Chavurah Masarti

Lynchburg, VA                  Founded on 2 Cheshvan, 5766 

Jewish Prayer Ritual

[The following text is an excerpt from the Introduction to the Siddur Sim Shalom, 1985]

         Jewish worship includes ritual acts as well as words of prayer. Two major examples of this accompany the recitation of K’riat Sh’ma and the Amidah.

Proper devotion while saying the six Hebrew words beginning Sh’ma Yisrael (“Hear, 0 Israel”) during K’riat Sh’ma demands complete concentration. This has led to the custom of covering or closing one’s eyes during the recitation of that verse. (This practice is not followed when the verse appears elsewhere in a service.)

The fringes of the tallit, known as tzitzit, are the focus of the final passage of K’riat Sh’ma (Numbers 15:37—41); Tzitzit symbolize devotion to all of the mitzvot. During the morning service it is customary to be holding the tzitzit before reciting this passage. The four fringes are gathered, and held in the hand, while one recites the last phrases of the berakhah which precedes Sh’ma Yisrael: Va-havi-enu l’shalom (“Bring us safely. . .“). Then, during the recitation of the passage from Numbers, one kisses the tzitzit each of the three times the word tzitzit is recited. The tzitzit are kissed again, and released, during the first part of the passage which follows, when the leader recites ve-emunato la’ad kayamet.

The Amidah is known as the prayer (tefillah) in Rabbinic tradition. Since it is our prayer par excellence, we prepare for it with a heightened sense of approaching God’s Presence, the throne of the sovereign Creator. The ritual acts associated with the Amidah resemble those practiced in a court of royalty: approaching the throne; standing respectfully in the sovereign’s presence, feet together; bowing at appropriate times; and finally stepping backward.

When reciting the Amidah one stands facing in the direction of Jerusalem (sometimes this is not possible because of the architecture in some synagogue sanctuaries). In Jerusalem, one stands facing in the direction of the Western Wall and the site of the ancient Temple.

Before beginning the Amidah, one takes three steps forward and declares, Adonai s’fatai tiftach ... (“Open my mouth, 0 Lord . . .“). Some step forward only after having taken three steps backward.

One bows at the knee and at the waist four times while reciting the Amidah: at the beginning and at the ending of the first berakhah and of the next to last berakhah. During the first, one bows while pronouncing the first word, Barukh (“Praised”) and stands erect at the word Adonai (“Lord”). During the close of this berakhah (“Praised are You, Lord, Shield of Abraham”), one bows at Barukh and stands erect at Adonai. During the next to last berakhah, one bows while saying the first words, Modim anachnu lakh (“We proclaim that You . . .“) and stands erect before pronouncing the word Adonai. At the closing of this berakhah (“Praised are You, beneficent Lord to whom all praise is due”), one bows at Barukh and stands erect at Adonai.

At the end of the personal meditation which follows the Amidah, one takes three steps backward while bowing at the waist to the left, to the right, and then straight ahead. This usually occurs during the passage which begins Oseh shalom bimromav (“He who brings peace..).

This passage is also found at the end of most versions of the Kaddish (Mourner’s Kaddish, Kaddish Shalem and Kaddish De-rab­banan). In these instances as well it is customary to step backward while bowing.

At the formal call to worship, which the leader begins by chanting Barkhu while bowing at the waist, one bows at the waist while reciting the first word of the congregational response: Barukh.

Bowing is also customary during the first passage of Aleinu. One bows at the knee and at the waist while saying va-anahnu (“we. . .“), standing erect at lifnei melekh (“before the King . . .“).

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