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Nusah Erets Yisrael
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Written by Rav Bar-Hayim

The Origins of the Siddur


2,500 years ago, after having been driven into exile by the Babylonian emperor Nevukhadnessar, the Jewish people were given leave by pastarchivesthe Persian emperor Koresh to return to their homeland.

The returnees were headed by three prophets, Zekharyah, Hagai and Malakhi, who, along with their disciples, formed the nucleus of what was to become known as the Great Assembly (Anshe Kenesseth HaGedolah).

The holy men of this august body transmitted the Oral Tradition from the Prophets to future generations, giving Judaism the form and framework that has survived until today. "The men of the Great Assembly enacted and taught the Jewish People the Blessings and the Prayers..." (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhoth 33a).

Although they formulated the basic format of prayer, as well as certain phrases, such as "the Great, the Omnipotent and Awesome God (HaEl HaGadol HaGibor veHaNorah)", they did not articulate the exact nusah, i.e., the precise wording. Thus different nushaoth, or versions, all based on the ancient format, were developed. With the passage of time, two major nushaoth emerged: the nusah of Babylon and the nusah of the Land of Israel.

The Two Centers

During the Second Temple period, and for many generations thereafter, the bulk of the Jewish people lived in these two great of Babylon-Persia and the Land of Israel. Life for the exiled Jewish communities in Babylon was, for the most part, relatively calm and Jewish life and scholarship florished. For the Jews who continued to live in the Holy Land, life was exceedingly difficult.

The mighty Roman Empire ruled with an iron fist, and their Byzantine successors (4th-7th centuries) who imbued with religious zeal for the newly proclaimed state religion of Christianity, were even worse. They were followed by the Arab hordes who conquered Jerusalem in 638. Since the Arab rulers were by nature tribal warriors rather than administrators, the central government gradually disintegrated and lawlessness spread. Economic attrition and persecution led to large-scale emigration and the Jewish population dwindled. A long period of decline followed, ending with the massacres of the First Crusade, at which time the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel nearly ceased to exist.

By the 8th century the formerly dominant Jewish center in Erets Yisrael was eclipsed by its Babylonian rival. Babylon became the focal point for most of the Jewish world, its Talmud and liturgy gradually gained acceptance as the standard for Jews throughout the world.



Last Updated on Monday, 19 January 2009 12:57