The Siddur in The Formation of Messianic Jewish Identity and Communal Boundaries

The Siddur is a treasure trove of narratives for worship. The prescribed structures and words in the traditional prayers guide observant Jews to transmit faith and tradition from generation to generation.1 When thousands of Jews encountered Yeshua as the Messiah in the 1970s, Messianic Jewish congregations emerged to contextually express “a Jewish life renewed in Yeshua.”2 Some Messianic congregations use a substantial amount of Jewish liturgy in their services.3 Other congregations more selectively adopt the traditional liturgy with modified contents to aid their worship in the Messianic faith.4 Regardless of the particularities in the Shabbat services among Messianic congregations, Jewish liturgy is an identity marker. It identifies a Messianic congregation as Jewish space to worship the God of Israel.5

Rav Amram Gaon produced the first known compilation of liturgies in the ninth century to unify the progression and content of prayer services in the Diaspora.6 Since then, a multitude of different siddurim have been used by Jews to offer thanksgiving and prayers. Messianic siddurim follow the traditional format while explicitly exalting Yeshua in the liturgy.7 The discussion on liturgical worship in the Messianic movement sometimes falls in the category of “How Jewish should Messianic Judaism be?” Yet, liturgical worship is more than a cultural expression. From a spiritual formation perspective, the Siddur unites the community to articulate theology and contributes to Messianic Jewish identity formation.8

Messianic Judaism and the Siddur

Yaakov Ariel describes Messianic Judaism as a subcommunity of evangelical Christianity that creates “cultural amalgamations” from Christianity and Judaism to express its ethnic distinction.9 This perspective attributes Messianic Judaism to the Christian mission’s effort to lead Jewish people to faith in Yeshua. Among diverse Messianic Jewish congregations, Ariel notices, “One feature that has helped create larger uniformity has been liturgical compilations” of Messianic siddurim.10 In Ariel’s delineation, the Siddur connects Jewish Christians with their ethnic-cultural identity. The amount of the Siddur prayers in a congregation’s Shabbat Shacharit service reflects its degree of Jewish cultural expression.11

Defining Messianic Judaism by its relationship with missional organizations is one framework for identity. Mark Kinzer and David Rudolph, however, have argued for a more fitting identity for Messianic Jews by tracing the theology of Messianic Judaism to apostolic teaching and a complementary relationship between Judaism and Christianity supported by thinkers such as Franz Rosenzweig.12 Kinzer and Rudolph’s theological analysis shifts the Messianic movement to be “more independent from Christian churches” and positions it to have “greater integration with the Jewish world.”13 Messianic Judaism, as a subcommunity of Judaism, “affirms Israel’s covenant, Torah, and religious tradition” and asserts historical and theological conglomerations of Judaism and Christianity.14

Kinzer and Rudolph redefine the communal boundaries of Messianic Jews not only as a subcommunity among the greater Jewish world, but also as co-heirs in the Jewish-Gentile ecclesia of the Messiah. The role of liturgy in a Messianic Jewish service becomes a lived religious experience and a corporate spiritual formation in Jewish tradition.

To start, Kinzer argues,

Most Christians and Jews of the last two thousand years have viewed the emergence of their two separate communities neither as a natural and beneficial evolution nor as a schism crippling them both. Instead, they have considered their own community and tradition to be the only authentic heir of the promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and have seen the other as an apostate people, alienated from the covenant.15

However, in Messianic Judaism, Yeshua is the center of Jewish life, and Israel is the center of the ecclesia.16 This interconnectivity is intrinsic to the identity of Messianic Jews.

Messianic Jewish scholars are not alone in presenting Christianity and Judaism intertwined. Daniel Boyarin describes,

A time when Jews and Christians were much more mixed up with each other than they are now, when there were many Jews who believed in something quite like the Father and the Son and even in something quite like the incarnation of the Son in the Messiah, and when followers of Jesus kept kosher as Jews, and accordingly a time in which the question of the difference between Judaism and Christianity just didn’t exist as it does now . . . Everybody then — both those who accepted Jesus and those who didn’t — was Jewish (or Israelite, the actual ancient terminology).17

Boyarin’s research validates the theological reasoning Kinzer and Rudolph hold.

In a similar vein, the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) envisions Messianic Judaism as,

A movement of Jewish congregations and groups committed to Yeshua the Messiah that embrace the covenantal responsibility of Jewish life and identity rooted in Torah, expressed in tradition, and renewed and applied in the context of the New Covenant.18

Messianic Jewish identity, rooted in the Torah (relationship with Judaism) and applied in the New Covenant context (a Jew-Gentile ecclesia in Yeshua), remains a primary concern for Messianic leaders in their congregational spiritual formation. The Siddur, a compilation of Jewish life and identity in tradition, is a vital connection for Messianic Judaism within the greater Jewish world.

