Central Jewish Prayers

This unit focuses on some of the central prayers in the siddur (Jewish prayer book), including: Birchot ha-shachar (the morning blessings), the Shema, the Amidah and more.

Unit Ages: 6-8, 9-11 | 4-6 lessons


The Torah mentions the spontaneous prayers of Jacob, Moses, Hannah and others. Even during the time of the Temples, there were no set prayers other than a few biblical chapters that were recited in the Temple. After the destruction of the Second Temple, Chazal (Our Sages) decided to institutionalize the prayers and over the years the siddur became formalized and with it, the obligation to pray three times a day. We will become familiar with some of the prayers in the siddur, their origin and the rationale behind why they are recited.

Desired Outcomes

Big Ideas
  • There is meaning and purpose to the various prayers in the siddur that relate to both the individual and the nation.
Essential Questions
  • Why/how might Jewish practices be meaningful for me even if I don’t define myself as “religious”?
  • How is prayer a vehicle to help us access connections to God?
  • How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
  • Students will learn some of the main prayers in the siddur: Modeh Ani, Birchot HaShachar, Kriyat Shema and  the Amidah and their meaning.
  • Students will be able to identify and name several central prayers. 
  • Students will be able to find the prayers that they learned in the siddur.
  • Students will be able to pray several of the central prayers in the siddur.

Assessment Evidence

What evidence will students provide to demonstrate that they:
Know the knowledge; Can do the skills; Can respond thoughtfully to the EQs and BIs

The teacher will determine a means for assessment before beginning to teach the curriculum module.

Learning Experiences

Teaching Tools
Possible Unit Plan

Possible Unit Opener:

Talk with the students about their daily routine – what do they do every day? Divide their answers into the things they do in the morning, throughout the day and in the evening. Discuss: Why don’t we wear pajamas in the middle of the day? Go to school at night? Attend extracurricular activities in the morning? 

Just as there are is a logic to our daily routines, Chazal determined a daily routine for prayers. In this unit, we will learn different prayers and will see why some of them are more appropriate for the morning, and others are repeated at different times throughout the day. There are also specific prayers said only in the evening, which we will not learn about here.   


Alternative opener for older students:

Give the students siddurim, preferably those that have an English translation alongside the Hebrew. One at a time, write on the board the name of a prayer that you will teach and ask the students to find that prayer in the siddur and tell you the page number (you can turn this into a competition). Write the names of the prayers and their corresponding page numbers on the side of the board, in the order they appear, and explain about the structure: prayers that are connected to waking up, followed by central core of the prayer service: the Shema and the Amidah prayers. Teach about how the siddur is divided into three main prayer services: Shacharit (morning prayers), Minchah (afternoon prayers) and Ma’ariv (evening prayers). On holidays and other occasions, there are additional prayers. 


Content Study:

  • Among the prayers that are said at the beginning of the day as part of  the Shacharit service, we will focus on two: Modeh ani, a prayer of gratitude about simply waking up in the morning; and Birchot ha-shachar, prayers of praise for the simple activities that one does upon waking. These two prayers teach us at the beginning of the day to notice and be grateful for even those things that we might take for granted.  
  • One of the oldest and most important prayers in Jewish tradition is Kriyat Shema. The Shema is an expression of faith in God and expresses a founding principle in Judaism – the belief in one God. It is integrated into two of the daily prayer services – Shacharit and Ma’ariv – and is also said at night before going to sleep. We will learn about its place in Jewish culture, and not just about it as a prayer. 
  • In the daily prayer sequence, immediately after the Shema comes the main prayer– the Amidah (or “standing”) prayer. Chazal considered this to be the most important prayer because it consolidates all of the topics that they thought were significant to mention. The resources about this prayer are intended for older students. The first resource teaches about the prayer in its entirety, and the second resource focuses on a number of the blessings which comprise it. This unit of study focuses on the structure of the prayer, from which one can learn about the proper way to address requests of others, as well as the importance of prayer for both ourselves and the community.
  • Those interested in expanding further can focus on an additional blessing in the Amidah  – Oseh Shalom (“makes peace”), the blessing that ends the Amidah. The resource on this blessing focuses on the value of peace. 


Unit Closing/Assessment:

Go back to the essential questions and discuss the meaning, values and behavior that we can adopt after learning about prayer. 


Concluding activities for the entire topic of prayer:

Hold a festive prayer session (for example, on Rosh Chodesh, the first day of a Hebrew month) in which the students can lead some of the prayers and songs (if possible  including musical instruments),  write and read out loud their own personal prayers or texts that connect to the specific prayers they learned about; add familiar “secular” songs to the traditional prayer liturgy, etc. You can invite other classes or family members to join.