There's quite a lot of variation in the length of the individual psalms (e.g., 117 and 119). In Jewish liturgical practice, is there any system for evening that out? Or is the variation in the time it takes to read/pray such a psalm just accepted?

(My initial assumption was that psalms were read in services. When I searched the site, however, the answers here and here didn't refer much to use of the psalms. If the psalms aren't actually read in services, please correct me.)

  • 2
    there are some groups that have the practice to recite portions of the book of Psalms in order to finish it on a set schedule, such a weekly or monthly. The splitting of psalms for the monthly calendar does compensate for length (i.e. some days contain many short psalms, other days have very few long ones, and 119 is actually split into a couple of days, IIRC) May 13, 2018 at 4:06
  • @רבותמחשבות I think this probably qualifies as an answer...
    – Joel K
    May 13, 2018 at 5:59
  • @JoelK I wasn't sure if it did, as it does not discuss liturgical practice, which was the OP's question. May 13, 2018 at 11:26
  • The chapter divisions were put in place by Christian. In Psalms the divisions are pretty much obvious, so we basically agree with their divisions with a few little exceptions. One of those is that 119 is actually divided into 22 pieces of 8 verses each. They obviously form a unit, but not necessarily more so than e.g. 120-134 (which are also 15 pieces).
    – Heshy
    May 13, 2018 at 12:35
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    @adam.baker as I said, I agree that they form a unit. But so do 120-134, which all start with שיר המעלות\למעלות. The divisions between letters are the same as the division between other psalms. You can see this in the Koren or Simanim Tanach, or online in the Keter.
    – Heshy
    May 14, 2018 at 12:23

1 Answer 1


Psalms are indeed very prevalent in Jewish services, in some ways forming the backbone of the siddur (prayerbook). Not all psalms are used on a regular basis and the order often varies from the numbered sequence. Also sometimes individual verses from various psalms are strung together to form what is essentially a new composition, for example Y'hi Chavod.

There are psalms that are generally known to be longer. For example the psalm for Wednesday (Psalm 94) is the longest among the Shir Shel Yom (song of the day) while Friday (Psalm 93) is the shortest.

Among the examples you bring, Psalms 117 is usually sung as part of the Hallel service on festival days and at the beginning of most months. It is quite short, but it fits into the larger structure of Hallel that is based on Psalms 113 -118. Specific practices vary, but at my synagogue, each of those psalms gets sung with a unique melody that sets it apart from the others and contributes to the build-up to the climax of the Hallel service.

Your other example, Psalm 119, is so long that I cannot recall it having any place in the standard liturgy, although if I have overlooked it I am sure someone will correct me. It would not surprise me if its length had something to do with that choice. The rabbis were often practical about such things. For example, according to Seligman Baer, the reason that we leave off certain psalms from the weekday service that are still said on the Sabbath and Festivals because it was too much of a burden to have such a lengthy service on weekdays.


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