Prayers Recited After Shemoneh Esreh II

  • Rav David Brofsky



Last week, we examined some of the prayers recited after Shemoneh Esreh.  We traced the origin of the expanded Tachanun, said on Mondays and Thursdays.  We also briefly reviewed the uniqueness of Ashrei and concluded with a study of "La-mnatze'ach."


This week, we will study the laws of "U-va le-Tziyyon" and Aleinu.


"U-va le-Tziyyon" - Kedusha De-sidra:


The core of "U-va le-Tziyyon" consists of the third Kedusha (verses of angelic praise) recited each morning: Kedusha De-sidra (of the order), including the Hebrew Kedusha and its Aramaic translation.  In addition, there are a few verses recited BEFORE Kedusha, as well as additional verses and supplications recited afterwards. 


The following verses are recited BEFORE Kedusha De-sidra:


"And a redeemer will come to Zion, and to those that turn from transgression in Jacob," says God.  "And as for Me, this is My covenant with them," says God; "My spirit that is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall depart neither from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your seed, nor from the mouth of your seed's seed," says God, "now and forever."  (Yeshayahu 59:20-21)


The Arukh Ha-shulchan (132:4) explains that after reciting "La-mnatze'ach," which focuses upon the tragedies of the Jewish people, we declare our faith that a redeemer will come; we affirm our trust in the covenant between God and the Jewish people, just as Yeshayahu makes this declaration after describing the punishments about to befall the Jewish people. 


The Arukh Ha-shulchan adds that we have actually experienced the veracity of this prophecy, as after the destruction of the Second Temple, the Romans established difficult restrictions against us, and in response, the Torah was only strengthened during the period of the Tanna'im. 


Regarding Kedusha De-sidra, the Talmud (Sota 49a) relates:


Rabban Shimon ben Gamli'el says: "Rabbi Yehoshua testified that from the day the Temple was destroyed, there is no day without a curse…"


Rava said, "Every day's curse is worse than that of the preceding one, as it is said (Devarim 28:67) 'In the morning, you will say, "Who will bring evening?;" and in the evening, you will say, "Who will bring morning?"'  Which morning does this refer to?  If you say morning the next day, who knows if it will be better than today?  Rather, the morning that just passed.  If so, on what does the world subsist?  On Kedusha De-sidra and on Kaddish of Aggada, as it is said (Iyyov 10:22) 'The earth is dimmed in the mist of the shadow of death and without orders (sedarim);' but if there are sedarim, then it appears out of the mist."


Rashi explains the function of Kedusha De-sidra and why the survival of the world depends on it and on Kaddish recited after studying aggadic (moral, not legal) pieces.


"The Order of Kedusha" was established in order that all of the Jewish people may involve themselves in [studying] a small portion of Torah daily, as reciting the verses and their translation is akin to immersing oneself in Torah.  Since this has become the custom throughout Israel, amongst [Torah] students and amongst the ignorant alike, and since there are two important components — the sanctification of God's name (kiddush Hashem) and Torah study — it is beloved.  The same is true of "Amen yeheh shemeih rabba" recited after the lecturer publicly teaches a portion of Aggada on Shabbat — this was the custom, since it was not a workday and many people could gather to listen — containing both Torah study and kiddush Hashem.


According to Rashi, Kedusha De-sidra is, in essence, both an exercise in Torah study, through the Aramaic translation, as well as an opportunity to sanctify God's name.  Similarly, Kaddish recited after studying aggadic passages also combines these two components: Torah study and kiddush Hashem


In addition to these reason offered by Rashi on the passage from Tractate Sota (49a), Rav Yosef Karo, (Beit Yosef 132:2) cites the Shibbolei Ha-leket (44), who refers to comments attributed to Rashi in the earlier Ashkenazic work Sefer Ha-pardes.  There, Rashi adds that the Jews were at times legally forbidden to recite Kedusha in its normal place (during the cantor's repetition); instead, Kedusha was added towards the end of the prayers, when the soldiers charged with enforcing these decrees had already left.


The Rishonim disagree as to the status of this Kedusha, as well as the one recited in the first blessing preceding Shema.  Regarding Kedusha recited during the Birkot Keriat Shema, the Rambam (Hilkhot Tefilla 7:17) writes that one praying alone should omit the entire Kedusha.  The Ran (Megilla 13b) concurs that this Kedusha should be omitted when praying individually. 


On the other hand, the Rambam's son, Rav Avraham ben Ha-Rambam, testifies that the Rambam himself changed his mind and reversed his decision, allowing an individual to recite this Kedusha (Teshuvot Ha-Rambam 317).  Furthermore, the Rashba (Teshuvot 1:17), Rabbeinu Yerucham and the Mahari Abuhav (see Beit Yosef 59:3) agree that an individual MAY recite this Kedusha.  Indeed, the Tur cites his father, the Rosh, who insists than an individual should recite this Kedusha, as it merely describes how the angels sanctify God's name in unison. 


