To answer this question, let’s first explore the history of the prayerbook. Originally, much like the Talmud, prayers were recited by heart. Only later on, when the Jews became dispersed throughout the world and it became difficult to retain the accuracy of the prayers, were the prayers written down. (Interestingly, one of the oldest books in existence today is a Jewish prayerbook dated approx 840 C.E.)

Image of the oldest surviving prayerbook, which dates back to the 9th century, courtesy of the Museum of the Bible Collection. All rights reserved. © Museum of the Bible, 2016.
Image of the oldest surviving prayerbook, which dates back to the 9th century, courtesy of the Museum of the Bible Collection. All rights reserved. © Museum of the Bible, 2016.

At first, a prayerbook was referred to as either a Siddur (lit. “order”) or a Machzor (lit. “cycle”), since it contained a comprehensive list of prayers for the yearly cycle, i.e., both weekday and Shabbat prayers, as well as the special additional holiday prayers. A classic example of this would be the Machzor Vitry, composed by Rabbi Simcha ben Shmuel of Vitry in the 11th century.

As time went on and hymns were added to the prayers (especially in the Ashkenazic communities), the Siddur and Machzor became differentiated: the Siddur became the traditional prayerbook containing the regular weekday and Shabbat prayers, while the Machzor contained the additional prayers recited on the holidays.1

In fact, although the word “Machzor” has come to refer to a prayerbook specifically for the High Holidays, it is still relatively common to find a Machzor for the other holidays, such as Passover or Sukkot.

Importance of a Prayerbook

As mentioned, prayerbooks were created because not everyone knew the prayers by heart. However, even if you do know the prayers by heart, you should still use a prayerbook. For by reading the words inside, you can focus on the inner meaning of the prayers.2 May G‑d answer all of our prayers!