Detailed Guide to Shabbat Services

Timing of the Shabbat Morning Service

10:00 am - Service begins

10:30 - Torah service and D’var Torah

11:45 - Announcements, concluding service

Noon - Kiddush following service

(For breakfast/study service, breakfast is at 9:30, study session 10:00, service starts at 11:00 and ends at noon)

All Jewish synagogue services are based on the same structural patterns, although there are often modifications that can make them seem quite different.

Services are composed of Bible readings, Temple symbolism, and public and private prayer. The liturgy itself combines biblical passages with poetry and prose by later writers.

Guide to the Shir Hadash Shabbat Morning Service

With some notes on choreography.

Prayer books and bibles will be found near the entrance, where you may pick them up on your way in. The Bible edited by Plaut has a newer translation and more explanatory material; the Hertz edition has a more literal translation. Tallitot and kippot are also available near the entrance for those who would like to use them.

The page numbers in bold below refer to the Reconstructionist Prayer Book, KOL HANESHAMAH: Shabbat Vehagim.

1. Birkhot Ha-Shahar (Morning Blessings) [140-175]

A series of benedictions and readings in which we acknowledge the miracle of life and the beginnings of a new day. At Shir Hadash we read and chant excerpts from this section and often merge it directly into

2. Pesukey DeZimrah (Aramaic for "Passages of Song") [176-231]

Preliminary benedictions and psalms were added over time because there was a feeling that one needed some preparation to get into the proper mood for prayer, and some final benedictions and hymns were also added to create more of a sense of closure to the service.

We sing or sometimes chant responsively from at least three psalms. Although we treat the Birkat Ha-Shahar and the Pesuke DeZimrah as one unit in our service, they are technically separate and sometimes we mark the transition with the Kaddish, an affirmation of faith. This prayer is repeated several times during the morning, to mark the segments of the service. The custom arose of reserving the first and the last for mourners and those marking the anniversary of a death. In this way, one can affirm the continuity of Judaism as a way of honoring the departed.

3. Shaharit (Morning service) [241-381]

The leader of the Shaharit takes over at the top of page [241] with Shokhen ad (on Shabbat) or Ha-El B'taatsumot (on festivals). Here the leader begins the "ascent" to the Shaharit service by completing the introduction, leading the congregation in the recitation of a partial Kaddish and then the formal beginning of the Shaharit, and then reciting the Barejhu, the call to worship that is the formal beginning of the Shaharit.

It is customary for the congregation to rise for the final paragraph of the Pesuke DeZimrah and remain standing for the Kaddish and Barekhu. When reciting the Barekhu, many will bend the knee when the terms Barekhu and Barukh are said, straightening for the word ADONAI (LORD). Barukh, usually translated blessed or praised, comes from the same root as the word knee and probably originally meant to kneel.

The Service continues with a hymn and the recitation of two blessings, one celebrating creation and one celebrating God's love.

Near the bottom of page [275] at the words Ve-havi-enu le-shalom me-arba kanfot ha-arets (Gather us in peace from the four corners of the earth), many will gather together the four fringes on the corners of the tallit and hold them in their hand (some traditions favor the right hand, others use either hand).

4. The Shema

The Shema consists of three paragraphs from the Pentateuch (Deut. 6:4-9, Deut. 11:13-21, Num. 15:37-41). The Shema is always read evening and morning because of the words found in the first two paragraphs, which admonish us to speak these words when "you lie down and when you rise up."

(first word of Hear O Israel...) [276-291]: The first line is recited in unison, the second line silently and the following paragraph in unison. The congregation then davens to the bottom of [285] and waits for the leader to repeat the words ADONAI Elohekhem emet (The LORD your God is true).

Following an ancient custom, many people cover their eyes when reciting the first line of the Shema so as to eliminate any possible distractions and concentrate intensely on the words. During the third paragraph, [285], when they come to the word tsitsit (fringe), which is used three times, many kiss the fringes they still hold in the right hand. At the words Al avoteinu... avadekha (for our ancestors... shall exist) [287], the fringes are kissed one more time and then dropped.

The congregation continues to daven through the middle of [291] where we sing an excerpt from the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:11, 15:18) and conclude the reading of the Shema section by praising God for redemption. If the leader has any instruction or explanation for the congregation, this is given before the lines from Exodus; after the final blessing, we proceed directly to the Amidah without interruption.

5. Amidah (Standing prayer) [292-323]

The Amidah represents the ancient Temple sacrifices. The priests used to offer a sacrifice every morning (the Shaharit). After the destruction of the Temple by the Romans, the rabbis ordained that prayer should be substituted for sacrifice and the tradition arose of reciting a special prayer while standing. This prayer came to be known as the Amidah.

Some follow the custom of taking three small steps forward at the beginning of the Amidah, as one might approach a monarch to ask for favor.

We recite the first three segments of the Amidah together, making some changes from the traditional text. The first paragraph praises God for being the God of our ancestors and promising us redemption. Reconstructionism is egalitarian and at Shir Hadash we add references to our foremothers as well as our forefathers. Geulah (redemption) is used in the Reconstructionist prayer book instead of go-el (redeemer) in that first section, reflecting the Reconstructionist idea that we strive to bring about a messianic age, rather than expecting a specific person. Some people use the traditional formulation but understand it allegorically. We conclude this section by adding Ezrat Sarah (Help of Sarah) to Magen Avraham (Shield of Abraham).

