June 8, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Day and Night; Night and Day

Welcome back to “How Should I Know?”—the only advice column that starts and ends with Barchu.

Dear Mordechai,

If in Yiddishkeit, the night comes before the day, why does every siddur start with Shacharis?

That’s a great question. Are all our siddurim goyish?

There are a few reasons for this, though, if you think about it:

1. Historically, Shacharis was invented first—by Avraham Avinu. Though by that logic, if we’re going by the siddur I have in front of me at the moment, the next thing invented was Birchas Hamazon, then Mincha, then Maariv, then bedtime Shema, and then Shabbat davening. And the last thing in my siddur is Torah leining for Mondays and Thursdays.

2. Shacharis is the tefillah that kids start with in school. No kindergarten starts with Maariv. School doesn’t start that late. They start learning Shacharis in kindergarten, Mincha in like fifth grade or so, and then they learn about Maariv when they start high school, apparently.

3. Shacharis is definitely the best tefillah for kids to learn first, because it starts off with a bunch of fun songs they can be taught one at a time, whereas Maariv starts with Barchu, after which you’re not supposed to talk.

4. As it is, it sometimes takes me about half of Maariv to absent-mindedly find the correct page of the siddur, and when it comes to the beginning of Shacharis, I’m even more out of it. If you don’t put it at the beginning of the siddur, I’m never going to find it.

5. Most women don’t daven Maariv and many of them don’t daven Mincha, but most of them daven Shacharis. So the siddur is arranged in order of popularity of the tefillos, as far as women. But what about men, you ask?

6. Men begin Shacharis by putting on our tallis and tefillin in front of an open siddur, and it keeps trying to flip to other pages. So this way, even if it flips to the table of contents, we’re still basically right there.

7. And speaking of popularity, the most popular kind of Maariv, hands down, is Mincha-Maariv. It just makes sense to put them next to each other. Because otherwise people would have to flip during that one minute when everyone is like, “When did they just announce that Maariv is?” until Maariv actually starts. (No one actually uses the table of contents.)

But besides those reasons, it makes very little sense. I’m not even sure how many people even start using a given siddur with Shacharis. If you buy yourself a new siddur, most of the time you buy it during the day. You don’t go out to buy it before Shacharis. The seforim store isn’t even open then, because the guy has to daven Shacharis.

Not to mention that every siddur that a kid uses, the pages start falling out over the course of time, from Page 1 and on. So putting Maariv first would actually provide a nice cushion of pages the kid can lose before it starts affecting Birchos Hashachar. Barchu would be the first page to go, but everyone would just say that at the end of Maariv.

Yet no siddurim start with Maariv.

“But wait,” you’re saying. “Machzorim start with Maariv, right?”

Wrong. They start with Mincha. Which nobody says is the first tefillah of the day. There’s literally no siddur that starts with Maariv. Besides my Artscroll Kinnus, for some reason. Tisha B’Av starts with Maariv. That’s the one. No one is bringing a Kinnus to shul for Mincha on Erev Tisha B’Av and then going home and eating.

The closest any other siddur gets to starting with Maariv is actually those little Mincha-Maarivs, where there aren’t that many choices of what should be on that first page, so what they do is they start it with both Mincha and Maariv. Every page from Page 1 is mostly Maariv, with one line of Ashrei stringing along the top. But that’s because they had a choice: They could put Ashrei all on one page and then make you flip to get to Shemoneh Esrei, or they could say that, since you’re flipping anyway, they might as well give you something to say while you flip.

Their other option for page one is bentching, because that was invented first. Avraham Avinu made his guests bentch, right?

Have a question for “How Should I Know?” Ask me between Mincha and Maar—Never mind; they’re starting Barchu.


Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He has also published seven books and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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