14. The Daily Prayer Services
A Jew turns to God in prayer -- morning, afternoon and evening.
At the end of our last lesson, we discussed the basic concepts of how the Jewish day is structured: sunrise, noon, sunset, etc. Before continuing with this lesson, it would be good to go back and review that section.
For the morning service, men should wear a Tallit and Tefillin. Shacharit consists of seven main sections:
- Morning Blessings
- Pesukei D'Zimrah
- Kriyat Shema
- Torah Reading
Let's examine these one at a time:
1) Morning Blessings
Morning prayers begin with the recitation of a series of blessings. These include blessings for:
- washing one's hands1 (Al Netilat Yadayim)
- using the bathroom2 (Asher Yatzar)
- Torah study
- restoration of one's soul (Elokai Neshama)
These are followed by a longer series of 15 blessings, thanking God for the variety of phenomena that we experience throughout the day,3 for example:
- the passing of nighttime exhaustion
- wisdom and understanding
- the ability to perform mitzvot
- the ability to stand erect
- the stability of dry land
Some have the custom to read additional texts, such as the biblical Akeida (binding of Isaac) and some portions of the Mishnah dealing with the Temple offerings.
2) Pesukei D'Zimrah
Shacharit continues with Pesukei D'Zimrah (lit: verses of song), a series of biblical verses, mostly from Psalms, that focus on God's glory in both Creation and throughout history. We say these verses because it is proper to praise God before making our requests,4 as this helps us to be humbled when standing before God in prayer.5
Pesukei D'Zimrah begins with a blessing (Baruch Sh'Amar), and ends with a blessing (Yish'tabach).
The central portion of Pesukei D'Zimrah is Psalm 145 (Ashrei), praises of God in which the first letter of each verse follows the Aleph-Bet. The central verse of Ashrei is: "You open Your hand to satisfy the desire of every living thing." This verse acknowledges the Divine Providence that extends to every facet of our life – both our successes and our difficulties. So important is this declaration that one who forgot to concentrate on its meaning must recite the verse again.6
From the beginning of Pesukei D'Zimrah, until after Tachanun, one should not interrupt with any other talking, except for certain congregational responses.7
In a minyan, Pesukei D'Zimrah is followed by Kaddish and Borchu, the call to prayer.
3) Kriyat Shema
One of the 613 mitzvot is to recite the Shema twice daily.8 The Shema has been called the Jewish pledge of allegiance, as it proclaims God's unity: "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One."9
The full Shema consists of three paragraphs:
- Deut. 6:4-9, focuses on the concepts of loving God, learning Torah, and passing on Jewish tradition to our children. These verses also refer to the mitzvot of tefillin and mezuzah.
- Deut. 11:13-21, speaks about the positive consequences of fulfilling the mitzvot, and the negative consequences of not.
- Numbers 15:37-41, which speaks about the Exodus from Egypt, fulfills the commandment to recall the Exodus every day.10 It also discusses the mitzvah to wear tzitzit.
The earliest one may recite the morning Shema is from the time you can recognize a friend from a distance of four cubits (approx. 7 feet). This is approximately 60 minutes before sunrise, depending on season and location. Shema must be said by the end of the third halachic hour, which is equivalent to one-fourth of the day (which is approx. 9 a.m.)11
When saying the first line of Shema, it is customary to close one's eyes, covering them with the right hand.12 This is done in order to aid concentration; one is required, minimally, to concentrate properly on the first two verses.13
When reading the Shema, one should say each word slowly and clearly, with care to properly pronounce every letter.14 It should preferably be read in an audible manner.15
Throughout the Shema, one should hold the tzitzit, and kiss them at each mention of the word "tzitzit," which is a theme of the third paragraph.
In Shacharit, the Shema is preceded by two blessings: 1) theme of Creation, and 2) God's love of Torah and the Jewish people. Another blessing is said after the Shema, on the theme of redemption.