Siddur as a Link for Tradition

The Siddur includes prayers for weekdays, Shabbat, annual festivals, and life cycle events. Biblical passages and inspirational compositions (dating from the early Second Temple period, Mishnaic and Talmudic eras, and Middle Ages to modern times) constitute the written liturgies.19 Of all the liturgical prayers, the most central, ancient prayer is the Shema. It is a collection of three Torah passages (Deut 6:4–9; Deut 11:13–21; Num 15:37–41) that observant Jews recite daily. The structure and the words of daily prayers teach people the awareness of God’s presence and an attitude of thanksgiving and praise, while Shabbat liturgies point to the holiness of time.20 Day by day and week by week, liturgy directs people to God’s faithfulness, mercy, kingship, and providence.21

The commonalities in Messianic Jewish liturgical spiritual formation with the greater Jewish world are the fixity of Shabbat, appointed times, and life cycle events. Because Messianic Jews remain Torah-observant, circumcision, festivals (with major celebrations such as Pesach and minor holidays such as Purim), and bar/bat mitzvah are unique contents non-existing in Gentile prayer books. A rich tradition with a corporate, canonical story of God’s creation, redemption, and eternal kingship with Israel is repeated and remembered through the liturgy.

Getting in Touch with Tradition through Davening

Jewish spirituality exists at the intersection of making the knowledge of God known through concrete tradition. Intangible faith and touchable practice come together in davening (praying in a traditional manner). Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Joel Segel explain davening by the analogy of a hand in a glove. The glove’s movements indicate an inside hand’s existence and reflect the intelligence and desires that control the movements.22 Likewise, in the totality of words and actions, liturgical worship reveals faith in operation.

Tallit and tefillin are “external symbols of inward commitment to the life of observance of the mitzvot.”23 As an expression of devotion, speaking the blessing when putting on a tallit directs one’s worship in keeping God’s commandment. In Koren Shalem Siddur, three prayers are involved in wrapping oneself in the tallit.

Meditation: Bless the Lord, my soul. Lord, my God, You are very great, clothed in majesty and splendor, wrapped in a robe of light, spreading out of the heavens like a tent.

Before wrapping: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has made us holy through His commandments, and has commanded us to wrap ourselves in the tasseled garment.

After wrapping: How precious is Your loving-kindness, O God, and the children of men find refuge under the shadow of Your wings. They are filled with the rich plenty of Your House. You give them drink from Your river of delights. For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light, we see light. Continue Your loving-kindness to those who know You, and Your righteousness to the upright in heart.24

These prayers relate God’s greatness and light to his children wrapping themselves in his protection and commandments. Devotional texts evoke a worshiper’s gratitude for God’s nearness, “created by wearing a garment that corresponds to God’s raiment of light, and from which his loving-kindness and righteousness flow.”25 These prayers encapsulate the joy and responsibility of observance as his people, endowed by his holiness, attached to him through an eternal covenant, and wrapped in his lovingkindness.

Messianic siddurim include similar prayers for the tallit. One Messianic siddur exalts Yeshua and connects the calling of God’s people, a kingdom of priests, with the commandment of wearing tzitzit:

Blessed are you, O Lord, who has given us the command to wear a cord of blue. In ancient times, only the class of royalty was permitted to wear fringes on the hems of their garments. So Yeshua wore fringes and those in need of healing at times sought to touch the fringes of his garment. You have made Your people a royal priesthood, a chosen nation. The fringe is to remind us of our calling. Blessed are You, O Lord, the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah.26

In John Fischer’s Siddur for Messianic Jews, these prayers are used when putting on the tallit:

Praised are you, O Lord our God, Ruler over the universe, who set us apart through your commandments and instructed us to wrap ourselves in the tallit to remind us of your Torah and to inspire us to fulfill its laws.27

How precious is your loving kindness, O God! Your children can take refuge under the protection of your sheltering care. They will be abundantly satisfied in your house: and you will refresh them with your living waters. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light. O continue your loving kindness to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright in heart.28

In the keva (routine) of putting on a tallit and speaking blessings, Jewish spirituality becomes a shared experience for all observant Jews.

Michael Schiffman recounts befriending a Jewish young man who was drawn to Jewish prayer while visiting Russia.

When he found out that I prayed and donned t’fillin each morning, he asked if I could teach him to daven (pray). I had a Russian-Hebrew siddur with me. I showed him which prayers to pray and lent him my t’fillin to wear during the prayers. I was touched by how much it meant to him.29

Schiffman’s account reminds one of Elisha’s longing to be like Elijah (2 Kgs 2:9–13). This young man is not alone. A recent survey conducted by the UMJC suggests that many young adults in Messianic congregations in North America desire more Hebrew liturgy in their worship services.30 This survey result indicates a trend toward more interest in liturgy among Messianic Jewish young adults. Young men and women, like the one in Schiffman’s story, are asking, Can you teach me to daven?

