Thursday, May 18, 2023

Minyan Mastery

Minyan Mastery

By Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Temple beth el, Stamford Connecticut



“I do not understand

the book in my hand.

Who will teach me to return?

Loss of custom, ruin of will,

A memory of a memory

thinner than a vein.

Who will teach us to return?”


 ---  Cynthia Ozick, "In the Synagogue"




So you’ve decided to come to our morning minyan, on weekdays at 7:30 or Sundays at 9.  First of all, THANK YOU!  You are performing one of the most important “mitzvot” in all of Judaism – you are ‘BEING THERE.’  They say that so much of life is just showing up? Well, in fact, showing up is what it’s all about.  The service is fast – about a half hour on most days, 40 minutes on Monday and Thursday, when we read Torah.  It’s a great time to collect your thoughts and focus on the day ahead – plus you will almost certainly be giving someone needed comfort and companionship at a most difficult time, someone you might not even know.


If you are feeling a bit intimidated about coming the most important thing to remember is this:


There is no need to be intimidated.  Your mere presence is your present!


You don't have to do anything except be there and stand up and sit down as directed, and for that everyone will be grateful!  Those who wish to participate further can follow along in the prayer book in Hebrew or in English, open the Ark or have an aliyah, just like on Shabbat morning.  But if you prefer, you may remain a passive observer until such time, if any, as you desire to become more involved. 


But if you ARE interested in learning more, READ ON!



The word “minyan” refers to the quorum of ten Jews over the age of 13 who constitute the minimal number of people needed to have a complete service. Certain prayers can only be recited with such a quorum because they require communal affirmation.  This is especially true of prayers that affirm divine sanctity – such as the Kedusha in the Amidah – as well as various forms of the Kaddish, including the mourner’s Kaddish (the word Kaddish means “sanctified.”).  Judaism cannot exist in isolation – community is everything; and a minyan represents the whole community.




How did they come up with the number ten as being the magical number?  Ironically, it is tied into the story in the book of Numbers where ten spies came back with a negative report about the Promised Land, causing a commotion that led to the Children of Israel having to wander in the Wilderness for 40 years.  Only two spies were optimistic about their chances.  The ten then testified before the Israelite community or “edah,” as it’s called.  The word “community” comes from the word “witness.” The rabbis later deduced that the minimal definition of what it takes to have a community, a group that bears witness to God, is this number ten.  The key thing to remember is that it was the cowardly, dysfunctional group of ten spies that led to this definition.  As a Jewish folk saying puts it, nine revered rabbis do not make up a minyan, but ten cobblers do!


So you don’t need to be an expert to do this mitzvah.  You only need to be there!  But while you don’t need to be a maven, it certainly helps to understand what the prayers are all about.


For those seeking more detail, here is what one website has to say about a Minyan: (keep in mind that we are an egalitarian congregation, where women also count in the minyan): 

Jewish law and custom requires Jews over the age of majority (13 for males, 12 for females) to pray three times a day. Prayer alone is considered acceptable, but prayer with a quorum of ten adults (a minyan) is considered prayer with the community, and this is the most highly recommended form of prayer.

According to traditional Jewish law, the smallest congregation which is permitted to hold public worship is one made up of ten men over the age of majority (13 years).

The rule comes from the Mishnah (Megillah 4:3): "They do not divide over the Shema Yisrael (Hear, O Israel), nor pass before the Ark, nor lift their hands, nor read from the Law, nor conclude with the Prophets, nor arrange the standing and sitting, nor say the benedictions of the mourners or the consolation of the mourners, nor the benedictions of the bridegrooms, nor use God's name in preparing for grace after meals, with less than ten."

The Babylonian Talmud, in commenting on this section of the Mishnah, finds the Biblical authority for ten men constituting a congregation in the words (Numbers 14:27): "How long shall I bear with this evil congregation which murmur against me?" which it refers to the scouts who were sent to spy out the land of Canaan, twelve in all, two of whom, Caleb and Joshua, were faithful, and only ten "evil."

