What Happened To Jewish Prayer? Additions to the Siddur

A Meqori Perspective – Part II: External Additions to the Siddur

By Yehudah B. Ilan, Forthodoxy.org

Siddur Creative Commons by צבי הרדוף
Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license, by צילם צבי הרדוף, רחובות.

While sidduriym are useful tools for accessing the texts of the tefiylloth along with the laws and explanations relevant to them, they are also a major reason that many find prayer a cumbersome and unmanageable burden. Before the mid-fifteenth century, sidduriym were composed as handwritten texts, not as individual tools for daily recitation, but as compendiums for hazzaniym and reference guides.

The first two sidduriym in Jewish history were compiled by Rav `Amram Gaon (Sedher Rav `Amram– ca. 870 CE) and Rav Sa`adyah Gaon (Siddur Rasa”g – ca. 900 CE), the former being especially for talmidhey hakhahmiym and the latter being intended for access by the common man.

Other early versions included the Sedher HaTefiylloth of the Rambam which was included in the Mishneh Torah (ca. 1180), and the Mahzor Vitriy which was produced in France in 1206. The writing of prayerbooks continued until the mid-fifteenth century with the advent of the printing press.

With printed texts being laborious to create and the costs of printing being relatively high, sidduriym began to be produced in an encyclopedic fashion. That is, the goal was to include anything and everything in the way of prayers, blessings, and poetry (piyyutiym) so that each publisher could market his edition as being the most complete. Along with printing also came many errors, and in fact some of the phraseology of blessings and prayers commonly said today are long-standing practices originally due to typesetting and formatting errors in those original printed sidduriym.

As a result of this trend, the siddur has gone from being a relatively short kuntres to a massive tome over the last 500 years. Add to this the additions made by the kabbalists (this will be discussed in another post) and the amount of material that one must “get through” in a prayer service is incredible.

Another error that has crept in since the printing of sidduriym is the idea that everything must be said. Many do not know that only certain parts of the prayers are obligatory, others are highly recommended, and others are simply customary and may be dispensed with completely. Remember all of the long piyyutiym added to the shemoneh `esrey during the high holiday services? Many also do not know that the hazzan for those services would prepare a selection of them that were meaning to the community – they would not all necessarily be said.

This misconception of the need to “say it all” is still prevalent today and many who skip certain sections do so with a feeling of shame, inadequacy, or irreligiosity. It is important remove the occasion of these feelings from Jews because otherwise they will harden themselves against sin through doing something permissible (has wa-halilah). It is a case of “one who intends to eat pork, but ends up [unwittingly] eating sheep [instead]” (cf. b.Naziyr 23a). Although they are not sinning or being irreligious, they nevertheless – due to ignorance about what is actually required – feel that they are being such by skipping parts of the siddur and many thereby become hardened religious duties and eventually give it up altogether. But perhaps if such Jews had the confidence that they were doing everything that was required of them (and more), their contented sense of religious dedication would return. I have watched many people walk away from the practice of praying with poor feelings about it and their own religious self-image.

The expansion of the tefiylloth is largely due to two types of additions:

[1] external additions in the form of prefixal and suffixal selections being added to the main components of the prayers,

and [2] internal additions wherein lines of text have been added to the phraseology of the prayers themselves.

The first type of addition is the most obvious and may be perceived by simply comparing the core of each prayer service with the many things that, within the modern siddur, appear before Barekhu and after Uva Le-Ssiyon (i.e. when praying with a minyan, but when praying alone it would be between Yosser Or and Tehiyllah Le-Dawidh). In the following table, the additions are italicized while the main components are in bold:

[NOTE: ** – indicates something recited only when praying with a minyan only, * – indicates something which is technically an addition, but has been standard since the times of the Geoniym, [ ] – indicates something said by relatively few, but still suggested by some to be said.]


  • Preparatory Recital for Tallith
  • Four Parashiyoth of Tefiylliyn
  • Piyyutiym (e.g. Yighdal, Adhon `Olam)
  • `Akeydah
  • Qorbanoth
  • Qaddiysh De-Rabbanan**
  • Mizmor Shiyr and Qaddiysh Yathom
  • Pesuqey De-Zimra/Zemiyroth*
  • Hassi Qaddiysh**
  • Birkhoth HaShahar
  • Barekhu**
  • Qiryath Shema`
  • `Amiydhah/Shemoneh `Esrey
  • Hazarah**
  • Tahanun
  • Tehiyllah Le-Dhawidh
  • Uva Le-Ssiyon**
  • Qaddiysh Shalem**
  • `Aleynu*
  • Qaddiysh Yathom**
  • Sedher HaYom
  • Qaddiysh Yathom**
  • Piytum HaQetoreth
  • Qaddiysh De-Rabbanan**
  • [Shesh Zikhronoth]
  • [`Asereth HaDiberoth]
  • [Shelosh `Asar `Iqqariym]


