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I am an Indian (from India) and there are hardly any Jews here, except for some Israeli tourists. There are more than 150 million Muslims however.

I want to know if the Jews pray and how they pray. I have read that Muslims and Jews pray in similar style with most of the chants and reciting being almost identical but for the language. I am not able to find the exact details though.

If you can draw a comparison with the Muslim namaz (I am familiar with it) it would be very helpful but just describing the Jewish way of prayer would be as helpful. Any link to English language sites describing the same would also do.

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Arjun, Welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for bringing your question here! You picked the exact right tag, which is simply the same word in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English, so that people can choose it, as you did, based on whichever they're most comfortable with. Please consider registering your account, to help the site keep track of your contributions no matter where you log in from. –  Isaac Moses Jul 22 '11 at 14:37
    
Tefila is hebrew for Prayer. Davening is yiddish for prayer.... Welcome to the site. Small question for you. When you ask "how do Jews pray", are you asking about how do Jews stand/sit? What the structure of the prayer is? What the mindset is? –  avi Jul 22 '11 at 14:38
    
@Issac Moses: Thanks for the info. I'll surely consider registering too. –  Arjun Jul 22 '11 at 14:42
    
@Avi : Yes, I was wanting to know about things like how you sit/stand/bow, where you face, how you do ablution, what exactly is said and how it is structured. –  Arjun Jul 22 '11 at 14:47
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5 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

To supplement, not supplant, Gershon Gold's good answer, I might add that we have:

  • prayers with a fixed text that everyone says (morning, afternoon, and evening, as Gershon Gold notes);
  • additional prayers that individuals can compose and add into the aforementioned set prayers;
  • short prayers with a fixed text said on a variety of occasions, including each time we eat; and
  • individually composed prayers (though there are some that have become semistandardized) that can be said at any time.

The first and third of those — the set-script prayers — are preferably said in Hebrew, though can also be said in other languages; the others can be said in any language. The first type is mandatory for all men, and in some cases for women, too, and must (for men) be done in a group (so, generally, in a synagogue); the third is mandatory also (when circumstances dictate, e.g. when one eats), but can be done in private; the others are not compulsory.

More info is at http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/862308/jewish/Jewish-Prayer.htm.

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Thanks a lot. I guess the link must answer all my further queries. –  Arjun Jul 22 '11 at 14:59
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@Arjun, There's plenty of static content on the Internet with more information about Jewish prayers. However, if you have any follow-up questions as a result of your reading, do feel free to ask them here, too! –  Isaac Moses Jul 22 '11 at 16:16
    
Not all of the first group prayers must be done in a group. Some must, some should and some need not. –  Double AA Oct 14 '12 at 15:02
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Ooh, where do I begin? Let me try to compare Jewish and Islamic prayer practices here...

  1. Jews require ritual cleanliness for prayer, as Muslims do. While Muslims have wudu and ghusl, Jews simply wash their hands in a prescribed manner: thrice on the right, and thrice on the left.
  2. Jews have three prescribed prayer times, analogous to Islam's five. Shaharit is Judaism's Fajr (morning), Minha corresponds to 3asr in the afternoon, and 3arvit (popularly known as Maariv) corresponds to 3isha' at night.
  3. While Islam has an obligatory public prayer at Juma, Judaism encourages all prayer to be public (at least for males), especially on Shabbat (Saturday). Although a sermon/teaching is commonly made, it is not obligatory as the khutbah is.
  4. Some prayers are said out loud, while some are said silently. Some prayers (especially in the Middle East) are encouraged to be sung elaborately, like the adhan. Others are done silently to one's self, like the private recitation of al-Fatihah. Still others are chanted in unison, like the Terawih in China!
  5. Most Jews no longer do kneeling and prostration (sajdah), as is the common practice in Islam. However, a segment of Jews from Yemen still do this, and elements of it can be seen in the standard "bend knees then bow" method. In fact, the Mishneh Torah by Maimonides prescribes the "right hand over left on chest looking down) position familiar to Muslims!
  6. Muslims have a tradition of reading the Qur'an in a musical chant. Likewise, Jews read the Scriptures publicly in a chant according to the punctuation marks (ta3amim). In certain Middle Eastern congregations (such from the Yemeni and Iraqi traditions), the scriptural chant sounds very much like tajweed! (Except done a tad faster, of course.)
  7. As Muslims face Mecca, Jews face Jerusalem (the original qibla). We are less strict about this, so must communities simply face due east (or due west, if they're east of Jerusalem).

You'll find these similarities and so much more. If you live anywhere near Mumbai, you can find the the remnant of the native Jewish community there. You can ask them, as they probably are better able to answer your questions than I am!