All male Jews over 13, unless they have openly severed their connection with their brethren by converting to another religion, are counted in the minyan. (Shulkhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim, 55, 12).

Traditional codes of Jewish law do not forbid women from counting in a minyan, and a small number of classical rabbinic responsa mention this as a theoretical possibility. However this seems never to have been the practice of the Jewish community; women being allowed to count in the minyan on a regular basis is a new development in Jewish law. Rabbis within Conservative Judaism have published responsa justifying the counting of women within a minyan. Reform Judaism does not follow Jewish law as normative, so its leaders do not feel the need to justify their practice within the system of Jewish law.


This web site also has an excellent guide for non-Jews seeking to navigate their way into a minyan.



C’mon in!


So you arrive at the chapel, and someone will be there to greet you.  If you’re tired, don’t worry – so are we!  But being greeted by a friendly face sure helps to wake s up.  Say hi to Frank Rosner (Mr. Beth El) or Peter Weissman, or another of our very helpful greeters.  Feel free to put on a tallit – and we have tefillin  (phylacteries) as well, and I’d be happy to teach you how to put them on if you wish – though no one should feel compelled to wear them.  If you have a yahrzeit or are here for another special reason, please let one of our greeters know so we will be be better able to service your needs.


You’ll receive a grey prayer book, Siddur Sim Shalom for weekdays.  Open it up and leaf through it at your own pace.  Find a prayer that speaks to you.  We go pretty fast, but the leader will usually announce pages, but no need to follow every word.  The prayers are mostly in Hebrew – and here’s a little something about that, from


Prayer is done almost exclusively in Hebrew, but Jewish law allows for prayers to be said in any language that the person praying understands. Orthodox synagogues use almost exclusively Hebrew, and use the local language only for sermons and directions; Conservative synagogues use Hebrew for about 75% to 95% of the service (depending on the local custom), and the rest is in the local language. Reform synagogues (usually called Temples) use anywhere from 10% to 40% Hebrew; most of the service is in the local language.



The Morning Minyan: A User-Friendly Guide


Here are the main prayers that we do, and the corresponding page number in Siddur Sim Shalom. I hope that this guide will help make the prayer experience more meaningful to you.

Historical Key to the Siddur:

Biblical: c.1000 B.C.E. (earliest Psalms) - c.100 B.C.E.

Rabbinic: c.100 B.C.E. - c.500 C.E.

Gaonic: 500 - 1000

Medieval:1000- 1700

Modern: 1700 – You


Pages 6 – The Morning Blessings (B’rachot)

These assorted blessings of rabbinic origin (Talmud, tractate B’rachot 60b) now introduce the service, but were originally intended to be recited while waking, washing and dressing. Each one expresses appreciation for a particular small, usually unnoticed miracle of every morning, such as: opening our eyes, stretching our limbs, having clothes to wear and the strength and health to start our day. As we begin the long, daily climb from sleep to spiritual reawakening, the first stage is this basic recognition of our own physical capacities.


Pages 16 – Baruch She’emar (if we have a minyan this is preceded by a Mourner’s Kaddish)

This short rabbinic prayer introduces a series of introductory, warm-up psalms (biblical) called “P’sukey d’zimra.” These passages, incorporated into the liturgy by Saadia Gaon in the tenth century, are designed to ease us into the main part of the service, inspiring feelings of humility and wonder at the miracles surrounding us.) Through these poems, we clear our minds and throats and rediscover our voices, shifting the focus from our own bodies to the world around us—thereby reaching the second stage of spiritual reawakening.


Pages 21 – The Ashrey

Psalm 145 is the centerpiece of this introductory section. The rabbis suggested that this psalm be recited three times daily, twice in the morning service, and once in the afternoon. The alphabetical acrostic form was often used in the Bible to emphasize a poem’s significance. Strangely, one letter —nun — is omitted from this pattern. Some suggest profound explanations for this omission, but most likely a verse was simply lost during the centuries of oral transmission. Ashrey is a universal psalm —Israel is never mentioned—calling upon all of humanity to praise and thank God for providing for our most basic needs. This is an opportune moment to count our blessings.


