ASHREI (Heb. אַשְׁרֵי; "Happy are they"), the first word and the name of a reading from the Book of Psalms which occupies an important place in the liturgy. The reading consists of Psalms 84:5, 144:15, 145, and 115:18. The Talmud states that anyone who recites Ashrei three times a day is sure of life in the world to come (Ber. 4b), and therefore it is read twice in the morning service (in the *Pesukei de-Zimra and toward the end), and at the commencement of the afternoon service. The addition of the first two verses is explained as a reference to the pious who arrive early before the start of the service proper (Ber. 32b; cf. Yal., II Sam. 146). Ashrei is recited before the Seliḥot of the months of Elul and Tishri. On the Day of Atonement the Sephardim recite it both at Minḥah and Ne'ilah, whereas the Ashkenazim say it only at Ne'ilah.
Psalm 145 is the only psalm to bear the title tehillah (literally "praise") from which the entire book of Psalms takes its Hebrew name, Tehillim. It is alphabetic with the strophe of the letter nun missing. A talmudic homily suggests that this is because the letter nun also begins a verse prophesying the destruction of Israel (Amos 5:2; Ber. 4b). However, in the Psalm Scroll discovered among the *Dead Sea Scrolls (ed. J.A. Sanders (1966), 64) there is a nun verse reading ne'eman Elohim bi-devarav ve-ḥasid be-khol ma'asav ("God is faithful in His words, and pious in all His works"). In the scrolls each line ends with the refrain Barukh Adonai u-varukh shemo le-olam va-ed ("Blessed is the Lord, and blessed be His name for evermore") which would indicate that the psalm was used liturgically as early as the Second Temple. In the psalm the author declares that he will praise God because He is "gracious," "merciful," "slow to anger," and "good"; "He supports the fallen" and gives mankind its "food in due season." God is close to all "who call upon His name in truth" and "preserves all who love Him."
Ashkenazim customarily touch the tefillin at verse 16: "Thou openest Thy hand, and satisfiest all living," whereas the Sephardim open their hands in symbolic gesture. In Reform synagogues Ashrei is recited in the vernacular; in many Conservative synagogues it is read responsively in Hebrew.
Oẓar ha-Tefillot (Ashkenazi rite) (1923), 215; Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 85; Hertz, Prayer, 85 ff.; E. Munk, The World of Prayer (1954), 73 ff.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.