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The Five Pillars of Judaism – Prayer



Time for the second pillar. Actually Amani already posted his post on the pillar of Prayer some days ago, but I’ve been caught up in things and Shabbat. And talking about Amani and his post on Prayer in Islam, then I have to say that it’s a really a wonderful and great explanation of ritual, so if you’re looking for a “walkthrough” for prayer in Islam, then take a look at his post.


So what about Judaism? Do we share the obligation of prayer? Most surely. It is considered a Biblical commandment to pray daily, based on Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:13, where we are commanded to serve God (besides also fearing Him and swearing by His Name, though only i certain cases). The Hebrew word for “serve” is “Ta’avod,” to work, and from this the Sages, Z”L, have deduced that we are obligated to pray to Him, since it is stated in Devarim 11:13 that we are to serve Him with the heart (and all our soul), the same word used here, and what is service of the heart? Prayer (Talmud Bavli, Ta’anit 2a). This commandment is seen as one of the 613 commandment of the Torah, also called Taryag HaMitzvot or just Taryag, which is found as commandment number 6 in Maimonides’ Sefer Mitzvot, a list and explanation of the Taryag HaMitzvot, where he explains that the commandment to serve God is not only prayer, but also the study of Torah. Indeed, in studying the Torah you are doing a kind of prayer, since you are studying the Words of God. Furthermore we can learn from 1 Kings 8:29 that we are to pray faced towards Jerusalem.

So now we know that there indeed is a daily requirement to pray, but how many times a day? In the Talmud (Talmud Bavli, B’rachot 26b) the Sages, Z”L, discusses the basis for the three daily prayers, and find that they are instituted by the three Patriarchs, Avraham Avinu, Yitzhaq Avinu, and Ya’aqov Avinu, A”S, instituting the morning prayer (Shaharit, meaning dawn), the afternoon prayer (Minhah, the sacrifice offered after midday) and the evening prayer (Ma’ariv or ‘Aravit, an adjective meaning evening) respectively. The daily prayers were instituted to replace the sacrifice, which happened even before the destruction of the second Temple (for those who couldn’t offer the daily sacrifice) – as is also seen in the Book of Daniel 6:11, where we read of Daniel praying three times daily faced towards Jerusalem – and have remained such since then, based on the Biblical verse found in Hosea 14:3, where it is stated “Forgive all iniquity, and accept that which is good; so will we render for bullocks the offering of our lips.”

The names of the prayers, Shaharit, Minhah, and Ma’ariv/’Aravit, take the names after the daily sacrifices, as explained above. In the Hebrew word for sacrifice, we also find something which is crucial in the understanding of prayer. The “Qorban,” consisting of the root qof, resh, bet, signifies the meaning of getting closer, which is seen many places in the Torah, such as in VaYiqra (Leviticus) 9:7 and Devarim (Deuteronomy) 5:24. But the prayers consist of different elements, and though I don’t want to go through all of them, that would be too extensive, I want to try to explain at least the main parts.

The basic element in all three prayers is the Shmoneh Esrei (the Hebrew word for eighteen), originally consisting of eighteen blessings, giving basis for the name, but today having been added another blessing, making the number of blessing nineteen. That is only for the weekdays though, during the various holydays the number changes, depending on which day. The prayer is also called ‘Amidah, meaning standing, since it is prayed standing with gathered legs.

In the Shaharit and the Ma’ariv/’Aravit the Shma’ (see the first of the pillars) is also recited. This is done every day.

Then there is the ‘Aleynu prayer, finishing the prayer. The ‘Aleinu (Upon us) has two parts, one dealing with the now and Israel’s special status in the world and in relation to God, and the second dealing with the future, where the whole world will participate in this relation, seeing God being the supreme ruler, and awareness and understanding of Him being spread over all the world.

During the Shaharit men are wearing Tefillin, prayer straps, on the arm and the head, holding the words of the Torah, where this is commanded (which is part of the Shma’), as well as Tallit, prayer shawls. The Tefillin is actually meant to be worn all day until the sun set, but in order to prevent unnecessary damages on them, people who do things involving the chance of damaging them, is only obligated to put them on and say the blessing over them, which is done in the Shaharit. The Tallit is also only worn in the morning, except certain cases, while the commandment to wear Tzitzit (the strings), which is found on the corners of the Tallit, is fulfilled by wearing a undershirt with corners, where the Tzitzit are fastened.

Before prayer one should ready oneself to stand in the presence of God, by washing at least the hands. Also mentally preparation is in order, which is done by saying a short blessing, helping one to find the right attitude.

Hence, prayer is also an obligation in Judaism, as it is in Islam, and the Jewish prayer is both service, submitting oneself to God, as it is drawing oneself closer to God, both in love and in awe.


  1. Amani says:

    Very informative and similar to Islam surprisingly! I am pleasantly surprised that our religions have alot of similarities. Makes me smile 🙂 On By the way, I am a woman lol, but its ok. Its hard to tell by my name unless you’ve heard it before 😉 Keep up the excellent work friend. Salam. Amani

    • qolyehudi says:

      As-salamu ‘aleyckum w’rahmatullah Amani:o)

      First, please forgive me for mixing up the genders:oS. The weird thing was that I actually thought about it, while writing the post, but I went with my gut feelings. I learned a lesson there;o)

      And yes, we certainly do have a lot of similarities. It is a fact that I feel more and more believers in our religions discover and appreciate. I do believe that we should encourage a much more positive attitude to each other, and work together much more than what is happening now. Or at least fight less;o)

      Regarding mentioning you, I always mention blogs I think is worthwhile to read. I hope my readers share my taste, so hopefully I can help you get some more readers:o)
      When you’re writing your post, or pasting into the editor, then you have some tools (buttons) just above the editor, where you can make the text bold, italics, and so on. There is also a link button, which looks like two parts of a chain being linked together. It’s the sixth button from the right, and is only usable when you have marked the text you want to be the link. Then a new menu pops up, asking for the address of the link and the name, as well as a marker which you can mark, so far you want the link to open in a new window. Then you simply copy the address you want to link to and call it whatever you want, and there you go:o)

      • Amani says:

        Yes agreed…less fighting, more love in this world! Thanks brother…I will try what you told me about the posting. Salams, Amani

  2. Amani says:

    Oh and by the way again, thanks for your mention in your post. Very nice of you 🙂 How do you do that? I’d like to refer people to other blogs as well when I see something I like, such as this one!

