Four basic types of Jewish prayer

In Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer, Seth Kadish examines the four basic types of tefila.

Kavvana Seth Kadish

I. Hoda’ah (thanks)

“One of the most basic ethical assumptions in Judaism is that whenever one receives a favor from another, one is duty-bound to acknowledge the source of the good he has received…This acknowledgement is nor primarily for the giver’s benefit, but is rather a healthy moral response on the part of receiver. Its purpose is not to make the giver feel good by knowing that his gift was well received (though it may and should accomplish this as well).” [Kadish, 54]

II. Vidduy (confession)

“The Torah obligates each Jew to confess his wrong-doing to God. This is knwon as vidduy, and is part of the process of teshuvah (repentence). Halakhically, prayer constitutes an obligation that is entirely sepratae from repentance (and vidduy). That is why Rambam (Maimonides) confines vidduy to his Laws of Repentence, rather than discussing it in his Laws of Prayer.” Nonetheless, vidduy is widely considered to be a form of prayer because (1) “It addresses God in the second person, as do typical rabbinic prayers. If prayer is defined as talking directly to God, then confessing sins to Him obviously fits the pattern. (2) It follows the conceptual structure of Biblical prayer.” [Kadish, p.53]

III. Shevach (praise)

Shevach “was the subject of heated debate from rabbinic times through the middle ages, and to a certain degree the discussion has continued into modern times as well. It was the very assumption that a man is even _capable_ of praising God that caused all of the controversy: after all, praise implies describing the object of the praise. How can finite man presume to describe God, who is entirely beyond human understanding? And if man cannot, then is it not blasphemous for him to make the attempt?

It may be said that this single problem is mostly responsible for the Rambam [Maimonides] writing the first part of the Moreh Nuvukhim [The Guide of the Perplexed”. His solution was that the Torah uses human analogies that the common people unfortunately take literally; but if these analogies were understood correctly then it becomes clear that they don’t really presume to describe God in human terms….However, this problem with shevah is not one that is central to most modern thinkers, who seem to be satisfied with an approach similar to Rambam’s answer.”
[Kadish, p.55,56]

IV. Bakkashah (petitioning God for our needs)

“When we take an overall look at the content of Jewish prayer, it immediately becomes clear that the bakkashah is the central aspect of tefila. The prayers of biblical characters…revolve almost totally around entirely around petition. Rabbinic prayer as embodied in the Amidah consists of petitions on thirteen different themes in its ‘middle’ blessings, as opposed to just three blessings of praise and three for thanksgiving. But while petition is the essence of prayer, at the same time it poses the deepest and most fundamental problems about prayer.”
[Kadish, p.56]

Thanks for reading. While you’re here see our articles on Jewish ethics, Halakhah,  Kashrut (keeping kosher) , LifecycleMishnah and Talmud studyphilosophy & theologyTefila (prayer)Torah studyZionism, and our Trad-Egal online havurah.

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