Davening-The User’s Manual for the Siddur

Mordechai Kramer wrote a 16 page booklet which explains the basic structure and use of the siddur. It includes charts and simple explanations of how the prayer service (Shacharit, Mincha, Mariv, Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh ) is performed in shul. It is a virtual life savor for the BT. Rabbi Berel Wein has commented that it is excellent.


It can be happily said that much has been written about Jewish Liturgy. Commentaries concerning the depth and meaning of the Jewish Prayer Book are abundant and of good quality.

This booklet will undertake a different task. It will attempt to serve beginners as a Users’ Manual for the siddur (Jewish Prayer Book) in a brief and straightforward manner, so that anyone wishing to participate in synagogue prayer can do so.

The material herein is found in the traditional codified volumes of Jewish Law and ritual; however, these sources are not easily accessible to everyone. This inaccessibility, plus the language problem and the unfamiliarity many have with the siddur, makes Davenning a very formidable obstacle for most of the Jewish people. Overcoming this obstacle is the purpose of this work.

We will use as our model The Complete Artscroll Siddur, version Ashkenaz, since this is the most common siddur in use among the majority of English speaking Jewry. The Users’ Manual is compatible with every other siddur that follows the Ashkenaz version, but the page numbers would need adaptation.


In this booklet, the accent is on the most obligatory parts of the prayer service. “It is better to say little with devotion, than to say much without devotion.” If you feel that the burden is too heavy, it is better to wait until the service becomes more familiar before deciding to fill in what you have omitted.

Let’s start Davenning:

Morning Blessings

“DONNING THE TZITZIS” on p.3 is done at home. Only the blessing for this is obligatory, which is marked by the word, ברוך. This blessing need not be said if one later will put on the prayer tallis in shul.

On p.4 we have the blessing that is said before actually donning the prayer tallis in shul.

Page 6 has two blessings for donning the tefillin, one for the arm and one for the head. After tightening the tefillin for the head you recite the words on the last line of the page-ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד.1

The two blessings on p.15, על נטילת ידיים and אשר יצר, may be recited at this point or said at home before coming to shul . I would recommend that they be said at home, so as to be able to attend to the davenning upon arrival in shul, and not fall behind the rest of the congregation. The same holds for all that is printed on p.17,19, and 21.

Verses of Song- פסוקי דזמרה

This section, which begins on p.55, is composed mostly of Psalms, and serves to prepare your spiritual ascent for the high points of the prayer service which come after them.

The section is structured with one blessing at the beginning and one at the end. The first is called ברוך שאמר on p.59. The end blessing, Yishtabach, is on p.83. These two blessings serve as a sandwich for the main body of this section of the prayer service. The minimum content between the two blessings is אשרי on p.67.

The high point of the entire service is the Shemoneh Esrei on p.99. It is important to say this together with the entire congregation. Therefore, if you come late to shul and you fear that you will not be able to pray the Shemoneh Esrei with the congregation, it is permitted to skip the Verses of Song. To do this to begin with, as a daily habit, is not recommended; but perhaps allowances can be made until the service becomes more familiar.

You may find that, after omitting so much of the service, you will find yourself ahead of the congregation, if so, since nothing in the next section of the service may be omitted, you may continue on ahead of the congregation in order to arrive at the Shemoneh Esrei the same time as everybody else.

Borchu, Bless Hashem p.85

After ישתבח on the previous page, the chazzan (reader) says the Half Kaddish 2and then Borchu, to which the congregation responds.

The recitation here of Borchu marks the transition to a new section of the service, The Blessings of the Shema, which begin on the same page.

The Two Blessings Preceding the Shema

This section deals with the reading of the Shema (p.91). It begins with the first of two blessings preceding the Shema.

These are long blessings, much greater in length than most other blessings. This first blessing begins immediately after Borchu and is called Yotzer Ha-me’orot (Who fashions the luminaries) named after its last two words on p.89. The second blessing immediately follows and is called Ahava Raba after its first two words, and ends immediately preceding the Shema on p. 91.

The Shema p.91

If possible, you should recite the first verse of the Shema together with the congregation. You cover your eyes with your hand in order to afford the possibility of complete concentration and say the first verse out loud. The next verse, baruch Shem kvod (written in small letters), is said in an undertone. The next three sections, which comprise the rest of the Shema, are said in a normal voice. The Shema ends at the completion of the third section on p.95.

The chazzan repeats out loud the last two words of the Shema, together with the first word of the next blessing, Emet. These three words, together with the number of words in the Shema, total 248 words, which are the number of positive commandments in the Torah.

The Blessing after the Reading of the Shema

Shema Yisrael, during the morning service, is followed by one further blessing. It is known as Go’al Yisrael (Who redeemed Israel) after its last two words on p.97, and extends till the Shemoneh Esrei on p.99. Hence, we have two blessings before the Shema and one following it. You should try to arrive at the Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation in order to begin it in unity with everyone else.

