By April 14, 2008 Read More →

Daily Prayers, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.

The Dead Sea Scrolls
Numerous fragments found in the Qumran caves have been classified by scholars as liturgies. Whereas many of the earlier-known fragments were at best insubstantial, more recently published material has changed the picture radically. Now we have prayer texts for daily prayers and Festivals as well as various supplicatory prayers. These texts show that numerous rituals and liturgies, similar in scope to those of talmudic tradition, were associated with the sectarians of Qumran.

Among the prayer texts dating to the Hasmonaean period (100–75 B.C.E.) is a text scholars have entitled Daily Prayers, found in cave 4. It consists of a series of prayers to be recited on the various days of the month. The liturgical materials found here are too short, however, to have constituted the entire liturgy. These prayers appear to have constituted a small section of the worship service, which changed on a daily basis throughout the month and perhaps throughout the year.
Specific texts are designated for evening and morning, although no specific nighttime prayer appears to be included here. The material for each day of the month represents a discrete literary unit, and the days are numbered according to lunar months.

Each day’s entry begins-

On the x of the month, in the evening, they shall bless, recite and say- Praised be the God of Israel Who…. May peace be upon you, O Israel.

Then the text takes up the morning prayer-

When the sun goes forth to illumine the earth they shall bless, recite and say- … They shall bless and recite- Praised be the God of Israel….

The text is very fragmentary and no complete unit survives or can be reconstructed with certainty. Nonetheless, we can gather some sense of the text from this otherwise broken excerpt-

… the light of day for our knowledge … in the six gates of ligh[t … and we,] the sons of Your covenant, will prais[e Your name] with all the troops of [light … al]l the tongues (endowed with) knowledge, bless … the light of peace [upon you O Israel…. On the seventh of [the month in the evening, they shall bless, recite and sa]y- Praised be the God of Is[rael Who … righteousness … al]l [th]ese things we knew….] Blessed be [the G]od [of Israel] … (DAILY PRAYERS 7–9 IV 1–8)

In the rabbinic liturgy, the Shema is preceded by two benedictions and followed by one in the morning and two at night. Of the two benedictions before the Shema, for both morning and night, the first benediction deals with the heavenly luminaries, and the second with God’s revelation of the Torah to Israel and the commandments. It is most likely that the benedictions preserved here, focusing on the cosmic order and the heavenly luminaries, were expanding upon a precursor of this first benediction before the Shema.

As we mentioned earlier, the Mishnah dates the recitation of the Shema to Second Temple times. In the same passage, the Mishnah notes that in the view of the Rabbis, some benediction was associated with the Shema already in Temple times. We can therefore conclude that an early version of the blessing on the heavenly luminaries—the first benediction before the Shema—must have then been in use. Although in rabbinic tradition this benediction varied only for morning and evening, with passages added later for Sabbaths and Festivals, the version used at Qumran varied each day of the month.

This text speaks of “gates” or “portals” of light. The same idea is found in the rabbinic morning benediction for the Sabbath- “The God Who opens every day the doors of the gates of the east, and opens the windows of the firmament … and gives light to the entire world and its inhabitants.” The image here depicts the gates in the heavenly dome through which the lights shine during the appropriate parts of the day.

Another significant parallel with rabbinic liturgy is in the benediction-

[Praised be the God of Israel W]ho cho[se] us from among all [the] nations. (DAILY PRAYERS 24–25 VII 3–4)

This benediction is almost identical to that recited today over the reading of the Torah in the synagogue- “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who chose us from all the peoples….” Much of the vocabulary of these prayers is also found in the rabbinic liturgy.

Our text speaks of twice-daily prayer—morning and evening (late afternoon). Later talmudic tradition regarded prayer as a substitute for the Temple sacrifices only after the Temple had been destroyed. Accordingly, regular daily prayer by individual Jews should not have been widespread before the Destruction of the Temple. However, some earlier Rabbis argued that these daily services were already being conducted in the Second Temple, corresponding with the times of the daily sacrifices. Still others maintained that the prayers were instituted by the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—who had each prayed once at one of the designated times. In the Bible, we are told that Daniel prayed thrice daily (Daniel 6-11). The later sages explained that even if the three prayer services had originated with the patriarchs, their exact times were set only later to correspond to the schedule of sacrificial worship.

The link with sacrificial worship was apparently considered central. How else can we explain why the status of the evening service, to which no Temple sacrifice corresponded, was debated throughout the mishnaic period? Indeed, it was eventually decided that in terms of halakhah, the evening service was optional. Because no evening sacrifice was offered in the Temple, it is likely that the evening prayer had an inferior status relative to the other two services—hence its optional standing. Even the rabbinic argument that the burning of the limbs and fats of sacrificial animals throughout the night constituted the equivalent of an evening sacrifice was not sufficient to elevate the evening prayer to the status of a required daily service.

Since our Qumran text mentions only two required prayer times, we can conclude that during this period, at least some Jews prayed only twice a day. In fact, our text supports the view of some Rabbis that originally, twice-daily prayer was the norm. These prayers from Qumran provide definite evidence that well before the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., some Jews in the Second Temple period found their path to God through the service of the heart.

Pages 293-296

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