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What Is Jewish Prayer?

What Is Jewish Prayer?


It can happen at any time of the day. Head lowered, we whisper a short prayer to G‑d. In times of suffering and pain, or even when experiencing a temporary predicament, we turn to our Creator and request His assistance.

This is prayer in its most quintessential form. The Torah instructs us to reach out to G‑d when experiencing hardship; the precise wording is immaterial—what’s important only is that this communiqué emanate from the heart. readRead talking with G‑d »

On a very basic level, prayer expresses our belief in G‑d. Our recognition that we are dependent on His beneficence, and that, as the one who controls all, it is within His ability to extricate us from our hardship. And as such, in a time of need—no matter how trivial the need may seem—we turn to the one whom we know can help.

The Torah refers to prayer as “the service of the heart,” an act suffused with love and reverence. Prayer is about a child approaching his loving parent. In fact, the medieval sage Maimonides writes that “prayer without concentration is akin to a lifeless body.”readRead is prayer an obligation or inspiration »

Chabad philosophy, however, based on the teachings of Kabbalah, expounds upon the idea of prayer as more than just a vehicle for presenting our needs before G‑d. It is actually our primary means of connecting our consciousness to the divine, an island in time when our souls are unleashed, free to soar to heavenly heights. Such prayer leaves an indelible refining impact on the entire day.

Much of Chabad literature is devoted to discussing the nature and power of prayer, meditations for before and during prayer, and the critical importance of investing one’s soul in this daily service of the heart. watchWatch a discussion on prayer & Kabbalah »

More on: why we pray and doesn’t G‑d know best without prayer

History of Prayer

Originally, the mitzvah to pray did not include any specific times, nor was there a defined text. Every individual chose his or her own words with which to address the Creator. There was, though, a standard format for prayer: praise for G‑d, followed by asking Him for all one’s needs, followed by expressing gratitude for all G‑d has done for us—both collectively and individually.

Following the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 423 BCE, the Jews were exiled to Babylon for seventy years. The new generation born in the Diaspora was, for the most part, not fluent in Hebrew—the “Holy Tongue.” In fact, many spoke a broken language—a combination of Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and more—preventing them from properly formulating their own prayers.

To address this issue, Ezra the Scribe—together with the Men of the Great Assembly, consisting of 120 prophets and sages—established a standard text for prayer in Hebrew. They also instituted three times for daily prayer: morning, afternoon and night. readRead about who invented the synagogue »

The three prayers (a fourth is added after the morning prayers on Shabbat and Jewish holidays) center around the Amidah, a series of nineteen blessings. The morning and evening prayers also incorporate the Shema, as per the mitzvah to recite it morning and night. Selected Psalms, blessings and prayers complete the picture. readRead about the unique way Jews pray today »

By the 2nd century CE, the prayers the way we know it today were formulated.

This all is in addition to the personal, heartfelt prayers and conversations we are encouraged to constantly initiate with G‑d.

More on: the synagogue and a selection of prayers

Communal Prayer

Although one may pray whenever and wherever (provided that it is an appropriate location for an exchange with the Creator), Jewish tradition encourages communal prayer.watchWatch a talk on the way to have a selfless prayer »

The reason is twofold: a) A venue designated for prayer is one where G‑d is more readily accessible—in fact, a synagogue is considered a miniature replica of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, where G‑d’s presence was prevalent. b) Joining with others gives each individual the power of the community, and their collective deeds and merits.readListen to a lecture on the value of private vs. congregational prayer »

Dovid Zaklikowski is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn. Dovid and his wife Chana Raizel are the proud parents of four: Motti, Meir, Shaina & Moshe Binyomin.
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David Harold Chester Petach Tikva, Israel October 27, 2017

When Concentration is Lacking I sometimes find my mind wandering onto different matters whilst I recite what is an almost standard memorized prayer. I don't wish to change the words to make it more "interesting", but how can I stop myself feeling bored and my thoughts changing as my mind takes in more than one subject (I really can think and do two different things together)? Reply

Morris Las Vegas October 29, 2017
in response to David Harold Chester:

David . . . . . . I completely understand, the same thing happens to me. What you have to concentrate on is the prayer AND the thought that you are speaking to "the one who can give and take life," spiritually talking. But this is not the problem you have. I know this is not the problem I have. You must learn to come in to the shul, relax and clear your mind of your daily problems. Put yourself into a very relaxed mood, Take in the words and make them part of you. Think about it. Whether you say the whole prayer or not. Don't let anybody rush you. I hope this helps . . . . Reply

Louise Leon PA, USA October 25, 2017

Having been brought up Conservative, going to shul from age 5 thru 12...I basically know/knew the liturgy by heart. However, I do not pray in a shul today, partly due to the fact that I prefer to pray in a different manner. I put on a religious CD in my car and hear/sometimes sing the prayers. This is individualized and works better for me. Reply

Morris Las Vegas October 29, 2017
in response to Louise Leon:

Then stick to it . . . The shul, or Bait Knesset in Hebrew which actually means a meeting place, is a place where you get to gether with a group of people to do something. The Shul is more then a place to meet and pray, or it should be, it is a place where you are given information on what is going on in your community and the World. A place to discuss these issues, and get together with others. It does not have to be every day, but it is good to know who runs the shul in your neighborhood and it is good to know some of the people. Dont' look at the shul as a place for Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and then the deaths that take place in our families. It is up to you to make it more. Best wishes Reply

louise leon PA USA February 10, 2014

to Ruth Shalom again. Just read your comments of 12/23/13...I sometimes fall behind in reading e-mail !
One of my favorite wordplays is "ISRAEL"....IS REAL. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma December 23, 2013

the power of prayer It's interesting to come back to this, after three years. Have I been responding to Chabad articles for this long? There is, in the very word, this notion of the English Aye, for Yes. And there is Ray, as in the light. And it could be said, as in Avinu Malkeynu, that Ray being also Rei or King in French, is also a connected and significant in this, as in doing what I do, which is a profound walk, across Babel, a world of words. Maybe it's also interesting that the ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun god, named Ra. I see it's all G_D and that a massive Story has been written, that is deeply, and exquisite, in its detailed exposition, of words, a story sub rosa, which WILL soon, enter the Light. Meaning consciousness. Can all stories intersect? I am saying All Creation. Reply

Richard Cleveland December 22, 2013

One question about a problem I have. Are we really praying?, or just saying words??. The prayers of today were composed by the Sages of the Great Assembly (Ha'Knesset Hagedolal) which eventually are mapped into our prayerbooks. (sort of a GPS whereby we navigate via a satellite, not on our own!) We are not really praying. The sages of the great assembly are the ones praying, we are just saying their words. Of course they were geniuses galore, but using their words kills our own creativity in communicating with Hashem. Reply

Morris Las Vegas October 3, 2017
in response to Richard :

The prayers that you say is not a matter of creativity, there are certain things you must say at certain times in each prayer. As you said yourself, they were written down by the prophets (The Great Assembly). It took more then just getting together and putting the Shema in this place and the Amida in another place, it took time, meditation and their spirituality beyond what we would ever know today. Now if you are away, or just want to talk to Hashem at a certain moment of the day, I am sure he will not mind if you are creative in your prayers. Or if you really don't like how the prayer book is put together, do it your own way. But do yourself a favor and go more in depth and find out why, when and how the prayer book was put together. I am sure, just like me, there are certain things that you will agree on, and others you will not. Have a Healthy year Reply

Miriam Elisheva May 23, 2013

prayer is my lifeline I appreciate comment of Moshe ben Yossef. I too cannot help but be grateful for every breathe I take. To see the morning sun, the dew on the flowers, to hear and see living creatures in all their beauty. It is so true that we are automatic to ask for help at every trial and test but to pray for thanks and gratefulness for simple things is so wonderful. it is then that I feel closest to Hashem. Reply

