Jewish Prayers and Readings

Jewish Prayers and Readings

© David Burton 2021

Jewish Prayers and Readings

     Religious Jews – and even not-so-religious Jews - recite a number of prayers and readings that request various things from God or thank him for His many favors. As noted in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, Jews are reputed to have a prayer for every occasion. In the fictional Russian shtetl (village) of Anatevka Jewish citizens asked the rabbi if there is a prayer for the Czar. With a twinkle in his eye, he assures them there certainly is, and then goes on to recite the prayer for his listeners. “May God bless the Czar and keep him – far from us!

     In the following, I present a few of the prayers and readings that are read or recited by Jews, in the synagogue or in private, as the circumstances dictate.

Payer for Peace

     Blessings for peace abound in Jewish liturgy, and peace is extolled throughout rabbinic literature. Jews have always been a peace-loving people, and Judaism is a peace-seeking tradition.

May we all soon see the day when God's aspirations will be achieved - when we will feel the light of God's presence, and when we will be blessed with completeness, security, health, prosperity, tranquility, contentment, friendship, and peace from war - that is . . . shalom.

A Chasidic Prayer for Peace

Lord of Peace, Divine Ruler, to whom peace belongs.

Master of Peace, Creator of all things.

May it be thy will to put an end to war and bloodshed on earth, and to spread a great and wonderful peace over the whole world, so that nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

Help us and save us all, and let us cling tightly to the virtue of peace. Let there be a truly great peace between every person and their fellow, and between husband and wife, and let there be no discord between people even in their hearts.

Let us never shame any person on earth, great or small. May it be granted unto us to fulfill Thy Commandment to “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” with all our hearts and souls and bodies and possessions.

God who is peace, bless us with peace.

The Priestly Blessings

     Every week, the three priestly blessings are recited in synagogues around the world. These are the three blessings with which God commanded the ancient priests to bless the people. They are blessings which have been incorporated into the weekly life of everyday Jews throughout the world - when they bless their children on Friday evening - and into the daily life of Jews during morning prayers. Its structure is simple, but its meaning is profound:

The Three-fold Blessing

May the Lord bless you and guard you.
May the Lord cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift up his face to you and grant you peace.

Payer for the Government

     In Jewish tradition, prayers for the government are rooted in the teaching of the prophet, Jeremiah, who taught “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” 29:7 Long viewed as the ideological basis of Jewish life in diaspora, Jeremiah’s teaching was amplified by a first century teacher, Rabbi Chaninah, who likewise urged his followers to “pray for the welfare of the government.”

Prayer for Our Country

Our G-d and G-d of our ancestors: We ask your blessings for our country – for its government, for its leaders amd advisors, and for all who exercise just and rightful authority. Teach them insights from your Torah, that they may administer all affairs of state fairly, that peace and security, happiness and prosperity, justice and freedom may forever abide in our midst.

Creator of all flesh, bless all the inhabitants of our country with Your spirit. May citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony, to banish hatred and bigotry, and to safeguard the ideals and free institutions that are the pride and glory of our country.

May this land, under Your providence, be an influence for good throughout the world, uniting all people in peace and freedom – helping them to fulfill the vision of the prophet: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they experience war any more.” And let us say: Amen!

A prayer For the Sick

     "Mi Shebeirach" is the traditional Jewish prayer for the sick. The Hebrew phrase "Mi Shebeirach" begins the prayer, and it translates to "the One who blessed." In this prayer, the person reciting it asks the "One who blessed our ancestors" to bring complete physical and spiritual healing to the one for whom the prayer is said. This prayer has seen a massive upsurge in its usage with the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mi Sheberach

May the One who blessed our ancestors — Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah — bless and heal the one who is ill:

May the Holy Blessed One overflow with compassion upon the one who is ill, to restore the one who is ill, to heal the one who is ill, to strengthen the one who is ill, to enliven the one who is ill.

May the Holy Blessed One send the one who is ill, speedily, a complete healing — healing of the soul and healing of the body — along with all the ill, among the people of Israel and all humankind, soon, speedily, without delay, and let us all say: Amen!

