Editor's Note

From the very inception of the chasidic movement, one of the identifying features of the chasidim was their adoption of a version of the traditional liturgy heavily influenced by the mystical teachings of the Arizal, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria Ashkenazi of Tzfat (1534-1572). This liturgy was adopted by all chasidim, even those who did not pray with the mystical meditative intentions that the liturgy was designed to reflect. For some seventy years chasidim had noted the variations in the chasidic liturgy in the margins of their traditional Ashkenaz prayer books. Of course this situation was far from ideal, and led to all kinds of liturgical and grammatical inaccuracies. Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s prayer book was the first authoritative chasidic prayer book, and likely the first ever codification of the Arizal’s prayer liturgy into a complete and unified text. The prayer book also included many laws and customs relevant to prayer, daily living and the shabbat.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s prayer book was the first authoritative chasidic prayer book, and likely the first ever codification of the Arizal’s prayer liturgy into a complete and unified text.

The following paragraphs are excerpted from the Translator's Introduction to the first bi-lingual edition of the Tehillat Hashem Prayer Book (1978), by Rabbi Nissen Mangel. Here, we are provided with an overview of the history of the Arizal's prayer liturgy, its redaction and publication by Rabbi Shneur Zalman, and subsequent editions of the first chasidic prayer book.

* * *

There are several variant forms of the nusach HaTefillah—the prescribed order and text of the prayers. The most widely followed are nusach Ashkenaz, nusach Sefarad, the "Poilishe" nusach, nusach Teman, and nusach HaAri. The basic form and text of the prayers—having been formulated and ordained by the Anshei Kenesset HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly) and by the Sages of the Mishnah and Talmud—is common to them all; in this there is no disparity or divergence among them. They vary only in detail, such as the order of some prayers,1 small differences in textual phraseology,2 and the omission or inclusion of some piyutim (liturgical hymns).3

According to the Kabbalah,4 there are, in fact, twelve nuschaot— one for each Tribe of Israel, in accordance with the unique and distinct spiritual quality of each.5 Similarly, there are in heaven twelve "gates" corresponding to the Twelve Tribes. The prayers of each, teaches the Kabbalah, can ascend to heaven only through its particular gate by means of its specific nusach.

So too, the Zohar states,6 the twelve gates in the Temple court correspond to the twelve Tribes. Upon each gate was inscribed the name of one Tribe. If a member of a particular Tribe wished to enter the Temple court through the gate of his Tribe, he was able to do so. If, however, he attempted to go through a gate other than his own, the door closed upon him and he could not pass through.

Since the prayers of the members of each Tribe can ascend and enter the heavenly gate only through its own nusach, what of one who does not know to which Tribe he belongs? Which nusach should he pray? How will his prayers ascend?

Rabbi DovBer the Maggid of Mezritch, explains,7 on the basis of Talmudic and Kabbalistic sources, that there is, indeed, a thirteenth gate, a שער הכולל (Shaar HaKollel)—a general, all-inclusive gate for all Jews, no matter to which Tribe they belong. There was such a gate in the Beit Hamikdash,8 through which a member of any Tribe could enter. There is a corresponding thirteenth gate in heaven, and there is also a thirteenth nusach, through which the prayer of any Jew can ascend. This thirteenth nusach, the Shaar HaKollel, states the Maggid, is the nusach HaAri, which Rabbi Isaac Luria, the AriZal, composed, comprising all the various other nuschaot, but based primarily on the Sephardic version.9

One might ask, writes the Maggid, why are there thirteen gates and thirteen distinct nuschaot, when the thirteenth itself comprises the other twelve? Would not the thirteenth alone suffice? He answers that when the identity of each Tribe, as well as its nusach, was known, it was certainly preferable for one to enter by way of his own gate and to pray his own nusach.10 However, at this time, when it is not known to which Tribe one belongs, everyone (including the Kohanim and Leviim, who are of the Tribe of Levi) should follow the Shaar HaKollel11 which is the nusach HaAri, the all-encompassing gate, appropriate for everyone, through which everyone's prayer can ascend.

