The third of the three daily prayers, called the maariv (or arvit) prayer, is recited after dark (the first two are recited in the morning and afternoon). This prayer was instituted by our Patriarch Jacob.
Actually, when considering that the Jewish calendar date begins with the preceding nightfall, maariv – the evening prayer – is actually seen as the first of the day's prayers. The words of prayer involve the body in the service of G‑d, uplifting and refining the body so that it is more attuned to the spirit. In the initial stage of this process the body is still in spiritual darkness, so maariv is the first of the day's prayers.
From tzeit hakochavim (the appearance of three medium stars in the night sky) until dawn. For the exact times of tzeit hakochavim and dawn in your location, click here.
The words of prayer involve the body in the service of G‑d, uplifting and refining the body so that it is more attuned to the spirit(It is also permitted to pray maariv early, up to 1¼ [halachic] hours before sunset—provided that the afternoon prayers were recited before this cutoff time. This time is known as plag haminchah. If one is praying before nightfall, the Shema should be repeated after tzeit hakochavim. For more on this topic, click here.)
As with all prayers, preferred location is the synagogue, together with a congregation. Can't make it there? Face Jerusalem from wherever you are, and make it a private call.
Wash your hands and open your prayer book.
Maariv opens with the recitation of the Shema and the "blessings of Shema," – two before and two after – followed by the nineteen-blessing Amidah (silent prayer) recited standing while facing Jerusalem. It concludes with the Aleinu hymn. The entire prayer lasts approximately ten minutes. If praying with a congregation, the prayer starts with the leader saying the kaddish and Barchu, and kaddish again before and after the Amidah.
For special days (e.g. Shabbat, holidays, fast days), there are special variations.