The Traveler’s Prayer

     The Traveler’s Prayer — also known as the Wayfarer’s Prayer or Tefilat Haderech in Hebrew — is a prayer said at the onset of a journey. It is customary to recite it when one embarks on a long trip, regardless of the mode of transport. The prayer asks God to deliver the traveler safely, to protect them from any dangers or perils they may encounter along the way, and to return them in peace.

Tefilat Haderech

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, guide our footsteps toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace. May You rescue us from the hand of every foe, ambush along the way, and from all manner of punishments that assemble to come to earth. May You send blessing in our handiwork, and grant us grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. May You hear the sound of our humble request because You are God Who hears prayer requests. Blessed are You, Lord, Who hears prayer.

Thanks for Surviving a Danger or Illness

     A prayer called Birkat Hagomel (sometimes known as “benching gomel”) is for deliverance and is typically recited in the presence of a minyan (10 or more persons), or prayer quorum, often in the synagogue following the reading of the Torah. It is commonly said after recovering from serious illness but can also be recited in gratitude for completing a dangerous journey or for having survived a dangerous event.

Birkat Hagomel

Blessed are You, Lord our God, ruler of the world, who rewards the undeserving with goodness, and who has rewarded me with goodness.

After the recitation of this blessing, the congregation responds with:

May he who rewarded you with all goodness reward you with all goodness forever.

Psalm 15

Psalm 15

Live with integrity, do what is right,
and speak the truth without deceit.
Have no slander upon your tongue, do no evil to others,
and do not mistreat your neighbor.
Spurn a contemptible person,
but honor those who revere the Lord.
And do not mistreat your neighbor.
Never retract a promise once made,
though it may do you harm.
And do not mistreat your neighbor.
Lend no money at usurious interest;
accept no bribe against the innocent.
Make these deeds your own;
then shall you stand firm forever.

Isaiah 57

     This is part of the Haftarah reading on the morning of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

Isaiah 57

Loosen all the bonds that bind men unfairly,
let the oppressed go free,
break every yoke.
Share your bread with the hungry,
take the homeless into your home.
Clothe the naked when you see him,
Do not turn away from people in need.

Psalm 23

     Psalm 23, which begins with the words “Mizmor leDavid” (“A song of David”), is arguably the most famous of all the Psalms. In it, King David sings of G-d’s protection, referring to Him as a shepherd. David describes how his trust in G-d never falters, and how, even as he walks through the valley of the shadow of death, G-d shields him from harm, vanquishes his enemies and enthrones him in the house of G-d.

Psalm 23

The L-rd is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He causes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul; He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake.

Even as I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You set a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows.

May only goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the L-rd for all my days.

Psalm 34

     Psalm 34 in the Book of Psalms is one of a series of the songs of thanksgiving. It is the first Psalm which describes angels as guardians of the righteous. Psalm 34 attributes its own authorship to David. The Psalm's sub-title, A Psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed, derives from when David was living with the Philistines. It is an acrostic poem in the Hebrew Alphabet, with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet beginning a verse in sequential order; the lone exception is the Hebrew letter, vav, which begins the second clause of verse six. Verse 22, the concluding statement, begins with the Hebrew letter, peh, outside the acrostic scheme.

Psalm 34

I will praise the Lord at all times, His glory always upon my lips.

In the Lord, I will glory; let the humble hear and be glad.

Proclaim God’s greatness with me; let us exalt Him together.

I sought the Lord and He answered me;
He freed me from all my fears.

Look to Him and be radiant;
then you shall never be downcast.

This poor wretch cried; the Lord heard
and delivered him from all his troubles.

The Lord’s angel is on guard
around those who revere Him, and rescues therm.

Taste and see how good is the Lord;
Blessed the one who takers refuge in Him.

Let His holy ones revere the Lord,
For those who revere Him lack nothing.

The faithless deniers may famish and starve,
But those who seek the Lord will not lack any good.

