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The Amidah (Hebrew: תפילת העמידה, Tefilat HaAmidah, "The Standing Prayer"), also called the Shmoneh Esreh (שמנה עשרה, "The Eighteen", in reference to the original number of constituent blessings: there are now nineteen), is the central prayer of the Jewish liturgy. This prayer, among others, is found in the siddur, the traditional Jewish prayer book. As Judaism's central prayer, surpassed only by the Birkat Hamazon, the Amidah is the only prayer that is designated simply as tefila (תפילה, "prayer") in rabbinic literature. The short version of the Amidah, designated for persons in a rush or under pressure, is called Havineinu. It consist of only seven brachot ("blessings"). To recite the Amidah is a mitzvah de-rabbanan (Aramaic: דרבנן) for, according to legend, it was first composed by the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah ("Men of the Great Assembly").
Observant Jews recite the Amidah at each of three prayer services in a typical weekday: morning, afternoon, and evening. A special abbreviated Amidah is also the core of the Mussaf ("Additional") service that is recited on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), Rosh Chodesh (the day of the New Moon), and Jewish festivals, after the morning Torah reading, with various forms of the Amidah that depend on the occasion. The typical weekday Amidah actually consists of nineteen blessings, though it originally had eighteen; when the Amidah is modified for specific prayers or occasions, the first three blessings and the last three remain constant, framing the Amidah used in each service, while the middle thirteen blessings are replaced by blessings specific to the occasion.
The language of the Amidah most likely dates from the mishnaic period, both before and after the destruction of the Temple (70 CE) at which time it was considered unnecessary to prescribe its text and content. The Talmud indicates that when Rabbi Gamaliel II undertook to fix definitely the public service and to regulate private devotion, he directed Samuel ha-Katan to write another paragraph inveighing against informers and heretics, which was inserted as the twelfth prayer in modern sequence, making the number of blessings nineteen. Other sources, also in the Talmud, indicate, however, that this prayer was part of the original 18; and that 19 prayers came about when the 15th prayer for the restoration of Jerusalem and of the throne of David (coming of the Messiah) was split into two.
The prayer is recited standing with feet firmly together, and preferably while facing Jerusalem. In Orthodox public worship, the Shemoneh Esrei is usually first prayed silently by the congregation and is then repeated aloud by the chazzan (reader); the repetition's original purpose was to give illiterate members of the congregation a chance to participate in the collective prayer by answering "Amen." Conservative and Reform congregations sometimes abbreviate the public recitation of the Amidah according to their customs. The rules governing the composition and recital of the Amidah are discussed primarily in the Talmud, in Chapters 4–5 of Berakhot; in the Mishneh Torah, in chapters 4–5 of Hilkhot Tefilah; and in the Shulchan Aruch, Laws 89–127.
The language of the Amidah most likely comes from the mishnaic period, both before and after the destruction of the Temple (70 CE) as the probable time of its composition and compilation. In the time of the Mishnah, it was considered unnecessary to prescribe its text and content. This may have been simply because the language was well known to the Mishnah's authors. The Mishnah may also not have recorded a specific text because of an aversion to making prayer a matter of rigor and fixed formula, an aversion that continued at least to some extent throughout the Talmudic period, as evidenced by the opinions of R. Eliezer (Talmud Ber. 29b) and R. Simeon ben Yohai (Ab. ii. 13). R. Jose held that one should include something new in one's prayer every day (Talmud Yerushalmi Ber. 8b), a principle said to have been carried into practice by R. Eleazar and R. Abbahu (ib.). Prayer was not to be read as one would read a letter (ib.).
However, even the talmudic sources reflect such diverse opinions including the one attributing the formulation of the Amidah to the "men of the Great Synagogue" (Ber.33a, Meg. 17b), namely to the early Second Temple period, as opposed to one that explicitly ascribes the arrangement of the prayer to the activity of Rabban Gamliel in the post-destruction era at Yavneh (Ber. 28b).
The Talmud names Simeon ha-Paoli as the editor of the collection in the academy of R. Gamaliel II. at Yavneh. (Ber. 28b). But this can not mean that the benedictions were unknown before that date; for in other passages the "Shemoneh 'Esreh" is traced to the "first wise men" (Sifre, Deut. 343), and again to "120 elders and among these a number of prophets" (Meg. 17b). In order to remove the discrepancies between the latter and the former assignment of editorship, the Talmud takes refuge in the explanation that the prayers had fallen into disuse, and that Gamaliel reinstituted them (Meg. 18a).
The historical kernel in these conflicting reports seems to be the indubitable fact that the benedictions date from the earliest days of the Pharisaic Synagogue. They were at first spontaneous outgrowths of the efforts to establish the Pharisaic Synagogue in opposition to, or at least in correspondence with, the Sadducean Temple service. This is apparent from the haggadic endeavor to connect the stated times of prayer with the sacrificial routine of the Temple, the morning and the afternoon "Tefillah" recalling the constant offerings (Ber. 26b; Gen. R. lxviii.), while for the evening "Tefillah" recourse was had to artificial comparison with the sacrificial portions consumed on the altar during the night.
R. Gamaliel II. undertook finally both to fix definitely the public service and to regulate private devotion. He directed Simeon ha-Pakoli to edit the benedictions-probably in the order they had already acquired-and made it a duty, incumbent on every one, to recite the prayer three times daily.
According to the Talmud Gamaliel directed Samuel ha-Katan to write another paragraph against informers and heretics making the number nineteen (Ber. iv. 3; see Grätz, "Gesch." 3d ed., iv. 30 et seq.). This addition is the 12th prayer in the modern sequence.
When the Amidah is recited
On regular weekdays, the Amidah is prayed three times, once each during the morning, afternoon, and evening services that are known respectively as Shacharit, Minchah, and Ma'ariv.
One opinion in the Talmud claims, with support from Biblical verses, that the concept for each of the three services was founded respectively by each of the three biblical patriarchs. The prescribed times for reciting the Amidah thus may come from the times of the public tamid ("eternal") sacrifices that took place in the Temples in Jerusalem. After the Second Temple's destruction in 70 CE, the Council of Jamnia determined that the Amidah would substitute for the sacrifices, directly applying Hosea's dictate, "So we will render for bullocks the offering of our lips." For this reason, the Amidah should be recited during the time period in which the tamid would have been offered. Accordingly, since the Ma'ariv service was originally optional, as it replaces the overnight burning of ashes on the Temple altar rather than a specific sacrifice, Maariv's Amidah is not repeated by the hazzan (reader), while all other Amidot are repeated.
On Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and other Jewish holidays there is a Musaf ("Additional") Amidah to replace the additional communal sacrifices of these days. On Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), a fifth public recitation, Ne'ilah, is added to replace a special sacrifice offered on that day.
Structure of the weekday Amidah
The weekday Amidah contains nineteen blessings. Each blessing ends with the signature "Blessed are you, O Lord..." and the opening blessing begins with this signature as well. The first three blessings as a section are known as the shevach ("praise"), and serve to inspire the worshipper and invoke God's mercy. The middle thirteen blessings compose the bakashah ("request"), with six personal requests, six communal requests, and a final request that God accept the prayers. The final three blessings, known as the hoda'ah ("gratitude"), thank God for the opportunity to serve the Lord. The shevach and hoda'ah are standard for every Amidah, with some changes on certain occasions.
The nineteen blessings are as follows:
- Known as Avot ("Ancestors") this prayer offers praise of God as the God of the Biblical patriarchs, "God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob."
- Known as Gevurot ("powers"), this offers praise of God for His power and might. This prayer includes a mention of God's healing of the sick and resurrection of the dead. It is called also Tehiyyat ha-Metim = "the resurrection of the dead."
- Rain is considered as great a manifestation of power as the resurrection of the dead; hence in winter a line recognizing God's bestowal of rain is inserted in this benediction. Except for many Ashkenazim, most communities also insert a line recognizing dew in the summer.
- Known as Kedushat ha-Shem ("the sanctification of the Name") this offers praise of God's holiness.
- During the chazzan's repetition, a longer version of the blessing called Kedusha is chanted responsively. The Kedusha is further expanded on Shabbat and Festivals.
- Known as Binah ("understanding") this is a petition to God to grant wisdom and understanding.
- Known as Teshuvah ("return", "repentance") this prayer asks God to help Jews to return to a life based on the Torah, and praises God as a God of repentance.
- Known as Selichah, this asks for forgiveness for all sins, and praises God as being a God of forgiveness.
- Known as Geulah ("redemption") this praises God as a rescuer of the people Israel.
- Known as Refuah ("healing") this is a prayer to heal the sick.
- Known as Birkat HaShanim ("blessing for years [of good]"), this prayer asks God to bless the produce of the earth.
- A prayer for rain is included in this blessing during the rainy season.
- Known as Galuyot ("diasporas"), this prayer asks God to allow the ingathering of the Jewish exiles back to the land of Israel.
- Known as Birkat HaDin ("Justice") this asks God to restore righteous judges as in the days of old.
- Known as Birkat HaMinim ("the sectarians, heretics") this asks God to destroy those in heretical sects (Minuth), who slander Jews and who act as informers against Jews.
- Known as Tzadikim ("righteous") this asks God to have mercy on all who trust in Him, and asks for support for the righteous.
- Known as Bo'ne Yerushalayim ("Builder of Jerusalem") asks God to rebuild Jerusalem and to restore the Kingdom of David.
- Known as Birkat David ("Blessing of David") Asks God to bring the descendant of King David, who will be the messiah.
- Known as Tefillah ("prayer") this asks God to accept our prayers, to have mercy and be compassionate.
- Known as Avodah ("service") this asks God to restore the Temple services and sacrificial services.
- Known as Hoda'ah ("thanksgiving") this is a prayer of thanksgiving, thanking God for our lives, for our souls, and for God's miracles that are with us every day. The text can be found in the next section.
- When the chazzan reaches this blessing during the repetition, the congregation recites a prayer called Modim deRabbanan ("the thanksgiving of the Rabbis").
- Known as Sim Shalom ("Grant Peace"); the last prayer is the one for peace, goodness, blessings, kindness and compassion. Ashkenazim generally say a shorter version of this blessing at Minchah and Maariv, called Shalom Rav.
Prior to the final blessing for peace, the following is said:
- We acknowledge to You, O Lord, that You are our God, as You were the God of our ancestors, forever and ever. Rock of our life, Shield of our help, You are immutable from age to age. We thank You and utter Your praise, for our lives that are delivered into Your hands, and for our souls that are entrusted to You; and for Your miracles that are with us every day and for your marvelously kind deeds that are of every time; evening and morning and noon-tide. Thou art good, for Thy mercies are endless: Thou art merciful, for Thy kindnesses never are complete: from everlasting we have hoped in You. And for all these things may Thy name be blessed and exalted always and forevermore. And all the living will give thanks unto Thee and praise Thy great name in truth, God, our salvation and help. Selah. Blessed be Thou, O Lord, Thy name is good, and to Thee it is meet to give thanks.
The priestly blessing is said in the reader's repetition of the Shacharit Amidah, and at the Mussaf Amidah on Shabbat and Jewish Holidays. On public fast days it is also said at Mincha; and on Yom Kippur, at Neilah. It is not said in a House of Mourning. In Orthodox and some Conservative congregations, this blessing is chanted by kohanim (direct descendants of the Aaronic priestly clan) on certain occasions. In Ashkenazic practice, the priestly blessing is chanted by kohanim on Jewish Holidays in the Diaspora, and daily in the Land of Israel. In Yemenite Jewish synagogues and some Sephardi synagogues, kohanim chant the priestly blessing daily, even outside Israel.
The custom has gradually developed of reciting, at the conclusion of the latter, the supplication with which Mar, the son of Rabina, used to conclude his prayer:
My God, keep my tongue and my lips from speaking deceit, and to them that curse me let my soul be silent, and like dust to all. Open my heart in Your Torah, and after [in] Thy commandments let me [my soul] pursue. As for those that think evil of [against] me speedily thwart their counsel and destroy their plots. Do [this] for Thy name's sake, do this for Thy right hand's sake, do this for the sake of Thy holiness, do this for the sake of Thy Torah. That Thy beloved ones may rejoice, let Thy right hand bring on help [salvation] and answer me... May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Eternal, my rock and my redeemer.
May it be your will, O my God and God of my fathers, that the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days, and give us our portion in your Torah, and there we will worship you with reverence as in ancient days and former years. And may the Mincha offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasing to God, as in ancient days and former years.
It is also customary to add individual personal prayers as part of silent recitation of the Amidah. Rabbi Shimon enjoins praying by rote: "But rather make your prayer a request for mercy and compassion before the Ominipresent." Some authorities encourage the worshipper to say something new in his prayer every time.
Mode of prayer
The many laws concerning the Amidah's mode of prayer are designed to focus one's concentration as one beseeches God.
Prayer in Judaism is called "avodah shebalev," "Service of the Heart," and thus prayer is only worthwhile if one focuses one's emotion and intention, kavanah, to the words of the prayers. The Shulchan Aruch thus advises that one pray using a translation one can understand, though learning the meaning of the Hebrew liturgy is ideal.
Also, according to Halakhah, the first blessing of the Amidah must be said with intention; if said by rote alone, the worshipper must go back and repeat it with intention. The Rema wrote that this is no longer necessary, because "modern" (he lived in the 16th century) attention spans are so short, one would not have intention the second time either. The second to last blessing of Hoda'ah also has high priority for kavanah.