A Canonical Narrative and a Sociological Marker

With an embedded identity inseparable from the Jewish people and Judaism, Messianic Judaism buttresses Messianic liturgy participation as a part of all Israel. Jonathan Kaplan suggests reading the Shabbat morning liturgy with the Siddur as the Jewish ritual text to interpret redemption, and Yeshua as the redeemer.31 His premise for the liturgical theology of redemption is anthropological and canonical. Therefore, Shacharit Shabbat liturgy is a progression to the throne of the holy king and a “reenactment of the drama of our journey to Sinai to receive revelation from God.”32

Kaplan offers the Messianic community four perspectives on engaging the Shabbat liturgy. The liturgy (1) highlights the realization of redemption for Israel as the corporate and ongoing covenant people of God, (2) engages participants in history through mitzvah, (3) unites the community of Israel in anticipation of God’s coming kingdom, and (4) through the atonement, tells the redemption story of the community and cosmos.33 Kaplan’s presentation of the Jewish interpretation of redemption accentuates a magnificent and complex thinking God. Placing Yeshua in the center of liturgy and reading the Siddur as a community open hearts to the knowledge of God in the face of Yeshua while embracing the narrative as Jewish people/all Israel (2 Cor 4:6). Theology is extracted from unfolding layers of themes within the Siddur. In stories upon stories, an individual finds his identity in the larger anthropological narrative of his people.

The Siddur is a common thread for contemporaneous sociological identity. David Nichol states, “The act of Jewish prayer, along with its associated texts, actions, kavvanot (intention, devotion and fervor in prayer), and venues, serves as an identification marker.”34 He expands on why, as a Messianic Jew, he chooses to pray traditional liturgy as an expression of identifying with all Israel.

Choosing a relationship with Israel thus clarifies and enriches my relationship with myself. When I encounter God, or even express a deep longing for such a connection, I use a shared language, namely Hebrew. I approach God as a Jew.35

Nichol argues for a greater valuation of “Siddur-based communal forms of prayer” for sociological reasons.36 He exhorts Messianic communities to pray with a more traditional liturgy to demonstrate its identity and relational priority as a subcommunity in the greater Jewish world.

Founding Generation’s Debate and Younger Generation’s Quest

Not all agree with Nichol’s proposition. Dan Juster addresses his concern with immersion into traditional texts:

Can we be comfortable using the traditions of those who inherited the stance of those who rejected Yeshua? . . . We who are Jewish are Biblical New Covenant Jews, not Rabbinic Jews! . . . The intimacy of our worship experience with God, I believe, must only include prayer material that we are convinced comes out of the faith community that was walking in the true revelation of God.37

Juster’s reservation is reflected in New Covenant Siddur. In this Messianic prayer book, Juster compiles Old and New Covenant texts to honor Yeshua as the Lord of the Shabbat explicitly. Many traditional liturgical texts are left out of this composition of the Siddur except for references to page numbers in ArtScroll and Koren siddurim. A new liturgy, for example, the tallit blessing, is compiled for a clear New Covenant context of Jewish liturgical worship. Traditionally oriented (Messianic and non-Messianic) Jews will likely find this prayer book out of sync with Judaism and non-Messianic synagogues. Nonetheless, New Covenant Siddur makes Messianic faith and New Covenant context the center of a congregation’s narrative. The lack of traditional texts in this corpus accentuates an evangelical approach to Messianic Jewish faith.

One unique dilemma for Messianic Judaism is the conflation and tension of Judaism and Christianity. As a theological, anthropological, and social identity marker, liturgy reflects such conflation and tension. The intra-Jewish debates on the application of the Siddur and the spectrum of liturgical practices in local contexts are seen in the literature. There are accounts of observant Jews bewildered by Messianic services due to the lack of historical, liturgical continuity.38 There are also testimonies such as “chanting the familiar liturgy the first time I stepped into a Messianic synagogue . . . brought together my Jewish heritage and my faith in Yeshua.”39 Yet, regardless of the founding generation’s debate on liturgy, the younger generation is at the door knocking for more. Present congregational leaders are tasked with presenting the essentials of Jewish liturgy for generational transmission.

Because of the hard work of the founding generation, the younger generation has a repository of Messianic siddurim from which to learn.40 Most of the young people in the Messianic movement grew up in Messianic Judaism and connected with the Siddur as their Jewish heritage.41 Educating the next generation “to penetrate the complexity of the [liturgical] service . . . to connect with it spiritually” is integral to their spiritual formation.42 Mentorship in davening and illumination for integrating spiritual and psychological pathways (in a later section) will deepen their avodah.