Maurice aka Moyshe ben Yossef Palm Springs, CA September 7, 2012

I personally pray whenever I not only "need" something but wherever I find myself. Prayer seems to be synonymous with "asking" Hashem when we are in need. To me, prayer means "linking" with G-d. I see a beautiful flower, I "pray", I watch a hummingbird stop in its flight and watching me, I "pray" and give thanks for having been given the chance of seeing such a wonderful creature. A creation of G-d. You see, I do not need to wait for Thanksgiving to really give thanks to Hashem for the goodness He has bestowed upon me. To me, simply "connecting" in silence is also a "prayer." a way of saying "thank You, Hashen!" It probably is because I am a survivor of the Holocaust that I have some sort of 800 private phone number with Hashem. I am not a super devout religious man. Just your common Joe, with the difference that Hashem is with me every single second of my life. As for praying among others, then we are now talking about "congregations" and please, don't get me started... Reply

Steven Richards Bay City September 21, 2017
in response to Maurice aka Moyshe ben Yossef:

Maurice aka Moyshe ben Yossef Palm Springs, CA September 7, 201 Maurice,

I don't even know now, several years after your words were expressed here, that you will even see my reply. I hope you do - because I would want you to know what they meant/mean to me. It is fascinating how the subject of prayer, an activity that has become so pedestrian to me, so thoughtles (carelessly and shabbily done - if at all) can suddenly open up and be seen with new eyes and a new heart, based solely on a stranger's perspective. I realize this all may sound hyperbolic and grandiose, but it's the truth. And would be remiss if I didn't at least attempt to thank you here for (unknowingly) helping me to rediscover, if not really discover for the first time, how to be aware of, thankful to and in "connection" with Hashem.
Thank you, sir. Reply

Anonymous ioannina, greece July 12, 2012

Dovid is a good writer I didn't know that one is free to pray whenever and wherever. Anyone can choose the best way to fit their needs in praying. The second reason of communal praying is meant to teach people to socialize. Communal praying takes many things into consideration such as people who feel otherwise lonely. Reply

louise leon long pond, PA November 29, 2010

prayer Really helpful discussion. I have long been dissatisfied with the synagogue experience and felt that direct prayer,with no intermediaries was much more efficacious for me. I especially don't appreciate the Amidah, said to say I find it very boring. When I have REALLY needed to talk to G-d, I feel answered. Of course an acquaintance called it psychotic behavior. And he's Jewish!!!!!!! Oh well, such is life. Reply

Anonymous Paris, France November 19, 2010

the monotheism's prayer By the grace of G-d,

I'm monotheist and having love of my Creator (G-d) in my heart,
I agree the idea of Mrs Ruth Housman.

I love religions just because inside them we can find laws and love of our Holy L-rd.

Any person must recognise that without pray to our Landlord of the world, he or she doesn't participate in the future prepared live better. Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel November 18, 2010

Please list all the forms of Jewish Prayer Interested to see that only 3 forms of prayer are mentioned above. In the comments to "A Poor Man's Prayer" on this site I have listed 5 (or 6) kinds. Have I done justice to the subject of kinds of prayer?

Is the order of using them very important? Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma November 18, 2010

Access to G_d in prayer There is a great beauty in doing things in concert, as in prayer that is in unison, and in the together ness of being in a place of worship but I do not agree that a synagogue is a place of greater access to the Divine. In fact, if there is a "greater" place it would be outdoors, in a forest, along a beach, in the meditative silence of the waves on the ocean, and also at home, in the warmth of hearth, heart and family.

Perhaps the point, of the destruction of the synagogue, the Temple, years ago, and the Babylonian exile was the movement from synagogue to heart, and the idea we can prayer wherever we are, and that G_d is deeply within wilderness, amongst the birds, the forest, and also deeply in the desert of our lives, that we are not, deserted, not ever.

There is a plaque on my wall that reads: All poetry is prayer, and so I do believe that creativity itself, that celebration is also a form of prayer. Reply

Norman Siller Orlando, Fl. June 21, 2009

Thank you! This is a nice overview of prayer and a good guide to find answers to questions on prayer. I might just print it and hang it up in my synagogue, especially in lieu of what we just went through tonight to pray in a minyan (quorum of ten), people just coming whenever or call me if you need me. Services are at a certain time, BE THERE. Reply

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