This entry is concerned with a prayer in the Jewish liturgy known as the Amidah ("Standing") or the Shemoneh Esreh ("The Eighteen".)
Prayers in the weekday Amidah
The prayers of the weekday Amidah are:
- Known as Avot ("Ancestors") this prayer offers praise of God as the God of the Biblical patriarchs, "God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob."
- Known as Gevurot ("powers"), this offers praise of God for His power and might. This prayer includes a mention of God's healing of the sick and resurrection of the dead. It is called also "Tehiyyat ha-Metim" = "the resurrection of the dead." Rain is considered as great a manifestation of power as the resurrection of the dead; hence in winter a line asking for rain is inserted in this benediction.
- Known as "Kedushshat ha-Shem" ("the sanctification of the Name") this offers praise of God's holiness.
- Known as "Binah" ("understanding") this is a petition to God to grant wisdom and understanding.
- Known as Teshuvah (return) this prayer asks God to help Jews to return to a life based on the Torah, and praises God as a God of repentance.
- Known as Selah, this asks for forgiveness for all sins, and praises God as being a God of forgiveness.
- Known as Geullah (redemption) this praises God as a redeemer of the people Israel.
- Known as Refuah (healing) this is a prayer to heal the sick.
- Known as Birkat HaShanim, this prayer asks God to bless the produce of the earth.
- Known as Galuyot, this prayer asks God to allow the ingathering of the Jewish exiles back to the land of Israel.
- Known as Birkat HaDin ("Justice") this asks God to restore righteous judges as in the days of old.
- Known as Birkat HaMinim ("the sectarians, heretics") this asks God to destroy those in heretical sects who slanders Jews, and who act as informers against Jews.
- Known as Tzadikim ("righteous") this asks God to have mercy on all who trust in Him, and asks for support for the righteous.
- Asks God to rebuild Jerusalem and to restore the Kingdom of David.
- Asks God to bring the descendant of King David, who will be the messiah.
- Known as tefillah ("prayer") this asks God to accept our prayers, to have mercy and be compassionate.
- Known as Avodah ("service") this asks God to restore the Temple services and sacrificial services.
- Known as Hodaah ("thanksgiving") this is a prayer of thanksgiving, thanking God for our lives, for our souls, and for God's miracles that are with us every day.
- The last prayer is the one for peace, goodness, blessings, kindness and compassion.
"We acknowledge to You, O Lord, that You are our God, as You were the God of our ancestors, forever and ever. Rock of our life, Shield of our help, You are immutable from age to age. We thank You and utter Your praise, for our lives that are delivered into Your hands, and for our souls that are entrusted to You; and for Your miracles that are with us every day and for your marvelously kind deeds that are of every time; evening and morning and noon-tide. Thou art good, for Thy mercies are endless: Thou art merciful, for Thy kindnesses never are complete: from everlasting we have hoped in You. And for all these things may Thy name be blessed and exalted always and forevermore. And all the living will give thanks unto Thee and praise Thy great name in truth, God, our salvation and help. Selah. Blessed be Thou, O Lord, Thy name is good, and to Thee it is meet to give thanks." After this at public prayer in the morning the priestly blessing is added.
No. xix., however, is a résumé of this blessing. The benediction exists in various forms.
Changes to the Amidah
According to the Talmud the 12th prayer in the modern sequence, the prayer against informers and heretics, was the nineteenth addition to the original eighteen. This was said to be added by the council in Jabneh by Samuel ha-Katan, at the request of Rabban Gamaliel II. Scholars have since uncovered early versions of the Amidah; they hold that it is the 15th benediction that was the later addition. A separate benediction for the resumption of the Davidic Kingdom did not exist in the early Palestinian Jewish liturgy. This issue is discussed in the entry on Amidah in the Encyclopaedia Judaica.