A Priesthood through Liturgy

In Israel-centered ecclesiology, Yeshua is at the center of Israel’s narrative and leading his ecclesia. Using the Siddur for Messianic Jewish spiritual formation emphasizes the concept and practice of priesthood with Israel and the ecclesia. The Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (MJRC) links davening to “reconnect[ing] with the identity as members of a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” and joining “our Messiah in his priestly service.”43 Through Yeshua’s blood, a kingdom of priests offers their services in the redemption story. In the Siddur’s structure and fixity, a mishkan is constructed for the God of Israel to inhabit.44 Through Shabbat liturgy, the Messianic Jewish community exalts God with praise and thanksgiving, and joins Yeshua, the great high priest, as a holy priesthood before the throne of grace. Reflecting Yeshua’s work of being a light in this world, the community attends to building God’s dwelling. The construction of the mishkan extends to Messianic Jewish families’ Shabbat meals and daily blessings as parents teach their children that God dwells with his people and sanctifies the world with them.

Kinzer discusses liturgical life as participation in the priestly role of Israel.

[The Siddur] reflects the corporate Jewish encounter with God throughout Jewish history, and provides a common language of prayer for Jews at all times and places. It makes it possible for Jews to pray as a people.45

Praying the liturgy is praying practically “as a member of the community with whom God has established an eternal covenant.”46

In this reading of the Siddur, Yeshua is both a praying Israelite and the one to whom prayers point, and Messianic Jews, through liturgical practice, stand with Yeshua and offer service to God.47 The resurrected Yeshua is the psalm leader and high priest amidst the Jewish prayer of thanksgiving in daily activities and kedushah blessings.48 In the two poles of Jewish spirituality, earthly and heavenly, Yeshua is present and leading his people.49

Sabbath and the Creation Account

The creation account begins with order, distinctions and boundaries, and the relationship between God and humankind. When the Creator ceased creating, he blessed and made holy the seventh day (Gen 1:1–2:3). At Sinai, the Creator revealed himself to Israel as the covenantal God who blesses and makes holy Israel. The Hebrew linguistic similarities link God’s rest (וַיִּשְׁבֹּת) from creation to Israel’s observance of Shabbat (שַׁבָּת), a perpetual sign between the Lord and all Israelites throughout the generations.50 With a cohesive plot (from the Abrahamic covenant, Mosaic covenant, and Davidic covenant to Yeshua’s new covenant foretold by Jeremiah), God redemptively initiates covenants with his people, then all nations, to return to “the original responsibility of imaging God in this world . . . as kings and priests, sovereigns and servants.”51

From the creation account is an understanding of Shabbat that begins the process of “transformation of the entire created order, bringing it from chol [common] to kedushah [holy].”52 Shabbat liturgy is God speaking to his priestly servants, and his servants of perpetual generations responding with their words of agreement. In V’shamru, the words explicate God’s purpose in establishing, and Israel’s responsibility of keeping, Shabbat:

The children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever, that in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he ceased from work and rested.53

In Alenu, Israel accepts its privileges and obligations and prays that the world may know Israel’s one true living God:54

It is incumbent upon us to praise the Master of all, to exalt the Creator of the world, for he has made us distinct from the nations and unique among the families of the earth. Our destiny is not like theirs, our calling is our task. We bow down and acknowledge before the King of Kings that there is none like him. For he stretched forth the heavens like a tent and established the earth. Truly there is none like our Lord and King. As the Torah says, “You shall know this day and reflect in your heart that it is the Lord who is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath, there is none else.” We hope, O Lord our God, to soon behold your majestic glory when all abominations shall be removed and all false gods shall be at an end. Then shall the world be perfected under the rule of the Lord Almighty.55

Yeshua’s priestly function in the midst of his congregation as described in the book of Hebrews and Messianic Jewish priestly response in Shabbat liturgy build upon one another (Heb 2:12). However, within a Messianic congregation is also the ecclesiological community of Gentiles who are partners in the Messiah’s kingdom of priesthood. If liturgical practice leads to the formation of a unified community, how does Jewish liturgy relate to Gentiles?

