Richard Kronenfeld
Adult Ba'al Teshuvah Ph.D. Physicist

Shabbos and Shakespeare, or Davening as Drama Part II

Used with permission from Koren Publishers Ltd. of Jerusalem.

We recall that part I ended with the following proposed correspondence between the structure of the Shabbos service and the structure of Shakespearian drama:

Stage Shabbos service Shakespearian drama
1 (Friday) Kabbalas Shabbos and Maariv Exposition or introduction
2 (Saturday) Bircas HaShachar, Psukei d’Zimrah, and Shacharis Rising action
3 Torah service Climax or turning point
4 Musaf and Mincha Falling action
5 Maariv for the conclusion of Shabbos Conclusion


To be sure, the schema outlined here isn’t the only way to divide Shabbos into five stages. For example, in Seventh Heaven: Celebrating Shabbat with Rebbe Nachman of Breslov [Jewish Lights Publishing, 2003], Moshe Mykoff examines five time frames of Shabbat. He writes in the introduction,

“The predominant theme of the first section, ‘Shabbat: On the Way In,’ is that of letting go of the week and preparing to celebrate Shabbat. The majority of the mitzvahs that form ‘Shabbat: The Night,” the second section, relate to the ascent into holiness and the contemplative atmosphere that comes with the onset of Shabbat. The practices that make up ‘Shabbat: The Morning,’ the third section, focus primarily on expanding awareness. The fourth section, ‘Shabbat: The Afternoon,’ highlights the parallel between the cosmic oneness at the climax of the holy day and the wholeness and harmony that can be ours through Shabbat observance. The essays of ‘Shabbat: On the Way Out,’ the fifth and final section, relate mostly to carrying Shabbat holiness over to the rest of the week, drawing the higher consciousness of the seventh day into the ‘everyday of our lives.”

The Breslover perspective of the time frames is more all-encompassing and spiritual than ours, which is more narrowly focused on the structure of the prayer services, so that we may see these as complementary approaches. Thus we modify our table to designate the Musaf Kedushah as the climax, in keeping with the commentary in the Art Scroll Siddur that the Musaf Kedushah has a higher spiritual level than the one for Shacharis, hence “…Israel joins the angels by proclaiming Shema Yisrael, our own declaration of God’s greatness.” [Footnote, p. 464.]

Stage Shabbos service Shakespearian drama
1 (Friday) Kabbalas Shabbos and Maariv exposition or introduction
2 (Saturday) Bircas HaShachar, Psukei d’Zimrah, Shacharis, and Torah service rising action
3 Musaf (Kedushah) climax or turning point
4 Mincha falling action
5 Maariv for the conclusion of Shabbos conclusion


Even more generally, the services can be divided into more than five component parts, as exemplified by the Koren Ani Tefillah Siddur. Their analysis is based on the “tefilah pyramid” shown above, developed by Rabbi Moshe Drelich [cited in the Koren Ani TefilahSiddur, p. xxii], which structures the weekday Shacharis in seven parts: Bircas HaShachar, P’sukei d’Zimrah, the Shema with its accompanying blessings, the Amida, Tachanun, Ashrei and U’va l’Tzion, Alenu and Shir shel Yom (Psalm of the Day). Following the pyramid is its adaptation in the Koren Ani Tefilah Siddur.

The reader may well ask what all this signifies, other than an interesting intellectual exercise. After all, our Shabbos service was codified long before Shakespeare’s time, and there is no reason to believe that he had any knowledge of it. Nevertheless, seeing that Shabbos has an element of drama in it may offer us another perspective on our holy day. As the closing lines of the title song Fiddler on the Roof say:

“It might not mean a thing —

But then again it might.”

About the Author
I'm a native New Yorker (Brooklyn, to be precise) transplanted to the desert as a teen-ager. I hold a Ph.D in Physics from Stanford and have taught mathematics and physics at the high school, community college, and university level. I'm an adult ba'al teshuvah and label myself as centrist Orthodox and a Religious Zionist along the lines of OU, Yeshiva University, and Mizrachi.
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