Prayer is referred to as “the service of the heart,” and is one of the many ways that we express love of G‑d.

Although one may pray in private, praying with a congregation is considered preferable. Every effort should be made to join a congregation in prayer, as we are told that the prayers of the congregation are more readily heard on high.

Read: Why Are Ten Men Needed for a Minyan?

There are three daily prayers: Shacharit (the morning prayer), Minchah (the afternoon prayer) and Maariv (the evening prayer). Here is a breakdown of what’s in those prayers:

The Morning Services:

  • Pesukei D’zimrah consists of verses of praise recognizing G‑d's creative force and love for His people.
  • The Shema contains one of the most important statements in Judaism, the verse from Deuteronomy, Shema Yisrael A-do-nai Elo-hay-nu A-do-nai Echad. “Hear O Israel, G‑d is our L‑rd, G‑d is One.” Learn more about the Shema.
  • The silent prayer, the Amidah, is recited in a whisper with concentration. This prayer is the peak of individual devotion peak, so it is especially important that no conversation takes place. Read more about the Amidah.
  • On weekdays we say additional penitential prayers, called Tachanun, which are elongated on Mondays and Thursdays. Read more about Tachanun.
  • On Shabbat, holidays, and on Mondays and Thursdays the Torah is read. For this week's Torah portion, click here.
  • On Shabbat and holidays an additional Amidah, called Musaf, is said after the Torah is read.

Afternoon and Evening Services:

The afternoon prayer consists of Torah reading (on Shabbat only) and the Amidah, with the addition of supplications on weekdays.

The evening service consists of the Shema and the Amidah.

The prayers are usually chanted with traditional melodies, some of which are centuries old and are considered to have mystical significance.

The Torah Reading

A Torah scroll
A Torah scroll

In the ark there are one or several Torah scrolls, each one a communal treasure that is treated with reverence. Whenever the Torah is removed from the ark, it is customary to stand until the Torah has been placed on the bimah.

During the Torah reading service, the baal korei (“master reader”) reads from the text using a traditional tune based on cantillation marks known as taamim, or in Yiddish, trop. Learn to read any part of the Torah with trop with this amazing tool.

During the course of the reading, a series of men (seven on Shabbat, six on Yom Kippur, five on holidays, four on Rosh Chodesh and Chol Hamoed, and three on weekdays and Shabbat afternoon) are called up to the bimah by their Hebrew names and the Hebrew names of their fathers.

Once there, they say a short blessing, the reader reads a portion of the Torah, and they then recite a second blessing. This procedure is known as “getting an aliyah,” and it is considered a great honor.

Learn to recite the aliyah blessings here.

The portion of the Torah read each week is known as the weekly Parshah. You can learn insights into this week’s Parshah here.