Some follow the custom of bending the knee at the first word of this section BARUCH (Praised), bowing at the second, Atah (are You), and straightening at ADONAI. This is repeated at the BARUCH ATAH ADONAI that completes the segment.

The second section celebrates God's power. The traditional reading refers to the resurrection of the dead, but when we use the traditional words at Shir Hadash we understand them allegorically; we give life to the dead by preserving and honoring their memories and continuing their work. A Reconstructionist alternative substitutes me-haiyai kol hai (giving life to every living thing) for the traditional mehaiyai metim (giving life to the dead).

The third section, the Kedushah, [302-305] praises God's holiness. This is done partly responsively and partly in unison. In particular, all members join in at the words kaddosh, kaddosh, kaddosh ADONAI tseva-ot; melo khol ha-arets kevodo (Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory - Isaiah 6:3).

One custom is to stand with one's feet together and rise on one's toes three times, at each mention of the word kaddosh (holy), in imitation of the angels in Isaiah's vision.

At the conclusion of the Kedushah the congregation prays quietly through the first paragraph of [321].

Some prayer books refer to the Amidah as a silent prayer, but it is more accurately described as a private prayer. There is a Jewish custom that one should pray in an undertone--just loud enough to hear one's own words, but not so loud as to interfere with one's neighbor. Some people pull the tallit over their head to block out distraction.

There is a tradition that after completing the Amidah prayer, one may add private prayers. On [323] is an example of such a prayer that used to be recited by Mar ben Rabina, a rabbi of the Talmudic period. At Shir Hadash, we believe it is important to give each person as much time as needed to complete this period of private prayer, so we do not proceed until everyone is finished. When most people have finished, we begin to hum quietly and continue until all have completed their prayers. The leader then marks the end of the Shaharit service with a recitation of the Kaddish [381]. We change the last line by adding kol yoshvai tevel (all who inhabit the world) after kol Yisrael (all Israel), reflecting the Reconstructionist emphasis on wishing for everyone the benefits we desire for ourselves.

Some people take three steps backward as they complete their private prayer at the end of the Amidah.

6. The Torah service [382-441] (20-30 minutes)

We begin by singing praises to God for the gift of Torah (The word Torah is sometimes translated Law, but it is more accurate to use the term Teaching). We open the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark) and take out the scroll, recite the first line of the Shema, and carry the scroll around the congregation so that everyone can get close to it.

Many people touch the Torah cover with the fringe of the tallit and then kiss the fringe as a symbol of respect. Ssome use a prayer book instead of the tallit.

We then bring the Torah to the reading desk to read the weekly portion. The scroll contains the text of the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. We divide the traditional weekly portion into seven segments and read one segment each year, completing the full Torah on a seven year cycle. We call three people to come and read. Since not everyone can read Hebrew, a custom developed of having someone do the actual reading although the persons honored by being called are considered the "official" readers. Those called recite a blessing before and after each segment is read. There are two people who stand on either side of the reader(s) and follow in a printed text, offering corrections if the reader makes a mistake. Since the handwritten text in the scroll has neither punctuation nor vowel markings, help is sometimes needed. When the "official" reader finishes, one "lingers" at the reading desk for the next portion, symbolizing reluctance to leave the Torah.

In between readings we may be offering special prayers for members or their friends or relatives who are ill or are celebrating a special occasion; it is a way of telling the community who among us needs support and who would like to invite us to share in their joy.

After completing the readings, we call another person for Maftir [fem. Maftirah] (Concluder) to "read" the last three verses of the last portion or, on special Sabbaths, a special concluding section. We then call two people, one of whom lifts and displays the reading to the congregation and one who rolls and dresses the the scroll. The scroll is then laid on the reading desk. We hear a selection from the Prophets or the Writings and then have a discussion based on the weekly portion, led by someone who has prepared in advance.

7. D'var Torah (Torah discussion)

A discussion based on the weekly portion, led by a member who has prepared in advance.

8. Returning the Torah

Following completion of the D'var Torah, we once again carry the scroll around the congregation and then return it to the Ark.


9. Musaf (Additional Service)

At Shir Hadash we do only symbolic version of the Musaf, and often try to be creative, using poetry or readings not in the prayer book. We conclude with a prayer we call Alainu [444-449], looking forward to the day when all the world will be united. Reconstructionists, holding that all peoples are chosen in their own way, modify the traditional text to emphasize the Jewish relationship to Torah and the unique perspective this gives us.

The last prayer of the Musaf is the Mourners' Kaddish.

A recitation known as the Kaddish came to be added as punctuation, marking the various divisions of the service. (The words Kaddish, Kedushah, and Kiddush are all variants on the Hebrew term usually translated as "holy.") The final Kaddish in a service is designated as the Mourners' Kaddish.

10. Conclusion

We sing a hymn and then move on to share Kiddush, where we pronounce a blessing over wine or grape juice and drink. Next we bless the bread and eat. At this point, we really are finished with all the formal activities; it is an opportunity to socialize for a while before we all go our separate ways.

Shabbat morning service at Cape Cod retreat