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TCS Question - Why do Jews traditionally pray three times a day?

Traditionally we Jews pray three times a day, the first service is in the evening, because the Jewish day begins at sunset, and it is then followed by a service in the morning and then one in the afternoon. The morning service is called ,hrja – shacharit, the name is related to the word rja – shachar, meaning the morning light; the afternoon service is called vjbnminchah, which was the name of a sacrifice offered at the Temple in Jerusalem; and the evening service is called chrgnmaariv, coming from the word crgerev, meaning evening.

Each one of these services is slightly different in terms of the prayers that are recited; the morning service is the longest and the afternoon service is the shortest. The major constant among all three services is the vshngAmidah, the central prayer around which the services are built. While we consider the gnaShema as a central prayer in our liturgy it is not included in the afternoon service. And for some prayers there are different versions in the morning and evening, so before the gnaShema in the morning we say vcr vcvtAhavah rabbah, and in the evening we say okug ,cvtAhavat olam.

One of the reasons given for us praying three times is a day is that it provides a link back to each one of our three Patriarchs. According to this understanding each one of our three prayer services was introduced by a different one of our ancestors. Abraham introduced the morning prayers, because we read in Torah that he rose up early in the morning (Genesis 19:27). Isaac is responsible for the afternoon service, because he went out to meditate in the field in the afternoon (Genesis 24:63). And Jacob is responsible for the evening service because he came to a certain place in the evening (Genesis 28:11). This interpretation, which is found fully elaborated in the Talmud Berachot 26b, allows us to related to each one of the Patriarchs when we are praying.

Praying three times a day may also be related to the order of service that existed in the Temple in Jerusalem. Our prayers replaced the sacrificial system, and so the timings of our prayer services correspond to when there had previously been sacrifices offered. The other indication that this is the case is the fact that on Shabbat and festive days when there would have been an additional sacrifice offered, in Conservative and Orthodox communities, an additional service is added. On Shabbat, in these communities, rather that the regular three prayer services, there are actually four with the addition of ;xunmusaf.

For us who may not pray three times a day the challenge is whether we can find three prayerful moments during the day. 

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Rabbi Danny
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