Structure, Overview and Selected Ha;akhot of Tefilat Shahrit

1. BIRCOT HASHAHAR: Following the berachot one recites upon the morning washing of hands (Al Netilat Yadayim) and performing one's bodily needs (Asher Yasar), twenty berachot, reflecting the full range of human benefits, needs and functions, are recited as an expression of praise, thanksgiving and appreciation to the Creator.  In Talmudic times most of these berachot were recited in the course of rising and dressing, but in our days we recite them after washing and dressing before turning to any extraneous matter. The last three are berachot on the Torah followed by a Torah passage (the Priestly Blessing).

2. PRELIMINARY PORTIONS: This section comprises various selections from the Torah and rabbinical writings plus solemn advice to each human being. Included are the `Binding of Yishak'; the Mishnah elucidating the immeasureable value of good deeds one to another and of Torah study; some laws regarding worship in the Temple (substituted for by prayer); the Baraita enumerating the methods of expounding the Torah and the declaration of the A-lmighty's Kingship (Hashem Melech). On Shabbat and Holidays the Preliminary Portion includes twelve additional Psalms.

3. PESUKE DEZIMRAH, literally `verses of song-praise', are primarily the last six psalms of Tehillim with a few additional items. Baruch Sheamar is the beracha recited before Pesuke Dezimrah and Yishtabah is the beracha recited afterwards. On Shabbat and Holidays Pesuke Dezimrah includes two additional Psalms and a sub- section, Nishmat.

One must be careful not to make a hefsek (interruption) by talking from the beginning of Baruch Sheamar until after the Amida.  Technically, it is permitted to extend greetings according to the well-known guidelines of the Mishnah in Berachot during Pesuke Dezimrah and Yoser. In our days, however, when rising and silent motions of greeting have become customary it is proper that one should extend greetings silently.

Following are the halachic guidelines regarding responding or remaining silent for an individual in the midst of Pesuke Dezimrah who hears someone reciting something that normally requires a response.

  1. An individual's beracha - respond amen but not Baruch Hoo Ubaruch Shemo. It is not permitted to respond amen while  in the midst of the actual berachot of Baruch Sheamar or Yishtabah.
  2. Kaddish - respond amen to the first five declarations  including the complete response of Yehe Shemeh Raba.  Respond to the later declarations mentally only.
  3. Kedusha (Nakdishach or Keter) - join in the response for the three verses of Kadosh, Baruch and Yimloch. For the  rest listen silently and respond mentally.
  4. Barechu - respond.
  5. Modim - respond the first three words only.
  6. Vayaavor - remain silent.

If one is invited to the Torah while in the midst of Pesuke Dezimrah, the following applies:

  1. If he is the only Cohen or Levy, he should accept, recite the berachot on the Torah and quitely read along with the hazzan as usual. He should not speak other matters, such as a memorial for a departed one.
  2. If there are other Cohanim or Leviim, or if he is Yisrael, he should motion that he is in the midst of prayers and not go up.
  3. If he is praying in a minyan where they call the person by name, he should go up in any event.

At the conclusion of Pesuke Dezimrah (after Yishtabah) before beginning Yoser, although at that point one is between sections, it is still necessary to refrain from talking. However, as it is between sections, there are a number of `leniencies'. The following are permitted at that point: to speak regarding a relevant misvah; answering Baruch Hoo Ubaruch Shemo, the whole Kedusha and Kaddish, the whole Modim Derabanan; reciting Vezot Hatora if the Sefer Torah is being shown.

4. YOSER (so named from the beginning of the beracha) follows immediately upon Pesuke Dezimrah and revolves around the major misvah of Shema' Yisrael. It includes two berachot before Shema', one referring to the grandeur of Creation and the second to the election of Israel, and one beracha after, referring to the Redemption of Israel. On Shabbat and Holidays the first beracha is expanded. In a minyan, Yoser is preceded with Kaddish and Barechu.

The proper time for the misva of Shema' and its berachot is the first quarter of the day; bediavad, until the end of the first third of the day.

The halakhot of hefsek are more stringent during Yoser than during Pesuke Dezimrah. The following applies to one who finds himself in the midst of Yoser and hears something that normally requires a response.

  1. An individual's beracha - do not even respond amen.
  2. Kaddish - respond amen to the first five declarations. For Yehe Shemeh Raba respond only the first seven words (until Almaya). Respond to the later declarations mentally only.
  3. Kedusha (Nakdishach or Keter) - join in the response for the two verses of Kadosh and Baruch. For the rest listen  silently and respond mentally.
  4. Barechu - respond.
  5. Modim - respond the first three words only.
  6. Vayaavor - remain silent.

