Many synagogues have a Hazzan (cantor) who is a professional or lay-professional singer employed for the purpose of leading the congregation in prayer.
Jewish law and custom requires Jews over the age of majority (13 for males, 12 for females) to pray three times a day. Prayer alone is considered acceptable, but prayer with a quorum of ten adults (a minyan) is considered prayer with the community, and this is the most highly recommended form of prayer.
According to traditional Jewish law, the smallest congregation which is permitted to hold public worship is one made up of ten men over the age of majority (13 years).
The rule comes from the Mishnah (Megillah 4:3): "They do not divide over the Shema Yisrael (Hear, O Israel), nor pass before the Ark, nor lift their hands, nor read from the Law, nor conclude with the Prophets, nor arrange the standing and sitting, nor say the benedictions of the mourners or the consolation of the mourners, nor the benedictions of the bridegrooms, nor use God's name in preparing for grace after meals, with less than ten."
The Babylonian Talmud, in commenting on this section of the Mishnah, finds the Biblical authority for ten men constituting a congregation in the words (Numbers 14:27): "How long shall I bear with this evil congregation which murmur against me?" which it refers to the scouts who were sent to spy out the land of Canaan, twelve in all, two of whom, Caleb and Joshua, were faithful, and only ten "evil."
All male Jews over 13, unless they have openly severed their connection with their brethren by converting to another religion, are counted in the minyan. (Shulkhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim, 55, 12).
Traditional codes of Jewish law do not forbid women from counting in a minyan, and a small number of classical rabbinic responsa mention this as a theoretical possibility. However this seems never to have been the practice of the Jewish community; women being allowed to count in the minyan on a regular basis is a new development in Jewish law. Rabbis within Conservative Judaism have published responsa justifying the counting of women within a minyan. Reform Judaism does not follow Jewish law as normative, so its leaders do not feel the need to justify their practice within the system of Jewish law.
The language of prayer
Prayer is done almost exclusively in Hebrew, but Jewish law allows for prayers to be said in any language that the person praying understands. Orthodox synagogues use almost exclusively Hebrew, and use the local language only for sermons and directions; Conservative synagogues use Hebrew for about 75% to 95% of the service (depending on the local custom), and the rest is in the local language. Reform synagogues (usually called Temples) use anywhere from 10% to 40% Hebrew; most of the service is in the local language.
The prayer services
Shacharit: morning prayers
Prayers said upon arising; donning tzitzit and the tallit; prayers for putting on tefillin; and readings from Exodus. Next follows a section called the morning blessings, followed by blessings for the Torah and readings from Biblical and rabbinic writings. This is followed by a reading of Genesis 22, with prayers on the subject. Next comes the Shema Yisrael. In Orthodox services this is followed by a series of readings from Biblical and rabbinic writings recalling the offerings made in the Temple in Jerusalem. The section concludes with the Rabbi's Kaddish.
The next section of morning prayers is called Pesukei D'Zimrah, veses of praise, containing many psalms, and prayers made from a tapestry of biblical verses, followed by the Song at the Sea (Exodus 14, 15)
Now begins the Barchu, the formal public call to prayer, and an expanded series of prayers relating to the Shema Yisrael. This is followed by the core of the prayer service, the Shemonah Esrah, also called the Amidah. this is a series of 19 prayers. The next part of the service, is Tachanun, supplications. Reform services usually omit tachanun entirely.
Mincha: afternoon prayers
Prayers start with Psalm 145, immediately followed by the Shemoneh Esrah (Amidah). This is followed by a shortened version of Tachanun, supplications, and then the full Kaddish. After this is the Aleinu, and then the Mourner's Kaddish.
Ma'ariv (also: Arvit): evening prayers
This service begins with the Barchu, the formal public call to prayer, and an expanded series of prayers relating to the Shema Yisrael. This is followed by the Hashkiveinu ("Lay us down to sleep, Adonai, our God, in peace, raise us erect, our King, to life, and spread over us the shelter of Your peace.") A series of other blessings are added, which are made from a tapestry of biblical verses. This is followed by the Half-Kaddish, and the Shemoneh Esrah (Amidah), bracketed with the full Kaddish. Then the Aleinu and Mourner's Kaddish.
In many congregations, the afternoon and evening prayers are recited back-to-back on a working day, to save people having to walk to the synagogue twice.
Musaf - the additional service
The Musaf service starts with the silent recitation of the Amidah. It is followed by a second public recitation that includes an additional reading known as the Kedushah. This is followed by the Tikanta Shabbat reading on the holiness of Shabbat, and then by a reading from the biblical book of Numbers about the sacrifices that used to be performed in the Temple in Jerusalem. Next comes Yishmichu, "They shall rejoice in Your soverignty"; Eloheynu, "Our God and God of our Ancestors, may you be pleased with our rest"; Ritzey, "Be favorable, our God, toward your people Israel and their prayer, and restore services to your Temple";
After the Amidah comes the Yihi ratzon, then the full Kaddish. In Orthodox Judaism this is followed by a reading from the Talmud on the sacrifices that used to be peformed in the Temple in Jerusalem. These readings are usually omitted by Conservative Jews, and are always omitted by Reform Jews.
