Like people of all faiths, many Jews pray daily. Muslims pray five times a day. Traditional Christianity has multiple daily prayer services, known as the Divine Offices. Jews traditionally pray three times per day.
Jewish prayers are traditionally said in the morning, afternoon and evening. Each of these three daily prayer services — Shacharit (morning), Minchah (afternoon) and Maariv (evening) — follow a specific order, yet each of the three services differs slightly from the other. Some prayers are always said during the service, and other prayers are said only if one is praying with others and there are at least 10 people present (a minyan).
Shacharit is the morning prayer service. Traditionally one recites these prayers when one gets up, before eating breakfast, if one is praying at home. The morning prayers start out with expressions of gratitude to God for many things. First we are grateful for how our bodies work, with parts that open and close appropriately, thus enabling us to get up and participate in life. Then we express our gratitude for being Jews, for God’s miracles and for God’s gift of the Torah.
If we are praying with others, and we have a minyan present, then there will be a “call to Worship,” the “Barchu” prayer. This is a responsive prayer. The leader says “Let us Bless God the Blessed One,” and the congregation responds “Blessed is God the Blessed forever.” This prayer is only recited if there is a minyan, never when one is praying alone.
The next prayer is a lovely prayer called the Yotzer. This prayer expresses our appreciation for the fact that God daily recreates the world for us, bringing daily forth light to the inhabitants of the earth. We acknowledge how great the works of God are.
Next we recite a prayer that acknowledges God’s great love and compassion for us. Then we recite the Shema, “Hear, Oh Israel, the Eternal One is our God, the Eternal One Alone.” This is immediately followed by the “Ve-ahavta” prayer, which commands us to love God with all our being, to teach our children, to pray at home and while away from home, morning and evening.
We then move into the apex of the Jewish prayer service, the Amidah, or standing prayer. Whether praying by oneself or with a group, we rise to recite this prayer. The prayer consists of a series of blessings, in which we acknowledge that God is the god of our ancestors, God's power is eternal, God sustains the living and gives life to all. God helps the falling and brings healing to the sick; God frees the captive and keeps faith with our departed. We acknowledge the holiness of God.
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The weekday Amidah then continues that affirm God’s blessings of wisdom, repentance, forgiveness, redemption, health, abundance, justice and freedom. We pray for the end of evil, for God’s favor on the righteous, for the welfare of Jerusalem, for deliverance, and we pray that God will hear our prayer. A slightly different Amidah prayer is recited on the Sabbath, that focuses on the many blessings of this special day. The Amidah prayer concludes with a prayer of thanksgiving for all God’s blessings that are with us daily, and prayers for peace.
When Jews pray together, in a minyan, on Mondays, Thursdays and on the Sabbath mornings (Saturday) or on holidays, a Torah service will follow next. The Torah service includes taking the Torah out of the Ark (which is a fancy cabinet that holds the Torah scrolls), and then actually reading the weekly Torah portion from the scroll. Participants in the service are given honors to come up and make blessings over the Torah before and after each reading.
The prayer service then continues with the Aleynu prayer. This is another prayer where all stand and the ark is opened. We acknowledge that God is the maker of heaven and earth. We bow before God. Then we look forward to the day in the future when everyone will turn to God, when violence, war and evil will no longer exist, and all will live in freedom and harmony. “On that day, O God, You shall be One and Your Name shall be One.”
If there is a minyan present for prayer, it is then traditional to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish. People who are mourning the loss of a parent or relative, or observing the anniversary of the death (the yartzeit), will rise together and recite this Aramaic prayer of praise to God. This is the last prayer of the service, though a hymn may be sung afterward.
This same set of prayers is recited in each of the three daily services, with some variations. The afternoon (Minchah) service, does not have a “Barchu” call to prayer. The evening (Maariv) service does not include a Torah service. Various prayers may change or be added, depending on whether it is a weekday, a holiday or holy day, or the Sabbath.
Like all religious people, Jews pray in order to reach out to God, to talk to God, to thank God and to ask God for help. Human prayers may all be in different languages, and we may all speak to God using different names, but God hears all prayers, delights in all prayers and delights in the wonderful diversity of those who pray.