In the synagogue we read from a special prayer book known as the siddur. The siddur, the Jewish ‘Book of Common Prayer’, is the religious classic that has always been closest to the heart of Jewish people.
The siddur guides us through the synagogue service, letting us know which prayers are said at each service and when to sit, stand and respond to them. It is the instrument of synagogue worship. It contains prayers for everyday use, for Sabbath, and for most festivals.
To allow us to approach our prayers with the right spirit, we need to prepare ourselves and acquire the right frame of mind. For this purpose a collection of psalms and other scriptural verses appears at the beginning of the siddur as a general preparation. They are appropriately called Pesukeh deZimrah – Verses of Song.
Prayers that bind people together in their faith are very important, and these are the ones shared in the synagogue. The most beautiful and loved prayers are from the Bible, from great rabbis, from religious poems, some even from the time of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The siddur is constantly changing, with each generation adding some new prayers, but never changing the fundamentals of the service. The siddur has relevance to every generation because of its ever-changing nature. It is always open-ended, unlike the Bible and the Talmud. By remaining open to new prayers, it meets the changing needs of Jews. The siddur therefore has a dimension of timelessness which makes it suit the spiritual needs of the Jewish people.
The siddur provides us with the inspiration and the stimulus we need to pray together with our community. It provides us with beautiful forms of expression and thought, and focuses for us the vague yearnings and aspirations that we may not otherwise understand or consider. Its prayers also remind us of the needs, hopes and feelings of others, whom we must always include in our prayers.
The siddur is more than just a prayer book. It is an original source of Judaism for every Jew to delve into; an authentic source which provides a record of the Jewish people’s relationship with God.