  • Tehiyllah Le-Dhawidh
  • Hassi Qaddiysh**
  • `Amiydhah/Shemoneh `Esrey
  • Hazarah**
  • Tahanun
  • Qaddiysh Shalem**
  • `Aleynu*
  • Qaddiysh Yathom**


  • Wa-hu Rahum
  • Barekhu**
  • Qiryath Shema`
  • `Amiydhah/Shemoneh `Esrey
  • Qaddiysh Shalem**
  • `Aleynu*
  • Qaddiysh Yathom**

Some initial observations are that both Minhah and `Arevith are essentially free of external additions, with the exception of `Aleynu (which was instituted early in the Geonic era) and the mourners’ Qaddiysh which was added because of AleynuShahariyth has been recipient of the vast majority of external additions and innovations.

While what is listed above may vary slightly from one siddur to another, this is fairly standard. And to say all of this with proper intention (kawannah) and at a speed at which such intention is humanly possible can take close to two hours. Most people, however, opt to simply race through it without much thought.

The core structure of the prayers as instituted originally by Hazal for each of the services is as follows (I have left out mention of each Qaddiysh):

daily tefiyllah tefila chart-3

The various components of the prayers fall into three general halakhic categories: hovahreshuth, and minhagh.

[i] Hovah (“obligation”) is something that must be done so that by not doing so one is prevented from fulfilling his general obligation to prayer in some part. One cannot and should not dispense with this without express halakhic reasons for doing so.

[ii] The nature of Reshuth (“optional [practice]”) is often misunderstood to be something that is unimportant and may be dispensed with lightly. This is a mistake. Rather, a reshuth is something that is recommended by Hazal and has been directed by them to be said, but is not technically obligatory and therefore if one does not do it they neither transgress in any way or, in this case, affect their general obligation to prayer. However, not reciting something in the category of reshuth means that an opportunity has been lost and it therefore detracts from their fulfillment of the obligation to pray.

[iii] Minhagh (“custom”) in this context – and in a general meqori context – does not refer simply to “what lots of Jews have been doing” or “what your grandparents did,” but is a reference to a custom ratified and spread on the basis of proper rabbinic authority, as the term is used, for example, in the haqdamah to the Mishneh Torah of the Rambam.

Unlike a reshuth, something which is minhagh has not been rabbinically prescribed per se, but only rabbinically approved. In other words, if someone desires to say it, then there is nothing wrong with it and the practice is deemed proper and permissible, however if one decides to dispense with it completely, then there is no loss whatsoever insofar as prayer is concerned.

The Rambam [Maimonides] states very succinctly – as is his usual way – what the basic order and structure of the daily services should be, both when praying with a minyan and praying alone (cf. Hilkhoth Tefiyllah 7:17-19; 9:1-19).

All of these ideas are more complicated and involve many more details than can be adequately presented here, but I think that the general picture can be properly perceived. In future posts I plan to refer back to these ideas and to deal with them in more detail. The next post in this series is dedicated to the “internal” additions as mentioned above.

There is one more question that I would like to address, and that is: “If not hours, then how long are the prayers supposed to reasonably take?” The Rambam actually comments on the approximate length of Qiryath Shema`indicating that it (along with its berakhoth) takes about 6 minutes (cf. Hilkhoth Qiryath Shema` 1:12). The `Amiydhah is supposed to take a reasonable amount of time, without being rushed, and one is required to sit (and this literally means “sitting,” not standing) before and after in order to not treat the Shemoneh `Esrey as a burden to be dispensed with as quickly as possible (cf. Hilkhoth Tefiyllah 4:16 – “hour” [שעה] is to be understood as a short period of time, as it is translated quite often by Targum Onqelos as רגע, not literally an hour of 60 minutes – see the piyrush of Rav Yosef Qafih z”l there).

The “sitting” before and after are usually accomplished by either Qiryath Shema`or Tehiyllah Le-Dhawidh (before) and Tahanun along with Tehiyllah Le-Dhawidh and/or Uva Le-Ssiyon (after). Other portions of the prayers are relatively to these in length. There are other considerations as well, such as that Shahariyth on Shabbat (which contains a lengthy Torah service and an added `Amiydhah and Hazarah) would begin close to sunrise and people would arrive home from synagogue to eat their first meal while it was still morning.

