Fundamentals for Jewish Prayer
An Introduction to Talmudic Sources
What exactly characterizes prayer as Jewish? Jewish prayer utilizes the idioms and expressions of the Tanakh, i.e., the Hebrew Bible and the Sages of Israel. The Hebrew Bible is the foundation of the Jewish faith. The closing of the biblical canon in the Second Temple era did not end the vibrant spirituality of the Jewish people. The rabbis responded to the changing conditions of their time by invigorating Jewish life with the ability to survive the catastrophic destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
Many essential prayers, e.g., the Baruch She’amar, Amidah, Alenu, Kiddush, Havdalah, etc., are ascribed to the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah, the Men of the Great Assembly. According to rabbinic lore, the Men of the Great Assembly included many biblical prophets of Israel, i.e., Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra, etc. They stretched over many years into the Maccabean period. The Men of the Great Assembly established many of the Jewish practices that are known to us today. At the same time, the rabbis did not invent prayer. They did engineer Jewish ritual with a consciousness of G-d’s presence in a world devoid of the Holy Temple.
These three lectures provide an introduction to key passages in the Talmud Bavli discussing the fundamentals of Jewish prayer.