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Jewish Prayer

Connecting To God Through Service Of The Heart

Prayer is an intimate conversation between us and God, but it doesn’t always feel that way. We become uninspired, and we lose our sense of connection and feeling. What can we do about that? The videos below explore the roots of prayer in Biblical sources and examine how and why it works today, taking you on a journey to awaken and inspire your communication with God.

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About Jewish Prayer

The regular ritual of prayer focuses a Jew’s attention on his or her connection to God, and adds holiness to every part of the day, from the first moment of awakening to the last moments before sleep.

The Biblical source for prayer is cited as the phrase וּלְעָבְדוֹ, בְּכָל-לְבַבְכֶם, וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁכֶם — “And you shall serve Him [God] with all of your heart and all of your soul” (Deuteronomy 11:13). This service is interpreted as prayer, which is also known as a “labor of the heart.” Prayer is often described as a replacement for the daily sacrificial services that were conducted during the Holy Temple period. Unable to perform the activities of the Temple today, the Jewish people serve God with our words and our hearts.

The phrase “labor of the heart” also offers a keen insight into the nature of prayer. True prayer in Judaism is a difficult undertaking, but one that should ultimately be infused with love and respect, and that has profound effects on one’s life. Jewish prayer is seen as an act of self-reflection and self-improvement. Taking time each day to stand and communicate with God, making sure to concentrate on the meanings of the various prayers, can refocus our commitment to leading positive and impactful lives. Prayer is a time to be honest with ourselves and with God, to take stock of our behavior and our needs. As we pray, we remember that ultimately, everything we have comes from one Divine source.

Though there are many explanations for the various Jewish prayers and their different meanings, one of the most essential purposes of prayer is to infuse our daily lives with Godliness and spirituality. A typical day of Jewish prayer involves praying three times a day. The Shacharit prayers are recited in the morning, the Mincha prayers in the afternoon, and the Maariv prayers in the evening. On Shabbat and holidays, an extra prayer service called Mussaf is recited after Shacharit.

The prayers within each service vary (most include Ashrei, a hymn of praise, and the Shema, an affirmation of God’s oneness) but Shacharit, Mincha, Maariv, and Mussaf all culminate in the Amidah (“Ah-MEE-dah”), otherwise known as Shemoneh Esrei (“Sheh-mo-neh Ehs-ray”). Shemoneh Esrei means “Eighteen” in English, and the colloquial name refers to the original number of blessings in this pivotal prayer (today, nineteen blessings are actually recited). The Amidah is recited while standing, with the feet together. Composed in a careful arrangement of praise for God, requests from God, and thanks expressed to God, Shemoneh Esrei encapsulates the purpose and ideal formulation of Jewish prayer.

Jewish prayer is known by several names. In Hebrew, prayer is called “tefillah,” (pronounced “Teh-FEE-lah”). In Yiddish, prayer is called “davening.” The Jewish prayer book is called a Siddur (“see-dur”). Most prayers are written in Hebrew, but prayer may be recited in any language.