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.