The concluding beracha of Yoser `Gaal Yisrael' is to be connected to the beginning of the Amida; between the two one should not respond to any of the above. If one is invited to the Torah while in the midst of Yoser, he should avoid going up, even if called by name.

5. The AMIDA, so named because of the obligation to recite it standing, immediately follows Yoser. The central prayer for an individual, it is composed of nineteen berachot on weekdays and seven on Shabbat and Festivals. The first three and last three berachot are constants, comprising introductory and concluding concepts. The first alludes to the A-lmighty's greatness and His favor toward us, especially in the merit of our forefathers. The second refers to His omnipotence and the third to His sanctity. The middle thirteen cover the full range of requests briefly summarized as follows: wisdom; repentance; forgiveness; redemption from daily travail; healing; livelihood; Ingathering of the Exiles; Justice; elimination of the wicked; welfare of the righteous; rebuilding of Jerusalem; sprouting of salvation; a general request that the A-lmighty hearken to our prayers. The 17th beracha, which introduces the last section of the Amida, refers to the A-lmighty's acceptance of Israel and its prayers and restoration of His presence in Zion.   The 18th, Modim, is Thanksgiving and the last beracha is for peace and blessing.

One may add a personal prayer in the midst of each of the thirteen intermediate berachot, in accordance with the nature of the beracha, as he sees fit.

Praying with a minyan (ten Bar-Misvahed males) is extremely important. Essentially, it is defined as praying the Amida together with the congregation. Preferably this refers to the silent Amida but praying the Amida while the hazzan is reciting Hazara is also considered with the minyan. If there are at least six men (above bar-misvah) praying and four join them who are not praying with them but respond when necessary, it is considered a minyan. Only with a minyan may Kaddish, Barechu, Hazara, Kedusha and Kohanim be recited and Sefer Torah publicly read.

If one is late or can't keep up with the minyan, it is proper to skip certain portions to join the congregation for the silent Amida or the hazzan for Hazara. Firstly, he should skip as much as necessary of the Preliminary Section. Secondly, if necessary, he should recite a shortened Pesuke Dezimrah according to time available. If possible, he should at least recite Baruch Sheamar,

Ashre, the third and fifth Haleluya and Yishtabah. If more must be skipped, it should be the third and then the fifth Haleluya.  Lastly, if necessary, the complete Pesuke Dezimrah section should be skipped. (Neither Baruch Sheamar nor Yishtabah should be recited unless some Pesuke Dezimrah are recited between them.)

Yoser should not be skipped. Skipped portions may be recited afterwards, but not Baruch Sheamar and Yishtabah, as they areberachot whose time is before the Amida and berachot are not recited out of their proper time.

During the silent Amida, the halakhot governing hefsek are extremely stringent - one does not motion to another nor respond to Kaddish, Kedusha or Barechu but should listen and have kavana. If one is at the point of Kedusha in his own Amida while the hazzan is at that point, he does recite it.  In the paragraph recited at the conclusion of the silent Amida, after recital of the 19th beracha and the verse Yihyu Lerason, one responds to Kaddish, Kedusha and Barechu as in Yoser.  The time for praying the Amida is in the first third of the day and bediavad until mid-day.

6. TAHANUNIM (ANA): After the Amida, an acknowledgment of sins and special requests for forgiveness are recited. On Mondays and Thursdays increased supplications are added. On Shabbat, Holidays, Rosh Hodesh and other commemorative days, this section is omitted.   It is also omitted when a groom is present during his seven days of huppah (or three days if his bride was previously married), or avi haben, sandak or mohel (of that day).  On Holidays and Rosh Hodesh, Hallel is recited after the Amida.

7. SEFER TORAH: On Mondays and Thursdays, three olim, a Cohen, Levi and Yisrael, read from the first portion of the week's Perasha at least three verses each and a total of at least ten verses. On Rosh Hodesh and Hol Hamoed there are four olim. In these instances it is not permitted to add to the number of olim. On Holidays at least five are sent up, on Yom Kippur at least six and on Shabbat at least seven. On the latter three types of day there is also maftir and haftara.

Each oleh should look at the spot where the Reader is going to begin from, turn slightly away from looking at the scroll and recite Barechu and the beracha. He should silently read along with the reader - so silently that no member of the congregation hears his voice, as two reading voices create confusion. Upon reciting the concluding beracha, the oleh may recite or request the Reader recite a prayer for someone in need or a memorial for someone deceased. 

