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In traditional Jewish practice, the daily tefillot or prayers are divided into three separate services, Shaharit (the morning service), Minhah (the afternoon service), and Maariv (the evening service).
Origins of the Daily Prayer Services
By the talmudic period, the institution of praying three times day was an assumed part of Jewish life. The Mishnah records that there are three daily services, each connected to a particular time of day (Mishnah Berakhot 4:1).
The Babylonian Talmud also declares that one should pray three times a day, and a famous dispute emerges about the origins of this practice. Rabbi Yose bar Rabbi Hanina says that the weekday prayers were instituted by the patriarchs: Shaharit by Abraham, Minhah by Isaac, and Maariv by Jacob.
In opposition, Rabbi Joshua ben Levi cites Rabbi Hanina, who says that the three daily prayer services were instituted in accordance with the daily sacrifices of the Temple period (Berakhot 26b). Shaharit corresponds to the morning offering, Minhah corresponds to the afternoon offering, Maariv corresponds to an offering made on the evening, and Musaf corresponds to an offering brought on certain special occasions. Though a consensus was never reached, rabbinic authorities agreed that three daily services are the basic requirement of Jewish daily prayer.
For the majority of the rabbinic period, when the Mishnah, Talmud, and other early rabbinic sources refer to “tefillah,” they are always specifically referring to the Amidah prayer.
For much of the rabbinic period, the three services most likely only consisted of the Amidah and nothing else. However, by the beginning of the geonic period, and with the assemblage of the first complete liturgy for the synagogue–Seder Rav Amram Gaon in the ninth century–the content of all three services expanded significantly in both breadth and depth.
In terms of content, Shaharitis the most extensive of the three services. The morning prayers begin with a series of blessings meant to start the process of thanking God for our most basic needs. The most notable of these blessings is the Birkot Hashahar. The early portion of the services offers blessings for various fundamental needs, such as clothing, and freedom, and includes textual references to sacrifices and other core Jewish texts. Practices vary regarding how much of these early passages are recited.
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