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Siddur

By Arthur Green, PhD

A siddur is a prayer book, a printed or written text of the fixed prayer service for weekdays and Sabbaths (Shabbat). It is distinguished from a mazhor, which contains prayers for the holiday cycle.

The word siddur means “order”; this indicates that the prayers are laid out in their proper order for use in the service. The oldest Hebrew prayer book texts we have were created by Rabbi Amram Gaon (who died around 875) and Rabbi Saadia Gaon (882–942). Concern with the proper ordering of prayers and blessings characterizes some of the earliest rabbinic discussions of prayer going all the way back to the Mishnah, and the term siddur reflects that concern.

There are two primary versions of the siddur text: the Ashkenazic, used by Jews originating in central and eastern Europe, and the Sephardic, used by Jews descended from the Spanish exiles, living around the Mediterranean, especially in the countries of the old Turkish empire, as well as other oriental Jewish communities. In fact there are several more subsets and varieties of Jewish liturgy than just these two. Italian, Yemenite, and other communities each have their own ancient and distinctive siddur. The prayer book used by Hasidic Jews, which is called Nusah Sepharad, in fact combines Sephardic, Ashkenazic, and some original Hasidic traditions.

In early synagogues, it was assumed that worshippers knew by heart the prayers they were required to say. In some situations prayers were repeated after the leader or called out as responses. This served as an aid to oral recitation. Manuscript prayer books, perhaps the property of synagogues or communities, sometimes with illuminated decoration, were highly prized possessions in the Middle Ages. There is no indication that prayer books were in the hands of ordinary worshippers before the invention of printing.

From the 16th century onward, the siddur came to be the most frequently printed and widely distributed Hebrew text. Printing houses in places like Amsterdam, Sulzbach (in Bavaria, for the South German communities), and Livorno, Italy, became famous for their constant supply of siddurim, first in Hebrew and later with translations into other languages. In Eastern Europe, Vilna, Warsaw, and Piotrkow supplied most of the siddurim until the Holocaust. The Hebrew Publishing Company in New York was the source of most siddurim in the immigrant generation. The siddur with English translation has been published in countless editions, primarily in London and New York.

Changes in the siddur text constituted one of the earliest features of Reform Judaism, generating great public controversy. References to the messiah, the sacrificial cult, distinctive Jewish peoplehood, and prayers for restoration to the Holy Land were eliminated. While some of these have been restored in more recent versions, other changes, including a concern for gender neutrality, have been added. Since the early 19th century, each non-Orthodox denomination has frequently issued updated versions of the siddur. These serve as much as emblems of the movements’ ideologies as they do as aids to the community of worshippers.

The above excerpt, “Siddur,” by Arthur Green, PhD, is from These Are the Words, 2nd Edition: A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life © 2012 by Arthur Green. Permission granted by Jewish Lights Publishing, P.O. Box 237, Woodstock, VT 05091; www.jewishlights.com.

*********************

Arthur Green, PhD, is author of several books, including Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow; Seek My Face: A Jewish Mystical Theology; Your Word Is Fire: The Hasidic Masters on Contemplative Prayer; and Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav (all Jewish Lights). He is also author of Radical Judaism (Yale University Press) and co-author of Around the Maggid’s Table: Spiritual Teachings of the Early Hasidic Masters (forthcoming, Jewish Lights). He is long associated with the Havurah movement and a neo-Hasidic approach to Judaism. Dr. Green is recognized as one of the world’s preeminent authorities on Jewish thought and spirituality. He is the Irving Brudnick Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Hebrew College and rector of the Rabbinical School, which he founded in 2004. Professor emeritus at Brandeis University, he also taught at the University of Pennsylvania and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, where he served as dean and president.





Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow

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Seek My Face: A Jewish Mystical Theology

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These Are the Words, 2nd Edition: A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life

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Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav

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Your Word Is Fire: The Hasidic Masters on Contemplative Prayer

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On Prayer Archive

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Why Prayer Works Even When It Doesn’t
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The Haggadah’s Last Word: A World of Eternal Life
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The Kiddush
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Chilean Miner Rescue Gives New Meaning to Old Prayers
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The Power of Praying with People
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A Prayer Before I Pray
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Hebrew as the Basis for Prayer
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With God as My Companion
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For People Like Me Who Struggle with Prayer
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I Don't Pray
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A Great Miracle Happened Here
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When the Messiah Is Here, How Will Judaism Be Practiced?
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Cultivating a Personal Prayer Voice
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Becoming a Prayerful Person
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Tehinot: Calling Out for Divine Intervention
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Teshuvah, Complete and Unending
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The Kol Nidre: Mirror to Our Soul
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Kavvanah—Direction of the Heart
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Prayer as Art
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Silent Prayer
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Miracles Surround Us
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One Hundred Blessings a Day
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The Importance of Shabbat
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The Sea of Ending and Beginning
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The Medium Is the Message
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Helping Ourselves
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Script
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With God as My Companion
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“Hearing” Heschel: Social Action Today
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A Personal Relationship with Impersonal God
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All the World Is a Place for Prayer
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A Most Interesting “Amen”
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Amen: Saying “Yes”
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The Surprising Appeal of
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At the Edge of the Abyss

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Past and Future

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In Dialogue with the Divine

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The Need for Prayer

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Lullaby of a Restless Soul

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Does God Hear Our Prayers?

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The Forgiveness of Sin

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Prayer as a Spiritual Path

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God as the Source of All Things

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A Prayer for Zion and Jerusalem

By Ari L. Goldman

The Amidah: A Prayer for Doubters

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By Daniel C. Matt, PhD

Meditation Coupled with Prayer

By Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz

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By Rabbi David Lyon

Praying by Imitation

By Rabbi Nancy Flam

Hitbodedut: Alone with God

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By Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman, MSW, MAJCS, BCC

The Haggadah’s Last Word: A World of Eternal Life

By David Arnow, PhD

The Bread of Oppression or the Bread of Freedom

By Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow

It Would Have Been Enough

By Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow

Avodah: The Path of Prayer

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The Power of Prayer and Action

By Rabbi Jill Jacobs

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By Sylvia Boorstein

Making Room for Prayer in Our Synagogues

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Navigating the Heavens

By Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar

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Open My Lips

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A Morning Practice

By Nan Fink Gefen, PhD

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By Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi z"l

... Who Has Made Me a Jew

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By Rabbi Marcia Prager

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By Rabbi Perry Netter

Learning to Pray from My Bubbe

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By Rabbi Elie Kaunfer

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With God as My Companion

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I Don't Pray

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Prayer, Habituation, and Holy Insecurity

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The High Holy Days Conundrum

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Who by Fire, Who by Water

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Repentance: A Lost Art?

By Dr. Louis E. Newman

Other Prayer Resources

A Song Every Day
By Virginia Spatz
http://songeveryday.wordpress.com/

Making Prayer Real
By Rabbi Mike Comins
http://makingprayerreal.com/

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