praying, one is as if standing at the gates of a spiritual temple, and every step is taken—in the spiritual sense—is a passage from one chamber into another, until one ultimately stands before the Presence of the Almighty.
Such a feeling is not one of fear, but essentially of awe, of the sense of standing before the sublime, “For God is in heaven and you upon earth, therefore let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:1). The emphasis here is not on the fewness of one’s words, but on the consciousness of the qualitative distance between Man and God. When such a realization occurs, man cannot simply say whatever he pleases. Every word uttered must be weighted and counted, and every gesture must be considered and measured. Such feelings need not imply fear or melancholy, on the contrary: they are always accompanied by a sense of privilege that “the King has brought me into His chambers” (Song of Songs 1:4). But in any event, and whatever the content of prayer, it is always a ceremonial occasion, of worship and ritual.
Both these conceptions—God as father, close and intimate, and God as exalted and majestic Being—which seem to be at opposing poles or religious experience, are united in the world of Judaism. Indeed, their combined presence is in itself a fundamental principle in the Jewish worldview. As the poet says, “Further than any distance and nearer than any nearness,” or, “Wherever I find You, You are concealed and evanescent, and wherever I do not find You, Your Glory fills the earth.”
This dual conception, known in philosophy as the combination of the transcendental and immanent view of the Divine, and referred to in the Kabbalah as the tension between the aspects of God as “surrounding all worlds: and “permeating all worlds,” is an essential element of the inner truth of Judaism, and constitutes a central issue in every work of Jewish thought. Any examination of Jewish faith relates to this issue, either directly or indirectly.
The kabbalistic appellation of God—“the Infinite, blesses be He”—in itself reflects this double aspect of the Divine, combining an abstract, distancing term alongside one of nearness and human concern.
But such ideas are not confined to the theoretical concerns of usages and philosophers, but are expressed in the very nature of prayer itself. In fact, prayer can only be understood as combining both of these conceptions. Already in one of the most ancient prayers, we find the opening phrase conveying this attitude, “Our Father, Our King” (Avinu Malkenu). The inner tension of our relationship toward the Creator—“whether as sons or as servants”—runs through the entire order of prayer services. Sometimes one prayer may express the sense of standing before an exalted Being, while the very next prayer may be a petulant complaint uttered in extreme intimacy.
Sometimes the formulation of one benediction, such as that of Hashkivenu in the Sephardic rite, may delicately interweave both conceptions, “Lay us down, our Father, to sleep . . . and raise us up, O King, to life and to peace.” When a person goes to sleep, it is as if he reposes in the arms of his Father, while when he arises from bed he is ready to serve and obey the King, his Master.
These two formulations also find expression in the rabbinic dispute as to whether “Prayer was instituted by the Patriarchs” or “Prayer was instituted corresponding to the sacrifices” (Berakhot 26b). This inner tension is also reflected in the prayers of various communities and congregations: some tend to stress the ritualistic aspect, while in others, the more personal, private element is predominant. Yet everywhere and for everyone, both aspects always coexist.
This dial view is essentially based on the very mystery that surrounds our attitude, understanding, and perception of the Master of the Universe (Adon Olan), who is at the same time “the Merciful Father” (Av ha-Rahaman). Our Siddur encompasses and combines together both these appellations of God as a whole, thereby allowing us to alternate in word and thought from one conception to the other.