At the bottom of p.97 begins the last paragraph of the blessing Go’al Yisrael (after the Shema), with the words tzur yisrael (Rock of Israel). At this point, you take three steps back in preparation for commencing the Shemoneh Esrei.

The Shemoneh Esrei (also known as the Amida)

This is the high point of the service, (p.99). We come into the presence of the King taking three short steps forward and recite quietly the words, “My Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise”-Adonai sefatai tiftach, ufi yagid tehilatecha.

Having taken these three steps forward while reciting the words just mentioned, we begin the Shemoneh Esrei. The prayer is said in a soft whisper, audible enough so that you hear what you say, but not so loud that it will disturb the concentration of others.

We bow four times during the Shemoneh Esrei. The bowing is done as follows: At the beginning of the blessing, when you say the words: Baruch Ata-you slightly bend your knees (at the word Baruch) and then you bend forward slightly from the waist (at the word Ata). When you say the divine name, which is the next word, you straighten up completely. It is to Him alone to whom we are subject, and it is Him alone who has the power to uphold us.

This first section of Shemoneh Esrei is called Avot, Patriarchs, because we call upon the God of our Fathers. We bow twice in this section. First with the first words of the Shemoneh Esrei, ברוך, Blessed are You. We bow a second time at the end of Avot, when the words Baruch Ata…are again said, ending with the words Magen Avraham (Shield of Abraham). Our third bow comes on p.113, with the word Modim, meaning Thanksgiving. It is done as before and we straighten up when we come to the Divine Name. The fourth and last blessing where we bow is, “to give thanks,” l’hodot, on p.115.

The last blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei, is Peace, שים שלום. It is followed by a short prayer for the improvement of our character and a request that we be protected from evil doers. At the end of this short prayer on p.119, we symbolize the end of the Shemoneh Esrei by taking three steps backward, starting with our left foot to show that we do not desire to depart from God’s presence. We thereby behave as a servant does when taking leave of his master.

The Chazzan’s Shemoneh Esrei

After most of the members of the congregation individually have concluded the Shemoneh Esrei, the chazzan repeats it.3 When the chazzan arrives at the end of the second blessing,מחיה המתים (Who resuscitates the dead), the Kidushah (p.101) is said. The appropriate parts for the chazzan and the congregation are noted in the siddur. The chazzan and the congregation remain standing with feet together, as during the Shemoneh Esrei for individuals.

When the chazzan reaches Modim (Thanksgiving) on p.113, all members of the congregation recite the “Modim of the Rabbis,” on the left hand side of the page in an undertone, while the chazzan says the Modim printed on the right.

The last blessing of Shemoneh Esrei is Sim Shalom, the blessing for Peace, on P.117. In Israel, at the end of the blessing for Peace, the Cohanim4 bless the congregation. Outside of Israel, the priestly blessing is said by the chazzan.

Vidui / Confession and Tachanun

In this section on p.119b, we pray for mercy and forgiveness. There are certain days when Vidui and Tachanun are not said. These are listed in the box on the bottom of p.125.

Mondays and Thursdays are days deemed by our sages as days particularly favorable for prayer, hence Tachanun is longer on these days. The longer Tachanun begins on p.125 and continues until and including shomer Yisrael on p.137. If the length of the longer Tachanun causes you to fall too far behind the congregation, say as much as you can.

On other weekdays aside from Monday and Thursday the Tachunun prayer (after Vidui, p.119b) begins with vayomer David , marked as PUTTING DOWN THE HEAD in the Artscroll Siddur, on p.133. This is said seated with your head on the sleeve of your right forearm. On all days aside from Monday and Thursday, you continue afterwards with Shomer Yisrael-O Guardian of Israel on p.137, to the bottom of the page.

The Half Kaddish on the next page marks the end of this section and is said by the chazzan.

Removal of the Torah from the Ark

Mondays and Thursdays are also the weekdays when the Torah is read with the congregation. On the other weekdays, when the Torah is not read publicly, you proceed onward in the siddur to the second Ashrei on p.151.

We preface the Torah reading by a simple ceremony as the Torah scroll is brought to the Bima5. As the ark is opened, we say vayehi bi-neso’a ha’aron on the bottom of p.139. The rest of the Torah reading ceremony is set out simply in the siddur. When the Torah scroll has been brought to the Bima, a Cohen is called to say the blessings for the first of three readings. There is one blessing before the reading and one afterward. These blessings are on p.143 and are said separately by each of the three people called up.

After the reading of the Torah, the scroll is held up high and the words ,This is the Torah (זאת התורה), is recited by the congregation, and is found on the top of p.147.

