The Siddur compiles Jewish prayers for worship services.
The Siddur compiles Jewish prayers for worship services.

The name of the Jewish book of worship is the Siddur. The book compiles prayers that Jews use during their daily prayer routine, which occurs three times daily: the morning prayer called the shacharit, the afternoon called the minchah and the evening prayer called the maariv. The tradition derives from the Torah and the Jewish belief in the three patriarchs of the faith, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Siddur History

Rav Amram Gaon compiled the oldest form of the Siddur in use today, which dates back about 1,100 years. He lived in Babylon, and on the request of Jews in Spain, arranged the prayers into a single book. Other translators made the Siddur available to Jews in other European countries including France and Germany. The text then spread to Arabic countries after Rav Saadia Gaon translated the original into Arabic. It remained in its handwritten form until 1865, when printers in Warsaw, Poland, released a print edition.

Siddur Structure

The versions of the Siddur vary only slightly; they contain the same prayers, but may use a slightly different order or text. Some include an additional section of piyyutim, or poem-like hymns. The form, or nusach, of the book follows the order that Jews pray in during the day. The first section for the morning prayers includes morning blessings, followed by Pesukei d'Zimra, which offers Torah sections. An incantation called the Shema follows, which is an expression of the faith, followed by the main prayers called either Shemore Esrei, which means 18 (though there are 19 prayers) or Amidah, which translates to standing, since people typically stand during the prayers. The final section is the Aleinu, or the closing prayer. Some books contain special prayers for the Sabbath and holy days.

Siddur Use

The sections of the Siddur correspond with the type of prayer worshipers are saying: shacharit, minchah or maariv prayers. Many newcomers to Jewish worship services find it difficult to follow the progression. Even though the book is divided into sections based on the prayer session, each section contains various prayers meant for use throughout the year. Some congregations include boards indicating the page they are using, since they jump around. The Amidah section may also cause confusion; the congregation stands and reads the section silently, but skips some sections that are located near it, which may cause newcomers to lose their place.

The Torah as a Book of Worship

The sacred book of Judaism is the Torah, or first five books of the Jewish Bible, and it makes appearances in worship services. Jews believe God delivered the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai after the Jews left Egypt. Readers do not touch the text of the Torah scrolls, but point at it with a pointer. Torah readings occur in the synagogue on Mondays and Thursdays, and a longer reading takes place the morning of the Sabbath. At the beginning and end of the service, a person in the synagogue walks around with the Torah while the worshipers touch it with their hand or a prayer shawl called a tallit. They then kiss their hand or their tallit once it has touched the Torah. Orthodox communities that segregate women do not allow them to touch the Torah.