In the first prayer, the phrase "God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob" is one of the Biblical names of God. The Hebrew word avot is technically male plural, but this form is also used when referring to both males and females; many modern rabbis hold that in this context, the term avot is correctly translated as "ancestors" (gender inclusive), and not merely as "forefathers". However, new editions of the Reform siddur explicitly say avoteinu v'imoteinu ("our fathers and our mothers"). Within Orthodox Judaism, the traditional phraseology is retained. Within all the other denominations of Judaism, the prayer has been amended in some prayer books to add "God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob; God of Sarah, God of Rebekkah, God of Leah, and God of Rachel." This makes implicit the idea that this prayer refers to both the Jewish matriarchs as well as patriarchs. In Reform siddurim, the phrase umeivi go'eil ("and brings a redeemer") is changed to umeivi ge'ulah ("who brings redemption"), replacing the personal messiah with a Messianic Age.
In the second prayer, the recurring phrase m'chayei hameitim ("who gives life to the dead") is replaced in the Reform and Reconstructionist siddurim with m'chayei hakol ("who gives life to all") and m'chayei kol chai ("who gives life to all life"), respectively. This represents a turn away from the traditional article of faith that God will resurrect the dead.
Prayer 17, Avodah ("service"), asks God to restore the Temple services and sacrificial services. This prayer has been modified within the siddur of Conservative Judaism, so that although it still asks for the restoration of the Temple, it removes the explicit plea for the resumption of sacrifices. This prayer is also modified in the Reform siddur, replacing the request for the restoration of the Temple with "God who is near to all who call upon you, turn to your servants and be gracious to us; pour your spirit upon us."
Importance in the liturgy
In Jewish practice, the Amidah is recited in morning, afternoon and evening prayers, as well as in the additional ( Musaf) service which is held on every Shabbat and on the three pilgrimage festivals.
As the prayer par excellence, it is designated as the "Tefillah" (prayer), while among the Sephardic Jews it is known as the "'Amidah," i.e., the prayer which the worshiper is commanded to recite standing.
The first three blessings and the last three constitute, so to speak, the permanent stock, used at every service; while the middle group varies on Shabbat, New Moons, and holy days from the formula for week-days.
Shorter form used on the Sabbath
In the Shabbat Amidah, the middle supplications are replaced by one, so that the Sabbath Amidah is composed of seven benedictions. This one speaks of the sanctity of the day. It consists of an introductory portion, which on Sabbath has four different forms for the four services, and another short portion, which is constant:
"Our God and God of our Ancestors! Be pleased with our rest; sanctify us with Your commandments, give us a share in Your Torah, satiate us with Your bounty, and gladden us in Your salvation. Cleanse our hearts to serve You in truth: let us inherit, O Lord our God, in love and favor, Your holy Sabbath, and may Israel, who loves Your name, rest thereon. Praised are You, O Lord, who sanctifies the Sabbath."
On Sabbath-eve after the congregation has read the "Tefillah" silently, the reader repeats aloud the so-called "Me-'En Sheba'," or summary (Ber. 29, 57b; Pes. 104a) of the seven blessings.
The congregation then continues: "Shield of the fathers by His word, reviving the dead by His command, the holy God to whom none is like; who causeth His people to rest on His holy Sabbath-day, for in them He took delight to cause them to rest. Before Him we shall worship in reverence and fear. We shall render thanks to His name on every day constantly in the manner of the benedictions. God of the 'acknowledgments,' Lord of 'Peace,' who sanctifleth the Sabbath and blesseth the seventh [day] and causeth the people who are filled with Sabbath delight to rest as a memorial of the work in the beginning of Creation."
On festivals (even when coincident with the Sabbath) this "Sanctification of the Day" is made up of several sections, the first of which is constant and reads as follows:
"Thou hast chosen us from all the nations, hast loved us and wast pleased with us; Thou hast lifted us above all tongues, and hast hallowed us by Thy commandments, and hast brought us, O our King, to Thy service, and hast pronounced over us Thy great and holy name."
Then follows a paragraph naming the special festival and its special character, and, if the Sabbath coincides therewith, it is mentioned before the feast. For Passover the wording is as follows:
Mode of Prayer
The Shemoneh Esreh is first prayed silently by the congregation and then repeated by the reader aloud. In attitude of body and in the holding of the hands devotion is to be expressed. Interruptions are to be strictly avoided. In places and situations where there is grave danger of interruptions, a shorter form is permissible comprising the first three and the last three benedictions and between them only the petition for understanding.
