I have a question about the daily prayers of Judaism. I noticed on my trip to Jerusalem that a lot of those practicing Judaism got up at a certain time in the morning on the plane and faced a wall and prayed with a book in their hand. My question is why did they do this? Is there an obligation in Judaism to recite certain prayers at certain times, or do Jews pray only when they are inspired to do so?

  • When you say "Law", do you mean which verse in the Bible do we point to as the source for prayer? – Double AA Jun 15 '12 at 16:15
  • @DoubleAA, no, more as to are these prayers of Judaism a part of a ritual, or are they just daily praises and prayers like King David did? So, if - in Judaism - if one misses a prayer are they in sin? – ironman Jun 15 '12 at 16:19
  • Just to clarify: you're asking whether Jews have required prayers to say at certain times or they just pray spontaneously when so inspired? – Double AA Jun 15 '12 at 16:21
  • @DoubleAA, that is correct. – ironman Jun 15 '12 at 16:26
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    @ironman99, thanks for bringing your question here. Another aspect of what you saw that you didn't explicitly ask about: when possible we are to pray in a community (minyan) consisting of at leat 10 adults (men for Orthodox, men and women for some others). This is why the people on the plane all gathered in one place instead of praying individually. – Monica Cellio Jun 15 '12 at 17:52

Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer, Chapter 1) outlines the basic obligations of prayer. He writes that originally there was no fixed prayers, only an obligation to pray somewhat every day. Everyone would pray different amounts based on how 'inspired' they were.

After the destruction of the Jewish Kingdom by the Babylonians (586 BCE), the Sages of the time established fixed times for prayer with fixed content AS A MINIMUM to be recited each day. There are 5 fixed prayers:

  • Shacharit: recited in the first third of the day, every day.
  • Mincha: recited in the second half of the day, every day.
  • Maariv (also called Arvit): recited at night every day.
  • Mussaf: recited only on the Sabbath and Holidays. (after Shacharit and before Mincha)
  • Ne'ila: recited only on communal fast days, particularly on Yom Kippur. (Recited after Mincha)

These prayers are viewed as obligatory. Other personal prayers to God outside of a formal structure are certainly not discouraged, and can be recited whenever and however depending on the desires of the individual.

  • when you say "viewed as obligatory", does this mean if not recited exactly as written then you are in error? Or, does this mean that it's a obligation to pray at these specific times? – ironman Jun 15 '12 at 16:44
  • @ironman99 The prayer consists of 19 Blessings on specific topics (forgiveness, health, thanks, peace etc.). There is a traditional text to use, but so long as you have not changed any of the 19 topics, even if you change the wording, than you have fulfilled your obligation. (This is what I meant by fixed content.) – Double AA Jun 15 '12 at 16:46
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    I'm a little confuse on Halacha 4 "Consequently, when someone would pray, he would be limited in his ability to request his needs or to praise the Holy One, blessed be He, in Hebrew, unless other languages were mixed in with it. When Ezra and his court saw this, they established eighteen blessings in sequence." ..... is this saying that G-d only hears Hebrew? – ironman Jun 15 '12 at 17:10
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    @ironman99, Great topic for another question. – Seth J Jun 15 '12 at 17:32
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    @ironman99, for your reference, see this question and also this question. – Seth J Jun 15 '12 at 17:34

The specific daily prayers - morning, afternoon, and evening - are not Biblically mandated. In the Talmud (Berachos 26b) there is a disagreement about what their source/basis is. One opinion is that they were originally established respectively by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the other opinion is that they were established by the rabbis of the early Second Temple era and they represent the sacrifices that were offered in the Temple in the morning and afternoon, and the leftovers that were burnt at night.

  • Even according to the former opinion, the Jews in Egypt weren't praying three time a day (I think). It's more of a representing them vs representing the korbanot. – Double AA Jun 15 '12 at 16:58
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    How do you know? Besides, that man d'amar's position is clearly that the patriarchs actually prayed, not merely that the prayers represent them, as the Gemara says. – Dov F Jun 15 '12 at 17:02
  • @DoubleAA, I don't follow. Does it matter (for purposes of Dov's answer) if they prayed in 3x daily in Egypt? – Seth J Jun 15 '12 at 17:54
  • @SethJ As regards this question, not really. But that doesn't make it right. – Double AA Jun 15 '12 at 19:51
  • @DoubleAA, where did Dov say they did? – Seth J Jun 15 '12 at 20:39

Jews pray 3 times a day, facing Jerusalem. The text is mostly fixed, which is why they were holding prayer books, although certain additions can be made on an as-needed basis, such as asking for healing of a specific person. There are differences of opinion as to whether on an air plane the rules for how to pray are like the rules of someone praying on a large vessel (in which someone can easily stand and face towards Jerusalem) or whether it is like praying on a smaller vessel in which it is difficult or dangerous to stand. But I think that's a subject for another question.

  • "There are differences of opinion as to whether on an air plane the rules for how to pray are like the rules of someone praying on a large vessel (in which someone can easily stand and face towards Jerusalem) or whether it is like praying on a smaller vessel in which it is difficult or dangerous to stand." What are these differences of opinion? – b a Jun 15 '12 at 21:04
  • Too long for here, but my Rav discouraged making a Minyan on a plane for a couple of different reasons. – Seth J Jun 15 '12 at 21:59
  • @ba judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/ask SethJ: I'm with you. – Double AA Jun 15 '12 at 22:41
  • @doubleaa, I didn't say I follow his recommendation on the matter, btw. I'm just showing that there is a range of opinions. – Seth J Jun 17 '12 at 2:51
  • @SethJ Fine, edit to: I'm with your Rav. (That comment was waaay more controversial than I thought it would be!) – Double AA Jun 17 '12 at 2:53

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