When praying without a minyan, one adds the words "El Melech Ne'eman" before saying the Shema.16
The central part of the morning service is the Amidah, which means "standing." The Amidah is also known as the Shemoneh Esrei, since it consists of 19 blessings.17 These are divided into expressions of praise (3 blessings), entreaties (13 blessings) and gratitude (3 blessings).18
The Amidah should be recited with awe, as if one is petitioning a king.19 It is important to learn the meaning behind the words, and pray the Amidah slowly, concentrating on one blessing at a time. It is particularly important to concentrate during the first of the 19 blessings.20
When saying the Amidah, one should stand with feet together,21 facing in the direction of Israel (e.g. in the United States, one faces east). In Israel, one faces the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.22
It is forbidden to interrupt the Amidah to speak or signal to anyone.23 It is also forbidden to respond Amen to a blessing, or to answer to Kaddish or Kedusha.24 If one accidentally spoke in middle of the Amidah, he should return to the beginning of the blessing which he interrupted and continue from there.25
The best time to pray the morning Amidah is exactly at sunrise.26 But most people don't wake up early enough to do so. The Amidah should be completed by the fourth halachic hour after sunrise.27
Before beginning, one should briefly gaze up to Heaven to put himself into the proper mood.28 Though one's eyes face toward Israel, his heart (i.e. thoughts) should be directed toward Heaven.29
Before beginning the Amidah, one takes three steps backward, and then three steps forward.30
The Amidah is said in an undertone.31 It is especially important not to allow one's prayers to disturb the Amidah of others.32
During the Amidah, we bow at various points. The correct method of bowing is:
- bend the knees when saying Baruch ("blessed")
- bow when saying Ata ("are You")
- upon saying the name of God, stand erect 33
There are four instances in the Amidah when we bow:
- the beginning of the first blessing (Avot)
- the end of the first blessing (Avot)
- the beginning of the 18th blessing (Modim)34
- the end of the 18th blessing (Modim)35
There are various seasonal additions to the Amidah, for example:
On Rosh Chodesh and festivals:
- Ya'aleh v'Yavo is said during the 17th blessing (Ritzay – Avodah)
- Hallel is said immediately following the chazzan's repetition of the Amidah of Shacharit.36
- The additional Musaf prayer is recited after Ashrei and U'va L'Tzion. This corresponds to the additional sacrifices that were offered in the Temple on these days.37
There are seasonal adjustments regarding prayers for rain:
- In the second blessing (Gevurot), from Shmini Atzeret until Passover, we add the words, Mashiv ha'ruach u'morid hageshem.
- In the ninth blessing (Shanim), from December 4 until Passover, we add the words, Tein tal u'matar liv'racha.
On Chanukah and Purim, the paragraph Al HaNisim is added in the 18th blessing (Modim).
During the Days of Awe between Rosh Hashana and
One may add a personal prayer into any one of the 19 blessings, providing that the supplication is relevant to the topic of the blessing. For example, in the blessing of "Rifa'einu" (Health and Healing), one may specifically ask that someone be healed from their sickness.39 The exception to this rule is the blessing "Shema Koleinu" (Acceptance of Prayer), where one may ask for any needs.
The best place to say a personal supplication is "Elokai Nitzor," which is said after the 19th blessing.40 At this point, some also have the custom to say a verse that contains their name, or that begins with the first letter of their name and ends with the last letter of their name.
After completing the Amidah, one takes three steps backward to leave God's presence – bowing first to the left, then right, and then forward. One should then pause for a few moments and then take three steps forward.41 (In a minyan one should wait until the kedusha, or at least until the start of the repetition of the amidah.)
When praying with others, it is important not to "step back" into the space of another person who is still praying (defined as the 7 feet directly in front of the person).42 This is because:
- it could disturb the other person's concentration
- the Divine Presence rests on a person praying, and it is considered disrespectful to impinge on that space
It is similarly forbidden to sit in the immediate presence of one who is reciting the Amidah.43
When a minyan is present, the chazzan (shaliach tzibur) recites a repetition of the Amidah. The congregation should pay attention to the repetition44 and answer Amen to each of the 19 blessings.45 It is forbidden to converse during its recital.46
The chazzan's repetition also includes the responsive prayer Kedushah, and Modim D'Rabanan (in the 18th blessing). In Israel, the kohanim stand before the congregation each day and recite the Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim).47
The reason why the Amidah is repeated aloud is in order to fulfill the obligation of someone who does not know how to pray by himself.48 Although with a variety of prayer books available, this is mostly not a problem today, the tradition is followed in all congregations.49 Moreover, there are important mystical benefits of the repetition.50
Following the Amidah, we say Tachanun, a prayer of supplication.51 This is based on a biblical precedent of beseeching God at times of stress and tragedy.52
Tachanun consists of three parts, each said in a different bodily position:53
- sitting, with one's forehead resting on the forearm54 55
- sitting up
A longer version of Tachanun is said on Mondays and Thursdays.
There are many occasions and days on which Tachanun is omitted:
- in a house of mourning during the Shiva period
- in the presence of a groom during the week of Sheva Brachot 56
- in the presence of a primary participant in a circumcision that will take place later that day (i.e., the father, mohel or sandak), and/or in a synagogue where a circumcision will take place later that day57
- on Shabbat, festivals, Rosh Chodesh, and other special calendar dates (see footnote58 )
6) Torah Reading
On Monday and Thursdays, a Torah scroll is removed from the ark and the first section of that week's Torah portion is read.
The source for this is when the Jewish people were wandering in the desert, and complained against God. This was attributed to their having gone three straight days without learning Torah. So Moses decreed that the Torah be read publicly on Mondays and Thursdays (and Shabbat), so that one should never go more than three days without hearing at least some words of Torah.59
Shacharit continues with Ashrei, L'Minatzeach and U'va L'Tzion. Kaddish is then said by the chazzan.
Shacharit concludes with Aleynu, the song of the day, and additional verses. Mourner's Kaddish is said at various intervals of this concluding section.
Mincha, the afternoon service, is an oasis of spiritual time in a tough workday, a moment of contemplation, a calming of nerves and a focusing of priorities. As such, even though it is the shortest prayer service of the day, it is perhaps the most important and meaningful.60
Mincha may be recited starting one half-hour after (halachic) noon, up until sunset.61
When it comes time to pray Mincha, it is forbidden to get involved in things that may distract a person and cause him to forget to pray.62
If there is water available, one must wash his hands before the prayer.63
Mincha begins with the recitation of Psalm 145 (Ashrei). [Ashrei was also said twice during Shacharit; the Sages say that anyone who recites Ashrei three times daily, is assured of a place in the World to Come.64]
Mincha continues with the silent Amidah, followed by the chazzan's repetition.
On public fast days, the paragraph Aneinu is added in the 16th blessing (Shema Koleinu). Additionally, On Tisha B'Av, the paragraph Nacheim is added in the 14th blessing (Binyan Yerushalayim).
Mincha continues with the short version of Tachanun (except on the days noted above).
Mincha concludes with Aleynu.
Ma'ariv, the evening service, may be recited starting at nightfall65 (approximately 30 minutes after sundown, though the precise time will vary depending on season and location66 ). Ma'ariv may be recited up until midnight.67
When it comes time to pray the evening service, it is forbidden to get involved in things that may distract a person and cause him to forget to pray.68
In the presence of a minyan, Ma'ariv begins with Borchu, the call to prayer.69 From the time Barchu is said until the completion of the service, it is forbidden to talk.70
In Ma'ariv, the Shema is preceded by two blessings: 1) the theme of Creation, and 2) God's love of Torah and the Jewish people. Two more blessings are said after the Shema: 1) the theme of redemption, 2) God's nighttime protection.
There is an additional paragraph, called "Baruch Hashem L'Olam." There are various customs regarding whether to say this paragraph. Most Ashkenazim in the Diaspora do say it, but not necessarily every time. Furthermore, Sefardim do not say, nor is it ever said in Israel. Check with your rabbi regarding your congregation's custom.
Ma'ariv continues with the silent Amidah. There is no chazzan's repetition.
For Ma'ariv that immediately follows Shabbat or Yom Tov, the paragraph Ata Chonan'tanu is added in the fourth blessing (Bina).
Ma'ariv concludes with "Aleynu."
During the days between Passover and Shavuot, the Omer is counted at the conclusion of Ma'ariv.71 The details are discussed in Laws of Daily Living – Holidays Part 1.
The Talmud says that during nighttime sleep, one's soul goes up to Heaven for a daily accounting, leaving the body "unprotected," so to speak.72 To counteract this, before going to sleep at night, one recites the blessing of Hamapil, followed by the first paragraph of Shema.73
Another purpose of the bedtime Shema is to fall asleep while saying words of Torah.
After saying the Hamapil blessing, one should refrain from doing anything else, as not to make an "interruption" between saying the blessing and sleeping.
Some have the custom to say additional verses and chapters of Psalms,74 as well as to confess one's sins and forgive others.75
Some have the custom to recite Psalms at various times during the day. For 3,000 years, these words of King David have been a companion to Jews at all times, giving expression to our deepest spiritual yearnings – whether we are in crisis or are prospering.76
Specifically, one should recite Psalms 121 and 130 on behalf of those who are ill. The recital of Psalms is meant to arouse and intensify our connection to the Almighty, and in this merit we ask God to heal the sick.77 Afterwards, a short prayer should be said entreating God to heal the patient. (The Jewish name of the patient should be said along with that of his mother.)78
100 Blessings Each Day
In Deut. 10:12, Moses tells the Jewish people: "What (mah) does God ask of you?" The Talmud explains that the word mah can be read as me'ah, meaning 100. In other words, God obligates us to recite (at least) 100 brachot every day.79
Further, one who is careful to say 100 brachot every day is considered to have fulfilled the directive to "fear God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, and to serve God, and to guard His mitzvot."80
See the Pathways class 100 Blessings Each Day for details on how to reach the total of 100 blessings.
Recommended Commentaries on Prayer
- Praying with Fire – Rabbi Heshy Kleinman [ArtScroll.com]
- Rav Schwab on Prayer – Rabbi Shimon Schwab [ArtScroll.com]
- The World of Prayer – Rabbi Dr. Elie Munk [Feldheim.com]
- Pathway to Prayer – Rabbi Mayer Birnbaum [Feldheim.com]
- Praise My Soul – Rabbi Avigdor Miller [Balshon Printing]
- To Pray as a Jew – Hayim Halevy Donin [Basic Books]
- Details are discussed in Laws of Daily Living – “Starting the Day.”
- Talmud – Brachot 60a
- Talmud – Brachot 32a
- Tosfot (Brachot 31a); Aruch HaShulchan 51:1
- Orach Chaim 51:7
- see ArtScroll Siddur for details
- As derived from the verse: "And you should speak about them when you... lie down and when you get up" (Deut. 6:7). The Talmud explains that this does not refer to the literal position of one’s body, but rather designates the time of day to say the Shema (Brachot 10b).
- Deut. 6:4
- This is one of the 613 mitzvot.
- Orach Chaim 58:1. Morning Shema may be said up until the end of three “seasonal hours.” If Shema and the blessings were not recited by the end of the third hour, they may be said until the end of the fourth hour. Subsequently, Shema may only be said without the blessings. (Orach Chaim 58:6)
- Orach Chaim 61:5
- If one did not concentrate when reciting the first verse, he must repeat it. (Orach Chaim 60:5)
- Orach Chaim 62:1
- Talmud – Brachot 15; Orach Chaim 61
- This brings the number of words of Shema to 248, which corresponds to the number of positive mitzvot in the Torah. When praying with a minyan, however, one does not need to add these words, since the chazzan concludes with three extra words, "Hashem Elokeichem Emet."
- Shemoneh Esrei literally means “18”; a 19th blessing was added by the later Sages.
- Mishnah Berurah 112:1
- Mishnah Berurah 95:6
- Orach Chaim 101:1. Some opinions suggest that one who does not concentrate on the first blessing may need to start the Amidah again.
- Orach Chaim 95:1, to emulate the angels (Ezekiel 1:7)
- Orach Chaim 94:1
- Mishnah Berurah 104:1, except if someone’s life is in danger (Orach Chaim 104:1).
- Orach Chaim 104:7. These responses are permitted if one reached near the end of the Amidah and said the verse “Yihee l’ratzon.”
- Mishnah Berurah 104:25
- Orach Chaim 89:1
- If one neglected to so, he may complete the prayer up until the end of the 6th halachic hour. (Orach Chaim 89:1)
- Mishnah Berurah 95:4
- Talmud – Yevamot 105b, Brachot 31a; Orach Chaim 95:2
- Mishnah Berurah 95:3. The reason is because Moses went through three barriers in meeting God on Mount Sinai: darkness, cloud and fog (Deut. 4:11); see Beit Yosef (Orach Chaim 123); Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chaim 123).