Pages 29 – Yishtabach

The warm-up section officially ends with this paragraph, concluding with the blessing. The reader and congregation recite this series of praises. The claim is made that all living creatures pray instinctively, praising God through actions as well as words. Even breathing is a form of praise; the song of the bird and budding of the flower testify to the miracle of life’s daily renewal. Human beings also praise God in subtle, non-verbal ways. Breathing, crying, loving, laughing, every creative and human activity: these are the essence of prayer. Ironically, here the prayer book seems to be telling us that the least important prerequisite for prayer is a prayer book. The most authentic prayers are those that cannot be expressed in words.


Pages 29 (bottom) – The Half (Chatzi) Kaddish

The Kaddish (rabbinic) in its varying forms marks transitional points in the service. No Kaddish may be said without a minyan. Here the Kaddish announces the beginning of the Shacharit (morning) service.


Pages 30 – Barechu - The Call to Prayer

All formalities aside, we now get down to the business at hand. The reader bows for the first two words, but stands upright while reciting God’s name, and the congregation follows likewise with its response. This “Call to Prayer” is actually a “call to dialogue,” a dialogue with God that we initiate. The Hebrew word to pray, l’hitpalel, also suggests an inner dialogue with the self, or the God that dwells within us. Just as the uniquely Jewish style of prayer (called davening in Yiddish) combines public discourse and private meditation, so does the experience of addressing God blur the line between an appeal to an All-Powerful, Unknowable Other and simple soul searching.

As we stand upright, we now enter a state of complete physical vitality. Our bodies and voices (emotions) are fully awake. Now begins the third stage of spiritual awakening: the awakening of the mind. Through the next portion of the service, we become aware of God’s presence in the world, and Israel’s role in that world, as we contemplate the deepest questions of life.

The blessing immediately following the Barechu, recognizing the orderly transition from light to darkness, is based on a selection from Isaiah. The Barechu, too, is biblical in origin, coming from the book of Nehemiah. This entire liturgical unit (from the Barechu to the Amidah), known as “The Sh’ma and its Blessings,” has been part of Jewish prayer since at least the second century.


Pages 30-31 – Creation (Yotzer) section

There are two sections of prayer between the Barechu and the Sh’ma, each concluded by a blessing. The first expresses gratitude for the miraculous order of nature and its cycles, and in particular the phenomenon of light. At the conclusion, we pray for a new light to shine upon Zion, a time when the sun’s warmth will be surpassed by the warmth of peace and light on Earth. This is a good time to contemplate the cycles of life, the seasons of our own lives, and how life’s endings almost always are followed by new beginnings.

The metaphoric language of this section should not confuse us. Life forces and universal mysteries have been explained differently in different ages, some by reference to “angels” and others by more scientific methods. But the people who wrote this poetry shared the same concerns we have: to live lives imbued with sanctity, harmony and purpose. Modern scientists observing the universe are no less amazed by its remarkable harmony. Each new discovery only increases the mystery, and brings the scientist yet closer to God.

On a more practical level, p. 31 serves another purpose. The phrase “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh,” (holy, holy, holy), is a preview of the Kedushah prayer, to be recited in full later on. Since that prayer can only be recited with a minyan of ten people, this less intense, “mini-Kedushah” gives those not praying with a minyan the chance to share in one of the liturgy’s most uplifting moments.


Page 32 – Ahavah Rabbah - Torah as a Gift of Love

This prayer expresses appreciation for a human being’s capacity to love, learn and act in accordance with the teachings of our tradition. The Torah teaches that knowledge alone is not enough. To be of any value at all, it must be applied. We care and act ethically not just because we should, but because we are created in God’s image. Just as God, in the Torah, clothes the naked, visits the sick, comforts mourners and feeds the hungry, so should we. The spark of Godliness in each of us reaches out for that spark in every other human being, and our lives are guided by God’s greatest gift of all, the Torah.