The Shemoneh Esreh is prefaced by the verse "O Eternal, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim Thy praise" (Ps. li. 17).
The custom has gradually developed of reciting at the conclusion of the latter the supplication with which Mar, the son of Rabina, used to conclude his prayer (Talmud Berachot 17a):
"My God, keep my tongue and my lips from speaking deceit, and to them that curse me let my soul be silent, and like dust to all. Open my heart in Your Torah, and after [in] Thy commandments let me [my soul] pursue. As for those that think evil of [against] me speedily thwart their counsel and destroy their plots. Do [this] for Thy name's sake, do this for Thy right hand's sake, do this for the sake of Thy holiness, do this for the sake of Thy Torah. That Thy beloved ones may rejoice, let Thy right hand bring on help [salvation] and answer me. [For the formula here given beginning with "Do this," another one was used expressive of the wish that the Temple might be rebuilt, that the Messiah might come, that God's people might be ransomed, and that His congregation might be gladdened. The angels also were invoked; and the appeal was summed up: "Do it for Thy sake, if not forours."] May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Eternal, my rock and my redeemer."
Changes in winter
In prayer number nine the words "dew and rain" are inserted during the term from the sixtieth day after the autumnal equinox to Passover. The Sephardic ritual has two distinct versions: one for the season when dew is asked for, and the other when rain is expected. The former has this form:
"Bless us, our Father, in all the work of our hands, and bless our year with gracious, blessed, and kindly dews: be its outcome life, plenty, and peace as in the good years, for Thou, O Eternal, are good and does good and blesses the years. Blessed be Thou, O Eternal, who blesses the years."
In the rainy season (in winter) the phraseology is changed to read:
"Bless upon us, O Eternal our God, this year and all kinds of its produce for goodness, and bestow dew and rain for blessing on all the face of the earth; and make abundant the face of the world and fulfil the whole of Thy goodness. Fill our hands with Thy blessings and the richness of the gifts of Thy hands. Preserve and save this year from all evil and from all kinds of destroyers and from all sorts of punishments: and establish for it good hope and as its outcome peace. Spare it and have mercy upon it and all of its harvest and its fruits, and bless it with rains of favor, blessing, and generosity; and let its issue be life, plenty, and peace as in the blessed good years; for Thou, O Eternal" (etc., as in the form given above for the season of the dew).
The following analysis may indicate the Biblical passages underlying the Amidah.
Benediction No. i.: "Blessed be Thou, our God and the God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" recalls Ex. iii. 15 (comp. Mek., Bo, 16). "The high God," Gen. xiv. 19. God "great, mighty, and awe-inspiring," Deut. x. 17 (comp. Ber. 33b; Soṭah 69b). "Creator of all," Gen. xiv. 19. "Bringing a redeemer," Isa. lix. 20. "Shield of Abraham," Ps. vii. 11; xviii. 3, 36; lxxxiv. 10; Gen. xv. 1.
No. ii.: "Supportest the falling," Ps. cxlv. 14. "Healest the sick," Ex. xv. 26. "Settest free the captives," Ps. cxlvi. 7. "Keepest his faith" = "keepeth truth forever," ib. cxlvi. 6 (comp. Dan. xii. 2). "Killing and reviving," I Sam. ii. 6.
No. iii.: "Thou art holy," Ps. xxii. 4. "The holy ones," ib. xvi. 3. "[They shall] praise Thee" = sing the "Hallel" phrase, which is a technical Psalm term and hence followed by Selah <view.jsp?artid=449&letter=S>.
No. iv.: "Thou graciously vouchsafest" is a typical Psalm idiom, the corresponding verb occurring perhaps more than 100 times in the psalter. "Understanding," Isa. xxix. 23; Jer. iii. 15; Ps. xciv. 10.
No. v.: "Repentance," Isa. vi. 10, 13; lv. 7.
No. vi.: "Pardon," ib. lv. 7.