Table of Contents

Introduction  /  xvii
PART ONE • Prayer
CHAPER 1. The Prayer Book  /  3
CHAPTER 2. The Essence of Prayer  /  8
CHAPTER 3. Individual and Communal Prayer   /  14
The Nature of Communal Prayer  /  15
The Communality of Prayer  /  18
Individuality of Prayer  /  19
The Meaning of Communal Prayer  /  22
Individual Prayer Within Communal Prayer  /  24
CHAPTER 4. Men and Women  /  26
The Commandment to Pray Applies to All  /  26
Differences in the Concept of Prayer  /  26
Historical Causes  /  28
 Women’s Prayer Texts  /  30
The Women’s Gallery (Ezrat Nashim)  /  31
CHAPTER 5. Kavvanah  /  34
The Importance of Kavvanah  /  34
Levels of Kavvanah  /  35
Kavvanah and the Regularity of Prayer  /  38
Achieving Kavvanah  /  40
PART TWO • History
CHAPTER 6. The History of the Siddur  /  47
The Creation of Standard Prayer Texts  /  48
Prayer in Mishnaic and Talmudic Times  /  51
Liturgical Poets and Devotional Poetry (Piyyut)  /  53
Suddurim and Mahzorim  /  57
The Influence of the Kabbalah  /  58
Recent Generations  /  61
CHAPTER 7. Prayer Rites  /  62
Antiquity of the Prayer Rites  /  63
Justification for the Different Prayer Rites  /  64
Prayer Rites Today  /  66
        Nusaḥ Ashkenaz—The Ashkenazic Rite  /  66
        Nusaḥ Sepharad—The Sephardic (Hasidic) Rite  /  69
        The Oriental (Sephardic) Rite  /  71
        The Yemenite Rite  /  73
        The Italian Rite  /  75
Extinct Prayer Rites  /  77
PART THREE • The Order of Prayer Services
CHAPTER 8. Weekday Prayer Services  /  83
Prayer and the Life Cycle  /  83
The Daily Prayers  /  84
        Tikkun Ḥazot  /  84
        The Sharḥarit Service  /  86
        The Minḥah Prayer  /  96
        The Ma’ariv (Arvit) Prayer Service  /  98
        Shema Upon Retiring to Bed  /  101
CHAPTER 9. Shabbat  /  104
The Order of the Shabbat Day  /  105
Shabbat Prayer Services  /  107
         The Friday Minḥah Prayer  /  107
         Kabbalat Shabbat—The Reception of Shabbat  /  107
         The Shabbat Ma’ariv Service  /  110
         The Shaḥarit Service  /  112
         Torah Reading  /  114
         The Musaf Service  /  115
         The Minḥah Service  /  116
         The Ma’ariv Service on Motza’ei Shabbat (“The Conclusion of Shabbat”)  /  118
The Departure of Shabbat  /  119
         The Havdalah Ceremony  /  120
         After the Havdalah  /  123
Shabbat Meals  /  124
         The Kiddush of Shabbat Eve, and the First Shabbat Meal  /  126
         Preparations for the Kiddush  /  127
         Some of the Laws and Customs of the Kiddush  /  128
         The Second and Third Shabbat Meals  /  130
         Study on Shabbat Afternoon  /  131
         Melaveh Malkah  /  132
Special Sabbaths  /  133
        Shabbat Mervarkhim  /  133
        Shabbat Rosh Ḥodesh  /  134
        Shabbat That Falls on Festival Days  /  136
        Shabbat Ḥol ha-Mo’ed  /  137
        Shabbat of Ḥanukkah  /  139
        Shabbat Rosh Ḥodesh on Ḥanukkah  /  140
        The Arba Parshiyyot (“Four Portions”)  /  140
        Shabbat on Days When Taḥanun Is Not Recited  /  142
        Shabbat ha-Gadol  /  142
        Shabbat Teshuvah (Shuvah)  /  143
        The Sabbaths of Evil Dispensation  /  144
        The Sabbaths of Comfort  /  144
        Other Sabbaths  /  145
CHAPTER 10. Festivals  /  146
Festival Days  /  146
The Three Pilgrimage Festivals  /  147
The Second Days in the Diaspora  /  148
Festival Prayers in General  /  150
        The Ma’ariv Service  /  150
        The Shaḥarit Service  /  153
        Torah Readings  /  153