When we recite the line, “Gather us in peace from the four corners of the earth,” an ancient dream that is coming true for Jews today in modern Israel, it is customary to take the four corners of the tallit (prayer shawl), the tzitzit (fringes of the tallit), and wrap them around your forefinger. As we bring the tzitzit together and recite this, the second blessing before the Sh’ma, we focus our thoughts on the ultimate Unity that is existence, the One Source of life and love that flows through us, around us and between us.


Pages 33-34 – The Sh’ma

This collection of three paragraphs from Deuteronomy and Numbers comprises the most powerful, dramatic and universally known of all Jewish prayers. If you came late, go back and recite the Sh’ma to yourself before joining the congregation for the rest of the service.

The various themes of this prayer all stem from the idea that everything is interconnected. God is One, and that essential Unity implies a basic interdependence among all of Israel, all of humanity, and all of creation. We—and God—exist through relationship. The primary model for relationship is the family. Parents and children are interdependent, and it is, therefore, essential to communicate Jewish values from one generation to the next, at all times, in all that we do. This communication can be both verbal and non-verbal, through symbols and rituals. Non-verbal, physical reminders of these values are given special mention, for example the mezuzah, the tefillin (phylacteries), and the tzitzit (fringes of the tallit - which are kissed whenever they are mentioned in the third Hebrew paragraph).

Also of note is the connection between morality and security. The second (Hebrew) paragraph, which is quite controversial—in fact the Book of Job is an argument against it—cannot easily be applied to the individual. As we have seen all too often, good deeds do not guarantee material rewards, and, in fact, we should not perform them solely for material gain. On a national basis, the formula has been proven correct time and time again. Nations that lose sight of morality eventually lose all else.

Finally, there is the connection between love and commitment. We are commanded to love God. A Western mind would challenge that notion, claiming that an emotion such as love cannot be forced. Here, however, love is not seen as a fleeting emotion but as an unbreakable attachment. By reciting the Sh’ma, we freely affirm our commitment to all Jewish values, while maintaining the right to question some aspects of our religion, including the nature of God Him/Herself.


Following the traditional procedure, our practice is to remain seated for the entire prayer, unless you happen to be standing at the time the prayer begins (then, remain standing). For this prayer, there is no need to move about, shuffle feet or rise in unison. It is not a plea to God; rather, it is God’s plea to us, a daily reminder that we repeat to ourselves and one another (some say this prayer up to four times daily). It is a time to reflect on the nature of one’s deepest beliefs, to question, to doubt, and to reaffirm faith in the face of doubt. At a time of such profound and personal reflection, when our physical position is of little concern, it is entirely appropriate to remain seated. Some people cover their eyes while reciting the opening line, as a way of deepening concentration and severing all contact with matters physical and peripheral.

The second line, beginning with “Baruch shem,” (“Blessed be His glorious kingdom forever”), the only verse of this prayer not taken directly from the Torah, is recited silently except on Yom Kippur.


Page 34 – Emet

We are now in the transitional stage between the Sh’ma and the Amidah, the other focal point of the morning service. We shift our attention from the grand themes of creation and revelation (Torah), to the Jew’s eternal quest for redemption.

A key word on these pages is emet (truth), a word repeated seven times, including once at the end of the Sh’ma. This is a good time to examine the truths in our lives. What underlying values are eternal to us? Of the legacy our parents left for us, what do we want to preserve and enhance for future generations? What are our truths? Only if we are utterly honest with ourselves can we determine just what form of redemption we seek.


Page 35 – Mi Chamocha

For the Jew, salvation is defined both historically and existentially. This prayer helps us to focus on both contexts. It speaks of the redemption of Israel on the shores of the Red Sea. The Exodus from Egyptian slavery marked our birth as a nation and has become ever-present in the Jewish experience, reenacted each day in our prayers, defining us as a people. This poem, one of the oldest in world literature and probably the oldest in the Bible, is recited by us, the children of the children of Israel, each day as if for the first time.