No. vii.: "Behold our distress," Ps. ix. 14, xxv. 18, cix. 153. "Fight our fight," ib. xxxv. 1, xliii. 1, lxxiv. 22. "And redeem us," ib. cix. 154 (comp. Lam. iii. 58).
No. viii.: "Heal," Jer. xvii. 14 (comp. ib. xxx. 17). Maimonides' reading, "all of our sicknesses," is based on Ps. ciii. 3.
No. ix.: Compare ib. lxv. 5, 12; ciii. 5; Jer. xxxi. 14.
No. x.: "Gather our exiles," Isa. xi. 12, xxvii. 13, xliii. 5, xlv. 20, lx. 9; Jer. li. 27; Deut. xxx. 4; Mic. iv. 6; Ps. cxlvii. 2.
No. xi.: "Reestablish our judges," Isa. i. 26. "In loving-kindness and mercy," Hos. ii. 21. "King who lovest righteousness and justice," Ps. xxxiii. 5, xcix. 4; Isa. lxi. 8 (comp. also Isa. xxxv. 10, li. 11; Ps. cxlvi. 10).
No. xii.: The expression "zedim" is a very familiar one of almost technical significance in the "Psalms of the poor" (for other expressions compare Ps. lxxxi. 15; Isa. xxv. 5).
No. xiii.: For some of the words of this benediction compare Jer. xxxi. 20; Isa. lxiii. 15; Ps. xxii. 6, xxv. 2, lxxi. 5, cxliii. 8; Eccl. vi. 9.
No. xiv.: Zech. viii. 3; Ps. cxlvii. 2, lxxxix. 36-37, cxxii. 5.
No. xv.: Hos. iii. 5; Isa. lvi. 7; Ps. l. 23, cxii. 9; Gen. xlix. 18; Ps. lxxxix. 4, 18, 21, 26; xxv. 5; Ezek. xxix. 21, xxxiv. 23; Ps. cxxxii. 17; Jer. xxiii. 5, xxxiii. 15; Ps. cxxxii. 10.
No. xvi.: Ps. lxv. 3.
No. xvii.: Mic. iv. 11.
No. xviii.: I Chron. xxix. 13; II Sam. xxii. 36; Ps. lxxix. 13; Lam. iii. 22; Ps. xxxviii. 6 (on the strength of which was printed the emendation "Ha-Mufḳadot" for the "Ha-Peḳudot"); Jer. x. 6.
No. xix.: Ps. xxix. 10; Num. vi. 27; Mic. vi. 8; Ps. cix. 165, cxxv. 5.
Apocrypha of Ben Sira
Analogies in Ben Sira
Verse 1: "God of all" recalls benediction No. i., while 1b is the key-note of the prayer for Rosh ha-Shanah.
Verse 2 contains the word = benediction No. ii.
Verse 3 is a summary of the "?edushshah" = benediction No. iii.
Verse 4 explains the knowledge asked for in No. iv.
Verse 6 accounts for the petition against the enemy, No. xii.
Verse 7 is the prayer for the exiles, No. x.
Verse 8 is the content of the prayer in behalf of the pious, No. xiii.
Verse 9 is the prayer for Jerusalem, No. xiv.
Verse 10 recalls No. xvii.
Verse 11 is clearly related to both Nos. xvi. and xix. Another line begins "Hasten the end-time," which may, by its Messianic implication, suggest benediction No. xv. ("the sprout of David"). If this construction of Ben Sira's prayer is admissible, many of the benedictions must be assigned to the Maccabean era, though most scholars have regardedthem as posterior to the destruction of the Temple.
Instead of for the "judges," Ben Sira prays for the reestablishment of God's "judgments," in open allusion to the Exodus (Ex. xii. 12; Num. xxxiii. 4; Ezek. xxv. 11, from which verse he borrows the name "Moab" as a designation of the enemy in the prayer).
