The Origins of Jewish Prayer

In a fourpart series, Yosef Lindell traces the history of Jewish liturgy, from the biblical phrases and motifs that were later used by the authors of prayers, to the first rabbinic accounts of formal prayer, to the evolution of Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and other variant liturgies, to modern changes to these texts. He writes:

Despite their differences, these diverse [liturgical traditions] are probably at least 90-percent the same. This is in part due to the seder—or siddur—of Rabbi Amram Gaon. . . . .When asked by the Jews of Spain to document the order of the prayers and their laws, Amram Gaon (the 9th-century head of the yeshiva of Sura in Mesopotamia) produced a text that influenced nearly every siddur used today.

Amram’s siddur is remarkably similar to ours. [Yet it] did not erase or override the customs of existing communities but instead fused with them. For example, the Jews in Spain never adopted the siddur wholesale, but rather edited it to conform to their own customs. For this reason, it’s impossible to know which words Amram actually wrote. We have no original manuscript of the siddur, only living versions filtered through the traditions of its users.

In 1486, the Soncino family in Italy printed the first siddur. Printing revolutionized the prayerbook. The prayers, which were initially the expertise of those who could memorize them and then the domain of those who had access to handwritten manuscripts, became available to all. A congregation of worshippers could participate more fully than ever before, not just passively listen to the ḥazan and recite a few refrains.

Printing standardized the siddur, and at the same time contributed to the spread of new prayers. The new prayers of the kabbalists could not have gained such widespread acceptance without the help of the printing press. The power of print also led to the rapid acceptance of other prayers of murkier origins.

Read more at 18Forty

More about: Jewish history, Prayer, Prayer books

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict