The primary focus of the fourth chapter of Massekhet Berakhot, which begins on today’s daf is the Amida prayer, also called Shemoneh Esreh (Eighteen), which was the number of blessings originally instituted in the weekday prayer. It is recited on weekdays, on Shabbat, and on Festivals. The fundamental question is: What is the source of the Amida prayer? Is it tied to Shema, the course of a person’s daily life, the days that turn into night and vice-versa? Or is the primary element its connection to the sacred service performed in the Temple, serving as a substitute form of worship since its destruction? This dilemma, manifest in the dispute amongst the Sages whether prayer was instituted by the Patriarchs or established parallel to the daily offerings in the Temple, touches upon the different characteristics of prayer and serves as a basis for the halakhic questions discussed in this chapter.
Clearly, there is a consensus that beyond the essential obligation to pray, the source of which was subject to dispute, the various prayers must be recited at fixed times. It is, then, necessary to ascertain the parameters of those times: When is the earliest and latest time that each prayer can be recited? This is relevant to the morning prayer, which is parallel to the daily offering sacrificed early in the morning when the Temple stood, and to the afternoon prayer, which is parallel to the daily offering sacrificed in the afternoon.
Some explain the idea that “prayers were instituted based on the daily offerings” to mean that prayerswere instituted by the Sages after the destruction of the Temple to replace the offerings. However, these prayers were already extant throughout the Second Temple era with virtually the same formula that was instituted later, with certain known differences. Furthermore, there were already synagogues at that time, some even in close proximity to the Temple. The dispute in this case is whether the prayers were instituted to parallel the offerings, or whether the prayers have an independent source, unrelated to the Temple Service.