Daily Practices of Judaism

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Here we will set out to describe the numerous ways in which Judaism manifests itself in the daily lives of its adherents. We are really going down into the field. Our aim would be two-fold. To provide a historical context for understanding the unique development of the institutions and practices of Judaism, and at the same time we would address contemporary religious behavior and frameworks. That is to say, how Judaism is practiced today. The goal is to provide us with an understanding of the daily and periodic practices of Judaism.

Here we will address the emergence of prayer as a major means of religious behavior and expression. We would note that prayer is removed from its biblical precursor, the offering of animal sacrifices. The questions we will ask are: what the Jewish prayers contain. When are they conducted? In what language are they recited? Are these texts fixed or they are constantly being changed? Can prayers only be recited in synagogues? This would lead us to an examination of the nature of the institution of synagogue. When did it begin. What are the physical designs. Are there requisite physical designs for a synagogue? How is the synagogue operated today?

In many ways, if we do look at the prayers, they tell us a tale. The constant prayer tells a tale of Jewish aspirations and hopes for a future. It is telling that the last blessing in the Amidah is a blessing to God who blesses his people with peace. We then look at those additional prayers that were added over the generations, they tell the sometimes sad tale of what happened and what Jews were forced to address in their synagogue liturgy over the years.

  1. The Origins of Prayer: Prayer in the Bible: Turning to God in moments of need, what we call praying, definitely appears in the Bible. It was performed by private individuals as well as public figures. Prayer was not, however, the standard means of worshipping God in the Hebrew Bible.

  2. Main Jewish Prayers: The destruction of the second temple in the year 70 C.E. required new modes of worship. Indeed it was then that prayer emerged almost universally as the substitute for sacrifice.

  3. The Language of Jewish Prayer: In what language do Jews pray? Until the 19th century, the universal language of prayer in Judaism was Hebrew.

  4. Jewish Public Prayer: Almost all prayers, specially the Amidah, are recited in the plural form. This is a communal expression. “We are praying to God, not I”.

  5. The Jewish Synagogue: Today, synagogues are recognized as the main setting for prayer. This was not the case in the earliest synagogues of antiquity. First of all, there is absolutely no mention of synagogues explicitly in the Hebrew Bible.