- Orach Chaim 101:2 with Mishnah Berurah and Biur Halacha; based on 1-Samuel 1:12-13: "Her lips were moving, and her voice was not heard."
- Orach Chaim 101:2
- Mishnah Berurah 113:12
- Orach Chaim 113:1. This bowing is an exception in that we just bow without bending the knees.
- Orach Chaim 113:1.
- Orach Chaim 422:2 544:1.
- Rambam (Tefillah 1:5).
- See the Siddur for details.
- Orach Chaim 119:1
- Orach Chaim 119:2 with Mishnah Berurah
- Talmud – Yoma 53b; based on verses in Deut. 33:2 and Psalms 91:7; Orach Chaim 102:5; 123:1; Mishnah Berurah 95:3
- Orach Chaim 102:4. An exception is for a very pressing need. Mishnah Berurah 92:10
- Orach Chaim 102:1
- Orach Chaim 124:4
- Orach Chaim 124:6
- Orach Chaim 124:7
- Mishnah Berurah 128:164. Elsewhere, Sefardim practice it daily (Orach Chaim 129:1), while Ashkenazim do so only during the Mussaf of Yom Tov (Rema – Orach Chaim 128:44)
- Orach Chaim 124:1
- Mishnah Berurah 124:12
- Kaf HaChaim 124:2
- Orach Chaim 131:1
- see Numbers 16:22, Joshua 7:6
- see Bach (Orach Chaim 131)
- If one is wearing tefillin, the forehead rests on the arm that does not have the tefillin.
- If no Torah scroll is present, the first part of Tachanun is said sitting up (Rema – Orach Chaim 131:2). The exception to this is within Jerusalem where the sanctity of the city is so intense that it is always considered within the presence of a Torah scroll. See Tefillah K’Hilchato 15:2.
- Mishnah Berurah 131:21. If both bride and groom have been previously married, the period of celebration extends only three days.
- Orach Chaim 131:4
- Tachanun is omitted on the entire month of Nissan; Lag B'Omer; from Rosh Chodesh Sivan until the day after Shavuot (some congregations do not resume Tachanun until 14 Sivan); Tisha B'Av; 15 Av; between Yom Kippur and the day after Sukkot (some congregations do not resume until 2 Cheshvan); Chanukah; Tu B'Shvat; Purim and Shushan Purim (in a leap year this applies also to 14-15 Adar I); or at Mincha of the day preceding any of the days listed above. Plus: Erev Rosh Hashanah and Erev Yom Kippur. In some congregations, Tachanun is omitted on Pesach Sheni (14 Iyar). Source: ArtScroll Siddur.
- see Rambam (Tefillah 12:1)
- Rabbi Berel Wein: Mincha – The Afternoon Prayer (aish.com)
- If it was not completed by sunset, some authorities allow it to be still recited shortly afterwards. Orach Chaim 233:1, Mishnah Berurah 233:14
- See Orach Chaim 232:2.
- Orach Chaim 233:2
- Talmud – Brachot 4b
- One may say these prayers as early as 1-¼ halachic hours before sunset – on condition that the afternoon service was recited prior to 1-¼ halachic hours before sunset. Orach Chaim 233:1
- See Tefillah K’Hilchato 3:46
- If necessary, Ma’ariv and the evening Shema may be recited until 72 minutes before sunrise. Orach Chaim 235:3
- See Orach Chaim 235:2.
- Orach Chaim 55:1
- Mishnah Berurah 236:1
- Orach Chaim 489:1
- Aishel Avraham on Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 239:1)
- Orach Chaim 239:1. There are different customs as to which of these two should be recited first.
- Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 71:4
- Mishnah Berurah 239:9
- To find the meaning behind individual Psalms, the reader is encouraged to study Rabbi A. C. Feuer’s Tehillim [ArtScroll] and Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s Growth Through Tehillim [ArtScroll].
- Halichot Shlomo (vol.1, pg. 105)
- Orchot Rabbeinu (1:218)
- Brachot 33b, Menachot 43b, Orach Chaim 46:3
- Tzror HaMor (one of the early Acharonim)