Regarding Kedusha De-sidra, even amongst those who are stringent regarding Kedusha of Birkot Keriat Shema, some allow Kedusha De-sidra to be recited without a minyan.


While our custom is to allow individuals to recite Kedusha of Birkot Keriat Shema, as well as the full Kedusha De-sidra (Rema 132:1), the Mishna Berura (123:3) asserts that it is still preferable to recite Kedusha with the congregation, and even writes that one who has not yet recited Ashrei or "La-mnatze'ach" should skip ahead to say Kedusha with the congregation.  The Arukh Ha-shulchan (132:8) insists that since we permit individuals to recite Kedusha De-sidra,  similarly there is no pressing need for the individual to jump ahead in order to recite it with the congregation. 


Similarly, the authorities also disagree as to whether it is preferable to stand during the recitation of "U-va le-Tziyyon."  The Zohar rules, as does the Arukh Ha-shulchan, that it should be recited while sitting.  Others, viewing Kedusha De-sidra as a possible davar she-bikdusha (matter of holiness), for which we generally stand, rule that one should stand while reciting this Kedusha.  The Chazon Ish (see Piskei Teshuvot 132:2, n. 11), for example, would insist upon standing even when he was too weak to stand for Shemoneh Esreh!


Regarding the verses and supplications recited after Kedusha De-sidra, we find these additions to Kedusha De-sidra in sources as early as the Siddur of Rav Amram Gaon (d. 875).  The Arukh Ha-shulchan, once again, explains that these verses respond to the current state of the Jewish people.  We appeal that God help us to worship Him and to overcome the evil inclination, despite the adversity we face.  Furthermore, the additions offer comfort, stating that despite our current inability to engage fully in Torah study, due to the hardships of finding physical sustenance, God ultimately anticipates our full commitment to the Torah.


Rav Yosef Karo, in Beit Yosef, cites the Sefer Ha-Pardes (as mentioned above), which comments upon the verse (Tehillim 22:4), "And You are Holy, sitting upon the praises of Israel," inserted between the opening two verses of "U-va le-Tziyyon" and Kedusha.  He explains that God rests His "presence" upon us in order to hear the praises of the Jewish people.


Interestingly, the reference to the immanence of God apparently had a profound effect upon the German scholar of religion, Rudolf Otto (1869-1937).  Otto describes what he calls the "numinous feeling" of God in his classic work The Idea of the Holy.  During a visit to a synagogue in Morocco in 1911, he was deeply moved by the congregation's recitation of Kedusha De-sidra during the Shabbat prayers, which, he wrote in one his letters, made him shudder with awe, testifying as it did to "the mystery of the other world." (See


Rav Amram Gaon (see Beit Yosef, 132) writes that one should not leave the synagogue before reciting Kedusha De-sidra, in order not to belittle the importance of this prayer. 


One who must leave early or abridge one's prayers should give precedence to Ashrei and Kedusha De-sidra over Tachanun, as Tachanun is merely a "reshut" (elective prayer), while Ashrei and Kedusha De-sidra, as we proved from the Talmud, are of the utmost importance.  Furthermore, they are also of greater weight than the prayers that follow: Aleinu, Shir shel Yom, and Pittum Ha-ketoret


In Shulchan Arukh (25:13), Rav Yosef Karo rules that it is customary not to remove one's tefillin until AFTER reciting Kedusha De-sidra.  On a day upon which the Torah is read, one must keep them on until after the Torah scroll is returned to the Holy Ark (for those who pray according to Nussach Sefarad, in which case it is returned AFTER Kedusha De-sidra, but before Aleinu).  The Mishna Berura cites the custom of the  Ari, who would not remove his tefillin until the second paragraph of Aleinu.




The Aleinu prayer serves as the centerpiece of the prayer of "Malkhuyyot" (Kingships), recited during the Musaf of Rosh Ha-shana.  While its origin and authorship remain unclear, it can certainly be traced as far as our earliest prayer-books.


Rav Amram Gaon, for example, includes Aleinu in a series of prayers recited during the Malkhuyyot of the Rosh Ha-shana Musaf service, known as "Tekiata De-vei Rav" (literally, "the shofar blasts of the school of Rav").  The Talmud Yerushalmi refers to this prayer numerous times (see Rosh Ha-shana 1:5, for example). 


The Rishonim offer different suggestions regarding its age and origin.  Some suggest that the prayer was authored before the destruction of the Temple, as the petition to rebuild it, common in other prayers, is absent from Aleinu.  Furthermore, the request to uproot idolatry from the land is a theme of Temple times.


On the one hand, the Kol Bo (17) cites a tradition tracing the origin of Aleinu to Yehoshua ben Nun, upon conquering the city of Yericho.  The Tur (133), on the other hand, identifies the phrase "moshav yekaro" "the seat of His glory," as originating in the "Heikhalot" literature, early mystical writings of the Geonim. 


