I have been told that before Galus Bavel the only prayer a Jew was required to pray was the Shema. (And I suppose Birkas HaMazon, as well.)

When the Jews were exiled to Bavel, the Anshei Knesses Hagdolah formulated a text for all Jews to pray from, which is (roughly) what is found in today's siddur. I have been told that this was because the daily korbanos were no longer being offered in the Beis HaMikdash (because it was destroyed).

Of course, the tefillos and brachos were not written down; in fact, it was forbidden to do so.1 This would be the reason for the repetition of the Amidah, for those who did not know the words.

So when were the general text of the tefillos formulated? Am I correct in my history that they were formed by the Anshei Knesses Hagdolah when the Jews were exiled to Bavel?

1. For instance, see Shabbos 115b, "כותבי ברכות כשורפי תורה", Those who write down blessings are like a burner of the Torah. The question could arise why we have a siddur today; and the answer is that around 875 CE some scholars approached Rav Amram Gaon and asked him to write down the text of the siddur, out of fear of the text becoming lost. This would be similar to Rav Yehudah HaNasi's writing down of the Mishnah, which was forbidden, but it was done in a period when Torah Sheba'al Peh was in danger of becoming lost.

  • 1
    See if you can get a hold of a book written by a fellow "Chabbadnik", Rav Adin Steinzaltz, I think the exact title is a A Guide to Prayer. I'm reading it now. He provides an excellent overview of the history of the siddur.
    – DanF
    Feb 7, 2018 at 14:41
  • Also view www.beureihatefilah.com. My understanding is that Rav Amram & Rav Sa'adia Gaon seem to be "competing" foundations for many of the tefillot we have now. Of course, most of the piyutim come from Rav Elazar Hakalir but that's a different category.
    – DanF
    Feb 7, 2018 at 16:27
  • Sorry - wrong spelling. It's beureihatefila.com
    – DanF
    Feb 7, 2018 at 17:13

1 Answer 1


The men of the great assembly

According to Berachot 33a, the Men of the Great Assembly (אנשי כנסת הגדולה) instituted blessings, prayers, kiddush, and havdala. (These translations are copied from the linked page at sefaria.org.)

אנשי כנסת הגדולה תקנו להם לישראל ברכות ותפלות קדושות והבדלות

The members of the Great Assembly established for Israel blessings and prayers, sanctifications and havdalot.

The Rambam, in the laws of prayer (1:4), probably based on this source, describes how Ezra and his court authored the blessings because of the inability of the people to express themselves properly in Hebrew.

כיון שגלו ישראל בימי נבוכדנצר הרשע נתערבו בפרס ויון ושאר האומות ונולדו להם בנים בארצות הגוים ואותן הבנים נתבלבלו שפתם והיתה שפת כל אחד ואחד מעורבת מלשונות הרבה וכיון שהיה מדבר אינו יכול לדבר כל צורכו בלשון אחת אלא בשיבוש שנאמר ובניהם חצי מדבר אשדודית וגו' ואינם מכירים לדבר יהודית וכלשון עם ועם ומפני זה כשהיה אחד מהן מתפלל תקצר לשונו לשאול חפציו או להגיד שבח הקדוש ברוך הוא בלשון הקדש עד שיערבו עמה לשונות אחרות. וכיון שראה עזרא ובית דינו כך עמדו ותקנו להם שמנה עשרה ברכות על הסדר

When the people of Israel went into exile in the days of the wicked Nebucednezzar, they mingled with the Persians, Greeks and other nations. In those foreign countries, children were born to them, whose language was confused. Everyone's speech was a mixture of many tongues. No one was able, when he spoke, to express his thoughts adequately in any one language, otherwise than incoherently, as it is said, "And their children spoke half in the speech of Ashdod and they could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people" (Nehemiah 13:24). Consequently, when anyone of them prayed in Hebrew, he was unable adequately to express his needs or recount the praises of God, without mixing Hebrew with other languages. When Ezra and his Council realized this condition, they ordained the Eighteen Benedictions in their present order.

Note that Rambam doesn't connect this to the destruction of the Temple; according to him, everyone prayed in his own way (1:3).

This is the source for the prayers having been formulated by the Men of the Great Assembly. However, this tradition (unlike Rambam) says neither that they established the wording, nor that they established eighteen blessings.

Rabban Gamli'el

A barayta in Berachot 28b tells us that Shim'on Happakuli arranged the eighteen blessings before Rabban Gamli'el in Yavne. (Shmu'el Hakkatan arranged the nineteenth blessing, against the heretics, as told later in the same barayta.)

שמעון הפקולי הסדיר י"ח ברכות לפני רבן גמליאל על הסדר ביבנה

Shim'on Happakuli arranged eighteen blessings in order before Rabban Gamli'el in Yavne (my translation)

The Koren translation at sefaria.org actually tries to harmonize this with the opinion of the Rambam earlier by saying:

Shimon HaPakuli arranged the eighteen blessings, already extant during the period of the Great Assembly, before Rabban Gamliel, the Nasi of the Sanhedrin, in order in Yavne.

Ezra Fleischer, in this article (Hebrew) advances the view that the wording of the prayers was instituted by Rabban Gamli'el at Yavne. Rabban Gamli'el was also the one who scolded Rabbi Yehoshua on "that day" (בו ביום) because the latter said that the evening prayer was optional (Berachot 28a). The mishna in Berachot (4:3,4) shows the differing opinions of his contemporaries: Rabbi Yehoshua thought people should pray a "shortened eighteen blessings" (מעין י"ח), and Rabbi Eli'ezer believed that anyone whose prayer was fixed (קבע) was acting improperly (note, though, that the Talmud interprets Rabbi Eli'ezer differently).

Also, it's obvious that many of the blessings (such as רצה and ולירושלים) must have been instituted after the destruction of the Second Temple. I'm not sure exactly how Rambam would explain these prayers.

Later additions

Rav and Shmu'el instituted the prayer ותודיענו which is recited in the holiday prayer after Shabbat (Berachot 33b). This is the only explicit statement I know of that refers to adding a prayer in the shmone esre after Rabban Gamli'el.

  • The tradition about R Gamliel also does say that he established the wording, just the division into 18 sections
    – Double AA
    Feb 7, 2018 at 15:34
  • So it seems to me that the opinion of the Rambam is that the tefillos have nothing to do with being "substitutes for the korbanos" after the churban and so even when the Beis HaMikdash is rebuilt, bimheirah v'yameinu, we wont discontinue the prayers from the siddur. Am I correct in this interpretation?
    – ezra
    Feb 7, 2018 at 16:33
  • @ezra I'm not an expert in the Rambam, but the case here is standardized prayer, not prayer in general, so he may well hold that prayer is a substitute for sacrifices. If it helps, I remember that somewhere near the beginning of the laws of prayer, the Aroch Hashulchan tries to prove that the Rambam holds that some form of prayer is a commandment from the Torah, and so I'm not sure exactly to what extent it's a substitute for sacrifices in his view
    – b a
    Feb 7, 2018 at 16:40
  • @ba I'm considering a follow-up question: Are the tefillos in the siddur substitutes for the korbanos? If so, when the Beis HaMikdash is rebuilt, will we not say the tefillos from the siddur anymore?
    – ezra
    Feb 7, 2018 at 16:42
  • @ezra That's an interesting question. Someone asked something similar and more specific here but it didn't get many answers
    – b a
    Feb 7, 2018 at 17:05

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