Although the AriZal established and delineated the nusach that bears his name, he himself did not publish a Siddur, but transmitted it orally to his disciples, together with his interpretations and kavanot of the prayers according to the Kabbalah. In subsequent generations, Siddurim were published bearing the name nusach HaAri and including the Lurianic kavanot of prayer. These Siddurim were not consistent in their liturgical texts—some were even closer to nusach Ashkenaz. Hence, they did not serve as the definitive nusach HaTefillah, but rather as a means to present the teachings and kavanot of the AriZal on the prayer. Furthermore, these Siddurim were prepared solely for the benefit of Kabbalistic scholars, not as a prayer book for the layman; in some, the liturgy was printed unvocalized so that they would not be readily accessible to the uninitiated. Thus there was still no authoritative nusach HaAri Siddur that the masses could use in prayer.

Title page of an early edition of Rabbi Shneur Zalman's Prayer Book.
Title page of an early edition of Rabbi Shneur Zalman's Prayer Book.

In 1803, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi12 published a prayer book arranged according to nusach HaAri. Unlike the nusach HaAri Siddurim printed heretofore, this Siddur was intended to be used as a prayer book—suitable for all, even for those unfamiliar in the wisdom of the Kabbalah—and not as a presentation and exposition of mystical kavanot. For this reason, Rabbi Schneur Zalman printed only the actual text of the prayers in his Siddur, omitting all kavanot. The liturgy, however, conformed in every detail to, and reflected the intentions of, Lurianic Kabbalah. Rabbi Schneur Zalman was also careful to meticulously follow the Talmudic and Halachic rulings concerning the prayers.

In the previously printed Siddurim, of all nuschaot, numerous errors crept into the text. Rabbi Schneur Zalman subjected every word of the Siddur to careful scrutiny, emending the textual errors and making it linguistically faultless, adhering scrupulously to the rules of Hebrew grammar and syntax, which were also of paramount importance for him. He is said to have studied, researched, and critically examined sixty different versions of prayer books in order to ascertain the correct version of the liturgical text, which would conform both to Halachah and Kabbalah.

To render the Siddur still more valuable for general use, Rabbi Schneur Zalman included instructions and laws pertaining to the prayers and to the rituals accompanying them. Occasionally, some of these laws are at variance with those set down in his Shulchan Aruch (Code of Law).13 In such cases, one is to follow the ruling in the Siddur, inasmuch as the Siddur was composed after the Shulchan Aruch and reflects his final Halachic decisions.14

The new Siddur was enthusiastically received and was reprinted three times within ten years of its initial publication.

In 1816, three years after the demise of the Alter Rebbe, his son and successor, Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch, published a new edition of his father's Siddur together with Chassidic discourses (maamarim) expounding and elucidating various aspects of the prayers. Rabbi Avraham Dovid Lavut, a renowned Torah scholar and author of the late nineteenth century, issued a new edition of the Rav's Siddur, calling it Torah Or.15 Rabbi Lavut included a number of prayers, such as the Selichot and the Torah readings, which were hitherto not printed in the Rav's Siddur. In the margin he noted the sources of the Scriptural verses of the prayers, and corrected all typographical errors of the previous editions.

The most noteworthy feature of the Siddur, however, was his supplement, called Shaar HaKollel, which is an important scholarly work in its own right. In the Shaar HaKollel he sets forth the sources in the Talmud and Zohar, Halachah and Kabbalah, for Rabbi Schneur Zalman's textual variations and Halachic decisions in the Siddur nusach HaAri.

A number of other editions of the Rav's Siddur were published afterwards. One of these, the Siddur Tehillat Hashem, was published in 1918-1920, in Rostov, Russia, at the behest of Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe. In 1945, an enlarged, complete edition of Siddur Tehillat Hashem was published in Brooklyn, New York. One of the characteristics of this Siddur is that it contains, besides the laws and customs pertaining to the prayers which Rabbi Schneur Zalman wrote specifically for the Siddur, additional laws and customs culled from the Rav's Shukhan Aruch. Another feature of this Siddur is that each prayer is printed in its entirety, eliminating the necessity to turn to other parts of the Siddur for recurring passages.