Chapter 4: The Nussach and language of prayer

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Chapter 4: The Nussach and language of prayer[1]

1. The Nussach of prayer-Shacharis, Mincha, Maariv:

Biblical verse Rabbinical: According to all opinions, there is no Biblically mandated Nussach of prayer and the Nussach of prayer is merely Rabbinical.

Date of institutionalized Nussach: The establishment of the wording of prayer was made in the times of the Anshei Kneses Hagedola, in the start of the second Temple era. This refers to the prayer of Shemoneh Esrei and blessings of Shema. The 18 blessings of Shemoneh Esrei were instituted by 120 elders, including a number of prophets, known as the Anshei Kneses Hagedola. Prior to this institution, every individual said their own personal prayer. The other additions to the prayer [i.e. Pesukei Dezimra, Tachanun, Ashreiy Uva Letziyon] were instituted at different times.

The various Nusschaos: There exist various versions of the wording or Nussach of prayer, which derived from different countries, and have been written and codified in the works of the Geonim, Rishonim, and Achronim. For example, we find that the following countries had their own unique Nussach of prayer: Germany, Spain, Rome, Catalonia, Province, Romania, Persia, Syria, Northern Africa. We also find different versions of prayer amongst the various Siddurim published in the days of the Geonim and Rishonim, including the Siddur Rav Amram Gaon, Siddur of Rav Sadya Gaon [i.e. Siddur Rasag], Machzor Vitri, Siddur Rashban, Nussach of Rambam in Mishneh Torah, for a total of 13 major versions. A major influence to the versions of the prayer occurred in the 16th century with the dissemination of the teachings of Kabbalah and that of the Arizal. In general, with some nuance exception which varies from community to community and country to country, there exists four major versions of prayer today; Nussach Ashkenaz [which is used by Ashkenazim], Nussach Sefarad [which is used by Chasidim], Nussach Arizal [used by Chabad], Nussach Eidot Hamizrach [which is used by Sephardim]. The Nussach Arizal used by Chabad was formulated by the Alter Rebbe based on his review of 60 Siddurim and Nusschaos.[2]

The 12/13 gates of prayer:[3] Corresponding to the 13 major versions of prayer, there are 13 gates in heaven through which prayer is received. Twelve of these 13 versions of prayer, and their corresponding 13 gates in heaven, correspond to the 12 tribes, as each tribe has its own gate in heaven through which the prayers of the members of that tribe enter through. It is for this reason that there exists so many versions of prayer, as every tribe needs their own unique Nussach of prayer in order for it to enter through its own unique gate in heaven. Now, what does the 13th version and 13th gate in heaven represent? It represents a general version of prayer, which is valid to be prayed by a member of any tribe and have their prayers enter the 13th gate of heaven. This version of prayer is known as the version of the Arizal, and is to be prayed by anyone who does not know their tribe and their corresponding version of prayer. Accordingly, since most people today do not know their tribe origination, therefore they should choose to pray the Nussach of the Arizal.

The differences between the versions: The vast majority of the words and paragraphs of all versions of prayer are one and the same, as all Jews are obligated to follow the version of prayer which is codified in the Talmud and Poskim, based on the Talmud. The differences between the versions are in small nuances of words and order. For example, we find differences in the exact wording of certain blessings of the Shemoneh Esrei, and blessings of Shema. Likewise, we find differences in the wording of the Kedusha. We also find differences regarding the order of Pesukei Dezimra with some preceding certain paragraphs to Baruch Sheamar, and others delaying it until after the blessing of Baruch Sheamar.

  1. Changing your Nussach:[4]

Every individual should pray in the same Nussach as that of his ancestors and one should not change from their custom, as there are 12 gates in heaven was correspond to the 12 tribes and every tribe has their own gate and custom of prayer.

Changing to Nussach Arizal:[5] Despite the above, it is permitted for every individual to change from their Nussach to Nussach Arizal, as this Nussach is a general gate of prayer which is available for people of all tribes.

Changing to other Nusschaos:[6] Some Poskim[7] rule that one may not change from Nussach Arizal to any other Nussach, and may not change from Nussach Sefarad or Eidut Hamizrach to Nussach Ashkenaz, although one may change from Nussach Ashkenaz to Nussach Eidut Hamizrach. This applies even if once original Nussach was Nussach Ashkenaz, nonetheless one may not change back to it once he changes to Nussach Arizal, and hence one who changes to Nussach Arizal must intend to do so on a permanent basis.[8] Other Poskim[9], however rule that is permitted for one to change from any Nussach to any Nussach if he so wishes.