Here we meditate on the meaning of our history and God’s role in it. Does it have a direction? When will the ultimate redemption occur, if ever, and how can we help to bring it about? Where do our lives fit in the overall scheme of things? On a less grand scale, we might also ponder our own, personal Egypts, and what we can do to bring ourselves closer to fulfillment. On any level, we remain unredeemed wanderers in a perpetual state of Exile, yet ever hopeful and resolute.

We rise at the end as the blessing of redemption is recited, in anticipation of the Amidah.


Pages 36 b - 44  – The Amidah

Amidah means “The Standing Prayer,” and is also known as, simply “The Prayer” in Hebrew. It is a collection of blessings, praises and petitions, and takes a different form on Shabbat and festivals. The weekday Amidah contains a number of specific requests relating to our hopes for the world and ourselves.  On Shabbat, we limit ourselves mostly to praise and gratitude, in recognition that Shabbat is a most generous and precious gift in itself. Any other request would be distasteful. Nonetheless, one important petition does sneak in at the end, eve on Shabbat and most certainly on weekdays — the prayer for peace (Sim Shalom). The Amidah has been an integral part of Jewish prayer since at least the first century.

With this prayer we’ve reached the fourth and final level of spiritual awakening, beyond the physical, emotional and rational. The Amidah is purely experiential. Going beyond feeling, analyzing and understanding, here we seek to actually experience the Sacred. We stand and chant in unison with our community, invoking our ancestors, reaching out to our descendants and rubbing shoulders with Jews all over the world. Through this extraordinary communion, we sense a spark of immortality within us, a purpose to our being—and that we are not alone.


Page 37 – The Kedushah

This section, featuring Isaiah’s dream-like vision, is the most mystical moment of the service, recited only when a minyan (quorum of ten) is present. For one terrifying and humbling moment, we join as a community in seeking to perceive the ultimate mysteries of life, to achieve a perfect oneness and clarity of vision, and to raise ourselves to a higher level of sanctity (Kedushah means “holiness”). We literally lift ourselves, by standing on our toes when reciting the words “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh.”

Aside from this fleeting moment, the Amidah is essentially a private prayer. Our Amidah includes parts that are recited in unison and others silently (in a whisper, not the usual mumble of davening) allowing for both public affirmation and private meditation. The silent segments of the Amidah provide an opportunity to take a few moments to ponder our individual needs and unfulfilled goals, while in the other sections we declare aloud our more collective ones. It’s a great time to reflect on the necessity of that weekly breather from life’s struggles, the Shabbat. Then, as we take a deep breath, we allow the serenity and peace of Shabbat to fill our souls.

Page 65 – The Torah Service (Mondays and Thursdays)

On Mondays and Thursdays, market days in the ancient world, the Torah is removed and the first part of the coming Sabbath’s portion is read It was mentioned above that Jewish prayer is a dialogue. During Shacharit we talk to God. Here, God, in effect, is talking to us (through the words of revelation, the Torah). Because it is the central part of the service, the Torah reading is embellished by fanfare, procession and song, just as the Torah itself is decorated with fine silver ornaments. It is a great honor to participate in the Torah service, for doing so keeps Judaism alive. Three Jewish adults (over age 13) ascend (“aliyah” means ascent) to chant blessings before and after each selection is read.  There is no “haftarah” on most weekdays.

Each aliyah is in effect a reenactment of the Revelation at Mount Sinai. As each person goes up to say the blessings (ascending from the right side of the pulpit),
s/he kisses the sacred parchment with a tallit, thereby declaring again our acceptance of the gift of the Torah. While the Torah may have been given to Israel only once, it is received over and over again, by anyone willing to hear its message. For the Jew, Sinai is an ongoing event.

For the congregation, the time of the Torah reading is an opportunity to express concern for those who are sick or who are about to leave on a journey, and to welcome and honor guests and those returning from distant places. This is also the time to celebrate individual and communal rites of passage: births, Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations, upcoming weddings, anniversaries, you name it. In Jewish tradition, one person’s celebration is everyone’s; all our destinies are intertwined.