Interrupting the Amidah is forbidden. The only exceptions are in cases of danger or for one who needs to relieve oneself, though this rule may depend on the movement of Judaism. There are also halakhot to prevent interrupting the Amidah of others; for example, it is forbidden to sit next to someone praying or to walk within four amot (cubits) of someone praying.
The guideline of silent prayer comes from Hannah's behavior during prayer, when she prayed in the Temple to bear a child. She prayed "speaking upon her heart," so that no one else could hear, yet her lips were moving. Therefore, when saying the Amidah one's voice should be audible to oneself, but not loud enough for others to hear.
The name "Amidah," which literally is the Hebrew gerund of "standing," comes from the fact that the worshipper recites the prayer while standing with feet firmly together. This is done to imitate the angels, whom Ezekiel perceived as having "one straight leg." As worshippers address the Divine Presence, they must remove all material thoughts from their minds, just as angels are purely spiritual beings. In a similar vein, the Tiferet Yisrael explains in his commentary, Boaz, that the Amidah is so-called because it helps a person focus his or her thoughts. By nature, a person's brain is active and wandering. The Amidah brings everything into focus.
The Talmud says that one who is riding an animal or sitting in a boat (or by modern extension, flying in an airplane) may recite the Amidah while seated, as the precarity of standing would disturb one's focus.
The Amidah is preferably said facing Jerusalem, as the patriarch Jacob proclaimed, "And this [place] is the gateway to Heaven," where prayers may ascend. The Talmud records the following Baraita on this topic:
A blind man, or one who cannot orient himself, should direct his heart toward his Father in Heaven, as it is said, "They shall pray to the Lord" (I Kings 8). One who stands in the diaspora should face the Land of Israel, as it is said, "They shall pray to You by way of their Land" (ibid). One who stands in the Land of Israel should face Jerusalem, as it is said, "They shall pray to the Lord by way of the city" (ibid). One who stands in Jerusalem should face the Temple. ... One who stands in the Temple should face the Holy of Holies. ... One who stands in the Holy of Holies should face the Cover of the Ark. ... It is therefore found that the entire nation of Israel directs their prayers toward a single location.
There is a dispute regarding how one measures direction for this purpose. Some say one should face the direction which would be the shortest distance to Jerusalem, i.e. the arc of a great circle, as defined in elliptic geometry. Thus in New York one would face north-northeast. Others say one should face the direction along a rhumb line path to Jerusalem, which would not require an alteration of compass direction. This would be represented by a straight line on a Mercator projection, which would be east-southeast from New York. In practice, many individuals in the Western Hemisphere simply face due east, regardless of location. In the presence of an ark that does not face Jerusalem, one should pray toward the ark instead.
Observant Jews have the custom to take three steps back and then three steps forward both before and after reciting the Amidah. The steps backward at the beginning represent withdrawing one's attention from the material world, and then stepping forward to symbolically approach the King of Kings. The Mekhilta notes that the significance of the three steps is based on the three barriers that Moses had to pass through at Sinai before entering God's realm. The Mishnah Berurah wrote that only the steps forward are necessary, while the backward steps beforehand are a prevalent custom.
The Babylonian Talmud relates that the practice of stepping backward after the Amidah is a reminder of the practice in the Temple in Jerusalem, when those offering the daily sacrifices would walk backward from the altar after finishing. It is also compared to a student who respectfully backs away from his teacher.
The Talmud therefore states:
Rabbi Alexandri said in the name of Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi: One who has prayed should take three steps backward and afterwards pray for peace. Rav Mordecai said to him: Once he has stepped three steps backward, there he should remain.
In following this discussion, the worshipper takes three steps back at the end of the final meditation, and says while bowing left, right, and forward, "He who makes peace in the heavens, may He make peace for us and all Israel, and let us say, Amen." Many have the custom to remain standing in place until immediately before the chazzan reaches the Kedusha, and then take three steps forward.
The worshipper bows at four points in the Amidah: at the beginning and end of both the first blessing of Avot and the second to last blessing of Hoda'ah. At the opening words of Avot and at the conclusion of both these blessings, when the one says "Blessed are You, O Lord," one bends one's knees at "Blessed," then bows at "are You," and straightens while saying "O Lord." The reason for this procedure is that the Hebrew word for "blessed" (baruch) is related to "knee" (berech); while the verse in Psalms states, "The Lord straightens the bent." At the beginning of Hoda'ah, one bows while saying the opening words "We are grateful to You" without bending the knees. At each of these bows, one must bend over until the vertebrae protrude from one's back; one physically unable to do so suffices by nodding the head.
During certain parts of the Amidah said on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Ashkenazi Jews traditionally go down to the floor upon their knees and make their upper body bowed over like an arch, similar to Muslims, though not exactly in the same manner. There are some variations in Ashkenazi customs as to how long one remains in this position. Some Jews among the Dor Daim and Talmidhe haRambam understand both the Mishneh Torah and the Talmudic source texts concerning bowing in the Shemoneh Esreh to be teaching that one must always prostrate, lying flat on the ground, not only during the High Holy Days, but throughout the year during the four bows of the Amidah. It is hard to know the percentage of those who hold by the latter view, the likelihood being that most who accept such a view usually only do so in private or when praying among like-minded people.
In Orthodox and Conservative (Masorti) public worship, the Shemoneh Esrei is first prayed silently by the congregation; it is then repeated aloud by the chazzan (reader), except for the evening Amidah or when a minyan is not present. The congregation responds "Amen" to each blessing, and "Baruch Hu Uvaruch Shemo" ("blessed is He and blessed is His Name") when the chazzan invokes God's name in the signature "Blessed are You, O Lord..." If there are not six members of the minyan responding "Amen," the chazzan's blessing is considered in vain.
The repetition's original purpose was to give illiterate members of the congregation a chance to be included in the chazzan's Amidah by answering "Amen."
Conservative and Reform congregations sometimes abbreviate the public recitation of the Amidah by saying it once, with the first three blessings said out loud and the remainder silently. This abridged style, commonly referred to as (Yiddish: הויכע קדושה) "heikhe kedusha," is also performed within Orthodox Judaism in certain circumstances; in some communities it is customary for mincha to be recited in this way. It is usually used to lead into the Silent Prayer.
Amidot for Shabbat
The Shabbat Ma'ariv (evening), Shacharit (morning), Mussaf (additional), and Mincha (afternoon) Amidah prayers all have special forms in which the middle 13 benedictions are replaced by one, known as Kedushat haYom ("sanctity of the day"), so that each Shabbat Amidah is composed of seven benedictions. The Kedushat haYom has an introductory portion, which on Sabbath is varied for each of the four services, and short concluding portion, which is constant:
Our God and God of our Ancestors! Be pleased with our rest; sanctify us with Your commandments, give us a share in Your Torah, satiate us with Your bounty, and gladden us in Your salvation. Cleanse our hearts to serve You in truth: let us inherit, O Lord our God, in love and favor, Your holy Sabbath, and may Israel, who loves Your name, rest thereon. Praised are You, O Lord, who sanctifies the Sabbath.
Shield of the fathers by His word, reviving the dead by His command, the holy God to whom none is like; who causeth His people to rest on His holy Sabbath-day, for in them He took delight to cause them to rest. Before Him we shall worship in reverence and fear. We shall render thanks to His name on every day constantly in the manner of the benedictions. God of the 'acknowledgments,' Lord of 'Peace,' who sanctifieth the Sabbath and blesseth the seventh [day] and causeth the people who are filled with Sabbath delight to rest as a memorial of the work in the beginning of Creation.
Amidah for festivals
On festivals a special "Sanctification of the Day" prayer, made up of several sections, replaces the intermediate 13 blessings in the evening, morning, and afternoon prayers. The first section is constant:
Thou hast chosen us from all the nations, hast loved us and wast pleased with us; Thou hast lifted us above all tongues, and hast hallowed us by Thy commandments, and hast brought us, O our King, to Thy service, and hast pronounced over us Thy great and holy name.
A paragraph naming the special festival and its special character follow.
If the Sabbath coincides with it, special sections are added mentioning both the Shabbat and the festival.
On the Shabbat, festivals (i.e., on Yom Tov and on Chol HaMoed), and on Rosh Chodesh (new month in the Jewish Calendar), a Mussaf (additional) Amidah is said, both silently and repeated by the Reader. The Mussaf service is technically a separate, free-standing service which could potentially be said any time between the shacharit (morning) and mincha (afternoon) services, but today is normally recited immediately after the regular morning service as part of single, but extended, worship session. The Mussaf Amidah begins with the same first three and concludes with the same last three blessings as the regular Amidah. However, in place of the 13 intermediate blessings of the daily service, special prayers are added for the holiday. In Orthodox Services, these prayers recount the special Mussaf sacrifice that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem on the occasion, and contains a plea for the building of a Third Temple and the restoration of sacrificial worship. The biblical passage referring to the Mussaf sacrifice of the day is included. The Priestly Blessing is said during the Reader's repetition of the Amidah. Outside the land of Israel, the Mussaf Amidah of major Jewish holidays is the only time the Priestly Blessing is chanted by actual kohanim (priests).