  3. Saleh AlHadi says:

    Salamun Alaikum,
    From The Quran-Islam Website
    “The only religion approved by God is Islam (Submission)” 3:19
    On first impression, many who read the above statement will immediately say: hold on, what about Judaism and Christianity? After all, these religions were also authorised by God!
    However, if we discard all labels (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and inspect the ideology of any of these divine revelations we would note the following relevant issues:
    1- Contrary to what many believe, the word Islam is never used in the Quran as a title for the religion belonging only in the Quran nor a religion that is exclusive to the Prophet Muhammad! The word Islam simply means Submission to God. It is necessary thus to stop thinking of Islam as the religion exclusive to the Quran, and in stead recognise Islam as a spiritual state of submitting to God Alone.
    2- All the Prophets of God submitted to Almighty God and called their people to submit to the One and Only God. The only true religion as far as God is concerned (after discarding the labels) is Submission to God (Islam).
    3- It can also be said that all the labels we know today like Judaism and Christianity, Sunni, Shiite, Wahabi are man made. As an example, when prophet Jesus preached the love and submission to God, he never claimed that he is initiating a new religion which is called Christianity. In actual fact Prophet Isa proclaimed that he has not come to change the law (of the Torah) but to confirm it (Mathew 5:17-18). The term ‘Christianity’, as a separate religion independent of Judaism, was not used except long after Prophet Isa was dead.
    In this light, Islam is not the religion of the Quran alone, nor is the religion brought by the Prophet Muhammad. It is written in the Quran that Islam (Submission to God), is as old as Prophet Abraham (22:78), and that all the practises of Islam were first given to Prophet Abraham and his sons long before Prophet Muhammad was born.
    “He decreed for you the same religion decreed for Noah, and what we inspired to you, and what we decreed for Abraham and Musa and Isa: “YOU SHALL UPHOLD THIS ONE RELIGION, AND DO NOT DIVIDE IT.” 42:13
    “Abraham was neither Jewish, nor Christian; he was a monotheist Muslim (submitter). He never was an idol worshipper” 3:67
    “The only religion approved by God is Islam (Submission).” 3:19
    The above Quranic verses confirm the truth that as far as God is concerned there has always been one religion. The one religion was decreed to Noah, Abraham, Musa, Jesus and Muhammad -peace be on ALL.
    All the Scripture revealed to mankind from God advocate one and the same religion. Submission to God alone is also described as Monotheism (Hanifeyah), see 3:67, 6:79, 10:105, 98:5
    The principal command from God in all Scripture is to worship God alone devoting all the religion to Him and rejecting all other gods/idols .
    Old Testament:
    “You shall have no other gods besides Me” (Exodus 20:3)
    New Testament:
    “You shall worship the Lord your God. and Him only you shall serve” (Luke 4:8)
    The Quran:
    You shall know that: “There is no other god beside God” 47:19
    Submission to God is the religion whereby we recognise God’s absolute authority, and reach an unshakable conviction that God alone possesses all power; no other entity possesses any power that is independent of Him. The natural result of such a realisation is to devote our lives and our worship absolutely to God alone.
    The above Quranic verse (42:13) confirms that the religion that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad in the Quran is not different from what was revealed to the previous prophets.
    Within the religion of Islam God decreed specific rituals and practices designed to teach man to worship his Lord. These acts (Prayer, pilgrimage, etc.) were first taught to Prophet Abraham:
    “We made them (Abraham and his sons) imams who guided in accordance with our commandments, and we taught them how to work righteousness, and how to observe the Prayers (Salat) and the obligatory charity (Zakat)” 21:73
    Millions of Muslims today believe that it was Prophet Muhammad who taught them how to pray and conduct their other rituals. This belief is erroneous since it violates the truth of the Quran. In the Quran we read:
    1- The practises of Islam were first given to Prophet Abraham and his sons (Prayer, pilgrimage, Zakat … etc see 21:73, 22:26-29). This took place long before the time of Prophet Muhammad.
    2- Across the ages, as normally happens, many of these rituals were corrupted and the element of idolising human messengers and saints crept in. All the practises were thus restored to their pristine purity in the Quran. God also promised that the Quran will never be corrupted (15:9), thus all believers will always have access to the pure way of worshipping God.
    3- Prophet Muhammad and all believers were commanded to follow the creed of Prophet Abraham, which is defined in all verses which have the words “Millat Ibrahim” (creed of Abraham), as Monotheism and the refrain from associating partners with God (16:123).
    4- God also tells Prophet Muhammad (and all believers) in verse 5:48 that within each revelation there are specific laws and rites that are specific to the receivers of that particular revelation. Hence the command is issued in 5:48 that Prophet Muhammad should follow the rites given to him in the Quran ONLY and not the rites of previous people.
    As for the previous people [People of the Book(OT)] – The Holy Quran:
    Say: O People of the Book, you have no ground to stand unless you hold on by the Torah and The Injeel and ALL the revelation that has come to you from your Lord………..

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