Siddur Contents: Shabbat & Holiday Liturgy

This description of the Shabbat and holiday morning service includes most of the elements that appear in weekday services as well.

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As the Torah scroll is removed from the ark, the congregation chants, "From Zion shall come forth the Torah, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:3). Most siddurim also include the special blessings chanted before and after the reading of the Torah as well as the blessings before and after the Haftarah. Concluding with prayers for the host country, the State of Israel, and (in some siddurim) world peace, as well as additional psalms, the Torah is wrapped up in its mantle, marched around the sanctuary once again and returned to the ark as the congregation sings, "It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it, and all of its supporters are happy" (Proverbs 3:18).

At the conclusion of every Shabbat and festival service, the medieval hymn Ein K'eloheynu ("There is none like our Lord") is chanted, followed by a prayer called Aleinu, which means, "It is incumbent upon us." Referring to the obligation to acknowledge the sovereignty of God, its highpoint is the line, "We bend the knee and bow, acknowledging the King of Kings, the Holy One, praised be God," at which the congregation as a whole bows in the direction of the ark, toward the east--Israel and Jerusalem. Concluding with a messianic commitment to improving this world, the Aleinu prayer ends with a hope that on "that day, the Lord shall be one and God's name will be one" (Zechariah 14:9). This is followed by the Mourner's Kaddish, at which anyone in the community who is mourning the recent loss of a family member, or anyone observing the yearly anniversary of the death of a loved one, recites a prayer of praise to God. The service ends with the singing of the medieval hymn, Adon Olam, ("Lord of the World"), which contrasts Gods eternity and infinity with human mortality and finitude.

What has just been described is the general flow of a regular Shabbat service. On festivals there are additional sections of prayers included as way to celebrate the unique character of the day. One such addition is called Hallel, which means, "praise." This name is derived from the fact that of the six psalms of celebration chanted that make up Hallel, nearly all of them begin with the Hebrew word halleluyah, or "praise God!" Scholars surmise that the joyous chanting of Psalms 113 through to 118 were sung by the Levitical Temple workers even in ancient biblical times. Extolling God for the exodus from Egypt, for God's power to effect salvation and save from enemies, the psalms of Hallel represent a brief spectrum of religious reasons for praising and rejoicing in God's omnipotence. Beginning and ending with a blessing, Hallel is chanted immediately following the Amidah, preceeding the Torah service on the pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot.

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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.