The Musaf service culminates with the Rabbi's Kaddish, the Aleinu, and then the Mourner's Kaddish. Some synagogues conclude with the reading of Aniem Zemirot, "The Hymm of Glory".
American Reform Jews omit the entire Musaf service.
Friday night Shabbat services
It is composed of six psalms, xcv. to xcix., and xxix., representing the six week-days. Next comes the poem Lekha Dodi. Composed by Solomon ha-Levi Alkabi (1529), it is based on the words of Hanina, "Come, let us go out to meet the Queen Sabbath" (Talmud Shabbat 119a). Kabbalat Shabbat is concluded by Psalms xcii. and xciii., and is then followed by the Maariv service.
The reading VeShameru (Ex. xxx. 16, 17) is recited before the Amidah. The Amidah on Shabbat is abbreviated, and is read in full once. This is then followed by the hazzan's mini-repetition of the Amidah, Magen Avot, a digest of the seven benedictions. In Orthodox synagogues the second chapter of Mishna tractate Shabbat, Bameh Madlikin, is read. The service then follows with the Alenu. Kiddush is recited in the synagogue. Many synagogues end with the singing of Yigdal.
Saturday morning and evening Shabbat services
Shabbat morning prayers commence as on week-days. Of the hymns, Ps. c. is omitted, its place being taken by Ps. xix., xxxiv., xc., xci., cxxxv., cxxxvi., xxxiii., xcii., xciii. Nishmat is recited, also El Adon.
The seventh intermediary benediction of the Shaharit Amidah begins with Yismah Mosheh. Berik Shemeh (before taking out the Scroll from the Ark) is from the Zohar, and contains the sentence: "We depend not on a man nor do we trust in a Son-God, but in the God of heaven, who is the true God." The Yekum Purkan, composed in Babylon in Aramaic, is similar to the Mi sheberakh, a blessing for the leaders and patrons of the synagogue. The Sephardim omit much of the Yekum Purkan. Prayers are then recited for the government of the country that the prayer lives in; and also for the State of Israel.
The main benediction of Musaf, Tikanta Shabbat, is recited,
After Minhah, during the winter Sabbaths (from Sukkot to Passover), Bareki Nafshi (Ps. civ., cxx.-cxxxiv.) is recited. During the summer Sabbaths (from Passover to Rosh Hashanah) chapters from the Avot, one every Sabbath in consecutive order, are recited instead of Bareki Nafshi. The week-day Maariv is recited on Sabbath evening, concluding with Vihi No'am, Ve-Yitten Leka, and Havdalah.
Services on Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot
The services for the three festivals of Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot are alike, except for interpolated references and readings for each individual festival. The preliminaries and conclusions of the prayers are the same as on Sabbath. The Amidah on these festivals only contains seven benedictions, with Attah Beḥartanu as the main one.
Except in Reform Judaism, the Musaf service includes Mi-Pene Hata'enu, with reference to the special festival and Temple sacrifices on the occasion. A blessing on the pulpit ("Dukan") is pronounced by the "kohanim" during the Amidah. On week-days and Sabbath the priestly blessing is recited by the hazzan after the Modim ("Thanksgiving") prayer.
Guide on etiquette for visitors
In most synagogues [also called Temples] it is considered a symbol of respect for all male attendees to wear a head covering, usually a dress hat or kipa (yarmulke). Kipa is a Hebrew word; yarmulke is the Yiddish word for the same head covering. Kipot (plural) are usually provided near the front door; just take one and put one on as you go in. Return it to the same area on your way out of synagogue. Conservative (also called Masorti) and Orthodox synagogues ask that all male attendees cover their heads, whether they are Jewish or gentile. Most Reform (also called Progressive) Temples do not require people to cover their heads (neither Jew or gentile). Nonetheless, many Reform Jews now choose to wear a kipa.
As you might expect, there are some things that a gentile visitor should do during a Jewish religious service, and there are some things not to do.
- When the congregants stand, you should stand as well. This is merely a sign of respect, done when something important is happening during the service, such as the opening of the ark where the Torah is kept.
- When people bow at certain points during some prayers, do not bow. To follow the bowing and rising would indicate that you are actually a Jew following the halakha (Jewish law) of prayer. Since you aren't Jewish, this is not necessary.
- Wear modest, nice clothes. It's a house of worship.
- If you are male, wear a kipa (Hebrew), also called a yarmulke (Yiddish). The wearing of this does not signify that one is a Jew; it only signifies that one is showing respect. Note that the wearing of a kipa in most Reform temples is considered optional; it is mandatory for Jewish men in both Orthodox and Conservative synagogues.
- Do not wear a tallit (also: tallis) (prayer shawl). This is only worn by Jews over the age of majority (13 for men, 12 for women.)
''To Pray As a Jew', Hayim Halevy Donin
Entering Jewish Prayer, Reuven Hammer