History of the Amidah
The language of the "Tefillah" would thus point to the mishnaic period, both before and after the destruction of the Temple, as the probable time of its composition and compilation. That the Mishnah fails to record the text or to give other definite and coherent directions concerning the prayer except sporadically, indicates that when the Mishnah was finally compiled the benedictions were so well known that it was unnecessary to prescribe their text andcontent (Maimonides on Men. iv. 1b, quoted by Elbogen, "Gesch. des Achtzehngebetes"), although the aversion to making prayer a matter of rigor and fixed formula may perhaps have had a part in the neglect of the Mishnah. That this aversion continued keen down to a comparatively late period is evidenced by the protests of R. Eliezer (Talmud Ber. 28a) and R. Simeon ben Yohai (Ab. ii. 13). R. Jose held that one should include something new in one's prayer every day (Talmud Yerushalmi Ber. 8b), a principle said to have been carried into practise by R. Eleazar and R. Abbahu (ib.). Prayer was not to be read as one would read a letter (ib.).
While the Mishnah seems to have known the general content and sequence of the benedictions, much latitude prevailed as regards personal deviations in phraseology, at all events; so that men's learning or the reverse could be judged by the manner in which they worded the benedictions.
The Talmud names Simeon ha-Pa?oli as the editor of the collection in the academy of R. Gamaliel II. at Jabneh. (Ber. 28b). But this can not mean that the benedictions were unknown before that date; for in other passages the "Shemoneh 'Esreh" is traced to the "first wise men" ( ; Sifre, Deut. 343), and again to "120 elders and among these a number of prophets" (Meg. 17b). This latter opinion harmonizes with the usual assumption that the "men of the Great Synagogue" arranged and instituted the prayer services (Ber.33a). In order to remove the discrepancies between the latter and the former assignment of editorship, the Talmud takes refuge in the explanation that the prayers had fallen into disuse, and that Gamaliel reinstituted them (Meg. 18a).
Edited by Gamaliel II.
The historical kernel in these conflicting reports seems to be the indubitable fact that the benedictions date from the earliest days of the Pharisaic Synagogue. They were at first spontaneous outgrowths of the efforts to establish the Pharisaic Synagogue in opposition to, or at least in correspondence with, the Sadducean Temple service. This is apparent from the haggadic endeavor to connect the stated times of prayer with the sacrificial routine of the Temple, the morning and the afternoon "Tefillah" recalling the constant offerings (Ber. 26b; Gen. R. lxviii.), while for the evening "Tefillah" recourse was had to artificial comparison with the sacrificial portions consumed on the altar during the night.
R. Gamaliel II. undertook finally both to fix definitely the public service and to regulate private devotion. He directed Simeon ha-Pa?oli to edit the benedictions-probably in the order they had already acquired-and made it a duty, incumbent on every one, to recite the prayer three times daily. Under Gamaliel, also, another paragraph, directed against the traitors in the household of Israel, was added, thus making the number eighteen (Ber. iv. 3; see Grätz, "Gesch." 3d ed., iv. 30 et seq.).
Old material is thus preserved in the eighteen benedictions as arranged and edited by the school of Gamaliel II. The primitive form of most of them was undoubtedly much simpler.
Ismar Elbogen and Raymond P. Scheindlin Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History JPS, 1993
Louis Finklestein's article on the Amidah in Jewish Quarterly Review (new series) Volume 16, (1925-1926), p.1-43
Alvin Kaufner "Who knows four? The Imahot in rabbinic Judaism" Judaism Vol.44 (Winter '95) p. 94-103
Jules Harlow "Feminist Linguistics and Jewish Liturgy" Conservative Judaism Vol.XLIX(2) Winter 1997, p.3-25
Joseph Heinemann "Prayer in the Talmud", Gruyter, NY, 1977
Joseph Heinemann "'Iyyunei Tefilla" Magnes, Jerusalem, 1981
Paula Reimers, "Feminism, Judaism and God the Mother" Conservative Judaism Volume XLVI, Number I, Fall, 1993
Joel Rembaum "Regarding the Inclusion of the names of the Matriarchs in the First Blessing of the Amidah" Proceedings of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards 1986-1990 p.485-490
Last updated: 05-02-2005 19:35:09