Liturgy and Communal Boundaries in the Ecclesia

Since the beginning of the movement, Messianic Jewish leaders have broached complex subjects such as the greater Jewish world’s denunciation of the church’s replacement theology, and Jewish-Gentile identities and boundary-setting in the body of Messiah. The ethos of Messianic Judaism is Yeshua-centered communities of Jews and Gentiles living in scriptural distinctions in interdependence and mutual blessing toward an eschatological destiny in the Messiah.56

As described by Luke in Acts 21, the apostolic community of the New Covenant consists of Torah-observant Jews and non-observant Gentiles in the Messiah. The Apostolic Writings further teach believers to live a Spirit-led life of deference and honor in the fellowship of Jews and Gentiles.57 Nonetheless, with the discontinuity of Messianic Jewish presence after antiquity, re-establishing the scriptural pattern requires clear and firm boundaries. The body of Messiah consists of Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians with ascribed and avowed identity markers. Gentile followers of Yeshua do not take on Jewish identity, but inherit the spiritual blessings and responsibilities of being in the Messiah’s family. With Gentiles being the majority in most Messianic congregations, practicing Jewish-Gentile distinctions needs education of Gentiles within and outside the Messianic movement.

Perspective from a Gentile Believer

Shifting away from the historical church’s supersessionist practice (converting Jews to Christians), some Gentile Yeshua-believers in our time go to the other extreme of adopting the Jewish lifestyle to return to New Covenant Christianity. However, the New Covenant’s teaching on distinctions between Jews and Gentiles is unheeded in their application of reconstructing Christianity (Acts 15). This cultural appropriation is part and parcel of the challenge for Messianic Judaism.

From a Gentile believer’s perspective, post-supersessionist Gentiles have the calling to glorify the Creator God by living according to his order and design for life, including distinctions and boundaries in relationships. The Father of all blessings has willed distinctions since the creation account. It is good to have evening and morning, maleness and femaleness, chol and kedushah, and Jews and Gentiles. It is our glory to live it out.

Oneness in Messiah’s ecclesia, or oneness in a liturgical community, is neither Gentiles replacing Jews nor uniform Torah observance.58 Oneness is in our faith — in the covenantal God of Israel as Heavenly Father of all, the lordship of Yeshua, and the Spirit’s power to heal the ecclesia — and in loving one another. Adam and Eve remained distinctly different — physically, emotionally, volitionally, and practically — as male and female to procreate. Likewise, when Jews and Gentiles work for one purpose and vision, we image God as kings and priests to provide order, life, and repair. We describe God as the God of Israel and all nations who calls both groups to demonstrate his love, wisdom, and mystery (Eph 3:6).

Gentiles can learn spiritual principles of Jewish life, e.g., a Shabbat lifestyle, and be free to participate in the feasts with Messianic Jews.59 Nonetheless, Gentiles’ spiritual formation is not about becoming Torah observant or Jewish. Instead, it is submitting to Yeshua’s delivering, redeeming, and sanctifying work that transforms us into his likeness (Phil 2:1–4). The Siddur brings worshiping Jews and Gentiles together in a congregation at the feet of Yeshua, thanking the God of Israel for a narrative that leads to our shared eschatological destination.

Remaining in the identity and calling of a Gentle believer testifies to the powerful blood of Yeshua that someone so far from the knowledge of God of Israel is brought near to his kingship! Living out the scriptural practice of Jew-Gentile distinction in the Messianic Jewish community trumpets that God’s design is good, not a mistake. Our differences in identity accentuate the order and multiplicity of God’s glory. It is good to have Jews with tallits and Gentiles without them standing together before the King, praising him for such fullness of grace and truth. It is good for Jews to pray specificities in the Siddur, such as Alenu, and Gentiles to join the universals, such as Tephillat HaAdon, the Lord’s Prayer, in a Shabbat service. Every service has an order that is accepted and enjoyed. (For example, different roles are assigned to the prayer leader, cantor, and the congregation.) Order and distinction in Jew-Gentile communal boundaries in a local congregation reflect God’s salvific wisdom.

Finally, to educate Gentiles regarding communal boundaries in a local ecclesia, congregational leaders can use Messianic siddurim as teaching material. A class can systematically go through the siddur texts. In discussing the historical account behind the blessings, the New Covenant’s respective teaching, and differentiated applications for Jews and Gentiles in the local congregational context, Gentiles in the Messianic congregation can grow in their Jewish-Gentile fellowship with informed education.

Spiritual Formation: An Integrated Approach

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, one starts spiritual formation as a recipient of God’s kingship and deliverance, and builds piety by obeying God’s instructions. The theological aspects of formation are briefly discussed in previous sections of this paper. In this section, liturgical practice is examined as an integrated aspect of spiritual formation.

The term spiritual formation has undergone semantic changes in modern times. If defined as a spiritual discipline, it encompasses biblical practices for godliness such as Bible study, prayer, and giving. In recent decades, the development of modern psychology has connected spiritual disciplines with innate psychological pathways. This approach encourages believers to apply God-given, intrinsic propensities to enhance devotional habits and a life of godliness.

