Biblical Prayer

Spontaneity and creativity were hallmarks of prayer in the time of the Bible.

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To these formulated prayers one may add a number of blessings which achieved official usage and later found their way into the siddur [prayer book]. One of these is part of the blessing which Jacob bestowed on Joseph's sons: "God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh" (Genesis 48:20), which is to this day the paternal blessing that the Jew bestows on his sons on Friday evenings. Another biblical blessing that has been repeated innumerable times is the blessing which the Kohanim pronounced in the Temple. It, too, has been incorporated into the synagogue worship:

"The Lord bless you, and keep you! The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you!; The Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!" [Num. 6:24-26].

During the period of the First Jewish Commonwealth prayer was generally spontaneous, free, and independent. Except for the brief formula recited by the farmers, the priestly blessing, and some of the Psalms, prayers occupied no place in the official worship of the Temple. The introduction of public prayer as a form of worship was, as we shall see, one of the great contributions of the Jewish people to world culture. But this took place during the Second Commonwealth.

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Rabbi Abraham Ezra Millgram (1900-1998) served as a congregational rabbi, a Hillel director, and from 1945 to 1961, Educational Director of the Commission on Jewish Education of the United Synagogue of America. During several decades of active retirement in Jerusalem, he published a number of books, including Jerusalem Curiosities (Jewish Publication Society) and A Short History of Jerusalem (Jason Aronson).