Siddur Contents: Shabbat & Holiday Liturgy

This description of the Shabbat and holiday morning service includes most of the elements that appear in weekday services as well.

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One of the most ancient prayers recited by Jews is called the K'riyat Shema, or the recitation of the Shema, meaning "Hear!" In the Torah, Moses declares, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone" (Deuteronomy 6:4), which has become the quintessential statement of Jewish monotheistic belief. The Rabbis ordained the recitation of the Shema and a series of additional selections from the Torah each morning and evening. A series of berakhot, or blessings, was established to be recited before and after the passages of the Shema. Forming its own mini liturgical unit, the recitation of the Shema and its attendant blessings begins with the Barkhu, the formal call to prayer ("Praise the Lord who is blessed!"), and its antiphonal response by the congregation ("Praised be the Lord, who is blessed, forever and ever."). The two blessings preceding the Shema are extended paeans to God on the twin themes of creation of the world and revelation of the Torah. Following the Shema is a concluding blessing thanking God for redemption of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt and obliquely referring to a future, messianic redemption.

The Amidah (literally, "standing") is the second major liturgical unit of the Shabbat and holiday service. Taking its name, obviously, from the posture in which it is said, the Rabbis also referred to it as HaTefillah, or simply, "The prayer" par excellence. Using the image of master and servant, the Rabbis declared that a worshipper should come before their master first with words of praise, then ask one's petitions, and finally withdraw with words of thanks. Using this tripartite division, every Amidah begins with three blessings, praising God's relationship with the biblical patriarchs, God's divine power to give and restore life, and God's holiness. On Shabbat and holidays, instead of petitions that might distract us by reminding us of our physical wants and needs, the Rabbis established the middle section as an opportunity to celebrate the holiness of the Sabbath day and/or the festival. The final section of every Amidah concludes with blessings of thanksgiving to God for accepting our prayers, for the daily miracles of creation, and a final prayer for God to bestow justice, mercy, and peace on the world.

Every Shabbat and holiday includes a service in which Torah scrolls are removed from the holy ark and read. Each Shabbat, a portion of the Torah is read, advancing each week until the entire five books of Moses are completed in a single year, although some liberal communities read the Torah in a three-year cycle, chanting one-third of each portion each week. On festivals, special selections are read outside of this order that either mention the particular holiday or highlight a theme of the festival.

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Rabbi Daniel Kohn

Rabbi Daniel Kohn, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1991. He is the author of several books on Jewish education and spirituality who currently writes and teaches throughout the San Francisco Bay area.