Most Geonim and Rishonim cite this prayer in the context of the Rosh Ha-shana liturgy, without reference to its concluding the daily prayers.  Rabbeinu Simcha of Vitry, a student of Rashi, cites a custom of concluding the daily prayers with Aleinu (Machzor Vitry 193).  The Ashkenazic Rishonim, such as the Roke'ach and Kol Bo, and later the Tur and Rema (133:1), accept this practice.


Rabbi Yo'el Sirkes (1561-1640), in his commentary on the Tur (133), Bayit Chadash, explains:


The reason [for reciting Aleinu at the end of the service] is to engrain in our hearts, before we leave for our houses, the unity of the kingdom of God.  Thus, our faith will be strengthened, in order that we "remove the foreign gods from the land…"  Then, despite the fact that every Jew deals with non-Jews who practice idolatry and are [nevertheless] successful, we will not direct our hearts to their gods; we will not have any thoughts, God forbid, of sin.


Aleinu is recited while standing, and it is customary to bow while reciting "Va-anachnu kore'im u-mishtachavim" "And we bow and prostrate ourselves," so as not to appear as if we defy the content of the prayer (Mishna Berura 132:9). 


Aleinu contains a derogative reference to the non-Jews and their forms of worship, which led to its being censored:


It is our duty to praise the Master of all, to exalt the Creator of the Universe, Who has not made us like the nations of the world and has not placed us like the families of the earth; Who has not designed our destiny to be like theirs, nor our lot like that of all their multitude, for they bow to "vanity and emptiness" (Yeshayahu 30:7)) "and pray to a god who helps not" (ibid. 45:20).


In fact, not only do we express our contempt for pagan worship verbally, but some also express their feelings in others ways.  The Taz states (YD 179:5): "Some are accustomed to spitting before reciting 'And we bow,' and all know that the spitting is in contempt for the idolatrous gods."


This shocking practice seemingly developed based upon the similarity of the word "rik," which literally means "emptiness," to "rok," "expectoration."  It draws criticism for many reasons.  Some feared that it may be misunderstood by the ammei ha-aretz, the ignorant.  Others note that the Shulchan Arukh (OC 92:9) prohibits praying immediately after expectoration.  Many Acharonim sought to abolish this practice.


The derogatory reference to pagan worship has drawn criticism from non-Jews for centuries. 


In 1399, Pesach Peter, an apostate Jew, asserted that the word "va-rik" ("and emptiness") also alludes to Yeshu (Jesus), being that the numerical value of each word, in the gematreya system, is identical: 316.  Furthermore, in 1530, Antonius Margarita repeated this accusation in a book entitled The Belief of the Jews.  Samuel Friedrich Brenz, a converted Jew, repeated this claim seventy years later in his book Jüdischer Abgestreifter Schlangenbalg (The Jewish Serpent Slough). 


Some rabbis, such as Rabbi Lippman Mühlhausen in his Ha-nitzachon, attempted to dispute these claims, explaining that Aleinu was composed well before Jesus was born, having solely idolaters in view.  Rabbi Manasseh ben Israel (1604-1657), devotes an entire chapter of his Vindiciז Judזorum to Aleinu, where he claims that it was authorized by the members of the Keneset Ha-gedola, the supreme rabbinic authority during the early Second Temple era.  Furthermore, the offending phrase is actually built from two verses in the Book of Yeshayahu, who lived some 700 years before Jesus! 


Nevertheless, the anti-Semitic author Johann Andreas Eisenmenger, in his Entdecktes Judentum, (1700) also interpreted this as an insult to Christianity.  Due to his assaults, in 1702 Prussian Jews were attacked with special vehemence on account of this prayer.


On August 28, 1703, Frederick I (1657-1713), the first King in Prussia, decreed that the Jews must erase this line from the liturgy.  The pronouncement added that the Aleinu prayer must be recited aloud by the sheliach tzibbur and that commissioners would visit synagogues to ensure that his decree was implemented!


Rabbi Yehoshua Yehuda Leib Diskin, (1818–1898), also known as the Maharil Diskin, among others, insisted that the text be restored.  To this day, many Ashkenazic communities still omit this line, due to the Christian censorship. 


Unfortunately, Aleinu's focus on kiddush Hashem was also discovered by the Christians.  Rav Yosef Ha-kohen (1496-1575), in hishistorical work Emek Ha-bakha (ed. Wiener, p. 31), records:


During the persecution of the Jews of Blois, France, in 1171, when many masters of the Law died as martyrs at the stake, an eye-witness wrote to R.  Jacob of Orleans that the death of the saints was accompanied by a weird song resounding through the stillness of the night, causing the Christians who heard it from afar to wonder at the melodious strains, the like of which they had never heard before.  It was ascertained afterward that the martyred saints had made use of the 'Alenu as their dying song.  It is quite probable, then, that it became the custom in those tragic days for the martyrs to chant the 'Alenu song in order to moderate the agonies of their death.


Next week we will conclude our study of the prayers recited after Shemoneh Esreh, and we will turn to Shir shel Yom and Pittum Ha-ketoret