Understanding Four Types of Jewish Prayer

Understanding Four Types of Jewish Prayer

From: Chapters One and Two of Understanding Jewish Prayer

by Jakob Josef Petuchowski

Petuchowski asserts that there are four types of prayer and that these are the foundation on which Jewish prayer is based. For each he gives a general explanation and an example. They are summarized in the four following paragraphs.

Tephillat reshut prayer is more than what one feels like doing, it’s what one is moved to do. This is the name for the limitless times a day one may pray. In the most simplest terms it may be “Save us, O Lord!” or “Thank G-d!”. In the synagogue this prayer might be more elaborately worded and it’s sentiments more formulated but it is still prayer that one is moved to say rather than obligated to say. (Petuchowski, 17)

Tephillat chovah are “commanded” prayers. More precisely, these are prayers which one has been traditionally obligated to recite. Although one can search the entirety of the TANAKH one will not find the commandment to pray. Rather, the Torah commands us to serve the Lord with all our heart. When the Rabbis of the Talmud asked how does one serve with the heart they answered that it is with prayer. Thus prayer came to be regarded as a mitzvah. (Petuchowski, 18)

Keva is a fixed word prayer. Keva has been defined by Rabbah and Rav Joseph as the prayer of anyone who is unable to add something new to it. (Petuchowski, 9) It can be said that the Eighteen Benedictions qualify as a keva prayer. (Petuchowski, 7) Though the words may not have always been fixed, the number and the topic of each benediction as well as the concluding eulogy have remained the same. (Petuchowski, 9)

Kavannah means a free outpouring of one’s heart, the spontaneous expression of our deepest concerns and our highest aspirations. It cannot be predetermined. Since there was no prayer book in the biblical or Rabbinic periods all the prayers of biblical figures were kavannah. One may exclaim “Thank G-d!” and not even realize they have spoken a kavannah prayer. (Petuchowski, 3) Such a prayer may not contain actual words but rather “Oh!” or “Ah!” and still convey the same expressions as another prayer. (Petuchowski, 4)


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