A history of Jewish prayer during the Second Temple

Hello all, I was looking for a scholarly history of Jewish prayer/liturgy during around the time of 100 B.C. - A.D. 100 or so. I read a claim once that praying Psalms 148-150 in the morning is the only practice that we know for certain would have been prayed by a Jew in the 1st century, but I’ve been unable to verify this fact at all; most websites I scour indicate that we can only be certain that the Shacharit, and praying Psalms 14(5? or 8?)-150 was standardized around the year A.D. 200 or so.

So can anybody prove to me when the Pesukei dezimra, and in it the practice of praying the “Laudate Psalms”, were standardized?


We know almost nothing about Jewish prayer/liturgy for the time span you are asking about. What we do know has to be pieced together from the late Old Testament books (for example Chronicles), The New Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Josephus–and there isn’t much.

Be aware that there’s a whole religious cottage industry involving the retrojection of post 200 AD Jewish practices (which are POST Second Temple) back to the time of Jesus and applying them to all sorts of things. Of course one can speculate about religious practices using these later sources–but that’s what almost all of it is–just speculation. Sadly, scholars/apologists too often don’t tell you that what they are actually doing is wild speculation–and an unsuspecting religious public just laps it up. It sells lots of books.

Your skepticism is VERY well founded.

Since you begin your second paragraph with „So…“ let’s first make clear that Psalms 145 to 150 that you asked about in your first paragraph, are not Hallel you mentioned in your second paragraph. The Hallel are the Psalms 113 to 118. The Psalms you mentioned are part of our daily prayer service, especially the Ashrey and Thila L’David. I personally say the Ashrey each time I enter the synagogue. Hallel, however, is only recited on festivals, and is not said on Yom Kippur and Rosh HaShanah (similar to you guys who don’t say Halleluja between Ash Wednesday and Easter Eve). It was prayed even before the second Temple area (and the years following her destruction) that you refer to. You don’t need another book but can read your proof in the bible. Hallel was already recited during the first Temple. When Jehoshaphat defeated Moab and Ammon he set up singers at the front of his army singing an early version of the Hallel. You can read about this in the second book of Chronicles. Of course, our prayers all developed further over time.

Where do you have this from that Psalms 148-150 in the morning were the only practice prayed by Jews in the 1st century? When you talk 1st century you already talk post destruction of the second Temple.

Before and during the first Temple area prayer was already daily basis, spontanously people gave praise and spoke from the heart, and it mainly - the Shema for instance was said - wasn’t structured. At the Temple where sacrifices were brought two times a day plus an additional musaf prayer, prayers were also taken from the Torah, given to us from Gd. At the time of the first Temple it was already practice that we said prayer three times a day, as we learn: Avraham stands for the morning prayer (as it is said that he liked to get up in the mornings to pray, Isaac for micha (he went out towards the evening to pray), and Jacov for the late prayer, as he had an encounter with Gd at night time. David says in his Tehillim that he prayed three times a day; it was a common practice amongst Jews. Basically since matan torah Jews prayed three times a day and alongside offerings that were brought in the Temple, and siad the Shema Yisrael. You can read in the book of Kings that people already assembled at great houses (synagogues) in order to pray. The times of assembly were mostly synchronized with the times that offerings were brought in the Temple. Since some folks couldn’t figure out which day it was (the Sanhedrin declared if a month had 29 days or 30 days) because they lived to far away from Jerusalem, and sometimes celebrated holidays on the wrong day, the Sanhedrin declared that peeps outside of Jerusalem should celebrate two days of yontif just to make sure they would at least celebrate one day on the correct day. Hence, today, we who live in the diaspora, have two days of yom tov traditionally when Israel only celebrates one yom tov. But back to prayer and the earlier times. After the destruction of the Temple the people was exiled to Babylon and even Greek. Esra saw this and established the structure of a prayer consisting of 18 blessings (later a 19th one was added), and many other blessings were written by him. So Esra was the first to structure, time, and standardize prayer, and towards East. You can read about this in the book Esra and Nechemiah. Some individual prayers simply became popular in the synagogues and eventually found their way into our siddur (prayer book). After the destruction of the second Temple a common prayer book was necessary.
Even though during the time you mentioned we had standarsized prayer liturgy thanks to Esra, not everyone had a prayer book. And since people couldn’t memorize all the prayers, the cantor recited the prayers. This is why today we say the Amida two times still, the first time individually, the second time the cantor repeats it. Prayer books for everyone came later, but that doesn’t change the fact that we did have prayer three times a day, including Saccharit with the Psalms, standardized at that time.

Thank you for your responses. :slight_smile:

504Katrind: I think you misread my post. I didn’t say anything about the Hallel psalms. I was talking about Psalms 145-150 in morning prayer, which is part of Pesukei dezimra according to Wikipedia.

I also did not say that this was the ONLY prayer that Jews did in the 1st century, but rather that according to an article I read, praying psalms 148-150 in morning prayer is the only practice that can be said with absolute certainty to have been a Jewish practice during the Second Temple. But this claim was not cited so I was wondering if anybody could prove to me that this was the case.

And thank you for the history lesson, but can you cite any sources which indicate that Psalms 14(5 or 8)-150 were prayed as part of morning prayer before the destruction of the Second Temple?

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