The advice in the sefariym is to refrain from taking a nap after the day meal until after mid-day (hassoth) and instead one should learn for several hours until then. This is unlike today where some shuls have Shabbath services that begin at 8:30 am and last for almost 5 hours! Regarding Tahanun, it is unknown by many that is has no set text, only suggested pesuqiym and sentiments put forward by some of the Geoniym and the Rambam. There are many other factors that might shorten the nosah of daily prayer as well, but I will not list them here.

Using some commonsense measurements based on experience, I think it is reasonable to estimate the length of prayers as follows, using a weekday Shahariyth for an example

At home:

  1.  Morning berakhoth and washing: 7-8 minutes
  2. Zemiyroth (Pesuqey De-Zimra): 10-12 minutes

In synagogue:

  1. Barekhu: 10 seconds
  2. Shema` and its berakhoth: 6-7 minutes
  3. `Amiydhah: 5-10 minutes
  4. Hazarah: 5-6 minutes
  5. Tahanun and bowing/prostration: 2 minutes
  6. `Ashrey: 1-2 minutes
  7. Uva Le-Ssiyon: 1-2 minutes

TOTAL: 20-29 minutes

A half of an hour is more than reasonable to dedicate in the morning to prayer and service to God. Many who read this might say, “What is the big deal? Our shul finishes in a about a half an hour too. So?” But what I am referring to here is a half an hour, not of speed-talking and murmuring page after page of rote textual material, but of even-paced, clear recitation of the prayers and berakhoth with proper intention. The two are VERY different from one another, as anyone who has experienced both can affirm.

Not only this, but it is a certainty that many of those who lead public prayer in the synagogue are not actually saying or reading anything. I have literally counted the seconds it takes various [would be] shalihey ssibbur to finish certain sections of the siddur and it is simply not humanly possible for anyone to read anything that fast! And even it were, perhaps by some method or technique of “speed-reading,” this is not the misswah of prayer – prayer is careful recitation and enunciation with proper kawannah (intention).

I once heard someone begin “`Aleynu le-shabe’ah…”, go silent, and then six seconds later say “…Adhonoy ehadh ushemo ehadh.” Six seconds?! This same person read the hazarah like a micro-machines commercial, stumbling over words and gasping between lines. Shema` took about 17 seconds with the berakhoth before and after taking 3-5 seconds a piece. I am not exaggerating. Try this yourself privately, you will find that it is not possible without simply scanning the pages with your eyes. It should be said that without proper intention, the shali’ah ssibbur cannot be mossi the people in anything according to halakhah.

Many mistakenly believe that the public repetition of the `Amiydhah is an antiquated service for `ammey ha-aress who cannot pray on their own to be yosse yedhey hovah. This is simply untrue. While it is true that those who cannot pray or do not know how may fulfill their obligation through the hazarah, the intention of the hazarah is public and corporate worship. This means that we are not supposed to sit down and look at our phones or wander around the hekhal waiting for it to be over.

Read the Rambam in Hilkhoth Tefiyllah – those in the minyan are supposed to remain standing and to concentrate on repetition no matter who they are. This is because the hazarah is the epitome of the corporate service to God. Unfortunately, however, due to a lack of intention or of being careful with the recitation of the prayers, services within the synagogue have become largely an exercise in futility and stupidity which accomplish very little. If we are honest, we know that this is true. And more importantly, the younger generation also sees it for what it is and take it as a sign that prayer is boring, accomplishes nothing, and that religious Jews really don’t care much about it. This alone should give us enough pause to want to work for change in this important aspect of daily Jewish life.

When advocating for a shorter nosah, many have asked me if shorter really is better. They contend that a shorter nosah will just mean that people spend even less time in prayer, that they will fly through the little that is required, and then go about their business. My response is that they are correct, but not because the nosah will be shorter, but because a shorter nosah is simply not enough to change the current situation. Along with restoring the original nosah comes the teshuvah and re-education of religious Jews with regard to the “service of the heart.” It also comes with the responsibility to refuse appointing `ammey ha-aress who cannot properly lead the prayers to lead the minyan. And just as the culture of blazing through modern siddur led to people racing through the material as hurriedly as possible, so also will prayer leaders who clearly and evenly enunciate the prayers with proper intention eventually lead to people slowing down. And perhaps the damage has already been done and the change will only take place generationally, i.e. with our children growing up in a renewed reality of public prayer. HaShem ya`azor.

Next post will be about “internal” additions and the requirements for a proper shali’ah ssibbur.

Until then, Kol tuv, YB


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