The Meaning of the Word
Shemoneh Esrei literally means "eighteen" (8+10), and originally there were eighteen blessings divided into three general types:
- Praise - The first three blessings: Avot, Gevurot, and Kedushat HaShem.
- Petitions - The next thirteen blessings (middle section): Da'at, Teshuvah, Selichah, Ge'ulah, Refu'ah, Birkat Hashanim, Kibbutz Galuyot, Birkat HaDin, Birkat HaMinim, Tzaddikim, Binyan Yerushalayim, Malkhut bet David, and Kabbalat Tefilah.
- Thanks - The last three blessings: Avodah, Hoda'ah, and Sim Shalom.
Notice that this adds up to nineteen, not eighteen. The reason for this was that an additional "blessing" was added later, but the name Shemoneh Esrei was retained. For this reason it is more straightforward to refer to the Shemoneh Esrei as the "Amidah" (standing) or "the Tefillah" (the prayer). After reciting all of these berachot, there is a concluding prayer said for the entire ceremony.
Two Basic Versions
There are two basic versions of the Amidah.
- The weekday version consists of the full nineteen blessings of praise, petition, and thanksgiving to God.
- The Sabbath and holiday versions are abbreviated to just seven blessings (the first and last three blessings are the same as the weekday version, but the middle thirteen blessings are reduced to a single blessing appropriate for the holy day).
Reciting the Amidah
Most Jews face the Aron Kodesh and take three steps backward, and then three steps forward before before (quietly) reciting the Amidah. Note that the blessings should be recited while standing, with quiet devotion and without interruption. Whenever there is a minyan (group of ten) present, the Amidah will be repeated aloud (by the cantor) in the synagogue, and the congregant responds "Amen" after each blessing has been recited.
Part I: Blessings of Praise
- Blessing One - Avot (Fathers)
- Blessing Two - Gevurot (God's Might)
- Blessing Three - Kedushat HaShem (Holiness of God's Name)
Part II: Blessings of Petition
- Blessing Four - Da'at (Knowledge)
- Blessing Five - Teshuvah (Repentance)
- Blessing Six - Selichah (Forgiveness)
- Blessing Seven - Geulah (Redemption)
- Blessing Eight - Refuah (Healing)
- Blessing Nine - Birkat Hashanim (Prosperity)
- Blessing Ten - Kibbutz Galuyot (Ingathering of Exiles)
- Blessing Eleven - Birkat HaDin (Restoration of Justice)
- Blessing Twelve - Bikat HaMinim (Against Heretics)
- Blessing Thirteen - Tzaddikim (Righteous Ones)
- Blessing Fourteen - Binyan Yerushalayim (Rebuilding of Jerusalem)
- Blessing Fifteen - Malkhut beit David (Kingdom of David)
- Blessing Sixteen - Kabbalat Tefillah (Acceptance of Prayer)
Part III: Blessings of Gratitude
- Blessing Seventeen - Avodah (Worship)
- Blessing Eighteen - Hoda'ah (Gratitude)
- Blessing Nineteen - Sim Shalom (Grant Peace)
- The Amidah Recited