Mixing up Nusschaos and creating one’s own Nussach:[10] One is not to combine two different Nusschaos together and certainly is to avoid coming up with his own Nussach. Thus, one should not place effort into creating a Nussach with intent for it to be followed by all the Jewish people

  Davening in a shul with a different Nussuch:[11]
  1. Chazan:[12]

From the letter of the law, it is permitted for a Chazan to Daven for the Amud in his Nussach even if it is a different Nussach than the Shul and congregation. Nevertheless, if this matter leads to strife or dispute, he is to Daven the Nussach of the congregation. Practically, the public directive of the Rebbe Rayatz in such a case is for the Chazan to Daven the Nussach of the congregation. However, nonetheless, the Chazan is to Daven his own private Nussach by the silent Shemoneh Esrei.

  1. Private prayer:[13]

Every individual may Daven their own personal Nussach in any Shul or congregation irrelevant of the Nussach of that Shul or congregation. Nonetheless, this should be done in an inconspicuous manner that will not cause dispute.

How is one to recite Nakdishach if he is Davening by a congregation that says Nikadesh? If one is Davening by an Ashkenazi Minyan who recites Nekadesh instead of Nakdishach, he is to recite the Nussach of the congregation, which is Nikadesh. The same applies during Musaf, that he is to recite Nakdishach in place of Keser. If however there is a Minyan of people saying the Nussach of Nakdishach/Keser, then he may recite it.

4. Forming new prayers:[14]

Some Poskim rule that one should not recite any prayer liturgy that was not authored by our early sages, such as Eleazar ha-Kalir, who wrote it in accordance to the truths of Kabbalah. In this spirit, the Rebbe conveyed his opinion that he is not fond of all of the various new prayers that people compose with intent for them to be incorporated within the daily prayer. It is likely due to this reason as well as other reasons that the Rebbe completely negated the instituting of a new prayer to be said on behalf of the Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Nonetheless, the Rebbe Rayatz authored a Nussach Tefila to be recited on Rosh Hashanah in all Shuls on behalf of then president Roosevelt, and the United States of America, that G-d help them in world war 2. Likewise, the Rebbe was personally involved in the writing of a prayer Nussach to be recited by one of the Shluchim in front of the United States Senate.[15]

  1. In what language is one to pray in?[16]

When Davening with a Minyan: Whenever one is Davening with a Minyan, he may Daven in whatever language he desires [so long as one understands the language, as will be explained below]. [This applies even if he also understands Lashon Hakodesh. Some say that this applies any time ten people are gathered together, even if they are not in the midst of prayer. Nevertheless, it is best in all cases to say one’s personal prayers in Lashon Hakodesh even when one is with the congregation, if he is fluent in the language.]

When Davening without a Minyan: Some Poskim rule that one who is Davening alone without a Minyan, is to be particular to Daven in Lashon Hakodesh [if he is fluent in the language and understands what he is saying, as will be explained]. Other Poskim, however, rule that it is permitted for one to Daven in whatever language he desires, even when Davening alone. Practically, the main ruling follows the stringent opinion, although those who follow the latter opinion and do not learn how to Daven in Lashon Hakodesh have upon whom to rely.

If one does not understand Lashon Hakodesh: One does not fulfill his obligation of Davening if he does not understand what he is saying, even if he is Davening in Lashon Hakodesh. An ignoramus who does not understand Lashon Hakodesh, is to Daven in whatever language he understands. This applies even if he is able to read the prayer in Lashon Hakodesh, nonetheless, it is better for him Daven in whatever language he understands in order so he can concentrate on the prayer than to pray in Lashon Hakodesh without concentration. This applies even when Davening alone. Nevertheless, initially one is required to educate himself in the Lashon Hakodesh prayer and study its meaning [i.e. Pirush Hamilos], so that he can Daven in Lashon Hakodesh and understand what he is saying.

Custom of women: Some women are accustomed to Daven Shemoneh Esrei [and other parts of Davening] in languages other than Lashon Hakodesh [i.e. Yiddish], even though they are obligated in Shemoneh Esrei just like men. These women rely on the second opinion mentioned above.

Personal requests: One is to be particular to say his requests in Lashon Hakodesh if he [is fluent in the language and] understands what he is saying. If, however, he does not understand Lashon Hakodesh, he is to say his requests in whatever language he understands. [Furthermore, if he can express himself better in his native language than in Lashon Hakodesh he is to do so, as the main thing is that the prayer should come from the bottom of one’s heart. Accordingly, many are accustomed to recite their requests in Yiddish or other native language, even if they know Lashon Hakodesh. Also, to note, the Hebrew language spoken in Israel today, while similar to Lashon Hakodesh, is not considered Lashon Hakodesh in this regard unless one divests from it the foreign words that were introduced to the language. Thus, modern Hebrew is not preferred over one’s native language for making personal requests, unless one can divest his words from the modern Hebrew words.] Whenever one is Davening with a Minyan, he may say his requests in whatever language he understands, even if he also understands Lashon Hakodesh. [Some say that this applies any time ten people are gathered together, even if they are not in the midst of prayer. Nevertheless, it is best in all cases to say one’s personal prayers in Lashon Hakodesh even when one is with the congregation, if he is fluent in the language.]

