The first 'siddur'

"The liturgy is our creed in the form of a spiritual pilgrimage. Our liturgy is no mere memorial to the past; it is an act of participating in Israel's bearing witness to the unity, uniqueness, love and judgment of God. It is an act of joy."

Abraham Joshua Heschel (in Man's Quest for God)

The earliest reference we have to an order of prayer is found in a section of the Mishnah Tamid 5:1. It is the record not of a public service, but of a private one conducted by the priests alone.

Describing the way in which the daily morning sacrifice, the tamid, was offered, the Mishna tells us that after completing the sacrifice, the priests left the sacrificial court and went down to the Hall of Hewn Stone, a chamber in the Temple complex which was used for large gatherings, including the meeting of the Great Court (the Sanhedrin). This room was not part of the sacred area of sacrifice or the public courts in which people stood to witness the ritual.

The text continues:

The leader said to them, "Recite one blessing," and they blessed.
They recited the Ten Declarations, "Shema," "And it shall come to pass,"
"And He said..."
They blessed the people with three blessings: "True and steadfast," "The service" and the blessing of the Priests.

In other words, sometime prior to the year 70 CE, there already existed an order of prayer, a siddur, if you will, for a service that was recited daily by the priests.

Unfortunately, we do not have a similar record of an order of service for laymen, nor did laymen participate in this service. It was private, exclusively for the priests. No one else was present. Therefore we cannot say if it reflected prayers uttered by Jews elsewhere or not. Perhaps this was the service from which non-priests later copied their liturgical order, expanding it for more general needs. In any case, this service was in no way part of the sacrificial order. If anything, it interrupted the sacrifices, since it was only afterward that the priests returned to the Temple proper to offer the incense and conclude the Temple service...

This service was well-suited to the priests. Having offered the daily sacrifice, they proclaimed the blessedness of the God whom they served and in whose sanctuary they officiated. They read from the words of that God, reenacting the ceremonies of acceptance of God, His word, and the basic doctrines of Torah. They proclaimed their belief in the truth of the Torah, after which they prayed that God accept the service of the people and bless them....[Earlier] the sacrificial service had been totally devoid of the spoken word. But the force and importance of the word divorced from sacrifice as a method of communicating with God had become so important by the period of the Second Temple that the priests themselves, the very guardians of the sacrificial rites, sought to incorporate it into their own daily experience. It was as if the sacrificial ritual was insufficient if performed by officiants who did not make clear that the accepted God and His Torah or who did not petition the Lord for the good of Israel.

Although well suited to the specific needs of the priests, this service also contains the basic elements of every Jewish worship service. It begins with praise of God, continues with Torah, and concludes with petitionary prayer. Praise, Torah and petition describe all of Jewish worship.


From: Entering Jewish Prayer, Schocken, 1994



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