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Why was this downvoted? The question specifically asked for comparisons to Islamic prayer! –  Seth J Jan 10 '12 at 5:30
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+1 - The Anti-Commentless-Downvote Ninja strikes again! Also, its a great answer :) (Thanks @Seth for bringing this to my attention :)) –  HodofHod Jan 10 '12 at 6:04
    
B.BarNavi, welcome back. I merged the new account that was created when you edited this post into your main one. Please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features, including persistent identity so you don't end up with a bunch of different accounts. –  Monica Cellio Jan 17 '13 at 21:20
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I am sure this question will have lots of answers as more people add more details. While not strictly taught in schools, I imagine you could fill an entire semester of college to answer just this one question.

To start. The official prayers in Judaism are a replacement of the sacrificial services done on the temple mount in Jeruslem. When the temple was destroyed, sacrifices were no longer capable of being given, and some reminder of those activities was needed. However, saying that, prayers are said to have existed since the time of Abrahahm, Issac and Jacob. Even when the temple was standing, people who could not make the pilgrimage would say prayers during the time of the sacrifices in lew of being able to be there.

All Jews prayer facing the Temple Mount in Jeruselem. That is where the old temple and Altar stood. However, if you are in a syngaggue, and there is a Torah scroll present, then one must pray facing the Torah Scroll. To alleviate confusion, most Torah scrolls are placed facing Jeruselem (but sometimes that isn't possible)

The text of the prayers differences from community to community, and wikipedia has an article on that here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nusach

The differences between nusach are usually very minor. A few grammatical corrections here, a few extra or less words there. In general, a Jew visiting anywhere in the world can follow along with any prayer service. However, there are few Jewish groups who have made more than minor changes to the prayers. Some of these are accepted as ok universally, some are not.

There are two main types of prayers, known as the Shemah (Listen oh Israel), and the Amidah/Shemonah Esrei (The standing prayer, or the 18 blessings) The Shemah is said sitting down, and has 2 blessings before the shemah, and 2 blessings afterwards, while the Shemah itself consists of 3 paragraphs. More on that can be read about here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amidah and here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shema_Yisrael

There are other sections of prayer, depending on which service you are in. One such section are known as Psukei Dzimra (passages of song) which normally consist of various pslams from the Tanach (Hebrew scripture) Another common prayer is Ashrei ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashrei ) Also, there is a section of prayer which is a translation of the "Kedusha" into Aramaic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kedushah

Lastly there is a prayer which is used to divide up the sections of prayers known as the Kaddish. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaddish

Ok, not lastly.. there is also the prayer which is used to finish the services called Aleinu, ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleinu) and the song of the day which also comes from Psalms.

The Jewish prayer service has many different parts where a person must stand, some parts where a person must sit, and some parts which can be done in either way. In general, prayers that are 'more important', or where we are testifying our beliefs we stand. Also during the Amidah one must stand, and when the Torah is brought out. Different communities have different customs in this area.

Another point about prayer is that official Jewish Prayer normally breaks down into one of 3 categories. Thanks, Praise, or a Request. Anything that is not one of these categories is not 'officially' prayer.

I know I'm leaving something out, so I'll add more if there are follow up questions.

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Jews pray three times daily. Shacharis is the morning service, Mincha is the afternoon service, Maariv is the evening service. Even amongst Jews there are different styles of praying. There are those (Sephardim mainly) that pray more in a chant and then there are those (Ashkenazim mainly) that pray without chanting. The main purpose of prayer is to draw us close to God and to remember that everything comes from God.

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Thanks for the response. Could you please elaborate on the structure and chants? I don't know if it changes majorly across the sects but I'd like to know the "standard" or "majority" one. –  Arjun Jul 22 '11 at 14:50
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To add a couple facts to the other answers,

  • There is also an additional prayer service (for a total of four) on each of the holidays and the beginning of every month.

  • At least three morning prayers per week have inserted a public reading of the Torah.

  • There are laws requiring the washing of hands and feet prior to each prayer but only the manual ones apply today. [citation needed]

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Washing of feet before prayer? Where did that come from? –  Dave Jul 22 '11 at 15:13
    
Cohanim had to wash their feet in the temple. –  avi Jul 22 '11 at 15:16
    
@avi - before prayer specifically? –  Dave Jul 22 '11 at 15:32
    
No, before the service which prayer's timing is based on. –  avi Jul 22 '11 at 15:40
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@Dave - Yes. Please see for example Ramba"m hilchos t'fila 4:3 –  WAF Jul 22 '11 at 16:12
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