Shaharit, Minhah, and Maariv
What distinguishes the three services from each other?
Minhah & Maariv
Minhah is the shortest of the three services. It begins with Ashrei (Psalm 145), is followed by the Amidah and Tahanun, and concludes with the Aleinu.
In some sense, Maariv is comparable to the other daily services, as it contains similar content to Shaharit, with both the Shema and the Amidah, which are meant to be joined together as a single liturgical unit. However, in some ways, Maariv is the most dissimilar of the three daily services, because of the ways in which it is described by the rabbis of the Talmud and Mishnah.
The Mishnah states that Maariv is "ein la keva," or "without a fixed time" (Mishnah Berakhot 4:1). This statement could mean that the Maariv service does not have a window of time in which it should be recited, as opposed to Shaharit and Minhah, each of which have very proscribed time frames.
Yet, when commenting on the meaning of this statement that Maariv is "ein la keva," the Talmud says that the Maariv service is reshut, which means that it is optional, as opposed to Shaharit and Minhah, which are hovah, or mandatory (Berakhot 26a).
Later rabbinic authorizes assert that Maariv has the same status as Shaharit and Minhah, the halakhically mandated services. However, because Maariv is given a different status by the Talmud, it is the only daily service where it is not customary for the prayer leader to repeat the Amidah after the silent recitation.
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