You may have heard that daily prayer comprises three services: morning prayers, afternoon prayers, and evening prayers. In truth, there’s a fourth1 prayer reserved for special days: the Musaf. Keep reading to find out more about the Musaf prayer.

Musaf literally means “additional,” an allusion to the special sacrifices that were offered in the Temple on select days in addition to the standard daily offerings.2

Now that we no longer have the Temple, reciting Musaf, the additional fourth prayer, replaces those sacrifices and indicates that the day is special.

Learn more about the sacrifices and what they represented

When Do We Say Musaf?

The Musaf prayer is said on three occasions:

Musaf is said after morning prayers and before afternoon prayers.3 Ideally, it should be said before the 7th “seasonal hour” of the day, because that’s the latest time the additional sacrifices could be offered.4 Practically speaking, it’s said at the conclusion of the morning prayers.

What to do if you miss the time to say Musaf

Why Do We Say Musaf?

The sages instituted the daily prayers to correspond with the sacrifices that were offered in the Temple.5 (There’s a Biblical commandment to pray for our needs whenever we choose, but the daily prayers were Rabbinically instituted.6) The Tamid offering was given twice a day—morning and afternoon—and is commemorated by the daily morning and afternoon prayers.

The Musaf prayer reflects the additional sacrifices offered in the Temple on special days.

Read more about the meaning of prayer

What Is Included in the Musaf Prayer?

The precise wording of each Musaf service is different, but they all share key features:

  • The Musaf is a unique Amidah; the wording of the blessings is completely different from the other Amidahs of the day.
  • Every Musaf Amidah discusses the composition of that day’s Musaf offering in the Temple.
  • As with the morning and afternoon prayers, when praying with a minyan we repeat the Musaf Amidah aloud.
  • Generally, the Kedushah prayer in the repetition of an Amidah begins with a variation of the word Kadosh. Ashkenazim do the same for Musaf, but Sefardim and Chassidim begin with the word Keter instead.
  • The first verse of the Shema is part of the Kedushah on Shabbat and holidays.
  • According to Ashkenazic Diaspora custom,7 the Priestly Blessings are recited during Musaf of holidays (but earlier on Simchat Torah8).

In general the Musaf prayer is relatively short, with the exception of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which both feature a lengthy service. Yom Kippur’s Musaf, in particular, concludes with the very lengthy Avodah prayer, during which we reflect upon the High Priest’s Yom Kippur service in the Temple.

Step-by-Step Yom Kippur Guide

Why Do We Say the Shema in the Repetition of Musaf?

The Beit Yosef explains the custom as follows: There was a Persian king named Yuzgadar who forbade the recital of the Shema, so the sages stuck it into the Kedushah prayers. They also prayed to G‑d for help, and the decree was annulled. The Shema therefore remained in the Musaf Amidah in remembrance of this miracle.

Why Don’t We Wear Tefillin During the Musaf Prayer?

Tefillin are not worn on Shabbat or Holidays, but even on Rosh Chodesh—when tefillin are worn—they are removed for the Musaf prayer. Two reasons are given:

  • As mentioned, the Musaf Kedusha begins with the word keter, which means crown. It is therefore considered inappropriate to be wearing tefillin on your head during that time.9
  • Tefillin are called a “sign,” as are Shabbat and festivals. We therefore do not wear tefillin on Shabbat and festivals, as we don’t need two signs.10 The Rosh Chodesh Musaf mentions the Musaf offering, and this mention is likewise a sign—and we therefore don’t wear tefillin.11 (This is why even those who pray Nusach Ashkenaz and don’t say the word keter do not wear tefillin during the Rosh Chodesh Musaf).

A detailed breakdown of the Kedushah prayer

Who Instituted Musaf?

Like the other prayers, Musaf was instituted by the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah—the Men of the Great Assembly12. But—like other prayers—although first instituted by them, the practice of saying an additional prayer on Shabbat, festivals, and Rosh Chodesh predates them. Even when the Temple stood, it was the custom to pray an additional Musaf service together with the sacrifices offered.13

Learn more about the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah

What Does Musaf Represent?

It is written that G‑d’s additions are greater than His staples14—i.e., when G‑d adds to something, the addition is far greater than the thing which He added to. Musaf, being an addition, therefore represents a spiritual level far more sublime than that achieved by the ordinary daily prayers. But there’s a catch: that high spiritual level is not attainable on its own. It’s only after the regular service that we are ready to tap into something far loftier: the elevation of Musaf.15

Discover more about the Kabbalah of prayer

Why Do We Pray Daily?

The set order of prayers is a Rabbinic institution, but why are they needed at all? Why can’t I just pray when I need something? Why can’t I make up my own prayers instead of reciting a script composed thousands of years ago?

The truth, however, is that there’s far, far more to the daily prayers than meets the eye.

Discover the true depth of the daily prayers here.