After the Torah portion is completed, the congregation often joins in other special prayers before the scroll is returned to the ark, including memorial prayers on the occasion of a Yahrzeit (anniversary of a death). 


Various biblical selections are sung before the Torah (called our “tree of life” on pages 212-213) is set back into the ark, again with fanfare and procession.


Page 82 – Kaddish Shalem (Full Kaddish)

This all-purpose prayer is the punctuation mark of Jewish liturgy. In its abbreviated form, it introduces or concludes units of prayer, and in this more complete form, it concludes a full service. The ancient Aramaic language utilized was the street language of the rabbinic period; therefore, this prayer was meant to be understood by all worshippers, regardless of their knowledge of Hebrew. Like a Greek chorus, its frequent appearance serves to emphasize the basic themes of our drama, including our ongoing dialogue with God, our resolute hope amidst the despair we see around us, and our non-stop pursuit of peace everywhere. Other versions of the Kaddish are recited by mourners and following the sacred act of study.


Page 83 – Alenu

Alenu is a universal, messianic anthem of hope, written during the Middle Ages from the perspective of a tortured, tormented people, victims of the Crusades. The original version, still found in many prayer books, was even more chauvinistic than what we see here, but the author’s anti-Gentile fervor is understandable if not excusable, given his plight. This prayer was originally part of the High Holy Days liturgy only, but became so popular that it found its way into each morning and evening service. Alenu is inspiring to all who have faced powerlessness and indignity and yet, in spite of the temptation to succumb to total despair, have still dared to hope for a better world.


Pages 84 – Mourner’s Kaddish

As noted previously, the Kaddish fulfills many roles in Jewish liturgy. Since the twelfth or thirteenth century, it has become customary for mourners to recite it at all services for the first eleven months following the burial of a parent, and for one month for other close relatives, as well as on the Yahrzeit (anniversary) of the death. It is not a prayer about death, however, but of life. As we recall our departed, we confront the loss of faith by rising to praise God in public, praying that, in spite of all that has happened, we may still soon see a world filled with peace, harmony, blessing and song.



How to Make Aliyah to the Torah

(adapted from The How-To Handbook for Jewish Living, by Orlitsky and Isaacs)



This section will help you to fulfill the mitzvah of aliyah to the Torah:

1.   After your name has been called, go up to the Torah, ascending the stairs on the right side of the pulpit, to the right side of the reader. After the baal koreh (Torah reader) has shown you the place about to be read, touch it with the tzitzit (fringes) of your tallit or with the Torah sash on the table. Stand behind the Torah scroll and say the following blessing:


Barechu et Adonai ha’mevorach.

Praise Adonai, to whom our praise is due!

Congregation responds with the following and then you repeat:


Baruch Adonai ha’mevorach le-olam va’ed.

Praised be Adonai, to whom our praise is due, now and forever!



Baruch atah Adonai elohaynu melech ha-olam asher bachar banu mikol ha’amim ve’natan lanu et torahto. Baruch atah Adonai notayn ha-Torah

Praised is Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has chosen us from all peoples by giving us Torah. Praised is Adonai, Giver of the Torah.


Then move to the right of the baal koreh so the Torah can be read.


2.   After the reading, recite the following:

Baruch atah Adonai elohaynu melech ha’olam asher natan lanu torat emet
ve’hayai olam nata bitohaynu. Baruch atah Adonai notayn ha-Torah.

Praised is Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has given us a Torah of Truth, implanting within us eternal life. Praised is Adonai, Giver of the Torah.


3.   Go to the left side of the reader during the next aliyah.


4.                  Following the next aliyah, you may go back to your seat. People will acknowledge you and your honor by wishing you yasher koach, “May you be strengthened” (figuratively, “well done,” congratulations). You should respond baruch tihyeh, “May it be for a blessing.”


Things to remember:

1.   In order to most appropriately call you to the Torah, the baal koreh will want to know your full Hebrew name (your Hebrew name ___________, your father’s Hebrew name ___________and your mother’s Hebrew name___________).

2.   In most instances, people are called by priestly legacy. When you are approached for an aliyah, please indicate whether your ancestry is Kohen, Levi or Yisrael.