The following five prayers on the same page, the first four of which all begin with the words yehi ratzon, (May it be the will), are said by the chazzan. The fifth and last prayer, Achenu, (Our brothers), is said by the whole congregation.

The recitations said while returning the Torah scroll to the Ark are on the next page, (p.149). Here again you should attempt to say as much as possible at your own pace.

Ashrei and Uva L’tzion

After the reading of the Torah, on the days when it applies, we proceed to Ashrei, for the second time, on p.151. Ashrei, as well as all else in this section, is said on every weekday. Ashrei is followed by Psalm 20 on the next page. There are certain days when Psalm 20 is not said and they are noted in the siddur.

Psalm 20 is followed by Uva Le’tzion on the next page. With the conclusion of Uva Le’tzion on p.157 a full Kaddish is said by the chazzan. If necessary, you can now take off talis and tefillin. After the full Kaddish is said, we say Alenu on p.159.

We have now almost finished the morning weekday service. After the Mourner’s Kaddish is said on p.161, we mark the end of the service by reciting the Song of the Day on p.163. There is a different Psalm for every day of the week, which is found on the following pages.


The chart on the next pages serves to acquaint you with the names of sections and order of the prayer service. This chart has been formulated so as to give you a bird’s eye view of the entire morning weekday prayer service for easy reference.

An Overall Glance of the Weekday Morning Service

1. Meditations before prayers p.3
2. Morning blessings p.4,6, 14,15,17,19,21
3. Passages from the Torah and Talmud pp.23-53

Rabbis’ Kaddish following the study of Torah p.53*6

1. Introductory blessing, Baruch Sha’amar p.59
2. Verses and Psalms p.61
3. Ashrei p.67
4. End blessing, Yishtabach p.83
5. Half Kaddish p.83

Shema and its blessings
1. Borchu, Bless Hashem p.85
2. First blessing before the Shema p.85
3. Second blessing before the Shema p.89
5. The blessing after the Shema p.95

1. The Shemoneh Esrei p.99

b. Chazzan’s Repetition

c. Vidui / Confession and Tachanun p.119b
4. Kaddish p.139

Torah Reading (Monday and Thursday) pp.139-149

Ashrei and Uva L’tzion
1. Ashrei p.151
2. Psalm 20 p.153
3. Uva L’tzion p.155

Full Kaddish p.157

1. Alenu p.159
2. Mourner’s Kaddish p.161*
3. Song of the Day p.163


The weekday Mincha (p.233) and Ma’ariv (p.257) prayer services are relatively straightforward services.


1. The Sabbath Evening

Following the afternoon services, Mincha, on Friday afternoon, we begin the inauguration of the Sabbath. This inauguration is known as Kabbalas Shabbos and is arranged in a simple order starting on p.309. It is followed by the actual evening service for the Sabbath and begins on p. 331. It is similar in form to the evening service for weekdays, the main difference being the particular Amida for the Sabbath.

The Kabbalas Shabbos is comprised of six Psalms plus a poem-Lecha Dodi on p.317. If you find that you are unable to pray the Kabbalas Shabbos service with the congregation, for whatever reason, you may omit it. The more you can do the better. Most important is Psalm 92 on p.321. This Psalm marks the formal acceptance of the Sabbath and is the last part of Kabbalas Shabbos.

The Kabbalas Shabbos, is followed by the evening service for the Sabbath. Certain additions have been inserted for the Sabbath and are clearly marked in the siddur.

2. The Sabbath Morning

Everything is the same as on weekdays until Pesukei D’zimra on p.369. Additional Psalms are added from p.375 to p.389. The Psalms which are also part of the weekday service are the most important ones. If you are pressed for time to keep up with the congregation, the additional psalms for the Sabbath may be the first to be omitted.

Before the after-blessing, Yishtabach p.405, is a prayer added especially for the Shabbat known as, Nishmat Kol Chai on p.401. From here on until you finish Pesukei D’zimra on the bottom of p.405, nothing should be omitted.

After Kaddish and Borchu on p. 407, begin the blessings preceding the Shema on p.415. The first of these blessings on the bottom of p.407 is longer on the Sabbath than on weekdays. The second blessing, Ahava Raba on the bottom of p.413, is the same as on weekdays.

The Amida on p.421 is special for the Sabbath and is plainly laid out in the siddur. The repetition is followed by the full Kaddish on the bottom of p.431.

The order of the reading of the Torah begins on p.433 and is similar to the Monday and Thursday Torah reading. The major difference is that the entire weekly portion of the Torah is read and eight people are called up. An additional section from the Prophets is read and is known as the Haftarah. The blessings for it are on p.447.

After reading the Torah and Haftarah the Aramaic and Hebrew prayers, Yekum Purkan on p.449 are said by the congregation.

