Greco-Roman Period
Lawrence H. Schiffman, From Text to Tradition, Ktav Publishing House, Hoboken, NJ, 1991.

We cannot leave the discussion of the great literary heritage of Talmudic Judaism
without discussing the development of Jewish liturgy and the eventual emergence of
canonized prayer collections. Ultimately, it was the contribution of the rabbis that
provided the raw material for the early medieval attempt to collect the prayers into texts
which we call prayer books (Siddurim and Mahzorim).

Tannaitic and amoraic scholars made essential contributions to the development of
Jewish liturgy, although it would be naive and simplistic to claim a controlling role for
them. Jewish liturgy has its earliest roots in the individual prayers of the biblical period.
We cannot know for sure whether prayer had a regular place in the Temple’s sacrificial
ritual, but it is quite certain that individuals sometimes recited prayers while bringing
sacrifices, and it is also true that in both Temples the levitical choir chanted psalms as an
accompaniment to the sacrifices. Nonetheless, the prayers of individuals and the psalms
of the choir did not constitute a fixed communal ritual or what we would describe as an
organized worship service.

The Second Temple period offers the first evidence of fixed liturgical prayers. During
this period the Jewish people was gradually turning toward prayer, and it was slowly
becoming institutionalized even in the Temple. Indeed, various passages in the
apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, and, especially, the Dead Sea Scrolls testify to the growth of
fixed patterns of daily, Sabbath, and festival prayer among at least some Jews. As a
result, when the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., and the sacrificial ritual ceased,
Judaism was prepared to make the transition to prayer.

The destruction afforded the rabbis a unique opportunity to develop a liturgical system.
Soon after the destruction, the tannaim at Yavneh began to standardize ritual practice.
They began by fixing a definite list of benedictions for the Amidah prayer and, as well,
by setting the times for prayer. The Amidah (literally “standing” prayer), also known as
the Eighteen Benedictions, is the central part of every service, according to rabbinic
practice. Further developments, regarding the recitation of the Shema (“Hear, 0 Israel,”
Deut. 6-5, etc.), the Grace after Meals, and other benedictions, took place over the first
two centuries C.E. Nonetheless, tannaitic sources preserve few actual liturgical texts
because prayer remained so fluid in this formative period. It was during the amoraic
period that the liturgy began taking on a more fixed nature.

No fixed prayer collections are known to have existed in talmudic times. Although there
was a basic sequence of obligatory prayers, the text of the liturgy had not yet been
standardized, but different versions of the various prayers were available and some of
these had attained written form in private notes.

The liturgy was standardized much less quickly in Babylonia than in Palestine, where
the patriarchate and the centralized academies made the process easier. The Jewish
masses, especially in Babylonia, were sometimes not very receptive to the new liturgy
being introduced by the sages. It took a long time to win their acceptance, and sometimes
the rabbis had to fight against popular custom and superstition. In due course, however,
forms of worship and liturgical texts became more and more standardized throughout the
amoraic period.

Meanwhile, highly significant developments were taking place in Palestine. Alongside
the statutory prayers instituted in tannaitic times, the tradition ofpiyyut (liturgical poetry)
developed. Based in large part on midrashic teachings, this poetry sought to expand the
traditional prayers for various occasions. The composers of piyyutim (liturgical poems)
followed a longstanding pattern of literaryand poetic expansion of existing material. The
new poetry, alongside the increasingly standardized prayer service, served as the model
for the great liturgical collections of the gaonic period, which set the pattern for all future
Jewish worship.