3.   Following your aliyah, one says Birchat Ha-gomel if s/he has just returned home from a long trip, recovered from a serious illness, escaped disaster (including an automobile accident), or been released from imprisonment. Women say it after having a baby too. Blessings for health, recovery and the like (mi shebeirach) are said at this time also. (Let us know of your need.)

4.   Some people descend the bimah backwards so as not to turn their back on the Ark — like exiting from an audience with a king. Here it is customary to cross to the other side of the bimah to be greeted by those sitting there before descending down the side stairway.

5.      Some people hold the atzei chaim (the Torah’s “handles”) while reciting the blessings and actually raise the scroll slightly on the word torahto, and also hold one etz chaim during their reading.


Key words and phrases

Aliyah        Going up to the Torah, a Torah honor (also means emigrating to Israel).

Baal koreh Torah reader

Etz chaim   Torah roller (atzei chaim - plural…both rollers)

Gabbai       The person in a synagogue who makes things run smoothly during the services by assigning aliyot (plural of aliyah) and standing alongside the reading table to ensure the person reading the Torah is accurate.

If you want to know more:

Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1971) 15:1253-1254.

Hayim Donin, To Pray as a Jew, (New York, 1980).

Rose Goldstein, A Time to Pray (Bridgeport, CT, 1972).

Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice (New York, 1979).



The How-To Handbook For Jewish Living by Kerry Olitzky and Ronald Isaacs


The Order of the Morning Service


Early morning blessings - b’rachot


Baruch She’amar




Yishtabach Shimchah




1st b’rachah before Sh’ma - Yotzer Haor

(God creates the world anew every day; light


2nd b’rachah before Sh’ma - Ahavah Rabbah

(God gives the Torah, and shows special love for Israel)




3 paragraphs of the Sh’ma -      


B’rachah after Sh’ma - Gaal Yisrael

(God has redeemed His people Israel)


Silent Prayer - Amidah


Hallel (on Rosh Hodesh and festivals only)


Full or Half Kaddish


Removing Torah from the Ark

Torah/Haftarah Reading - Kriyat Torah/Haftarah

Returning Torah to the Ark


Full Kaddish - Kaddish Shalem




Mourner’s Kaddish - Kaddish Yatom





1.   ALIYAH (going up) ­— The honor extended a worshipper who is called up to the reading of the Torah to recite the blessings.


2.   AMIDAH (standing) — One of the major sections of each service; recited while standing.


3.   BAR MITZVAH (Son of the Commandment) — A boy becomes a Bar Mitzvah, a religiously responsible adult, at age thirteen.


4.   BAT MITZVAH (Daughter of the Commandment) — A girl becomes a Bat Mitzvah, a religiously responsible adult, at age thirteen.


5.   BESAMIM (spices) — A prayer is recited over the spices as part of the Havdalah ceremony.


6.   BIMAH (pulpit) — The elevated portion of the Sanctuary.


7.   BIRCHAT HA-MAZON — The blessings and prayers recited at the conclusion of a meal.


8.   B’NAI (sons of) Plural of Bar — Pertains to two or more boys or two or more boys and girls.


9.   B’NOT (daughters of) Plural of Bat — Pertains to two or more girls.


10. CHUMASH (Bible) — The book containing the Five Books of Moses and the prophetic passages (Haftarot) read each week.


11. DAVENING — To pray individually and yet with the congregation at the same time.


12.  HAFTARAH (conclusion) — Passages from the second part of the Hebrew Bible, the Prophets, read after the Torah reading, thematically related to that reading. A haftarah is read on Sabbath and festival mornings.


13. HAVDALAH (separation) — A ceremony that marks the end of the Sabbath and then begins the new week. Wine, a spice box, and a braided candle are incorporated into this sensual, evocative service.


14. KADDISH (holy) — The ancient prayer in Aramaic, declaring and blessing the greatness and holiness of God. The Kaddish is recited several times during services. It divides and concludes sections of each service. It is also recited in memory of close relatives.


