Chapter Eight

About the Evening and Night Prayers of the Jews and how they prepare for Bed.

In big cities where they have shuls or synagogues, a shul-knocker (a sort of signalman) goes and makes his rounds around five in the afternoon, and reminds them to say their Mínchah or vesper-prayers.

As soon as they arrive in shul, they sit down and say a prayer which starts with the word Aschre, that is "blessed." They start with the eighty-fourth Psalm: Blessed are those who dwell in your house, and praise you constantly. Selah. (Thus they praise themselves that they are praying so much in their synagogues.) Ps. 144.15 Blessed the people who behave thus. Blessed the people whose God is the Lord. Ps. 145 I will exalt you, my God and King. And they go on until the psalm ends. They think very highly of this psalm, and write: Whoever says this prayer three times a day will have Chelek leolam habba, that is, a portion in eternal life. After that, the cantor gets up, and sings the holy prayer, which they call Kaddesch, but only half way through, then the congregation completes the eighteen prayers of praise which were previously mentioned in the morning prayers. When this is over, the cantor steps down from the high place, which is the pulpit in the Christian church, and kneels on the steps in front of the Ark, and falls down with his face on his left hand, the people doing the same. They let their head fall on their left side, and cover their face, and say very devoutly, coming from the heart - because the heart is on the left side, and in their bowing head and heart meet - the following words: Merciful and gracious God, I have sinned before your face, but you are full of mercy; have pity on me and accept my humble prayer. O Lord do not punish me in your anger. And they go on in their prayer with bowed and covered face until they finish the sixth psalm.

The cantor kneels down before the Ark in which is the Book of the Law, following the example of Joshua of whom it is written Jos. 7.6: And Joshua fell to the ground on his face before the Ark of the Lord.

The reason for covering their face is because a long time ago when they had a great temple, each one would be separated by four yards from the other, so that nobody could hear what the other confessed. This is why they now cover their faces, so that nobody can see what the other says.

They bow down on their left hand because it is written Song 2.6: his left hand lies under my head. In addition, Isaac was lying on his left side when he was going to be sacrificed. Soon the cantor gets up again and says Vaanáchnu, And we do not know what we should do to lift up our eyes to you. That is to say: We have prayed to you, O God, sitting, standing, high and low, standing up and bowed down, now we do not know what else to do. We shall lift up our face again to you. After that they pray the whole kaddesch, and then the evening prayers are done.

This would be the right time to go home for supper, and then after supper to go back to the synagogue for their night prayers. But there are several reasons why this is not done. Some want to drink after supper, and so that nobody might forget the evening prayers, the Rabbis advised and ordered that they should say their night prayers right after the evening or vesper-prayers. They wait for a little while, though, between Minchah and Maaribh, their evening and night prayers, so that everybody might know the difference.

On occasion they have a peculiar custom, that if someone has a legal case, and wants to come to terms with the other party, he steps up and goes to the book the cantor used, closes it, bangs on it with his hand and says: Anikelao, I close it; as if to say: I lock and close the prayers until my opposing party comes to terms with me. After that, they cannot go on with the prayers until they have settled it, therefore they go home sometimes without saying the night prayer, and if the other party stays unreconciled, the prayer stays locked up, sometimes for several days.

Among other prayers, they pray that God may save them from the Christians, and send them back to their land, the Baruch Jehovah, one of their prayers, starts thus: O God our Lord, help us, gather and save us from the heathens (that is, the Christians) so that we may profess your holy name and we make ourselves famous in your praise. All the people that you have created will come and bow down before your face, and they will praise your name. Our eyes will see and our heart will be glad and our soul will, with your help, be overjoyed with truth, when they will say to Zion: The Lord reigned, God is King. God reigned and will do so until eternity because the Kingdom is yours. (You poor Jew, you are waiting for these joys in vain, because it happened already sixteen hundred and forty years ago.) They say once more the prayer in which they beg for revenge over the Christians and their authority, which was mentioned in the morning prayers. If anybody has lost a father that year, he prays for a whole year the little Kaddesch, which helps to save the father from purgatory. I shall explain that, God willing, somewhere else. When they leave the shul they recite the sayings already mentioned in the fifth chapter. They have again a lengthy discussion concerning the prayer which starts Schma jisrael: Hear Israel, the Lord your God is a sole God. They wish to determine how, at what time and place it should be prayed which would take too much time to explain here.

At supper-time they conduct themselves as described for the noon meal.

When it is time to go to bed they always take their left shoe off first, then the right. They take the shirt off lying down and covered, so that the walls and beams of the house should not see the naked shame of their body. They should also never urinate naked in their room, which would be very shameful, and could be the reason that a person becomes poverty-stricken, and it is one of the things that God hates.

When you recite the Schma yisrael prayer in bed, you should go straight to sleep after that, and talk no more, as it is written Ps. 4.5: Speak in your hearts on your bed, and be still, Selah. If you cannot fall asleep right away you should repeat the prayer again and again until you fall asleep. After this, you will sleep calmly and quietly, and your sleep will be healthy.

The bed in which man and wife sleep together should always be clean. The man might think of a Peschàt, [plain meaning of a text] which he had learned or read in holy scripture that day, or he maybe would pray to God for pious children, or perhaps the wife might want to pray. And it would be a great sin to think of God's name in an unclean place. In the Talmud it says that Rabbi Sira was asked by his pupils why he lived so long. He answered: I have never learned or called on the name of God in an unclean place.

They usually place their bed so that the head is positioned towards noon, and their feet towards midnight [see below.] The one who does that will have many sons. This is discussed in the Talmud, and by Rabbi Alphes, and it is proved in a subtle way from the psalms of David. Midnight, or northwind, is represented in Hebrew by Tzaphon. [north] It is written in the prophets Ps. 17.14: Utzephonecha málle bítnam, that is, in the good rabbinic manner: and the northwind will fill their belly, they will have children in abundance. Although the Rabbis know that the words of the prophet have a different meaning, just the same it is thought of as masterly to interpret the scripture in such a subtle way. However, because that proof was not valid, therefore another rabbinical Philosophus has interpreted this saying Physicè, in a natural way, in a little book called Reschis chochmah, Principium Sapientiae, [the Beginning of Wisdom] it is not necessary to report it here.

The Jews have also a very beautiful bedroom Ethica, [ethic] particularly how a man should behave towards his wife. It is discussed and disputed in a very subtle manner, but I would not report it to cultivated ears. Whoever has the desire can read it in the book Orach chajim. Here I will let the Jews go to sleep, and I shall describe further their holiness and piety.

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Alan D. Corré