6. Havarah-The accent of one’s prayers:[17]

There exist various accents for the recital of the Hebrew language and recital of the prayer and Torah text. The two most common accents is the Ashkenazi accent and the Sephardi accent. While the accent of the prayers do not really make any difference, nonetheless, every individual should read the prayers in the accent of his ancestry and tradition, with Sephardim reciting the Hebrew words using the Sephardic accent and Ashkenazim reciting it using the Ashkenazi accent, and there should not be a campaign to encourage people of Ashkenazi descent to recite the words in a Sephardic accent. Certainly, one should not mix two different accents within his prayers and he should not pray some of the words with an Ashkenazi accent and other words with a Sephardic accent, and all the words should be said in the same accent. Nonetheless, all this is the initial ruling, however, in the event that one already became used to reciting the words in a specific accent, then he should not change his accent even if he is from the opposite lineage. Thus, for example, if one of Ashkenazi lineage accustomed himself to pray with a Sephardic accent, there is no need for him to change back to an Ashkenazi accent.


[1] See Admur 68:2; Shaar Hakavanos 6:1; Likkutei Imrim 133 [Maggid Devarav Leyaakov]; Shaar Hakolel Hakdama; Tefila Kehilchasa chapter 4; Isheiy Yisrael Chapter 7; Shulchan Menachem 1:52-54

[2] See Igros Kodesh 12:201; Pesach Davar for Siddur Im Dach; Likkutei Sichos 22:115; 39:44; Sefer Hasiddur

[3] See Admur 68:2; M”A 68:1; Shaar Hakavanos 6:1; Likkutei Imrim 133 [Maggid Devarav Leyaakov]; Shaar Hakolel Hakdama; M”B 68:4; Chasam Sofer 15-16; Kesher Gudal 12:9; Divrei Chaim 2:8; Piskeiy Teshuvos 68:3

[4] See Admur 68:2; M”A 68:1; Yerushalmi Eiruvin 3:9; M”B 68:4; Piskeiy Teshuvos 68:3; Tefila Kehilchasa 4:1-6

[5] Likkutei Imrim 133 [Maggid Devarav Leyaakov]; Shaar Hakolel Hakdama; Divrei Chaim 2:8; Beis Hayotzer 5; Minchas Elazar 1:11; Piskeiy Teshuvos 68:3; Igros Kodesh 11:65; 12:201; 13:299; 14:91; 391; 19; 19:4

[6] See Piskeiy Teshuvos 68:3 footnote 21-22

[7] Maharashdam O.C. 35; Divrei Chaim 2:8; Minchas Elazar 1:11; Beis Hayotzer 5; Kuntrus Shiyurei Mincha; Igros Kodesh 8:114; 11:65; 12:201; 19:4; See however Chasam Sofer O.C. 15; Maharam Shick O.C. 43

[8] Igros Kodesh 12:201

[9] See Piskeiy Teshuvos 68:3 footnote 22

[10] Letter in Shulchan Menachem 1 P. 169; Igros Kodesh 24:25

[11] See Tefila Kehilchasa 4:7-12; Piskeiy Teshuvos 68:4

[12] See Chasam Sofer O.C. 15; Meishiv Davar 1:17; Igros Kodesh Rayatz 13:497; Igros Kodesh 10:208; 14:391; 19:4

[13] Tzemach Tzedk 236; Igros Kodesh 19:1 and 4

[14] See Admur 68:2; Igros Kodesh 16:270; 30:8; Shulchan Menachem 1:54

[15] Seemingly, the Rebbe is not negating the recital of a Mi Shebeirach or prayer on occasions when necessary, and simply negated the set adding of a prayer to the general prayers of Shacharis, Mincha and Maariv, or to be said every day similar to the set prayers.

[16] See Admur 101:5, 62:2, 124:2, 185:2; Michaber 101:4; Piskeiy Teshuvos 101; Tefila Kehilchasa 4:20-25; Ishei Yisrael 11:99

[17] See Igros Kodesh 10:5; 15:200; 19:349; 20:16 and 261; Letter found in Shulchan Menachem 1 p. 177; Shulchan Menachem 1:56; Tefila Kehilchasa 4:17-19; Piskeiy Teshuvos 68:4-5

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