Come, children, listen to me; I will teach you to revere the Lord.

Which of you desires life,
Loves long years in which to see goodness?

Keep your tongue from telling evil,
Your lips from speaking lies.

Shun evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous;
His ears are open to their cry.

The face of the Lord is set against evildoers,
To cut off their remembrance from the earth.

When the righteous cry out, the Lord listens
And sets them free from all their troubles.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and helps those who are crushed in spirit.

Many are the troubles of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him from them all,

Misfortune slays the wicked,
And those who hate the righteous are doomed.

The Lord redeems the life of His servants;
None will be doomed who take refuge in Him.

Psalm 133.1

     Psalm 133 is one of the 15 Songs of Ascents recited after the Shabbat afternoon prayer in the time period between Sukkot and Shabbat HaGadol (the Shabbat prior to Passover). Verse 1, known as Hine Ma Tov ("How goodly") has often been set to music in Judaism. Melodies have been composed for congregational prayer, folk singing, and art and choral settings. The verse is also sung as a Shabbat table song, and folk dances have been choreographed to it. Addressing the topic of unity, the beginning of the psalm has been chosen as a motto by various universities.

Psalm 133.1

A Song of Ascents, of David.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!

Teachings of the Hebrew Sages
  • Let the fear of God determine your actions.
  • Open wide the doors of your home and make the poor welcome as members of your household.
  • Keep far from an evil neighbor; Be not a partner with an evil person.
  • Be a disciple of Aaron: loving peace and pursuing peace.
  • Say little, Do much; Greet every person with a cheerful face.
  • The world rests on three things: on Justice, on Truth, on Peace, as it is written, “With truth, justice and peace shall you judge in your gates.”
  • You are not obliged to finish the task, neither are you free to neglect it.
  • Ponder three things and you will avoid falling into sin: Know your origin, your destination, and before Whom you will be required to give an accounting.
  • For everything there is a season,
    a time for everything under the sun.
    A time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to laugh and a time top cry.
  • A time to lose and a time to seek,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak.
    A time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.
    God brings about everything in its time.
    Nothing is added or taken away.
Prayer During The Pandemic

     The UK’s Chief Rabbi composed this prayer during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Heavenly Father,

We turn to You at this time of deep global concern, to bestow Your mercy upon all the inhabitants of our vulnerable world, which is now so seriously afflicted.

Almighty God, who sustains the living with lovingkindness, supports the fallen and heals the sick, grant consolation to the bereaved families and send a speedy and complete recovery to all who have contracted the virus, as the Prophet Jeremiah declared:

“For I will restore health unto you, and I will heal you of your wounds, says the Lord”.

Bless with strength those who are suffering. Bless with resilience those in isolation. Bless with hope those who are despondent. Bless with wisdom all those who seek a cure and bless with compassion all those who offer comfort.

Bless the leaders of our nations. Give them and their advisors knowledge and foresight to act with wisdom and sincerity for the wellbeing of all whom they serve.

Bless the doctors, nurses, all healthcare professionals and key workers who tirelessly seek to heal and help those affected, while in so doing put themselves at risk.

Open our hearts in prayer and our hands in generosity to guarantee that the physical distance this virus creates between us will be bridged through compassion and kindness.

Almighty God of healing and hope, at this time of heightened global awareness of our mutual interdependence, enable all of humankind to appreciate the strength that comes from being united in concern and love, rather than divided with hate and prejudice. As we look to the future, may You endow all people with the capacity to build and sustain societies of unity, tolerance, harmony and peace.

O Lord, our Rock and Salvation, lead us speedily from despair to hope, from fear to trust and from the dread of death to the celebration of life.

May this prayer of mine come before You at a propitious time.

And may this be Your will, Amen.

No Religion is and Island

No religion is an island;
there is no monopoly on holiness.
We are companions of all who revere Him.
We rejoice when His name is praised.
No religion is an island;
we share the kinship of humanity,
the capacity for compassion.


  30 September 2021 {Article_495; Israel_58}    
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