The Mussaf Amidah on Rosh Hashanah is unique in that apart from the first and last 3 blessings, it contains 3 central blessings making a total of 9, compared to the normal 19 in a weekday Amidah or 7 in a Shabbat or Festival Amidah. These 3 blessings each end a section of the Amidah – which are "Malchuyot" (Kingship, and also includes the blessing for the holiness of the day as is in a normal Mussaf), "Zichronot" (Remembrance) and "Shofrot" (concerning the Shofar). Each section contains an introductory paragraph followed by selections of verses about the "topic". The verses are 3 from the Torah, 3 from the Ketuvim, 3 from the Nevi'im, and one more from the Torah. During the repetition of the Amidah, the Shofar is sounded (except on Shabbat) after the blessing that ends each section.
The Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism has devised two forms for the Mussaf Amidah with varying degrees of difference from the Orthodox form. One version refers to the prescribed sacrifices, but in the past tense ("there our ancestors offered" rather than "there we shall offer"). A newer version omits references to sacrifices entirely.
On Yom Kippur, a fifth Amidah (in addition to the Ma'ariv (Evening), Shacharit (Morning), Mussaf (Additional), and Mincha (Afternoon) Amidah is recited and repeated at the closing of Yom Kippur. The congregation traditionally stands during the entire repetition of this prayer, which contains a variety of confessional and supplicatory additions. In the Ashkenazi custom, it is also the only time that the Avinu Malkeinu prayer is said on Shabbat, should Yom Kippur fall on Shabbat, though by this point Shabbat is celestially over.
Occasional changes to the Amidah
Prayers for rain in winter and dew in summer
"Mentioning the power" of rain (הזכרת גבורות גשמים)
The phrase "הזכרת גבורות גשמים" ("He [God] causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall") is inserted in the second benediction of the Amidah, known as גבורות (Powers), throughout the rainy half of the year (ימות הגשמים, yemot hageshamim, i.e., between Sukkot and Passover). The most prominent of God's powers mentioned in this benediction is the resurrection of the dead. Rain is mentioned here because God's provision of rain is considered to be as great a manifestation of His power as the resurrection of the dead. At the same time, because rain out of season can be more harmful than helpful, Jewish tradition strongly avoids any hint of invoking rain outside the rainy season.
A passage about rain is not considered appropriate to (Northern Hemisphere) spring and summer, when rain does not fall in Israel. Nevertheless, given the importance of moisture during the dry summer of Israel, many (though not all) versions of the liturgy insert the phrase "מוריד הטל," "He causes the dew to fall," during every Amidah of the dry half of the year. The "mention" of rain (or dew) starts and ends on major festivals (Shemini Atzeret and Passover) because they are days of great joy, and because they are days of heavy attendance at public prayers. Therefore, the seasonal change in the language of the prayers is immediately and widely disseminated.
Requesting (praying for) rain (שאלת גשמים)
In the ninth blessing of the weekday Amidah, the words "dew and rain" are inserted during the winter season in the Land of Israel. This season is defined as beginning on the 60th day after the autumnal equinox (usually 4 December) and ending on Passover. In the Land of Israel, however, the season begins on the 7th of Cheshvan. The Sephardi and Yemenite Jewish rituals, as opposed to just adding the words "dew and rain" during the winter, have two distinct versions of the ninth blessing. During the dry season, the blessing has this form:
Bless us, our Father, in all the work of our hands, and bless our year with gracious, blessed, and kindly dews: be its outcome life, plenty, and peace as in the good years, for Thou, O Eternal, are good and does good and blesses the years. Blessed be Thou, O Eternal, who blesses the years.
In the rainy season, the phraseology is changed to read:
Bless upon us, O Eternal our God, this year and all kinds of its produce for goodness, and bestow dew and rain for blessing on all the face of the earth; and make abundant the face of the world and fulfil the whole of Thy goodness. Fill our hands with Thy blessings and the richness of the gifts of Thy hands. Preserve and save this year from all evil and from all kinds of destroyers and from all sorts of punishments: and establish for it good hope and as its outcome peace. Spare it and have mercy upon it and all of its harvest and its fruits, and bless it with rains of favor, blessing, and generosity; and let its issue be life, plenty, and peace as in the blessed good years; for Thou, O Eternal, are good and does good and blesses the years. Blessed be Thou, O Eternal, who blesses the years.
