Extras in the Siddur

Editors of siddurim (prayer books) have included a variety of bonus materials.

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The siddur was always intended to be the most popular Jewish book. As such, editors have had a variety of competing interests. On the one hand, if a siddur was the only book that a Jew might own, it should certainly have everything one might need for prayers in a synagogue. At the same time, if most Jews were going to own a siddur, putting in other important and valuable information was a significant draw. When printing became much less expensive, people began to cut these “extras” out of the siddur, because people had other books and they might prefer a smaller, more compact siddur.
extra prayers
One common addition is the first of the seven aliyot (sub-sections of the weekly Torah portion; literally “ascents”) for each Torah portion of the year. These first aliyot are each divided into three smaller sections for reading on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat afternoons. Another common addition is Maimonides’ Thirteen Articles of Faith.

Many siddurim include sections intended for home use, such as blessings and rituals for a family to celebrate Shabbat evening in their home. Beginning with blessings for lighting the Shabbat and festival candles, there are also the blessings that comprise the Kiddush, or sanctification over a cup of wine before the meal, as well as the blessing of bread. Some include Birkat HaMazon, the grace after meals, along with Shabbat zemirot, or songs to be sung at the table to celebrate the day.

Serving as a textbook of popular piety, many siddurim also have various berakhot (blessings) that one can say before eating different kinds of food, or to sanctify common moments in one’s life, such as seeing a rainbow, hearing thunder, or smelling fragrant trees and shrubs. Some siddurim also include a slim volume of the Mishnah, called Pirkei Avot, or Ethics of the Fathers, which is a compilation of the various ethical and moral sayings of the talmudic rabbis, as well as Psalms 120 to 134, all of which begin “A Song of Ascent” and were recited in ancient times by pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem. These selections are included to provide an opportunity for common Jews to study rabbinic texts and to add to the sanctity of their enjoyment of the Shabbat and festivals.

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Rabbi Daniel Kohn, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1991. He is the author of several books on Jewish education and spirituality who currently writes and teaches throughout the San Francisco Bay area.

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