Shabbat Liturgy

Shabbat's unique liturgy

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One More Plea, Much More Music

During the communal repetition of the Amidah, the third blessing--called Kedushah (holiness) or Kedushat Ha-shem, a prayer praising God's holiness--is also expanded on Shabbat. Surprising, in light of the general elimination of blessings of request in the Shabbat Amidah, is the inclusion here of a plea for God to "reign over us soon, for we await You! When will You reign in Zion?  Let it be soon..." The direct language and heartfelt sentiment of this prayer serves to emphasize the close spiritual connection between God and Israel on Shabbat.

In every Jewish community, the Shabbat liturgy is performed with far more musical embellishment than one finds in weekday worship. This too serves to extend the time needed for worship, but few participants would prefer the relatively bland weekday musical style to prevail during Shabbat worship as well.

Musaf & a Taste of Paradise

The final contrast between the Shabbat and weekday liturgy is the presence of an entire extra service at the end of every Shabbat morning service. It is called Musaf, or "addition," and it is omitted in most Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues. Replacing a 2,000-year-old additional animal sacrifice offered each Shabbat (korban musaf), the Musaf service stands as a verbal substitute. It also offers another opportunity to thank God for the joy of Shabbat.

In the Ashkenazic rite, this is the only time during Shabbat in which the worshippers recite a paragraph that begins thus: "Those who celebrate Shabbat rejoice in Your kingship, hallowing the seventh day, calling it a delight..."

According to the talmudic rabbis, the celebration of our temporal Shabbat is only one-60th of the delight that we will all merit to experience in the messianic World to Come.  Therefore, the themes mentioned in the prayers, underscored by the festive musical settings and the additional length of the services, invite the worshipper to imagine the idyllic spiritual state awaiting us all, and offer us an all-too-brief foretaste of that time.

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Rabbi Daniel Kohn

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.