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Jewish liturgy is the broad category of activities that Jews do in order to invoke God. It includes reciting, chanting, or singing texts; using ritual objects and wearing ritual garments; performing choreographed physical actions and gestures; and reciting blessings. Although Jewish liturgy includes far more than just the texts that are recited, the texts themselves provide a valuable way of understanding what Jewish prayer and worship is all about.
About Jewish Liturgy
Jewish liturgy can be divided up into three main categories: prayers, blessings, and rituals. Prayers are recited on a daily basis, and have a specific structure to them. Blessings are recited on certain occasions, when eating something, or when performing a commandment like lighting candles before the Sabbath. Rituals are particular activities, like the Passover seder or redeeming the first born child (pidyon haben). Jewish liturgy constantly balances the interplay between using fixed texts (keva) and creating a personally meaningful, sincere interaction with God that reflects the intention (kavana) of the one who prays.
The siddur, or Jewish prayer book, includes the standard texts for the three daily prayer services–Shacharit, Minchah, and Ma’ariv (the morning, afternoon, and evening services, respectively)–as well as the additional services for the Sabbath and holidays. Some siddurim (plural) also include blessings for various occasions and maybe the weekday Torah readings. The siddur has always been a very dynamic text that has grown and changed according to the needs or aesthetics of the various communities in which it was used.
The machzor (a special prayer book for festivals, usually referring to the High Holiday prayer book) is like an incredibly expanded Siddur, filled with special liturgical poetry and Biblical readings appropriate to Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). The machzor contains some of the most memorable texts from Jewish liturgy, including the prayer Avinu Malkenu (Our Father, Our King), Kol Nidrei (the annulment of vows preceding Yom Kippur), and the confession of sins arranged as alphabetical acrostics (Ashamnu and Al Het).
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