Isaac Roussel uses the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator to evaluate an individual’s temperament and engagement with the siddur. Roussel types the temperament for practicing historical Judaism as ISTJ (Introverted vs. Extroverted, Sensing vs. Intuition, Thinking vs. Feeling, and Judging vs. Perceiving), and separates the general population into four groups of temperaments: NF (“iNtroverted” and Feeling), NT, SJ, SP.60 Roussel suggests devotional practices, such as holy reading (Lectio Divina), meditating on God’s name, and rotating prayer selections from the Siddur, to increase people’s joy and frequency in davening.

Gary Thomas’s Sacred Pathways is another example of this philosophy. Thomas identifies nine pathways (naturalist, sensate, traditionalist, ascetic, activist, caregiver, enthusiast, contemplative, and intellectual), and their applications to Judeo-Christian spiritual formation.61 According to Thomas, a naturalist connects with God through experiencing him outdoors.62 A sensate does so through senses and beauty.63 A traditionalist loves God through rituals, symbols, and religious practices.64 An ascetic gravitates toward solitude, simplicity, and commitment.65 An activist loves God through confronting evil.66 A caregiver does so by serving others.67 An enthusiast loves God with mystery and celebration.68 A contemplative devotes himself to God in adoration, while an intellectual pursues God with her mind.69 Thomas and Perrine use the language of spiritual temperaments to describe spiritual preferences, including “inclinations and distinctions [in] identifiable categories [to] understand others and ourselves.”70 Understanding our spiritual temperaments as innate pathways for spiritual disciplines aids a community’s experience of liturgy. Particularly pertaining to our discussion, in the Shacharit service for Shabbat, liturgy intersects multiple spiritual temperaments and benefits psychological and neurobiological pathways:

(1) Pesukei DeZimrah exalts God as the creator. Descriptions of creations and God’s grandeur appeal to a naturalist (e.g., Barukh She’amar; 1 Chr 16:8-36; Ps 19).71

(2) Kavanah is emphasized throughout the service, particularly in the Shema, and embraced by a contemplative.

(3) Amidah meets the desire of an ascetic for discipline and silence.

(4) For the sensate and enthusiast, their intrinsic propensities lead them to worship the Torah-giver and meaningfully experience the Torah scroll procession.

(5) The traditionalist deepens their worship in fixity and tradition.

(6) The text of the Siddur directs an intellectual’s mind to love God.

In a Shabbat service — from morning blessings, songs, Shema and its blessings, Amidah, Torah service, to concluding prayers — every segment expounds on God’s relationship with his people and their desire to honor and love him. The complex tapestry of Shabbat liturgy can intersect differently with people’s temperaments and innate pathways. Consider Gill Hall’s words from “Applying Psychological-Type Theory to Faith,”

If individuals show preferences for responding to people and situations . . . and [if] God has made each person unique, then it seems natural to recognise that in the faith journey, while all travel the same road, they may do so in somewhat different ways . . .As the journey progresses there may be a willingness to explore less preferred aspects of spirituality, prayer and worship, which then become areas for spiritual growth. . . . Preferring a sensing, intuitive, thinking or feeling approach to aspects of faith does not preclude exploring features which are more associated with other type preferences. People use each function at different times, though they tend to use the less preferred functions less easily.72

In application, classes that teach the Siddur can incorporate mapping temperaments and psychological pathways with devotional practices to help young adults grow in their spiritual discipline. For example: (A) Engage in a weekly outdoor activity together, such as hiking or star gazing. Discuss Hebrew liturgies that exalt God as the creator, and invite the naturalists in the group to share the effect of connecting with God outdoors. (B) Learn Lectio Divina and practice it on a passage like the Shema in a weekly group. Practice visualization in liturgy memorization.73 Invite contemplatives in the group to share their experiences.

Another suggestion is to consider one’s preferred languages of expressing love.74 There can be a correlation between one’s expression of love (obedience to mitzvot) and spiritual preference/inclination of devotion. If speaking words of affirmation is the preferred language of expressing love, one may find prayers of exaltation particularly meaningful. A sensate may speak his love language through physical touch and connect intentionally with God through putting on the tallit.

There are scientific data showing the benefits of communal liturgical practice. A literature review by researchers has shown that when one engages in high- and low- structured prayer, the PET scan indicates “as a type of recurring behavior” that “stimulate[s] the dopaminergic reward system in practicing individuals.”75 This data provides another lens to consider the benefit of keva and daily davening. Additionally, communal liturgy interacts with humankind’s psychological need for connection. In research on prayer and the human desire for connection, 368 undergraduate students participated in a study of prayer in three categories: inward (for self), outward (for others), or upward (toward God) foci.76 This study found that prayer meets the psychological need for connection.77 Shabbat liturgy encompasses cognitive dimensions (e.g., intrinsic, extrinsic, and quest) and inward, outward, and upward prayers. The text and practice strengthen the connection with self (e.g., Messianic Jewish identity), with others (all Israel), and with God. Though spiritual transformation takes time, liturgical practice powerfully connects a community.


This article begins with the parameters of Messianic Judaism as a subcommunity of Judaism, and Jewish followers of Yeshua as co-heirs in the ecclesia. The Siddur, a compilation of Israel’s priestly service, links Messianic Jews with the greater Jewish community. By examining vital aspects of the repository of the siddur, for example, redemption, creation, and Yeshua’s priestly role, the article concludes that liturgy significantly contributes to Messianic Jewish identity formation.

Since the spiritual formation of the Messianic Jewish movement is generational and bilateral, this paper concludes with a discussion on the education for the younger generation of Messianic Jews, and Gentile members of the Messianic community. Specifically, integrating spiritual and psychological pathways in davening can enhance young adult mentorship and congregational engagement. With inputs from psychological and psychiatric studies, the communal liturgical practice is proven to connect and reward the community powerfully.

Finally, one asks the rhetorical question: “What would the ecclesia miss if Messianic congregations diminished their liturgical participation?” We will miss a rich Messianic Jewish priesthood service, the demonstration of corporate chosenness, and the narrative of God’s one continuous redemption plan for his people. We will miss witnessing a clear expression of Jewish life in Yeshua.

Karen Cheng is a doctoral student studying Messianic Jewish Studies at The King’s University in Southlake, Texas. Karen and her husband, Charles, reside in Wisconsin and support the Messianic Jewish movement.

1 Wayne Dosick, Living Judaism: The Complete Guide to Jewish Belief, Tradition & Practice (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 117.

2 UMJC, “Our History,” Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, n.d., n.p.,

3 Stuart Dauermann, “The Importance of Jewish Liturgy,” Voices of Messianic Judaism: Confronting Critical Issues Facing a Maturing Movement, ed. Dan Cohn-Sherbok (Baltimore: Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2001), 1.

4 Joel Chernoff, “Messianic Jewish Revival and Liturgy,” Voices of Messianic Judaism, 16.

5 Dauermann, 1.

6 Evelyn Garfiel, Service of the Heart: A Guide to the Jewish Prayer Book (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), 34.

7 See for example, John Fischer, Siddur for Messianic Jews 9th ed. (Palm Harbor, FL: Menorah Ministries, 2018); Jeremiah Greenberg, Messianic Shabbat Siddur 12th ed. (Martinsburg, WV: Messianic Liturgical Resources, 2004); Barry A. Budoff, A Messianic Jewish Siddur for Shabbat and Festivals 4th edition, eds. Kirk Gliebe, Seth Klayman, and Howard Silverman (Skokie, IL: 2017).

8 Aaron Eby, First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2014), 27; Jonathan Kaplan, “A Divine Tapestry: Reading the Siddur, Reading Redemption, Reading Yeshua” (paper presented at Hashivenu Forum, Pasadena, CA, 1–3 February 2004), 3–4,

9 Yaakov Ariel, “Messianic Judaism,” The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 2nd edition, eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 757.

10 Yaakov Ariel, Unusual Relationship: Evangelical Christians and Jews (New York: New York University, 2013), 232.

11 Ariel, Unusual Relationship, 231.

12 Jennifer M. Rosner, “Introduction to the Thought and Theology of Mark Kinzer,” Israel’s Messiah and the People of God: A Vision for Messianic Jewish Covenant Fidelity, ed. Jennifer M. Rosner (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011), xxiv; David Rudolph, “Messianic Judaism in Antiquity and in the Modern Era,” Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations, eds. David Rudolph and Joel Willitts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 30.

13 Mark S. Kinzer, Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005), 291.

14 Kinzer, Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism, 299.

15 Kinzer, Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism, 263.

16 Israel’s Messiah and the People of God, 64.

17 Daniel Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ (New York: New Press, 2012), 1–2.

18 UMJC Theology Committee, “Defining Messianic Judaism,” Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, 2005, n.p.,

19 Adin Steinsaltz, A Guide to Jewish Prayer (New York: Schocken, 2000), 5.

20 The Koren Shalem Siddur, ed. Jonathan Sacks (Jerusalem: Koren, 2019), 4–19, 26–31; Steinsaltz, 104.

21 Garfiel, 17.

22 Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Joel Segel, Davening: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Prayer (Nashville: Jewish Lights, 2014), 59–60.

23 Koren Siddur, 12.

24 Koren Siddur, 12.

25 Steinsaltz, 341.

26 Daniel C. Juster, New Covenant Siddur: A Yeshua-Centered Messianic Jewish Worship Book, trans. Michael Rudolph (Frederick, MD: Tikkun America, 2019), 6.

