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Jewish Prayers: Table of Contents | Musaf | Arvit

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AMEN (Heb. אָמֵן; "it is true," "so be it," "may it become true"), word or formula used as confirmation, endorsement, or expression of hope and wish on hearing a blessing, prayer, curse, or oath. Originally an adjective ("true"; but see Isa. 65:16 for its use as a noun), it became an indeclinable interjection. As such it is found 30 times in the masoretic text of the Bible and an additional three times in the Septuagint (see Tob. 8:8 and 1 QS 1:20, 2:10, 18). It usually stands alone, but is followed by a more explicit prayer formula in I Kings 1:36 and Jeremiah 28:6. In the service of the Second Temple, "Amen" was the response to the songs chanted by the levites (Ps. 41:14; 72:19; 89:53; 106:48; Neh. 8:6; I Chron. 16:36; cf. however Tosef. Ber. 7:22). In the synagogue liturgy, "Amen" was the response to all prayers and blessings. In the vast synagogue of Alexandria the ḥazzan signaled with a flag from the central reading platform to the congregation when to respond "Amen" after blessings (Suk. 51b). It may be assumed that in Temple and talmudic times responding "Amen" was the main form of participation in the service, not only because congregations were unfamiliar with the prayer texts (cf. RH 34b) but because public worship mainly took the form that one spoke and the rest responded. The saying of "Amen" is equivalent to reciting the blessing itself, and such religious value has been attached to it, that it has been said to be superior to the benediction that occasioned the response (Ber. 53b; Maim., Yad, Berakhot 1:11). A person should not usually respond with "Amen" to a blessing he himself has recited, the only exception now being the third blessing of the Grace after Meals (Ber. 45a and Tos.). This prohibition may be a reaction to the Christian custom to conclude every prayer with "Amen." The early church borrowed the use of "Amen" together with most of the liturgy, and it is found in the New Testament 119 times, of which 52 are uses different from the Hebrew. In Islam, "Amen" is the response after reciting the first sura (Surat al-Fatiḥa) of the Koran.

"Amen" is used as a response to blessings recited both privately and in the synagogue liturgy. The congregation also responds "Amen" after each of the three verses of the Priestly Blessing (Sot. 7:3, 39b). In some rites the response after each verse is Ken yehi raẓon ("Let this be [His] will"; cf. Sh. Ar., OḤ 127:2). After each paragraph of the Kaddish and after a number of other prayers, such as the Mi she-Berakh formulas in the Sabbath morning service, the reader invites the congregation to respond "Amen" by saying ve-imru Amen, or ve-nomar Amen ("and say Amen" or "let us say Amen"). Numerous rules are given concerning how "Amen" should be recited, e.g., with a strong, clear voice but not too loud; not too quick and not too slow. It describes various types of "Amen," such as "snatched," "mumbled," and "orphaned" (Ber. 47a). Other problems discussed in the Talmud are whether to respond to the blessing of a Samaritan or of a non-Jew (Ber. 8:7; Ber. 51b; TJ Ber. 8:1, 12d). The aggadah stresses the great religious value of responding "Amen": it prolongs life (Ber. 47a); the gates of Paradise will be opened to him who responds with all his might (Shab. 119b); his sins will be forgiven, any evil decree passed on him by God will be canceled (ibid.); and he will be spared from Hell (Pseudo SEZ 20, ed. Friedmann (1904), 33:1; Yal. Isa. 429). The Talmud (Shab. 119b; Sanh. 111a) also offers a homiletical etymology of "Amen" by explaining it as made up of the initial letters of El Melekh Ne'eman ("God, faithful King"), a phrase by which the reading of the Shema is preceded when recited other than in congregational worship. However, in the older prayer orders (Amram, Saadiah, Vitry) the original "Amen" appears before the Shema. Even God Himself "nods" "Amen" to the blessing given to him by mortal man (Ber. 7a and Rashi). According to legend, two angels accompany each Jew on Friday evening to his home, where they either bless him for his receiving the Sabbath properly or curse him for neglecting it, and they confirm their curse or blessing with "Amen" (Shab. 119b). Any good wish offered should be answered by Amen, ken yehi raẓon, as can be inferred from an incident going back to Second Temple times (Ket. 66b).

In Music

According to the Talmud (Ber. 47a; TJ Ber. 8:10), the "Amen" should be drawn out in pronunciation, an act which is said to prolong life (repeated in the Zohar, Shelaḥ Lekha, 162a). Since Eastern chant does not use extended single notes, this very old precept furnished a challenge to elaborate the "Amen" response with ornament and coloratura. The free evolution of an "Amen"-melisma is found in Christian chant as early as the Oxyrhynchos hymn (late third century), in some settings of the Gloria and the Credo in the Roman mass, and later in figural church music. As to Jewish chant, the Gemara already limited the length of the "Amen" pronunciation; therefore, prolonged melodies are restricted to the "Amen" after the Blessing of the Priests (Example 1) and to the solo-part of the precentor (Example 2). In 1696, Judah Leib Zelichover (Shirei


Yehudah, fol. 13b) disapproved of the excessive lengthening of "Amen"-melodies by some of his fellow singers. The "Amen" of the congregation in general remains a simple repetition, a conclusion or short continuation of the precentor's melody. "Amen"-motives characteristic of a certain feast were derived from its specific musical modes and prayer tunes. In the 19th century synagogue, S. *Sulzer , Hirsch Weintraub, and others attempted an imitation of figural "Amen" composition, but without success.

[Hanoch Avenary]


E. Blau, in: REJ, 31 (1895), 179–201; H. Graetz, in: MGWJ, 21 (1872), 481 ff.; H.W. Hogg, in: JQR, 9 (1896/97), 1 ff.; Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 495 ff.; F. Heiler, Gebet (19212), 383, 442 ff.; D. de Sola Pool, Kaddish (1909); L. Jacobs, Faith (1968), 199f.; ET, 2 (1949), 46–50. MUSIC: JE, EJ, Adler, Prat Mus, 21, 249; Idelsohn, Melodien, 1 (1914); 4 (1923), 131 no. 26, 137 no. 32; H. Weintraub, Schire Beth Adonai (19012), 82–83 no. 96; J. Freudenthal, Final Amens and Shabat Shalom (1963); F. Piket, Eleven Amens for All Occasions (1960).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.


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