Tefillah

T’filah (prayer) is an ancient way of connecting with God and bringing God into our lives on a daily basis. It was prophesied that prayer would one day take the place of the sacrifices since the Jews would be without the Temple. Proper prayer takes practice just as anything else (such as sports or giving a good speech) takes practice. It is important to have kavanah – the proper mindset for prayer each time we pray. It is important to remind oneself that one is speaking to God with the intention to fulfill the mitzvah of prayer whenever one prays. Some people use liturgical melodies (nigunim) to help them come to a place of kavanah. It is important to free one’s mind from distractions and concentrate on speaking to God. Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer. It is permissible to pray in one’s language but it is best to pray in Hebrew. Jewish prayer is overwhelmingly a communal act. It is permissible (and even encouraged) to pray on an individual basis but communal prayer is ideal.

T’filah (prayer) is a communal responsibility according to the Karaite teachings but t’filah can be said individually in any tahor (clean) place where there are no images. T’filah is mandatory twice daily as temporary replacements of the twice-daily sacrificial offerings of the Beit HaMikdash. Additional voluntary t’filah may be said at any time by an individual and do not need to follow a prescribed formula. T’filah is not only a temporary substitute for the offerings of the Beit HaMikdash but they are also a means of communicating with the Eternal One and a way of understanding our relationship to the Eternal One.

Rabbinic Jews pray (daven) three times daily, every day: the Shacharit (morning) service, the Minchah (afternoon prayer) service and the Maariv (evening) service. It is believed that Abraham began the Shacharit service, Isaac began the Minchah service, and Jacob began the Maariv service. In addition to the prayers during these services there are specific prayers added during various Jewish holidays and synagogue services and lifecycle events. These prayers are collected in a prayer book know as a siddur (from the Hebrew root meaning order).

The oldest fixed daily prayer in Judaism, the Shema, consists of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Deuteronomy 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41. From ancient times, the commandment to speak of these matters “when you retire and when you arise” has been fulfilled by reciting the Shema twice a day: morning and night.

During the 6th century BCE, during the Babylonian Exile, the Jewish people had no Temple in which to offer sacrifices. Prayers were used as a substitute for these sacrifices. Therefore, the prayers were said three times a day according to the thrice-daily sacrifice times at the Temple. Additional prayers were added for Shabbat and some holidays in accordance with the additional sacrifices at the Temple on Shabbat and some holidays.

After the Exile, in the 5th century BCE, these daily prayer services continued. The Men of the Great Assembly composed a basic prayer, the Shemoneh Esrei–which means “18” and refers to the 18 blessings originally contained within the prayer. It is also referred to as the Amidah (standing, because we stand while we recite it), or Tefilah (prayer, as in The Prayer, because it is the essence of all Jewish prayer). This prayer is the cornerstone of every Jewish service.

Tefillah (prayer) is a communal responsibility according to the Karaite teachings but tefillah can be said individually in any tahor (clean) place where there are no images. Tefillah is mandatory twice daily as temporary replacements of the twice-daily sacrificial offerings of the Beit HaMikdash. Additional voluntary tefillah may be said at any time by an individual and do not need to follow a prescribed formula. Tefillah is not only a temporary substitute for the offerings of the Beit HaMikdash but they are also a means of communicating with יהוה and a way of understanding our relationship to יהוה. READ MORE…

According to Reform Judaism the “words of Jewish prayer may also lead you into a dialogue with or a meditation about the Holy. Jewish prayer has fixed words, words we say every time, but they are there as a framework, so that our spirits can be free to find the Holy. Some of the prayers may even be troubling in their wording, but that’s part of it, too: those prayers push us into thinking deeply about what we believe and the choices we make.” READ MORE…

In Conservative Judaism it is important to create a spiritual Jewish prayer space. “[T]here are four things we can do to enhance the intensity and health of our spiritual communities: First, be willing to join an intense and new experience, and accept the personal vulnerability that comes with encountering newness. Second, use your whole self to pray – when your body remembers the experience you’ve crossed the line from prayer to davening. Hold tight to a general trajectory without concretizing any one moment in its course as your final destination. Third, find a community with a dependable center that seeks to empower. Safe space for sacred experiencing need not be hierarchical. Finally, love your fellow davener. Reach out to the people who make up your hevreh. Acknowledge them as capable of making valuable contributions without requiring them to be exactly like you.” READ MORE…