15. KEDUSHAH (sanctification) — A portion of the Amidah that acknowledges the majesty and holiness of God. It is recited in the form of alternate chanting.


16. KIPPAH (head covering) — Also known as Yarmulka. The head covering for males at a religious service, worn as a form of respect to the Almighty. At Beth El, females have the option of wearing a kippah.


17. KIDDUSH — Blessing over the wine sanctifying the day. On Shabbat morning refreshments are served and once a month a light lunch is provided.


18. KOHEN (Temple Priest) — From the line of Aaron, the Kohen receives a special honor as the first to be called to the Torah to recite the blessings.


19. LEVI (Descendants of the Tribe of Levi) — The Levi is accorded the honor of being called up for the second Aliyah to the Torah.


20. MA’ARIV — The evening service, first of the three daily services. The prayers of Ma’ariv are recited after sundown.


21. MAFTIR (conclusion) — The person who concludes the portion of the Torah read on Sabbath and holidays, who will read the Haftarah. It also refers to the concluding Torah portion itself.


22. MAZAL TOV — Means both “good luck,” (most literally) and, in more popular usage “congratulations.”


23. MINCHA — The afternoon service, the third of the three daily services. The Mincha prayers are recited in the afternoon up to sunset.


24. MINYAN (number of quorum) — A minimum of ten Jewish adults, above the age of thirteen, are required for public worship.


25. MITZVAH (MITZVOT) — The commandment(s).


26. MOTZI (Who brings forth) — The blessing over  bread, recited to begin a meal.


27. MUSAF (additional service) — A collection of prayers recited after the morning service (Shacharit) and the reading of the Torah. Contains the Amidah. The Musaf is recited on the Sabbath, holidays and Rosh Hodesh, the first of a new month.


28. NER HAVDALAH — The braided candle over which a blessing is recited during the Havdalah ceremony.


29. ONEG SHABBAT (joy of the Sabbath) — The social gathering at the conclusion of the Sabbath evening services.


30. PARASHAH (a section) — The specific section of the Torah assigned for reading each week.


31. ROSH HODESH — The first day of the new month; a minor festival.


32. SIDRAH — Torah portion of the week. The Torah does not contain chapters. It is divided into 54 portions (Parshiyot) which are read during the year.


33. SEFER TORAH — The Scroll of the Torah containing the Five Books of Moses.


34. SHABBAT SHALOM — Sabbath peace; greeting used on the Sabbath, “Good Sabbath.”


35.  SHACHARIT — Morning Service; the second of the three daily services.


36. SIDDUR — Prayer book containing the prayers for a given service, and arranged in a given order. At Temple Beth El, we have separate prayer books for the Sabbath and Festivals, Daily Services, and High Holy Day Services.


37. SIMCHA — A joyful occasion.


38. TALLIT — A fringed prayer shawl, traditionally worn by Jews over the age of thirteen during the morning service. Also worn during the Kol Nidrei Service.


39. TEFILLIN — Small leather boxes which contain four handwritten sections of the Torah and to which straps are attached. Traditionally worn by Jews from age thirteen and placed on the head and arm during morning services except on Sabbath and holidays.


40. TROP — The ancient musical signs used to indicate to the reader of the Torah, the Haftarah and other parts of the Bible, the melodies in which they are to be chanted.


41. TZITZIT — Fringes of the tallit.


42. YAHRZEIT — Annual remembrance of the death anniversary of a loved one.


43. YASHER KOACH — The vernacular for the Hebrew “Yishar (or Y’Yasher) kohaha [male] or koheh [fem.]” meaning “congratulations” and “well done,” (literally, “more power to you”). Often said to someone who has had an Aliyah. The traditional response is “Baruch tihyeh,” (“May it be for a blessing”).


44. YISRAEL — Today, every Jew who does not have the distinction of being a Kohen or a Levi is a Yisrael. Traditionally, a Kohen and Levi are accorded the first and second honors respectively. The Yisrael is honored with an Aliyah, beginning with the third honor.


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