        The Musaf Service  /  154
        The Minḥah Service  /  155
        Conclusion of the Festival  /  156
The Pesaḥ Festival  /  156
        The Beginning of the Pesaḥ Festival  /  156
        The Pesaḥ Seder  /  157
        The Shaḥarit Service  /  161
        The Musaf Service  /  162
        The Minḥah and the Ma’ariv Services  /  162
        The Second Day of Pesaḥ (in the Diaspora)  /  162
        The Seventh Day of Pesaḥ  /  163
        The Last Day of Pesaḥ (in the Diaspora)  /  164
The Shavu’ot Festival  /  165
        Shavu’ot Prayer Services  /  166
        The Second Day of Shavu’ot (in the Diaspora)  /  168
The Sukkot Festival  /  168
        Sukkot Prayer Services  /  170
        The Second Day of Sukkot (in the Diaspora)  /  171
        Shemini Atzeret and Simḥat Torah  /  172
        Shemini Atzeret (in the Diaspora)  /  173
        Simḥat Torah  /  174
CHAPTER 11. Days of Awe  /  177
Rosh ha-Shanah—The New Year Festival  /  178
        The Minḥah Service on Rosh ha-Shanah Eve  /  180
        The Ma’ariv Service  /  180
        Kiddush and the Festive Meal  /  182
        The Shaḥarit Service  /  183
        Torah Readings  /  184
        Teki’ot—The Blowing of the Shofar  /  185
        The Musaf Service  /  188
        The Minḥah Service  /  192
        Tashlikh  /  192
        The Second Day of Rosh ha-Shanah  /  192
        Prayer Services on the Second Day of Rosh ha-Shanah  /  194
Yom Kippur—The Day of Atonement  /  195
        Yom Kippur Eve  /  197
        Kol Nidrei  /  198
        The Ma’ariv Service  /  201
        The Shaḥarit Service  /  203
        Torah Readings  /  204
        The Musaf Service  /  205
        The Minḥah Service  /  207
        The Ne’ilah Service  /  208
        Conclusion of the Festival  /  211
CHAPTER 12. Special Days  /  213
Rosh Ḥodesh—The New Moon  /  213
Ḥol ha-Mo’ed—The Intermediate Days of a Festival  /  217
        Ḥol ha-Mo’ed of Pesaḥ  /  219
        Ḥol ha-Mo’ed of Sukkot  /  220
        Ḥosha’na Rabbah  /  221
        Shabbat Ḥol ha-Mo’ed  /  222
Hanukkah  /  222
        Rosh Ḥodesh During Hanukkah  /  225
Purim  /  225
         Shushan Purim  /  227
Fast Days  /  229
         The Ninth of Av (Tish’ah be-Av)  /  229
         Memorial Fast Days  /  233
         The Twentieth of Sivan—A Fast Day of Remembrance  /  236
         Fast Days for Repentance and Atonement  /  237
         Other Fixed Fast Days  /  239
         Nonfixed Fast Day  /  240
Special Time Perios  /  243
         The Ten Days of Repentance  /  243
         The Month of Nisan  /  244
         The Counting of the Omer  /  244
         The Three Weeks (Bein ha-Meitzarim)  /  245
         The Month of Elul  /  245
Days of Joy  /  246
         Local Purims  /  247
         Lag ba-Omier—The Thirty-third Day of the Omer Period  /  247
         The Day of Independence and Jerusalem Day  /  248
         Other Days When Taḥanun Is Not Recited  /  249
CHAPTER 13. Torah Readings  /  253
The Cycle of Torah Readings  /  254
Taking the Torah Scrolls Out of the Ark  /  256
The Order of Calling Up to the Torah  /  258
Blessings for the Torah  /  260
Torah-Reading Customs  /  263
Hagbahah (“Raising”) and Gelilah (“Winding”) of the Torah Scroll  /  265
Returning the Torah Scrools to the Ark  /  267
The People Called Up to the Torah Reading  /  268
The Torah Scroll  /  270
Wrappings and Decorations of the Torah Scroll  /  274
The Pointer (Yad)  /  276
Cantillation of the Torah Reading (Ta’amei he-Mikra)  /  277
         Emperor Accents  /  279
