What Is Maariv in Judaism?

Men praying the maariv service in Judaism.
Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images

Maariv is recited in the evening but is actually the first of the day's prayers because, on the Hebrew calendar, a day goes from evening to evening. 

Meaning and Origins

Widely known as ma'ariv or maariv, in Israel, the evening service is often referred to as aravit. Both terms derive from the Hebrew word erev, which means "evening." The other daily prayers are shacharit (the morning service) and mincha (the afternoon service).

The three daily prayer services are believed to be tied to the daily sacrifices (morning, afternoon, and evening) during the times of the Temple in Jerusalem (Mishnah Brachot 4:1). Although sacrifices were not traditionally brought at night, those who missed the opportunity to burn animal parts during the day had the option of doing so in the evening. As an option, the evening prayer also became understood to be optional.

In the Talmud, the rabbis say that maariv is ein la kava, which means "without a fixed time" but in the discussion, the Talmud says that the service is reshut, or optional, as mentioned above. This is unlike the morning and afternoon services, which are hovah, or mandatory (Brachot 26a).

At some point, the prayer was taken back up and became obligatory, as it is today, although there are still vestiges of the optional status. For example, the Amidah prayer, which is usually repeated by the prayer leader in the morning and afternoon services, is not repeated in the maariv service.

Other sources date the maariv service even further back, suggesting that Jacob, the third patriarch instituted the third prayer. In Genesis 28:11, Jacob leaves Beersheba for Haran, and "met at the place, for the sun had set." The Talmud understands this to mean that Jacob established the maariv service.

Learn More About the Service 

Probably the shortest of all of the daily prayer services, the whole service clocks in at about 10 to 15 minutes. In many cases, the afternoon, or mincha, service and the maariv service are back to back since everyone is already at the synagogue.

If you're praying alone, this is the order of the service: 

  • The introductory prayers of Psalms 78:38 and 20:10
  • The Shema (meaning "hear") and related prayers
  • The Amidah: a series of blessings recited silently while standing, which is what amidah means, that is also known as the Shemonei EsreiOriginally, when it was codified in the 5th century CE, this prayer had 18 parts (which is what shemonei esrei means), but an additional blessing was added for a total of 19 blessings. 
  • The Aleinu, which is the first word of the prayer whose initial sentence translates as "It is our duty to praise the Master of all." 

If you're praying with a minyan (quorum of 10), then the service opens with the leader saying the Kaddish and Barechu, which is essentially a call to prayer. Additionally, the prayer leader will recite the Kaddish before and after the Amidah. 

On Shabbat, fast days, and other holidays, there can be some variation and/or additions to the maariv service.

When it comes to timing, maariv can be recited any time after sunset, although there are specifics about when you can recite the evening Shema. Thus, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the great sage of the 20th century, ruled that maariv should begin 45 minutes after sundown.

The latest one can say maariv is what is known as halachic midnight, which is the halfway point between sundown and sunrise. Depending on whether it's Daylight Savings Time, the scan is before or after 12 a.m.

When in doubt about timing, try using MyZmanim.com, where you can plug in your specific location and it will give you the correct timing suggestions for prayers. 

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Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. "What Is Maariv in Judaism?" ThoughtCo, Dec. 7, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-aishes-chayil-p2-2077017. Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. (2017, December 7). What Is Maariv in Judaism? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-aishes-chayil-p2-2077017 Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. "What Is Maariv in Judaism?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-aishes-chayil-p2-2077017 (accessed May 26, 2018).