8. CONCLUDING PORTIONS: Primarily Ashre, Uba Lesion, Kaddish Titkabal, the Psalm For The Day plus several additions and Alenu Leshabeah. On Shabbat, Holidays and Rosh Hodesh, an additional Amida, Musaf, is recited after Shahrit.

GENERAL halakhot

1. One should not have breakfast or perform work before Shahrit. Water, coffee and tea are permitted. On Shabbat and Festivals, when the services are substantially longer and one finds it difficult to concentrate due to not having had some breakfast, it is permitted to have a light snack beforehand.

2. Conversing with another even in Divre Torah is prohibited during Hazara, Kaddish and the reading of the Torah. Vain conversation in the synagogue is prohibited at all times.

3. The hazzan (shaliah sibur) should recite the first pasuk of Shema' audibly in such a way as to inspire the congregation.

4. Generally, the hazzan is to recite the Shema' and not delegate it to another. This is in keeping with the special significance of this great misvah. The hazzan has been delegated to represent the congregation, has focused his concentration on his responsibility and is standing at the tebah. Respect for the misvah may be compromised when a member of the congregation recites Shema' from his seat. It is acceptable to invite a rabbi or one well known to meticulously fulfill the misvot to recite Shema' from his seat, as he may improve the congregation's concentration level.

5. In reciting the silent Amida one should pronounce each word. When in a minyan one should be careful not to pronounce the words audibly, as it may disturb someone reciting the Amida next to him.  Nonetheless, if one hears a beracha of another's silent Amida, he should answer amen, if he is at a spot where it is permitted to answer to another's beracha..

6. It is important each individual concentrate on his prayers, particularly during the Amida. Firstly, one should clear his mind from all distractions, focus on the fact that he is praying to the A-lmighty and direct his thoughts Heavenwards. Secondly, one should concentrate on the meaning of the words. Although kavana is important throughout the prayers, it is especially so during the first verse of Shema,' during the first beracha of the Amida and during Modim.

7. Providing he has already concluded the Amida, the hazzan should begin Hazara as soon as the head rabbi of the congregation concludes the Amida. If a dignitary rabbi is present, it is proper to wait for him also except in cases where it is known he takes exceedingly long.

8. The hazzan must recite the whole `Modim' audibly even though the congregation is reciting `Modim Derabanan'. Since he recites Hazara to help someone who doesn't know how to pray or who has a doubt, he must recite every word audibly.

9. At the conclusion of Hazara, the hazzan should not recite "Yihyu Lerason" audibly, as that is a private prayer and doesn't fit with prayers being recited on behalf of the congregation.

10. The hazzan should recite Kaddish Titkabal even if he has never been in mourning, as Kaddish is a sanctification of the A-lmighty's name and cannot cause any harm. Nonetheless, if a parent is discomforted with the idea of his/her son saying Kaddish, it is best not to cause conflict.

11. If a group of between six and nine men who were anticipating a minyan that did not materialize prayed the Amida individually, and subsequently were augmented to ten by others who already prayed, they are permitted to have Hazara with Kedusha.

12. At the conclusion of his aliya, it is preferable that one return to his seat promptly and not wait for the next oleh, so that members of the congregation may give him hazak ubaruch before the reading of the next aliya begins. If one chooses to await the next oleh, he may do so, but then it's best he wait for the next oleh to conclude his reading, unless his seat is very close to the tebah.

13. It is permitted to be seated for Kaddish, Barechu, Hazara and the reading of the Torah. If one is standing when Kaddish is begun, he should remain standing for the first five amenim. One stands for: Hashem Melech, Baruch Sheamar, Vaybarech, the silent Amida, Kedusha, Ana through Vayaavor, the Monday and Thursday supplications, the bringing out and returning of the Sefer Torah and Alenu. When reciting Vayaavor one should remain standing until the hazzan concludes. When responding Modim, it is necessary to bow.

14. All prayers should be said only with covered head. Bediavad, if someone discovers in mid-prayer that his kipa is not on, since it's accidental, he does not repeat.

15. If in mid-Amida a doubt arises such as whether or not the day is Rosh Hodesh or any similar question, since it is the need of the present prayer, it is permitted to quietly consult a calendar or book and return to the Amida.

16. When reciting Alenu Leshabeah, one should be careful not to bow (at Vaanahnu Mishtahavim) while the hazzan is up to Shehem Mishtahavim.