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Jewish Prayers: The Daily Services

A quorum, called a minyan, is required for a complete religious service. Ten adults (aged 13 years plus a day) constitute a minyan. In the absense of a minyan, the Barechu and Kaddish are not recited aloud, and the Torah is not read from the scroll.

There are three daily services prescribed by tradition: Ma'ariv, Shacharit, and Minchah. Musaf is an additional service for Shabbat and holidays, though it is not included at all synagogues:





Evening, after sundown

Includes preliminary prayers, Shema and its Blessings, Amidah, and Concluding prayers



Includes preliminary prayers, Shema and its Blessings, Amidah, and Concluding prayer

Includes Torah reading on Shabbat, holidays, Monday, and Thursday



Preliminary prayers and Amidah

Includes Torah reading only on Shabbat and Yom Kippur

There are multiple reasons for there being three daily prayer services but the usual explanation is that each one of the three was initiated by one of our patriarchs: Abraham (Genesis 22:3 -- "Abraham arose early in the morning"), Isaac (Genesis 24:63 -- "Isaac went out meditating in the field toward evening"), and Jacob (Genesis 28:11 "He came to that place and stopped there for the night"). In fact, the prayer services are also substitutes for the sacrifices made in the Temple in Jerusalem prior to its destruction in 69/70 C.E. The morning prayers (Shacharit) and afternoon prayers (Minchah) correspond to the morning (Tamid offering) and afternoon sacrifices (the second Tamid). The evening service, Ma'ariv, is not associated with a sacrifice. Rather, it derives from the obligation to say the Shema in the evening (the prayer itself says "you shall recite these words when you lie down at night and when you rise up in the morning") hence the Shema is said in the evening and morning, but not in the afternoon. There is also a tradition that Daniel prayed thrice daily. There was a time in Jewish history when Ma'ariv was an optional service; today, it is often appended to the Minchah service.

While there is great variety in the prayers, moods, and liturgies of the various Jewish worship services, there are also structural commonalities which mark them as distinctly Jewish. All Ma'ariv and Shacharit services follow this basic structure:

1. Warm-up Prayers (These vary depending upon the time of day and occasion. Kabbalat Shabbat is an example of warm-up prayers for the Shabbat evening service.)

2. Shema and its Blessings (Beginning with the Barechu, the Call to Worship, and including prayers on the themes of Creation, Revelation, and Redemption. These prayers establish the common ground of belief and identity of the congregation: We are creatures created by God, Who created the universe; God gave our people the Torah, which was revealed at Mount Sinai and which serves as our guide; and we look forward to a future redemption -- the messianic age -- which we understand from our past experience of redemption from slavery in Egypt, and which we expect will encompass the world with peace and justice.)

3. Amidah (Also known as Ha-Tefillah or Shemona Esrei, the Amidah is the worshiper's opportunity to approach God in private prayer, reciting both the words in the siddur as well as whatever prayers his/her heart may prompt. Because the recitation of this prayer is a central religious obligation, and has always been public by nature, it is often repeated in full by the chazzan after the congregation has been given time to recite the prayer privately. The weekday version of the Amidah is considerably longer than the Shabbat/holy day version. Both have a tripartite structure: (1) praises of God; (2) petitions on weekdays, and sanctification of the day on holy days; (3) prayers of thanksgiving. The model for this tripartite structure is how one would approach a powerful ruler -- since God is the sovereign of the universe. On Shabbat, we live as if the messianic age has arrived and we have no need to petition God; therefore, we eliminate the petitions and replace them with prayers sanctifying the holy day.)

4. Concluding Prayers The concluding prayers begin with Aleinu, and include Kaddish and a song on Shabbat -- usually Yigdal in the evening and Adon Olam in the morning -- at the end of the service. The Aleinu bespeaks a time when idolatry will have vanished from our world and hence God will be acknowledged by all humanity, sometimes considered a prelude to the messianic age. Kaddish is a prayer which expresses the desire for, and belief in, such a time and is recited in memory of those who have died.

Sources: Rabbi Amy Scheinerman