On the Sabbath preceding the commencement of the coming Hebrew month, the Blessing of the New Month on p.453 is said by the congregation and followed by a prayer said by the chazzan and the announcement of the date of New Moon in the coming week. We then say Av Ha’rachamim on the next page.

We again say Ashrei, on p.457, which is an essential part of the service. This is followed by the ceremony of the return of the Torah scroll to the ark. Try to say as much of the verses and Psalms as you are able.

We now come to the Mussaf, or the additional prayer service for the Sabbath, on p.463. It is an additional Amida which corresponds to the added sacrifices which were performed in the Temple on the Sabbath. Its rules and structure are similar to those of every other Amida; its difference is a matter of content.

From this point on, we continue as we normally would until we have finished the morning service for the Sabbath.

c. The Afternoon Service for the Sabbath

Mincha for the Sabbath begins on p.503. It differs from the weekday afternoon service in two basic aspects. The first is that after Ashrei you say Uva Le’tzion on p.505, which is usually said during the week within the confines of the morning service.7 On the Sabbath and Holidays, Uva Le’tzion is reserved for the afternoon. Next, the half Kaddish is said by the chazzan on p.507.

The second difference is that the Torah is read for the second time in the day. It is a short reading and only three people are called up to say the blessings.

We continue with the Amida on p.515. After the chazzan repeats the Amida we go to p.525 for Tzidkatcha Tzedek and the full Kaddish.

We end the Sabbath Mincha service with Alenu on p.527.

d. The Conclusion of the Sabbath

The evening prayers for the conclusion of the Sabbath are essentially the same as on a weekday. For this reason it does not have a separate section devoted to it in the Artscroll Siddur and in many other siddurim. The main difference is the prayer Ata Chon”antanu-You have graced us, which is added to the fourth blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei on p.269 in the shaded paragraph on the page. By including this paragraph, we formally terminate the Sabbath and we are permitted to perform the labors which until now on the Sabbath had been forbidden.

There are prayers particular to Maa’riv for the conclusion of the Sabbath on p.595 and it is good to say them.

We perform the Havdalah ceremony, on p.619, at home and in many congregations in shul as well.


On the first and second days of a new month, according to the Jewish calendar, there are certain additions made to the service.8 The following is the order of prayers in chronological order. It will be taken for granted that you are familiar with all the previous sections.

1. Till the Amida the prayer service is like that of the normal weekday.

1. In the Amida, Ya’alei Veyavo on p.1119 is added.

2. The Hallel prayer on p.633 is said, with certain omissions, as indicated.
3. A special portion of the Torah is read for Rosh Chodesh. This is found on P.948
4. Ashrei (p.151) and Uva L’tzion are now said.10
5. The tefillin are removed and an additional Amida called Mussaf (p.645) is said.
6. Alenu on p.159
7. The Psalm for the day is said, along with Barchi Nafshi.11

It is a good idea to write down the above section in the siddur along with the page numbers, since the various sections are dispersed throughout the siddur.


This User’s Manual is meant to serve as an aid to anyone who wants to participate in Jewish prayer. It is not a treatise on the laws of prayer. I have taken liberties which not everyone will thank me for. Beyond that, let me add, that the most important rule is common sense. If all you can manage is the Shema, the Amida or even Ashrei, then by all means, do at least that. But remember that it is not the whole story. This pamphlet, if nothing more, as a minimum, shows what should be done.

From personal experience, I am familiar with the embarrassment and confusion that confronts one who begins to attempt to pray. If these pages manage to eliminate some of the difficulty involved, then they will have achieved their purpose. Even with the instructions contained herein, you are apt to have difficulties when you first start out. Don’t despair; ask people to help you. Time, and practice, will improve matters.

God is happy with the prayers of newcomers, like a father is happy with the faltering steps of his children. Don’t take it too seriously if you make mistakes. Even if you continue stumbling, you will eventually, with God’s help, walk well.

3 comments on “Davening-The User’s Manual for the Siddur

  1. To judy #2: Hi judy, I’m also Judy. My motto is, “I never met a Judy I didn’t like.”

    There are many different editions of the Siddur, some with more (and some with less) additional material. One famous Siddur even calls itself the “Kol Bo” Siddur because as the name implies, it has “everything in it.” If siddur A includes all of Shir HaShirim and Sefer Tehillim and the Monday Thursday Torah readings while siddur B does not, the word count of siddur A will be far greater than the word count of siddur B. Without a standardized text it is not possible to have a meaningful word count.

    The Chumash (five books of the Torah) has a standard text, so there is a word count (also a letter count, a sentences count and a “portions” count). There is even a comment when you reach the halfway mark.

  2. Wow.
    Where were you all 10 years ago?!
    What a blessing this site continues to be.

    Request sent.



Comments are closed.