         King Accents  /  279
         Minister Accents  /  280
PART FOUR • The Synagogue and Communal Prayer  
CHAPTER 14. The Synagogue  /  285
Ancient Origins of the Synagogue  /  285
Ancient Synagogues  /  286
Synagogues Outside the City  /  287
The Structure of the Synagogue  /  288
The Women’s Gallery  /  290
Orientation  /  290
Synagogue Accessories  /  292
         The Holy Ark  /  292
         The Bimah  /  292
         Ner Tamid—The Eternal Light  /  293
         The Prayers Lectern  /  293
         Candles and Lamps  /  294
         The Basin  /  294
         Seating  /  295
         Additional Accessories   /  295
Synagogue Architecture  /  297
         Ornamentation  /  298
         Small Synagogues  /  300
         Minyanim  /  301
         The Shtibel  /  302
Synagogue Laws  /  303
The Synagogue and the Beit Midrash (“House of Study”)  /  305
Official Functions and Appointments  /  306
         Head of the Synagogue (Rosh ha-Knesset)  /  306
         Parnas  /  307
         Gabbai  /  308
         Ḥazzan—Cantor  /  309
         Shammash  /  309
         Ba’al Keriah—Torah Reader  /  310
         Meturgeman—Interpreter  /  311
         The Ten Batlanim  /  312
         Rabbi  /  312
Other Use of the Synagogue  /  313
         Talmud Torah—Torah Study School for Children  /  214
         Communal Meetings  /  315
         Weddings and Circumcision Ceremonies  /  316
         Beit Din—Religious Court  /  316
         Guest House  /  317
CHAPTER 15. The Shaliaḥ Tzibbur  /  318
The Role of the Shaliaḥ Tzibbur and Its Origins  /  318
The Ḥazzan  /  319
The Shaliaḥ Tzibbur as Emissary to God  /  321
Various Demands on the Shaliaḥ Tzibbur  /  324
The Choir  /  325
Ḥazzan versus Ba’al Tefillah  /  328
The Kavvanah of the Shaliaḥ Tzibbur  /  329
CHAPTER 16. Prayer Accessories  /  332
Prayer Garments  /  332
Head Coverings  /  333
The Tallit  /  336
         When and by Whom the Tallit Is to Be Worn  /  337
         Significance of the Tallit and Its Blessing  /  339
         The Tzitzit  /  341
         Laws and Customs of the Tzitzit  /  342
         Making the Tzitzit  /  344
         Making the Tallit  /  346
         The Tallit Band (Atarah)  /  347
         The Tallit Bag  /  348
         The Blue Thread (Tekhelet)  /  348
Tefillin  /  349
         Making the Tefillin  /  351
         The Content of the Commandment of Tefillin  /  354
         The Manner of Donning Tefillin  /  358
         Blessings and Recitations  /  361
         Tefillin of Rabbenu Tam  /  363
         Some Laws and Customs of Tefillin  /  363
The Prayer Sash  /  365
Hand-Held Objects  /  366
         The Siddur  /  367
         The Arba’ah Minim (“Four Species”)  /  368
CHAPTER 17. The Music of Prayer  /  370
         Music and Prayer  /  370
         Music in the Temple  /  370
         The Loss of Ancient Music  /  372
         Evolution of Prayer Music  /  373
         Melodies of Oriental Congregations  /  374
         Ashkenazic Cantorial Music  /  376
         New Melodies  /  378
         Styles of Prayer Music  /  381
         Musical Expression in Prayer  /  382
Glossary of Terms  /  387
Biographies  /  410
Bibliographical Notes  /  415
The Jewish Months and the Festivals and Special Days That Occur in Each of Them  /  419
Index  /  420

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A Guide to Jewish Prayer 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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Rabbi Steinsaltz is an authority without equal.