While reading this answer to another question about the development of the Siddur (here, look specifically at the question about "Modern Laws Vs. Shulcan Aruch"), I came upon this question. Here is the selection that spurred the question:

The Rambam in hilchot tefila (Chap. 1) gives a brief history of Tefila. The beginning of structured Tefila began with Anshei Knesset Hagedola, who formulated the Shmoneh Esreh (Berachot 23a) which is the focal point of the Tefila... The first written siddur was edited in the 9th century , by one of the Ge'onim, Cohen Tzedek. <

Now, the question is not about the Siddur part of the quote, but about the Shemoneh Esrei.

What were the "ancient" Pre-Talmudic prayers like?

Are there any great sources for this research?

  • 1
    See the Rambam there - he begins with pre-Talmudic. Commented May 5, 2014 at 19:55
  • 1
    The Talmud says that before the formalization of the Shmoneh Esrei, people just composed their own prayers.
    – Tatpurusha
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 19:55
  • @YEZ. Thank you for the suggestion. Will do. Should've considered that, despite the disconnect between the questions! Commented May 5, 2014 at 20:02
  • @Tatpurusha, any particular citations you could offer, or at least a little direction to where (is it in Berachoth?). Commented May 5, 2014 at 20:03
  • 1
    I think I'm actually thinking of the part of Rambam that @YEZ is referring to, not part of the Talmud, since I don't see the passage I thought was in there in Berachot.
    – Tatpurusha
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 20:13

2 Answers 2


The Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 1:3

אם היה רגיל, מרבה בתחינה ובקשה; ואם היה ערל שפתיים, מדבר כפי יוכלו ובכל עת שירצה. וכן מניין התפילות, כל אחד ואחד כפי יכולתו--יש שמתפלל פעם אחת ביום, ויש שמתפלל פעמים הרבה. והכול היו מתפללים נוכח המקדש, בכל מקום שיהיה. וכן היה הדבר תמיד ממשה רבנו, עד עזרא.

If someone was accustomed, they would increase in supplication and beseeching. If he did not know how to speak fluently, he would do as much as he could. And similarly with the number of prayers, each according to his ability - some would pray once a day, some many times. And everyone would pray towards the Mikdash, no matter where they were. This continued from the times of Moses until Ezra.


A good source for how Kriat Shema developed over time is "Why We Pray What We Pray" by Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel. I was quite surprised to learn of some of its earlier content (including the ten commandments, possibly Parshat Balak, why the section on tzitzit was added relatively late in its development).

A good source for how the Shemona Esrai developed before its codification by Rabban Gamaliel is the chapter "How the Amidah Began" by Rabbi Lawrence A Hoffman contained in "My People's Prayer Book, Volume 2, the Amidah". It contains a discussion of how we got to nineteen blessings in a prayer usually called "The Eighteen", bringing in sources from the Talmud Tractate Berachot, an early-modern textual study by Leopold Zunz, and a comparison of the fragments found in the Cairo Geniza.

  • Very informative. Commented May 7, 2014 at 1:51
  • What does he say about the 19 berachot? The talmud yerushalmi and Bavli differ on what the 19th beracha is.
    – avi
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 9:05
  • @avi The Geniza fragments have #14 (on Jerusalem) and #15 (the coming of the messiah) combined into one that share the same chatimah (Blessed are you ... God of David who builds Jerusalem). This implies that when Gamaliel added #12 (punishment of heretics) it took the total to 18. Tenth century fragments show Jews in in Eretz Israel still saying the ancient 18 blessing form, whereas in Babylonia it was made into 19 (maybe as early as the third century). The editor of the Bavli thought that #12 was the extra one, but the Yerushalmi does not have the discussion because they were still doing 18.
    – Mike
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 10:52
  • @Mike Interesting. Cause the other way to read the data, is that Tzemech David, and Boney Yerushaliam was split into two berachot to create 19, because #12 (punishment of the heretics) is listed as a bracha in the Yerushalmi. I.e. there was always 18, never 17, but because of some change in Bavel, David and Jeruslem were split into two. I've been told this is because in Bavel, the leaders where known decedents of David, but they did not have Jerusalem.
    – avi
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 10:33
  • 1
    @avi Maybe I didn't summarize it right, but yes, your statement "There was always 18, never 17, but because of some change in Bavel, David and Jeruslem were split into two." is exactly the point the author was making.
    – Mike
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 21:45

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .