Rabbinic Innovation and Development
Rabbinic prayer incorporated material from a broad set of prayer traditions known at Qumran, as well as from various other contexts of the Second Temple period, among them the Temple, the priesthood, communal gatherings for Biblical readings (maʿamadot), pietistic and mystical circles with eschatological and angelological interests, and popular practice. Among the themes that they shared with earlier Jewish groups were the election of Israel, the status of Zion, the holiness of Jerusalem, the return of the Davidic dynasty, and the manifestation of God's great power now and in the future. The Rabbis imposed upon inherited traditions a fresh order, style, and distinctive formulation, and they transmitted them in oral form until the compilation of the first written texts of the Siddur in the 9th century. They absorbed the earlier elements but effectively created a new structure that represented a formal liturgy. In essence, this constituted a collection of personal prayers and benedictions, which had been given a communal flavor and dimension, and a preferred synagogal context.
There was never total agreement about the precise place of prayer in the theological hierarchy of Judaism, but there certainly existed a universal consensus about the need for the observant Jew to pray. As the rabbinic tradition progressively committed its liturgical traditions to short and simple codices, to larger and more elegant manuscripts, to printed volumes, and ultimately to the contemporary formats of photocopies and digitized images, so the Siddur grew in its independence, authority, and centrality for the practitioners of the faith. Use of the Bible was always part of these developments but found its expression in the traditional Jewish liturgy in a number of interesting and novel ways.
By the time that the talmudic Rabbis of the early common era were debating the matter of the inclusion of biblical verses and chapters in their standard prayers for daily, Sabbath, and festival use, a number of these verses were well established by popular tradition within the liturgical context. Minor examples are the sets of verses that were included in the Musaf (“additional”) ʿAmidah for Rosh Ha‐Shanah and illustrated the three themes of kingship, remembrance, and shofar (ram's horn) that stand at the center of that prayer. More common and more major examples are the Shema, the Ten Commandments, the Hallel (“praise”), the Passover Haggadah, the Song at the Sea, the Priestly Benediction, and the Kedushah, and these will shortly be examined in more detail. This examination will indicate that the issue of the role of biblical material in the liturgy was a lively and controversial one.
There is evidence that rabbinic formulations were regarded as preferable to biblical precedents, and that biblical verses were to be differentiated from rabbinic prayers (y. Ber. 1:8, 3d). Could, for instance, the verses from Isa. 12.6 and/or Ps. 22.4 be employed at any point in the Kedushah benediction of the ʿAmidah without valid halakhic objection being raised? The early Rabbis sometimes even made changes in liturgical formulations out of polemical considerations. A good example is the use of the biblical Hebrew word ʿolam (meaning “world” as well as “eternity” in postbiblical Hebrew) in such a way as to ensure that the notion of a future world was not excluded (m. Ber. 9:5). Nevertheless, the liturgical preexistence of such specific items as the Shema, and others mentioned above, provides positive proof that earlier attitudes were more tolerant concerning the direct quotation of biblical texts. Perhaps the Rabbis feared the potential influence of some groups whom they regarded as sectarian and who had opted for the inclusion of biblical texts among their prayers. The Jews whose literary works were found at Qumran, by the Dead Sea, were of such an ilk,and medieval Karaites, whose prayers were exclusively composed of biblical texts, pursued a similar liturgical philosophy. The situation among the Rabbanite Jews changed from the beginning of the Islamic period when, instead of merely a few favorite verses (such as Pss. 51.17; 84.5; 144.15 ) and entire Psalms (such as Ps. 145 ), substantial blocks of biblical verses, groups of chapters, and individual verses came to be incorporated into the traditional daily prayers, and then into the first prayerbooks. Perhaps the popular urge to include biblical selections was so powerful that the halakhic authorities had to submit to it, or perhaps the authorities determined that this attractive religious practice should not be left exclusively to the theological opposition.