Prayer 101

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Prayer, Music, and Liturgy

Certain key prayers are recited only in the presence of a quorum (minyan) of ten adults (in traditionalist communities, ten adult males). The musical traditions of Jewish prayer include a complex system of notation and performance of biblical passages, known as ta'amei hamikra (or in Yiddish, "trop"), rendered with different styles in different keys for Torah, Prophets, and various biblical "scrolls." Another musical tradition is nusah, modes for various occasions that provide a basis for improvised renditions of the liturgy. Hebrew, the classical language of Jewish prayer, remains in use everywhere in varying degrees.

Prayer Apparel

The biblical requirement to set fringes in the corners of one's garment is observed by many during prayer by donning a special prayer-shawl (tallit). Biblical passages calling for binding the memory of the Exodus as "a sign upon your hand and a symbol upon your forehead" are understood in rabbinic law as requiring Jews to wear tefillin--pairs of leather boxes containing those biblical selections, worn on the upper arm and forehead, with a leather strap bound on the forearm. In most congregations, all men--and some women--cover their heads in prayer.

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