Extended prayers for rain and dew
On Shemini Atzeret, the traditional beginning of the rainy season in Israel, a special extended prayer for rain (Tefillat Geshem) is added. On the first day of Passover, the traditional beginning of the dry season in Israel, a special extended prayer for dew (Tefillat Tal) is added. In the Ashkenazic tradition, both prayers are recited by the Reader during the repetition of the Mussaf Amidah. Sephardic tradition, which prohibits such additions, places them before the Mussaf Amidah.
Conclusion of Shabbat and Festivals
At the Maariv Amidah following the conclusion of a Shabbat or Yom Tov, a paragraph beginning Atah Chonantanu ("You have granted us...") is inserted into the weekday Amidah's fourth blessing of Binah. The paragraph thanks God for the ability to separate between the holy and mundane, paraphrasing the concepts found in the Havdalah ceremony. In fact, the Talmud teaches that if this paragraph is forgotten, the Amidah need not be repeated, because Havdalah will be said later over wine. Once Atah Chonantanu is said, work prohibited on the holy day becomes permitted because the separation from the holy day has been established.
The Ten Days of Repentance
During the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, additional lines are inserted in the first, second, second to last, and last blessings of all Amidot. These lines invoke God's mercy and pray for inscription in the Book of Life. In many communities, when the chazzan reaches these lines during his repetition, he pauses and the congregation recites the lines before him. During the final recitation of the Amidah on Yom Kippur the prayer is slightly modified to read "seal us" in the book of life, rather than write us.
Moreover, the signatures of two blessings are changed to reflect the days' heightened recognition of God's sovereignty. In the third blessing, the signature "Blessed are You, O Lord, the Holy God" is replaced with "Blessed are You, O Lord, the Holy King." On weekdays, the signature of the eleventh blessing is changed from "Blessed are You, O Lord, King who loves justice and judgement" to "Blessed are You, O Lord, the King of judgement."
On public fast days, special prayers for mercy are added to the Amidah. At Shacharit, no changes are made in the silent Amidah, but the chazzan adds an additional blessing in his repetition right after the blessing of Geulah, known by its first word Aneinu ("Answer us"). The blessing concludes with the signature "Blessed are You, O Lord, Who responds (some say: to His nation Israel) in time of trouble."
At Minchah, the chazzan adds Aneinu in his repetition again, as at Shacharit. In addition, during the silent Amidah, all fasting congregatants recite the text of Aneinu without its signature in the blessing of Tefillah. In addition, communities that say the shortened version of the Shalom blessing at Minchah and Maariv say the complete version at this Minchah. The chazzan also says the priestly blessing before Shalom as he would at Shacharit, unlike the usual weekday Minchah when the priestly blessing is not said.
On Tisha B'Av at Minchah, Ashkenazim add a prayer that begins Nachem ("Console...") to the conclusion of the blessing Binyan Yerushalayim, elaborating on the mournful state of the Temple in Jerusalem. The concluding signature of the blessing is also extended to say "Blessed are You, O Lord, Who consoles Zion and builds Jerusalem." In other traditions, it is said in all the Amidot of Tisha B'av, or not included at all.
On Chol HaMoed (Intermediate Days of Festivals) and Rosh Chodesh (New Months), the prayer Ya'aleh Veyavo ("May [our remembrance] rise and be seen...") is inserted in the blessing of Avodah. Ya'aleh Veyavo is also said in the Kedushat HaYom blessing of the Festival Amidah, and at Birkat HaMazon. One phrase of the prayer varies according to the day's holiday, mentioning it by name. Traditionally, the first line is uttered aloud so that others will take notice.
On Hanukkah and Purim, the weekday Amidot are recited, but a special paragraph is inserted into the blessing of Hoda'ah. Each holiday's paragraph recounts the historical background of that holiday, thanking God for his salvation. Both paragraphs are prefaced by the same opening line, "We thank You for the miraculous deeds (Al HaNissim) and for the redemption and for the mighty deeds and the saving acts wrought by You, as well as for the wars which You waged for our ancestors in ancient days at this season."
Modern changes by liberal denominations
The most recent known change to the text of the standard daily Amidah by an authority accepted by Orthodox Judaism was done by the Arizal in the 16th century. He formulated a text of the Amidah which seems to be a fusion of the Ashkenazi and Sepharadi text in accordance with his understanding of Kabbalah. Following the establishment of the State of Israel and the reunification of Jerusalem, some Orthodox authorities proposed changes to the special Nachem ("Console...") prayer commemorating the destruction of Jerusalem added to the Amidah on Tisha B'av in light of these events.