27 This translation is similar to the traditional blessing, with added phrases by Dr. Fischer.

28 Fischer, vii.

29 Michael Schiffman, “Intermarriage Can Have an Adverse Effect on Messianic Judaism,” Voices of Messianic Judaism, 113.

30 Deborah Pardo-Kaplan et al., “Revitalizing Messianic Jewish Congregations: What Attracts & Engages Young Adults &Teens,” Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, 2022, 26,

31 Kaplan, “A Divine Tapestry,” 1.

32 Kaplan, “A Divine Tapestry,” 5.

33 Kaplan, “A Divine Tapestry,” 40.

34 David Nichol, “Prayer in Community: Identity Politics for Messianic Jews,” Kesher 31 (2017): 1,

35 Nichol, 3.

36 Nichol, 1, 6.

37 Dan Juster, preface to Jewish Roots: A Foundation of Biblical Theology, 3rd ed. (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 1995), n.p.

38 Kaplan, “A Divine Tapestry,” 42; Evert W. van de Poll, Messianic Jews and their Holiday Practice: History, Analysis and Gentile Christian Interest (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Edition, 2015), 67.

39 Mara Frisch, “How Jewish Will the Messianic Jewish Community of the Future Be?” The Borough Park Papers: Symposium III, How Jewish Should the Messianic Jewish Community Be? (Clarksville: Borough Park Symposium, October 22–24, 2012), 206.

40 Please see footnote 7.

41 Frisch, 207.

42 Kaplan, “A Divine Tapestry,” 43.

43 “Prayer,” Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council, n.d., n.p.,

44 Dauermann, 2.

45 Israel’s Messiah and the People of God, 65.

46 Israel’s Messiah and the People of God, 65.

47 Israel’s Messiah and the People of God, 62–87.

48 Mark S. Kinzer, “Pots, Pans, & Seraphim: Messianic Jewish Prayer in Its Heavenly Context” (paper presented at the Hashivenu Forum, 2017), 5–6,

49 Kinzer, “Pots, Pans, & Seraphim,” 5–6.

50 Paul L. Saal, “Origins and Destiny: Israel, Creation and the Messianic Jewish Canonical Narrative,” Kesher 32 (2018): 4,

51 Saal, 14.

52 Saal, 6.

53 Fischer, 11.

54 Isaac Roussel, “Alaynu,” Siddur Kehillat Zera Avraham (Ann Harbor, MI: 2018), ii, eBook.

55 Fischer, 105.

56 Rudolph, Introduction to Introduction to Messianic Judaism, 14.

57 Juster, “A Messianic Jewish Response to ‘One Law Movements,’” Tikkun Global, 2022, 1.

58 David J. Rudolph “Toward Paul’s Ephesians 2 Vision of the One New Man: Navigating Around Hebrew Roots and Replacement Theologies,” Kesher 41 (2022): 24.

59 Juster, “A Messianic Jewish Response,” 4–5.

60 Isaac Roussel, “Tefillah & Temperament,” Kesher 31 (2017): 56–57,

61 Gary Thomas, Sacred Pathways: Nine Ways to Connect with God (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020), vii.

62 Thomas, 38.

63 Thomas, 54–55.

64 Thomas, 72–73.

65 Thomas, 101.

66 Thomas, 126.

67 Thomas, 149.

68 Thomas, 160.

69 Thomas, 185, 206.

70 Myra Perrine, What’s Your God Language?: Connecting with God through Your Unique Spiritual Temperament (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2007), 8, Google Books.

71 A Messianic Jewish Siddur for Shabbat and Festivals, fourth edition, trans. Barry A. Budoff; eds, Kirk Gliebe, Seth Klayman and Howard Silverman (Skokie, IL: Devar Emet Messianic Publications, 2017), 52–55.

72 Gill Hall, “Applying Psychological-Type Theory to Faith: Spirituality, Prayer, Worship and Scripture,” Mental Health, Religion & Culture 15, no. 9 (2012): 861.

73 Roussel, “Tefillah & Temperament,” 60.

74 The five love languages are: (1) acts of service, (2) receiving gifts, (3) quality time, (4) words of affirmation, and (5) physical touch. Gary Chapman, “The Five Love Languages,”

75 James I. Rim et al., “Current Understanding of Religion, Spirituality, and Their Neurobiological Correlates,” Harvard Review of Psychiatry 27 (September/October 2019), 310.

76 Kevin L. Ladd and Bernard Spilka, “Inward, Outward, and Upward: Cognitive Aspects of Prayer,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 41 (2002): 475.

77 Ladd and Spilka, 482.