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Morning services are composed of 7 parts:
The morning blessings. In this part we thank G-d for another day. Originally each blessing was said as you did that particular thing for the first time that daygird your belt, tie your shoes, learn Torah, etc.. However today they are folded onto the begining of services.
The order of sacrifices. The prophets tell us that someone who sincerely studies the laws of sacrifices gets as close as possible to offering one. So, we read the Mishnayos about the various offerings in order to gain some measure of atonement.
Pesukei diZimrah (lit: verses of songs of praise). Some chapters of Psalms, bracketed by an opening and closing blessing. The main point of this part is to be a "warm-up", to get into the proper frame of mind, before the next three parts. If you get to services too late to say Pesukei diZimrah and still say the main prayers with the congregation, you should skip them. Or perhaps skip all but "Ashrei"depending upon the time available. Most decisors opine that you should still say the ones you skipped some time during the day. The Vilna Gaon ruled that you should not. The debate is whether the section exists only as warm-up, or primarily as warm-up but also serves other purposes. As to whether someone who has a short attention span is best served using up all of one's attention on Pesukei diZimrah so that the later prayers become mindless is a question for that person's Rabbi. It's probably also related to where you stand on that debate.
Those of us of the Sesame Street sound-bite generation should be working toward slowly building up that preparation time. Still, there are days where such a person should just say the opening blessing, Ashrei, the closing blessing, and then study Torah at their seat while waiting for the congregation to get up to Shema. The next three parts are three actual and distinct mitzvos.
The Shema, with two blessings before and two after.
The Amidah, the actual formal prayer.
Tachanun, a framework in which one is supposed to insert informal prayers. In other words, the Amidah serves to remind man what he ought to consider important, and therefore what his relationship with G-d ought to look like. Tachanun has some of that, but it's more actually relating to G-d, turning to your Parent with what's on your mind. [Not that the masses actually remember that this is what Tachanun is for. In practice, it is far too often yet another formalized text with nothing personal interjected.]
The closing. Most famously, this includes Aleinu.
The afternoon service, coming in the middle of the workday, has only Ashrei as an intro, leading to the Amidah, Tachanun and Aleinu. People simply don't have the time for a longer service.
The evening service is obligatory only because universal customs ought not be broken. It's not an obligation of the same magnitude of the other two, and therefore they started it with the Shema, with no warm-up.
The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.
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© (c) 1993-2004
Daniel P. Faigin <firstname.lastname@example.org>