Conservative and Reform Judaism have altered the text to varying degrees to bring it into alignment with their view of modern needs and sensibilities. Conservative Judaism retains the traditional number and time periods during which the Amidah must be said, while omitting explicit supplications for restoration of the sacrifices. Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism, consistent with their views that the rhythm of the ancient sacrifices should no longer drive modern Jewish prayer, often omit some of the Amidah prayers, such as the Mussaf, omit temporal requirements, and omit references to the Temple and its sacrifices.
Reform Judaism has changed the first benediction, traditionally invoking the phrase "God of our Fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob," one of the Biblical names of God. New editions of the Reform siddur explicitly say avoteinu v'imoteinu ("our fathers and our mothers"), and Reform and some Conservative congregations amend the second invocation to "God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob; God of Sarah, God of Rebekah, God of Leah, and God of Rachel." The new reform prayer book, Mishkan T'filah, reverses Leah's and Rachel's names. Some feminist Jews have added the names of Bilhah and Zilpah, since they were mothers to four tribes of Israel.
Liberal branches of Judaism make some additional changes to the opening benedictions. the phrase umeivi go'eil ("and brings a redeemer") is changed in Reform Judaism to umeivi ge'ulah ("who brings redemption"), replacing the personal messiah with a Messianic Age. The phrase m'chayei hameitim ("who causes the dead to come to life") is replaced in the Reform and Reconstructionist siddurim with m'chayei hakol ("who gives life to all") and m'chayei kol chai ("who gives life to all life"), respectively. This represents a turn away from the traditional article of faith that God will resurrect the dead.
Prayer 17, Avodah. asks God to restore the Temple services, build a Third Temple, and restore sacrificial worship. The concluding meditation ends with an additional prayer for the restoration of Temple worship. Both prayers have been modified within the siddur of Conservative Judaism, so that although they still ask for the restoration of the Temple, they remove the explicit plea for the resumption of sacrifices. (Some Conservative congregations remove the concluding silent prayer for the Temple entirely.) The Reform siddur also modifies this prayer, eliminating all reference to the Temple service and replacing the request for the restoration of the Temple with "God who is near to all who call upon you, turn to your servants and be gracious to us; pour your spirit upon us."
Many Reform congregations will often conclude with either Sim Shalom or Shalom Rav. Once either of those prayers are chanted or sung, many congregations proceed to a variation on the Mi Shebeirach (typically the version popularized by Debbie Friedman), the traditional prayer for healing, followed by silent prayer, and then a resumption of the service.
Conservative Judaism is divided on the role of the Mussaf Amidah. More traditional Conservative congregations recite a prayer similar to the Mussaf prayer in Orthodox services, except they refer to Temple sacrifices only in the past tense and do not include a prayer for the restoration of the sacrifices. More liberal Conservative congregations omit references to the Temple sacrifices entirely. Reconstructionist and Reform congregations generally do not do the Mussaf Amidah at all, but if they do, they omit all references to Temple worship.
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- Maimonides on Men. iv. 1b, quoted by Elbogen, "Gesch. des Achtzehngebetes."
- Ber. iv. 3; see Grätz, "Gesch." 3d ed., iv. 30 et seq..
- Donin, Rabbi Hayim Halevy, To Pray as a Jew, p. 92, citing Yer. Berakhot 2:4 and Eliezer Levy, Yesodot Hatefilah
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- Maimonides on Men. iv. 1b, quoted by Elbogen, "Gesch. des Achtzehngebetes".
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- Berakhot 26b
- Hosea 14:3
- Talmud Berachot 17a
- Pirkei Avot 2:17
- Orach Chayim §101
- Orach Chayim §101
- Samuel I 2; Berakhot 31b
- Ezekiel 1:7
- Genesis 28:17
- Berakhot 30a
- Mekhilta, Shemos 20:18
- Mishnah Berurah § 95
- Talmud Tractate Yoma53b.
- Psalms 146, Mishnah Berurah §113
- Talmud Berakhot 28b
- Ber. 29, 57b; Pes. 104a
- See, e.g., Ta'an. 2b; Ber. 33a.
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- The Amidah in Hebrew (p. 22) according to the Ari rite. (The Open Siddur Project)
- Various versions of the Amidah (p. 31, 33, 34) translated and adapted in English by reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. (The Open Siddur Project)